To Be or Not To Be…Real

Last week I received an e-mail newsletter about the differences between natural, synthetic, and imitation gemstones. I thought this might be an interesting topic to cover, so I decided to do a little more research on it.

Of the three descriptive words above, natural is probably the most easily understood. They come from nature. Easy, right?

Natural gemstones are formed in nature without the aid of humans. They form over long periods of time using a vast array of minerals, elements, and effects from the Earth and their surrounding environments. They can be found miles under ground, in the most remote areas of the world, and even along muddy riverbeds. Often when we find gemstones in nature, we don’t even realize they are what they are immediately. Most gemstones look like your average rock when they are in their rough form. They are dirty, dull, and have rough, uneven edges.

These stones have to be polished and often they are treated before they are used in your jewelry. Many of the stones are stabilized with resin, bleached, dyed, or heated. You can find a list of different types of treatments in a previous blog entry here: Gemstone Treatment Definitions

The other two terms, synthetic and imitation, may sound as if they are the same concept, but they are actually different.

Both terms mean “fake”, but synthetic gemstones are more similar to natural gemstones than imitation gemstones. Synthetic gemstones are created in a laboratory using modern technology to replicate the conditions and elements in the earth which create various gemstones naturally. These stones also take a much shorter time to be created than the natural versions.

Synthetic stones can be cut, colored, and polished to look just like their natural counterparts. The technology has gotten so good, that some experts even have trouble telling the difference without analyzing them under a microscope. One of the biggest differences between natural and synthetic gemstones is the lack of inclusions in the synthetic gemstones. Inclusions are small flaws or imperfections that are found in natural gemstones due to their creation processes. It is like a stone’s fingerprint. If a person is looking for a truly flawless stone, this might be the way to go, but if the difference between “real” verses “fake” is important, this needs to be considered.

To go even further from natural gemstones than synthetic stones, we have imitation gemstones. Imitation gemstones are also referred to as simulated gemstones. They do not have any of the same chemical properties as their natural counterparts like the synthetic stones have. Made of glass, plastic, ceramic or other materials, imitation gemstones are designed to look like natural stones and sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two.

To the untrained eye, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between natural, synthetic, and imitation gemstones. For this reason, it is important to always work with a reputable jeweler when purchasing gemstone jewelry, especially if you are looking for natural gemstones. Do not be afraid to ask if a stone is natural if that is what you are shopping for and the jeweler does not disclose that information or is not clear about it.

I hope this brief summary of the differences between natural, synthetic, and imitation gemstones has been helpful for you. If you have any questions, please let me know!

Thanks for stopping by!


Where do my stones come from?

Let’s shift topics a bit here. I am currently working on obtaining a certification through the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), who is regarded as the world’s foremost authority in gemology. The certification is titled “Accredited Jewelry Professional (AJP)” and through the courses I’m taking I’m learning a lot about the elements that go into each piece of jewelry. One of the subjects we looked into was the origin of gemstones. I was very fascinated by this and would like to share it with you.

Where I come from (Central Pennsylvania), we are not really known for our jewelry-quality gemstones. However, we do have some supplies of quartz, agate, amethyst, fluorite, magnesite, and corundum (which can appear as sapphire or ruby). Have you ever wondered where your gemstones do come from? It’s an interesting and eye-opening subject to research, that’s for sure.

The most beautiful gems come from some of the farthest reaches of the Earth. In these locations, mining is often done by companies with limited capital and primitive equipment, which can put the workers’ safety in jeopardy. Most of the work is done by hand with picks, shovels, and washing pans (pans with fine screens in them used to separate the other rocks and debris from the gemstones) so it is very labor intensive.

These areas do not have the safety standards we find in America, so the mining operations are not only labor intensive, but they can also be dangerous. Mine floods and collapses are very serious and possible risks. However, because the residents of these countries live in such poverty, they are willing to take the chance and risk their safety in order to make money to support their families.

Gemstones make an interesting journey before they end up in your jewelry box. As I noted above, they start out as rough stones in mines throughout the world. Then they are carefully removed from the mines often through manual labor. They are then shipped to a manufacturer who cuts and polishes the stones. The way a stone is cut is often related to the way it is shaped when it comes out of the mine. This is done to ensure the least amount of stone loss during cutting as possible. After a stone is cut and polished, it is sent to a dealer who will sell it to a retailer. You then purchase the stone from the retailer. Many companies are trying to reduce the middle man in this operation in an attempt to cut costs. They are aiming for the manufacturer and the dealer to be one person or company instead of two.


Here is a list of some of the places that are commonly known for their exquisite stones:

Myanmar (Burma) – Rubies

Kashmir (region straddling India and Pakistan) – Sapphires (also called Kashmir Sapphires)

Colombia – Emeralds

Brazil – Emerald, tourmaline, topaz, amethyst, alexandrite, and opal

Tanzania, Africa – Tanzanite

Austrailia – Black opal


Are there any gemstones found in the area where you live? What are they?

As always, thank you for stopping by and reading!

You’re My Inspiration

Where do you find your inspiration? From people? From your surroundings or your interests? I suppose you are asking, “My inspiration for what?” Any inspiration is good, so your “what” can be anything you want it to be as long as you are inspired.

I was recently reading an interview with a jewelry designer who was asked where she found her inspiration for the piece of jewelry which was being featured in the article. The piece was a 3-strand bracelet made with amazonite and sterling silver. Amazonite is an aqua colored stone which was named not because it was found in the Amazon River, but because many other stones that were similar in color were found in that area. The designer said her inspiration for the piece came from a recent trip to the beach. The aqua color of the amazonite captured the ocean’s color and the multi strands reminded her of the waves. I saw where she was coming from, and I wondered if I would have put that idea together while looking at the ocean. I don’t know if I can honestly say I have ever found my inspiration for a jewelry design by looking at something in nature. Maybe I should try this, especially considering my preference for natural gemstones.

That said, where does my inspiration come from? As I have mentioned before, I believe in simple elegance, so a lot of my inspiration comes from traditional jewelry pieces, especially pieces I see in antique stores. I enjoy the time periods where dressing up was about elegance and simplicity with a little bit of “wow.” My hope is to create pieces that are appropriate for work, and then can be worn for a night out. With this thought in mind, much of my inspiration comes down to simple creativity. I buy materials that seem to have the potential to make pretty pieces. Then I take several materials, lay them out on my desk and piece them together like a puzzle. Not all of the materials will fit into the puzzle, and I might pull others out from storage, but eventually, I reach my “ah-ha” moment. Take this bracelet:

I had several of these autumn jasper pebbles and I could not figure out how I wanted to use them. I decided I wanted to make something with them because the colors reminded me of spring. After laying them out across my desk, I decided I would make a simple bracelet that would go great with a pretty little sundress this spring or summer. I laid the stones out on my desk and then started to add silver, then took away some silver, then added other silver until I got the balance just right. I feel it really captures the simple elegance I strive for and is perfect for warmer weather. Maybe I will even make a necklace to match!

So as far as where my inspiration comes from, I’d rather rely on simple creativity and ideas that hit me at a moment’s notice. Now, what about you? Where does your inspiration come from?