How can you tell the difference between real and synthetic rubies? Chances are, most of us can’t. In fact, if you walk into your neighborhood jewelry store and browse through their selection of rubies, you may not notice much difference between the gems. They're all cut like rubies and have the blood-red coloring, but does that mean they're real rubies or synthetic?
For decades, gemstone buyers have faced an unusual choice: to buy gems from below ground or above it.
So, what are synthetic rubies, and are they equally as striking as real rubies? Keep reading to learn about the history of synthetic rubies, and how to spot a real from a fake.
Synthetic rubies are essentially lab-grown gems using advanced technology. These lab-grown stones are just as real as their mined counterparts but take about 3 billion fewer years to form, give or take.
The basic definition of a synthetic gem is a precious stone that's grown in a lab under the same condition that real gemstones form. While there are a couple of different ways to make synthetic rubies, the most commercially used technique is chemical vapor deposition (CVD).
Invented by the Harvard chemist Roy Gordon, CVD starts by placing a ruby "seed" in a sealed chamber full of methane gas for 30 days. During that time, the molecules from the gas attach themselves to the seed-gemstone, bulking it up layer by layer.
At the end of the 30 days, that little seed is now a gem-sized ruby ready to adorn a ring or necklace.
A fascinating feature of this process is that it creates stones with the same physical characteristics and properties of their natural counterparts.
Of course, not everyone is jazzed on synthetic rubies, and rightfully so. As Marvin Gaye and Tina Turell put it, "ain't nothing like the real thing, baby."
Your choice is entirely preferential, and synthetic rubies are an alternative because they're nearly identical to natural rubies — the only difference being their origin.
We've mined natural ruby for 8,000 years. In many cultures, the gems are prized not only for their beauty but also for their perceived supernatural powers. One commonly held belief is that the ruby's red color came from fire trapped inside the stone. In Burmese and Native American cultures, people believed the blood-like color of rubies formed a protective shield around the wearer.
It's easy to see that everyone loves rubies, which is why it was one of the first artificially made gemstones.
The earliest synthetic gems were Geneva Rubies, produced around 1885, and sold as authentic gems. However, they were actually "reconstituted" fragments of natural rubies melted together.
While the creator of these stones remains a mystery, researchers traced their origins to Geneva, Switzerland. And that's how these mysterious synthetic rubies got their name!
The discovery of the Geneva Rubies piqued the interest of a pair of French chemists, Auguste Verneuil and his assistant Edmond Frémy. In 1877, they began perfecting their process of heating a mixture of pure alumina and chromium oxide. Once the mixture starts to melt, it's drops form bright red crystals known as "boules." These crystals are collected, cooled, then polished and cut into beautiful gems!
Sadly, Frémy died in 1894 before the duo was able to produce a gem-quality synthetic ruby. Verneuil kept at it and exhibited his laboratory-made gems at the 1900 Paris World's Fair.
His process took a mere two hours to grow crystals weighing 12-15 carats! By the time Verneuil died at the age of 57 in 1913, the flame fusion process he and Frémy invented had produced 10 million carats of rubies annually.
Surprisingly, most synthetic rubies are used for technical purposes. Their tolerance for high temperatures makes them excellent thermal conductors, so they're also often used as lenses for high-powered lasers.
In fact, when Theodore H. Maiman made the first working laser in 1960, he used a synthetic ruby to produce the red laser light. The more you know!
Since synthetic rubies don't have the inclusions and impurities seen in natural gems, they were an instant hit with jewelry designers. The sudden abundance of these beautiful red stones also lowered prices, allowing shoppers to add even more pieces to their jewelry collections.
Many consumers are attracted to lab-created rubies for a variety of reasons, including:
The environment: lab-created stones aren't dependent on natural resources, so the impact is lower.
Labs don't require the same mining utilities and resources, which means the price points are lower than real rubies.
Most people can't trace the differences between real and synthetic gems. It takes high magnification, a collection of technical instruments, and an expertly-trained eye.
The main distinction between synthetic vs. natural rubies are the presence of inclusions.
Natural rubies typically have inclusions from the crystallization process — gases and other minerals mixing together while the gemstone grows. Lab-grown rubies have fewer inclusions because they rely on a consistent, controlled process of applying minerals, heat, and pressure.
However, if you are buying a piece of jewelry from a designer, you shouldn't have to wonder whether the rubies they're selling you are synthetic.
The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) updated its guidelines in 2018 for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries. The new regulations state that jewelers are legally obligated to inform clients that they are purchasing a lab-grown gemstone.
Federal laws and technical instruments aside, the easiest way to tell if a ruby is real or synthetic is the cost: if a price tag seems too good to be true, it probably is!
While natural stones will always have a special place in our hearts, synthetic gems are a cost-effective alternative.
Of course, you can never replicate the natural perfection of something like a striking ruby,
but synthetic rubies are a worthy substitute if you'd like to expand your collection on a budget.SHOP FOR NATURAL RUBIES
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