Gem Gymnastics – Bending Over Backwards for the Good Stuff

When considering a gem or mineral, it is very rare that someone wants an imitation. There was a time when getting anything other than what you bargained for was pretty rare but it is becoming more and more common to get fakes. We are at a point in time where more and more people can afford precious gems but resources are becoming depleted and everyone wants something extraordinarily scarce. Well the way some are making a profit off of this high demand isn’t by taking the high road out.
Fakes are a nasty issue that we, unfortunately, have to face and the best way to handle this issue, as an individual, is to educate yourself. What is fake? What makes them fake? What are some ways I can identify them?

A Basic Breakdown

These are the real deal. These gems are found in nature. They developed naturally over a long period of time without any intervention. They can be found deep in the earth, in rivers, in cliffs and elsewhere. Specific types of gems are found in particular locations. For example, turquoise is made when water interacts with a rock containing copper, aluminum and phosphorus and is found in desert areas like Arizona. Since Newfoundland is not a desert-like dry place, chances are you aren’t going to find any turquoise there.

Gems tend to be cut and polished when sold since they are typically used for jewelry but they can be sold in their rough stage, which really looks a lot neater because then you can see the way the crystals are formed and what they look like when they are found or broken open. Amethyst, for example, looks like a regular rock from the outside but once it has been cracked open, you can see that it is hollow and crystals have formed and covered the inside.

Natural Amethyst Geode with Calcite crystal from South America

Synthetic gems are appearing more and more. A synthetic gem has the same visual, chemical and physical properties of the natural gem but they are created in labs by humans. They are made with the same materials but in a condensed amount of time.

You can actually choose what goes into some of your synthetic gems. There’s actually a synthetic diamond called a memorial diamond. After someone has passed, you can cremate them, have their ashes compressed and turned into teeny tiny little diamonds that you can carry around and wear.
This technique (and the other synthetic diamond techniques that don’t involve the remains of loved ones) can make them look identical to actually made-by-mother-earth gems. Often times they cannot be told apart and much of the time, people prefer synthetic gems to the real thing because they are a fraction of the cost and are free of flaws.

As with all things in nature, gems are made with flaws. They may not have pure color all the way through or have flakes of minerals that didn’t convert, but this is what makes them one of a kind. Unfortunately, perfection is something often desired in a gem even if it isn’t really real.

Despite the fact that they are made in laboratories, it isn’t entirely fair to say that they are fake…sort of like Champagne wine. Technically it isn’t Champagne unless it was produced in Champagne France even though it was made with all of the correct ingredients and in the correct manner. Just not in the right place.

Imitation/ Simulated/ Fake, Fake, Fake!
These gems do not have the same chemical makeup! They are often made of plastic, ceramic, glass, or resin but are designed to look similar. Sometimes they are simply painted rocks or rocks glued to other rocks to look cool. Sometimes it can be very difficult to tell the difference but don’t be fooled. There are smart ways to help prevent being bamboozled by charlatans.

  • 1. Ask. Cubic zirconia and moissanite are very common used for imitation diamonds. If you are buying from a retailer, just ask. If you don’t simply ask “is this real?” they might not say anything at all.
  • 2. Look under the gem. Check the base for mounting for glue, or paint. Sometimes the base or tip of a gem will be painted to make the color stand out.
  • 3. Check for uneven coloring. It could be dyed.
  • 4. Have it evaluated. It’s not free but it sure is better than paying an arm and a leg for a phony bologna gem.

How Fake?
Now there are different ways to be fake.
One method is partially real…this is called composite. It’s where you take a small portion of something desirable and use it to coat the exterior and then combined with an imitation or something inexpensive to make the mass larger and can be done in doublets or triplets (two or three pieces). This commonly happens with gems like opal.
Rubies, unfortunately, are commonly composite today as well but in a different manner than how opals are made composite. They are mixed or filed with glass. When a ruby is treated, it goes through a heating technique which intensifies the color of the gem. However when it’s mixed with glass, bubbles and cracks can appear and it can even shatter after seconds of being exposed to the heat.
There are naturally colored gems, like diamonds, that occur in nature but the color can be changed or manipulated under intense radiation. Diamonds that are found colored in nature are extremely rare and horribly expensive. Identifying if a diamond’s color has been affected by radiation is near impossible. If exposed to high heat there is a chance that the colors could change but it is not guaranteed, so beware.

Author’s Bio: Rachael Avery is a lover of shiny things from Boise, ID. She writes for Gem Quarry when she isn’t running in the hills or bouldering.

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