Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? People have used lots of words to describe laboratory grown gemstones, some a bit sweeter than others.
What we’re all trying to do is to find language that communicates clearly without confusing consumers. Unfortunately, there are so many terms for lab grown gems out there (and some bad apples who are actually trying to confuse people) that there isn’t always as much communication as there should be.
We prefer to call our gems “lab-grown” because we feel it most clearly describes what they are. We are crystal growers.
When Carroll Chatham grew his first emerald crystals in the 1930s, the jewelry industry was worried that the value of natural gems would collapse. They were also worried they wouldn’t be able to tell lab-grown emeralds from mined emeralds.
In 1959, the Federal Trade Commission stepped in to make strict rules about what companies like ours could call their products. The commission ordered Carroll Chatham to release all the details of his process in order to decide whether his gems could be called “cultured.” Because he refused to divulge the secret of how his gems were grown, Carroll agreed to stop calling them “cultured” and to call them “Chatham-created.”
Those worries from the natural gem industry are still there. So is a lot of prejudice against our products from people who don’t understand them. (And, frankly, not all jewelers can tell the difference between mined and lab-grown even today.) Scientists (and natural gem enthusiasts) often use the term “synthetic” to describe lab-grown gems. But when we talk to consumers, we find that most people think it means “imitation” or “artificial,” so we don’t use it. If you heard “synthetic diamond” would you think of a high-tech laboratory-grown diamond that costs thousands of dollars a carat or would you think of a cheap imitation?
Other terms that are often used to describe lab-grown gems are “lab created gemstones,” “synthetic gemstones,” “created gemstones,” “lab gemstones,” “man-made gemstones,” and “cultured gemstones.” These are good ways to describe lab-grown gems too as long as they are used correctly.
To make this debate about nomenclature even more confusing, there are some gem materials that are man-made and also imitations. Cubic zirconia is man-made but it’s an imitation diamond, not a synthetic or lab-grown diamond (because it’s not actually diamond.) Unfortunately, plenty of unscrupulous people use “lab,” “man-made,” or “created” to refer to imitations that are not the actual minerals described. That’s not just bad etiquette. That’s deceptive and clearly against FTC rules.
We also think consumers should know the difference between inexpensive flame fusion or pulled created gemstones and the more expensive lab-grown gems. Not all gem varieties can be made inexpensively by flame fusion or pulling: sapphire, ruby, and spinel are the main ones. That’s how sapphire watch crystals are made.
In these inexpensive processes, powdered chemical ingredients are melted into a large block in an hour, not grown as crystals over a year. The crystal structure of flame fusion or pulled synthetics is disoriented, like glass, due to the way it’s made. It doesn’t have natural crystal faces. From a crystallography perspective, flame fusion isn’t the same as mined ruby or sapphire.
The crystal structure of flux-grown ruby or sapphire is the same as mined ruby and sapphire. Its internal structure is identical. That’s why it’s worth devoting a year to letting it grow. Because the structure is identical, you get the same brilliance and reflection from the crystal structure and that is why people fall in love with gems in the first place.
In the end, that’s what this is all about: understanding what the differences are between different kinds of gems so you can make an informed smart choice: mined, lab-grown, man-made, or imitation. It’s up to you!