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The Tech And Science Behind Many Synthetic Gem Minerals

brettclawson75 profile image Brett Clawson ・3 min read

Synthetic gem materials are minerals made in a laboratory using specific technology and science techniques. Even though the gems are made in a lab, they share many of the same optical, chemical and physical properties and characteristics of their natural counterparts.

When Synthetic Gem Creation Started

Since the end of the 1800s, synthetic gems and crystals have been manufactured for sale. The reason for this type of production is because of the growth in demand in the jewelry and gem industries. Synthetic crystals are often found to be used in microelectronics, communications, laser technology and abrasives. Synthetic gem minerals are often "made to order" with regards to crystal shape and color.

When given the right time, ingredients and tech used, they are often found to be less rare than similar natural counterparts when it comes to clarity, size and color saturation. There are many rules and strict guidelines with how these lab created diamonds and gems can be sold and marketed.

Czochralski Process Or Crystal Pulling

This type of gem manufacturing is a melt process. Pulling first started in the early 1900s and revolves around nutrients first being melted in a crucible. A seed dipped into the melted nutrients allows a synthetic crystal to grow. As it continues to grow, it will be pulled away slowly from the seed melt. Common gems created using the pulling method include synthetic garnet, chrysoberyl, alexandrite and corundum.

Synthetic Crystals - Verneuil or Flame Fusion Process

The flame fusion process was the first successful one used commercially to create synthetic crystal gems. The science behind this process involves powdered chemicals being dropped through flames of high temperatures. This causes the chemicals to melt and fall into a pedestal that is continually rotating. The result of this is a crystal and is currently the most affordable and common way to create gems such as synthetic spinels and corundums.

Flux Growth - Solution Process

With advancements in technology and processes, many synthetic gems such as alexandrite, ruby, emerald, spinel and sapphire can be manufactured through the flux-growth process. In the same way that water dissolves sugar, flux is a solid form of material that can be melted and dissolve other materials. As the solution begins to cool gradually, the synthetic crystals will form.

Growing synthetic gems using this method requires a significant investment and a lot of patience because the process can take a year or more. However, gems such as emeralds made with this process can end up being well worth the wait.

Synthetic Diamonds - Rare CVD Process

Diamonds that are grown in a lab setting share many of the same characteristics as natural diamonds. Essentially, the are made of carbon. Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) is the process used to grow diamonds and gems. The growth is done in a vacuum chamber through the chemical reaction that releases carbonized atoms. The atoms proceed to precipitate on the diamond seed plates.

Other diamonds are created using high pressure, high-temperature methods. Diamond growth begins from the melt flux process that can dissolve carbon with high temperatures. The diamonds will form on the seed crystals during the time of lower temperatures in the gem growth chamber.

Synthetic Opal

To create a convincing synthetic opal, scientists working for the Gilson company in the 1970s created a three-step process. This process first involves using precipitation to create microscopic spheres of silica. These spheres will then settle down in acidic water for over a year. Once done, the hydrostatic press will consolidate the spheres without causing any damage to the play-of-color created on the opals.

These are just some of the more common ways to grow different minerals and gems. Synthetic, lab-grown crystals and gems can attain degrees of perfection that are not often seen coming from nature. Because of this, the popularity of these types of gems continues to become more desired. They are easier to come by and a more affordable alternative.

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