natural gems - opal gem

Natural is the new trend, be that in food industry, clothing, makeup or any part of the human life. In this process of going back to the roots and the natural, unprocessed part of the universe, people are trying to reach to a better life, a better health and a better spirit.

Fortunately, we observe the same tendency when it comes to gems and stones. If, for years, people have tried to recreate nature’s perfection, nowadays we are witnessing an indisputable change of values towards rather rough variations of gems and stones.

Natural vs Synthetic Gems

Distinguishing a natural gem from a synthetic one can be really hard, if not impossible, as synthetic gems are physically, and optically identical to natural stone. The only difference between natural and synthetic gems is the creation procedure.

If the natural stones and gems are found in mines and caves, synthetic ones are created in the controlled laboratory conditions. We generally distinguish two types of synthetic gems; on one side there are the imitations or the simulations, made out of glass, plastic, resins or other compounds, and on the other, the copies.

Imitations look just like real stones, but possess neither their chemical nor physical characteristics, making them inferior to their natural counterparts.

crystal powers - amethyst stone

Sometimes, when speaking of synthetic, cultured or lab created gemstones, it’s very hard to determine if these are imitations or not. Lab created diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds possess identical chemical and physical characteristics to the naturally occurring gems, not to mention that they cost only a fraction of the natural stones. Synthetic diamonds are manufactured in large quantities for industrial purposes, even though larger versions are becoming available for the fashion industry.

One of the only advantages of a lab-created stone is the color. Due to the lack of impurities, synthetic gems tend to have a more vivid color, unless the impurities are added for a specific purpose. Despite the price, natural gems are the kings and queens of the gem world and are nature’s best creation.

Finding Natural Gems

Minerals, or the primordial state of gems, appea in tens of thousands of types. Created as a combination of external factors, gems can be found in a number of shapes and sizes. Pressure, heat, location, other minerals, impurities, water, and geo forces, all contribute to the hardness, clarity, crystalline structure and color of gems and minerals. No wonder they are so special and praised by everyone.

natural gems forms

Formed in Earth’s mantle, minerals usually find their way to the surface, after millions of years, usually due to immense geologic effects such as tectonic plate upheaval, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Wind or water erosion, can also reveal buried gems. Humans are the only living creatures to reveal gems deposits, after starting to work on projects such as tunnels, railroads or other mega constructions that involve an extensive drilling and digging work.

Almost every gem in the world, has a certain way in which it should be extracted or a place where it can be found. In alluvial deposits, in mines, on beaches and the list may continue, gems can be found in abundance.

We all remember, who was Indiana Jones facing great perils, in his search for the rare sacred gem. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but generally, gem hunters look nothing like Jones. Sometimes you will find them digging through the gravel layer and filtering the rocks by putting them in a pan and shaking it, somehow similar to the old wild west gold prospectors. Others are third world miners, working in harsh conditions, only to win some money.

Cutting Natural Gems

Gemstones never come in the beautiful polished form that we all know. Usually they look like rough pieces of shinny rocks, that conceal their noble consistency. Geodes are world renowned for their well-hidden treasure. Looking like stones or rocks, these conglomerations of crystals are found all around the world and have never ceased to amaze us with their mysterious and mystical beauty.

natural gems - pile of gems

Cutting is the most common practice, when it comes to gemstones. The art and practice of gemstone cutting is known as lapidary, and the person doing it is called a lapidarist. Turning a rough mineral fragment into a valuable, beautiful gem is considered an art. Developed over many years, the techniques used to unveil the beauty of a gem, require a combination of skills, passion and modern equipment.

Obtaining the very best effects from each stone’s characteristics is the ultimate goal of any lapidarist. Unlike their ancient counterparts, the modern lapidarist needs to have solid knowledge of chemistry and physics to be able to determine the needs of each gem. The sophistication and accuracy of modern machines used in cutting these stone, can only be equalled by the properties of the gem’s they are cutting.

If cutting the stones is not your thing, or if you want a rougher surface, you may try rock polishing or tumbling machines, but at the end of the day, the gem will speak to you and will make you decide which cut fits it best. In the case of transparent stones (diamonds, crystals in general), a faceted cut (a technique developed in medieval times) is preferred, whilst in the case of more opaque natural gems (Agate, Onyx, Turquoise, Malachite, etc) a curvaceous, round and simple cut is preferred (cabochon or beads).

The Cabochon cut (French word derived from the Latin ‘cabo’ meaning head or dome) or the beads are among the oldest cuts in the world, so you may want to give them a try.

natural gems - pile of zirconWhile dealing with a larger piece, carving will be preferred for cabochons or beads. Jade, for example is usually carved in the shape of different figurines, animals, bowls, vases and unusual forms. The Zuni tribe are world-renowned for their stone fetishes that represent different animals. These fetishes are highly appreciated for their beauty, but also for the healing properties they are said to have.

Natural gems havea very special role in modern society. Praised by our ancestors, it is only today that we start to understand more about their physical and optical properties, not to mention that now we are finally able to measure their properties. Source of light and of wonder, these remarkable natural elements will never cease to amaze and to bring us the joy of their existence.

Recommended Read: Everything you Need to Know About Wholesale Gems

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3