After diamonds, sapphire rings are one of the most popular jewelry pieces. Due to their characteristics, which include a stunning color and durability, there’s a high demand for these gemstones. For this reason, demand has long exceeded supply.
To rectify this shortage, gem cutters have been producing lab sapphires since the early 1900s. In this article, we’ll tell you all there is to know about natural and lab sapphires so you can make an educated decision when buying a sapphire ring.
How Are Sapphires Naturally Created?
Sapphires, along with other gems, occur in nature. Humans have nothing to do with this creation, they merely mine them afterward.
Corundum is a rock-forming mineral that has two varieties: sapphire and ruby. Forming these gems requires specific conditions, such as a high temperature and high-pressure. The crystallization process begins once the mineral starts to cool.
Yet, it rarely happens that other elements don’t affect the mineral development. Natural impurities from the environment leak into the crystal structure, thus creating unique colors. For example, if titanium and iron leak, the crystal will have a recognizable blue hue.
As a result, there aren’t two natural sapphires that look the same. Each has a unique appearance and hue. Moreover, as formation takes a long time, sapphires are becoming rare. The conditions need to be precise before the miners can even find a sapphire.
Most often, natural sapphires have inclusions. These make the gem imperfect, but also distinctive. You can notice some of these with the naked eye. Others aren’t visible without a microscope.
Natural sapphire is pleochroic. This implies that the sapphire often has different colors if you look at it from different directions. What’s more, the so-called “silk” is a prevalent feature of a natural sapphire. These are fine microscopic needles that make the stone less hazy. That’s why there’s rarely a natural blue sapphire without any discoloration.
The magnificent sapphire formation and uniqueness of each piece attract gem aficionados. For that reason, many decide to buy natural sapphire rings. Like natural sapphires, every relationship and love story is unique. Natural sapphires also have an old-world charm to them, which vintage lovers find beautiful.
Finally, the inclusions symbolize that even imperfections can make something stunning.
How Are Sapphires Created in a Lab?
The conditions in the lab are usually like those in nature. However, the process is much faster. There are a couple of different methods to produce sapphire in the lab. The most common has been practiced for over a century now. It creates a long, teardrop-shaped corundum. Adding various minerals will result in sapphires of different colors. Some of them boast pleochroism, but it isn’t as noticeable as with natural sapphires.
The Czochralski method produces giant sapphires, but it’s also much more expensive. With the flux-growth process, sapphire powder dissolves in molten metal. This helps create almost flawless sapphires. The color is often very even, and the structure is picture-perfect.
Finally, the hydrothermal method imitates natural conditions needed for the formation of sapphire. Like in nature, the hydrothermal method uses high pressure and intense heat to grow the gems.
As mentioned above, natural sapphires have slight imperfections. Discoloration, cracks, or inclusions are all standard. Untreated sapphires are extremely rare, and are therefore quite expensive. In short, an untreated sapphire is a gem taken directly from the ground. As there are no changes to it, the gem exists in its natural beauty.
Some believe that natural sapphires need enhancement. That’s why there are many treatments that can change the gem’s color and clarity.
For instance, heating sapphires will improve their color and clarity. The intensity of the heat is similar to the one in the earth. Jewelers don’t use any other chemicals, so this is a pretty natural process. Plus, it’s a one-time procedure, and the clarity and color changes are permanent.
Another common process is Beryllium treatment. Using Beryllium, sapphires experience a reduction in their well-known blue hues. By intensifying the orange and yellow tones, you then get sapphires with warm colors. But there’s also a lot of controversy around this enhancement treatment.
Each jewelry store must disclose if they used this method to treat sapphires. Beryllium-treated sapphire rings should be cheaper. Unfortunately, there have been many scams where they were sold as heated sapphires, which are more expensive.
When jewelers want to improve the color and enhance the brilliance of the sapphire, they use surface diffusion. However, the treatment isn’t long-lasting. Once you repolish the stone, it may become lighter.
Finally, natural sapphires have cracks invisible to the naked eye. These aren’t pleasing to everybody. Therefore, filling in those cavities is becoming increasingly popular.
This treatment uses cobalt-infused glass, which doesn’t change the sapphire’s natural color. Like with other methods, jewelers must share with the customer if the sapphire has been treated using this procedure.
Differences in Natural and Lab-Created Sapphires
Now you know how sapphire is formed, either in nature or in a lab. But are there many differences between natural sapphires and those created in a lab? If so, what are they? You’ll learn all about it in the next section.
Let’s start with the most obvious one. The major difference is the origin. Sapphires mostly form in Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and Myanmar. In the past, there were plenty of these gorgeous stones in Kashmir. However, the mine there was exhausted more than a century ago.
Thus, finding Kashmir sapphires nowadays is almost impossible. For this reason, Kashmir sapphires are extremely expensive. They also boast a distinctive cornflower blue that reflects light, making them dreamy and surreal.
As mentioned, natural formation often takes a long time. It takes millions of years for white sapphires to grow in nature. On the other hand, sapphires grow in the lab much faster. What takes hundreds of years in nature can occur within a couple of days in a lab.
Lab-created sapphires have an identical chemical composition to natural sapphires. This results in the same physical and optical properties. Therefore, to the naked eye, they may look the same.
The conditions for growing sapphires are also similar. In nature, heat comes from the environment, while in a lab, it comes from machines.
Using advanced tools can help determine the difference between lab and natural sapphire rings. A carefully controlled setting in a lab produces sapphires with fewer inclusions and silk.
Natural sapphires are never without imperfections and flaws. But these inclusions aren’t necessarily a bad thing, as they show the uniqueness of every natural sapphire. On the other hand, perfect conditions can make lab-grown sapphires all look the same.
Next is the color. Sapphires can have different tones, hues, and saturation. Because of these distinctions, there are various sapphire colors, besides the popular blue one. Often, natural sapphire can be lighter in tone, which isn’t something everyone loves. They’re used to seeing dark-toned navy sapphires. When produced in a lab, sapphires are more vivid. Plus, special treatments can enhance their color.
Hardness in the gem industry means a resistance to scratching. Moh’s hardness scale determines the hardness of each gem. On it, sapphire is the second hardest stone after diamond. It ranks a 9, which means it’s incredibly resistant to scratching.
The lab-grown sapphire is the same. However, since these sapphires have fewer inclusions, they’re also more durable. That said, they’ll break and chip less than natural sapphires, making them more long-lasting.
Sapphires have been popular for a long time. Because of that, there has been a decrease in supply. As a result, natural sapphire rings can be pricey. Depending on the color and clarity, sapphires can cost up to $30 per carat. On the other hand, lab counterparts are usually $8-$10 cheaper.
Sometimes, lab conditions can match natural conditions. In this case, lab sapphires can be in the same range as natural sapphires.
Generally speaking, natural blue sapphires are the most expensive variety. The price can go up to $50 per carat!
Keep in mind that these aren’t the final prices. The setting of the ring and the cut can also dictate the price. If you’re a gem aficionado, then the price won’t matter to you. In that case, imperfect, unique, natural sapphires are a better option for you. But if you’re on a tight budget, you might opt for a lab-manufactured one. Always check with the jeweler whether the sapphire you’re considering is natural or lab-grown. You want to get something that’s worth the money.
Shop Natural Sapphire Jewelry
Natural sapphires are unique. There are no two the same, and their imperfections make them distinct. When you think about it, they’re like every individual and their love story. Moreover, it takes years for nature to yield these gorgeous stones.
On the other hand, there are cheaper lab-created sapphires. Their color can be even, and there are fewer flaws. They represent a perfection unattainable in nature, similar to human relationships that are never perfect.
We strongly advise purchasing natural sapphire rings. And if you’re unsure whether the one you like is truly natural, ask the professionals at Estate Diamond Jewelry. Our expert team would be happy to help you find what you’re looking for.