This is probably one of the most commonly asked questions that I get as a gemmologist. “Can you tell me if this is real?”

Often times people inherit jewellery from family members that have been passed down from generation to generation. The story that accompanies a piece of jewellery may have been embellished along the way too.

Other scenarios are jewellery pieces that come with a “certificate of authenticity”, or sales receipt that briefly describes the ring and gemstones. Often that document is enough to make a buyer believe the stone is authentic.

Another occasion is when dealing with synthetic stones. Many believe that because the jewellery is old, the stones cannot possibly be synthetic. Synthetic diamonds and gemstones have been around for a very long time. In 1893 Henri Moissan discovered an imitation for diamonds and called it Moissanite. Synthetic rubies and sapphires have also been around for a very long time. The process of synthesizing corundum, which is the species that ruby and sapphire come from, started in 1817.

You may hear the terms “synthetic” as well as “simulant” or “imitation”. A synthetic stone, also known as “lab-grown” or “lab-created”, is created in a laboratory using various methods, from plasma chambers to crucibles. The gemstones created have exactly the same chemical compositions as their natural counterpart. In order to tell the difference between natural versus synthetic, careful examination using a gemmological microscope allows the gemmologist to detect growth lines and inclusions, which will help in determining the stone’s identification and authenticity. A lab-grown gemstone will look exactly the same as a natural one to an untrained eye, so it is very important that a gemmologist examine a stone and test it using various gemmological instruments to find out its true identity.

 An “imitation” or “simulant” is a stone that looks like the real thing but is made of a totally different material. For example, Cubic Zirconia and Moissanite are simulants or imitations for diamonds. They do not have the same chemical composition as diamonds.

Technology in making synthetic gemstones is getting more and more sophisticated and advanced, making the detection of authenticity in a gemstone trickier. Continuous education and keeping up-to-date with education and scientific research is a gemmologist’s best attribute in this ever-changing world.