In Search of Brilliance: Choosing Between Lab-Created and Natural Gems

Beginning with human history, gemstones have held a significant place in our lives, symbolizing power, and status - and sometimes serving as talismans. Garnet, a vibrant red gemstone, was believed to protect warriors in Ancient Rome while today a Diamond represents love and luxury. Regardless of their purpose, the importance and role of gemstones in our lives have remained constant. However, one thing changed.

Within the last two centuries, globalization and mining reached the highest levels allowing companies and gemologists to discover numerous gemstones. Even though this sounds exciting, unfortunately, it had catastrophic consequences for the environment and undeveloped countries.

By the 1960s, affordable jewelry and ready-to-wear clothing had already gained prominence allowing companies to explore new mass-production techniques. At that time, chemists were also working on creating synthetic diamonds and gemstones in laboratories. And starting in 1957, the chemists began to create synthetic sapphires and rubies. The development of ruby takes 20-30 million years and can be found in Asia and Africa but in a laboratory, it takes a maximum of 6 months and can be done anywhere around the world. And imagine, ruby is one of the rarest gemstones in the world. From that on, it was unstoppable.

As we entered the 21st century, lab-created gemstones became ubiquitous, driven by the rapid rise of fast fashion and consumption. Initially viewed as synthetic, artificial, and ‘fake’, people's perspectives changed with the escalating destruction of nature and the threat of global warming. Lab-created gemstones started being seen with a new lens - as a sustainable, environmentally friendly option for gemstones. As a result, more and more luxury brands like Pandora launched their lab-created diamond initiatives.

When ASSUWA was founded, our commitment to sustainability was not a mere marketing tactic but a genuine conviction. That's why we conducted extensive research with Selin, my co-founder and CEO at ASSUWA. Through our research, Selin discovered the destructive impact of mining on the environment. It was at that point that we turned our attention to lab-created gemstones and started to learn more about them.

Here, we aim to share our insights with you on the differences between lab-created gemstones and natural gemstones, empowering you to decide whether to choose a lab-grown gemstone or a natural gemstone.

So let’s begin!

1. Origin

Lab-Created Gemstones: By mimicking natural conditions, chemists can form gemstones in laboratories within weeks or months. For instance, using High-Pressure High-Temperature Method (also known as HPHT) it typically takes between 6 to 10 weeks to create a lab-grown diamond. In nature, it takes between 1 billion and 3.3 billion years, which is approximately 25% to 75% of our earth's age. Since each gemstone requires different natural conditions to form, chemists use various techniques to create them. And, because they are created in a controlled environment, these lab-created gemstones have fewer flaws and inclusions.

Natural Gemstones: Natural gemstones take thousands to millions or billions of years to form under natural geological conditions such as tectonic movements and volcanic eruptions. Each continent and each location has different tectonic movements and nature which results in different forms of gemstones. For instance, Sapphire is from Sri Lanka, Citrine and Amethyst are mostly from Brazil, and Emeralds are from Colombia. And of course, as they are formed below the Earth's surface, it requires mining. However, some of the gemstones are brought to the surface by explosions of molten rock. That’s why throughout history, each ancient civilization had its own gemstones and showcased them in their jewelry. For example, ancient Egyptians found Peridot on a small volcanic island in the Red Sea, and called it the ‘gem of the sun’. And, it became the symbol of their god Horus as well as Cleopatra’s favourite gemstone.

2. Environmental Impact

Lab-Created Gemstones: While the production of lab-grown gemstones still requires energy and resources, it is usually considered more environmentally friendly than mining, which has ecological and social consequences. However, depending on the energy sources used in the production process, we can not say that lab-created gemstones have a lower carbon footprint than natural gemstones. In fact, based on recent research, it shows that lab-grown diamonds have greater carbon emissions than naturals.

Natural Gemstones: Unfortunately, mining has immense consequences on nature and labor rights. From deforestation, air pollution, and large-scale water consumption to illegal hazardous work, it has catashtrophic effects on Mother Earth. Yet, the impact varies depending on the mining method and location. That’s why, conscious sourcing and conflict-free gemstones are vital for a sustainable future.


3. Cost and Quality

Lab-Created Gemstones: Lab-grown gemstones are more affordable than their natural counterparts since the cost of production can be controlled, they are easy to produce, and the supply is not limited by geological factors. However, this also legitimizes fast fashion and exploits the industry. If we tell you that even just in the UK, women's unworn jewelry is worth £6.2 billion, would you be surprised? The throw-away culture has allowed brands to over-produce items while keeping the true cost of the speed out of sight. On the other hand, as mentioned above, lab-created gemstones have fewer inclusions, can be massively produced in the same quality and can have more clarity than natural gemstones.

Natural Gemstones: Natural gemstones are more expensive due to their rarity and the cost of mining. As each gemstone is unique, they have flaws and inclusions, and they don’t have a consistent quality. That’s why, they are subjected to strict grading and certification processes that assess their quality, color, clarity, cut, and carat weight. These factors might sound negative but in fact, all these factors increase their market value.

4. Perceived Authenticity and Market Perception

Lab-Created Gemstones: Since lab-grown gemstones are produced in a controlled environment, they lack the uniqueness and the connection to the Earth and nature. Even though they can be more environmentally friendly, they are viewed as synthetic and artificial. However, we see that customers are becoming increasingly aware and seeking for more sustainable options. For instance, 35% of US consumers are willing to pay significantly more for sustainable fashion, and 67% of consumers consider the use of sustainable materials as an important purchasing factor. Furthermore, with luxury brands like Pandora and De Beers initiating lab-grown gemstones, people might start viewing them as ‘sustainable’ instead of ‘synthetic’.

Natural Gemstones: The rarity, uniqueness, and magical connection to the Earth, history and nature make natural gemstones more desirable than lab-grown gemstones. We perceive gemstones with their unique story, energy, cultural value and their connection to the universe. For instance, since ancient times, people believe in the healing energies of the gemstones. We believe that pearls bring wisdom and emotional balance and assist Gemini zodiac signs. This applies to each gemstone - it is believed that each gemstone has its unique healing property and meaning.

5. Heirloom and Investment

Lab-Created Gemstones: Lab-grown gemstones are relatively new to the market, and they just started gaining acceptance. As the market for lab-grown gemstones continues to evolve, their value may shift, and they may become more widely accepted, seen as an ‘investment’ or as an heirloom and sought after. A couple of years ago, Frank Ocean launched his lab-grown diamond jewelry line ‘Homer’ and marketed it as a ‘state-of-the-art lab’. Now who can say that owning a jewelry from Frank Ocean’s Homer is not an heirloom or an investment? In the end, it’s all about the story, meaning, and the purpose behind it.

Natural Gemstones: No need to say that the gemstone market has long-established values based on natural gemstones. Collectors, investors, and enthusiasts often seek out natural gemstones for their historical significance, rarity, and cultural value. And, this doesn’t look like it to change soon.

So, what are our insights?

We want to be completely transparent with you. When Selin and I conducted this research, we found ourselves in a contemplative state about whether to opt for lab-grown gemstones or natural gemstones. Each has its own set of advantages and drawbacks. While it's true that mining poses harm to nature and our beautiful Earth, it's also worth noting that carbon emissions from lab-grown gemstones are higher than those from natural gemstones.

The most important element to consider is mass consumption, we encourage our community to practice conscious consumerism. We witness unwanted or unworn jewellery ending up in landfills, and jewelry brands producing excessive amounts of gemstone-laden pieces. Regardless of whether you're seeking a lab-grown gemstone or a natural one, it's imperative to source it from a sustainable and ethical brand that exclusively uses conflict-free gemstones.

Being designers and artists, our passion lies in the creation process. For us, it transcends mere trends; it's about drawing inspiration from forgotten stories we yearn to unfold. This philosophy guides our decision not to adhere to the conventional cycle of an Autumn/Fall Collection. We design when inspiration strikes, and with durability in mind, we produce only in small, thoughtful batches. Every aspect of our materials, packaging, and designs is meticulously sourced, ensuring sustainability and ethical practices.

During our days spent at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, engaging with various gemologists, we discovered that our connection to lab-grown gemstones felt lacking. The touch of a natural Aquamarine, with its unmistakable presence and energy, evokes a desire to carry it with you always. Our extraordinary gemologists exclusively supply conflict-free gemstones, and each gemstone is personally handpicked by us.

However, if a lab-grown gemstone aligns with your preferences, please feel free to get in touch with us and personalize your jewelry. We sincerely hope you find this blog post helpful!

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