Burrowed inside layers of soil, sand and rock, natural materials are extracted during mining: minerals, ores and precious metals. Innovative mining equipment, such as the energy-efficient vibratory process machines created by General Kinematics, modernizes the mining industry. Those machines help to extract deposits and remove desired materials from waste more efficiently and with less cost.
Among the pool of extracted materials are gems, which have been romanticized, processed, and cut for hundreds of years. Nowadays, the longstanding gem mining ritual is supplemented with popularized hand-made gems, which leads us to the question: could synthetic gemstones dampen the gem mining industry?
What is the utility of synthetic gems? Synthetic gem crystals—in other words, fake stones—were first invented in the late 1800s.
In great part, those hand-made gems are used for industrial purposes. For instance, synthetic crystals are applicable in microelectronics, abrasives, and laser technology. Amongst jewelry, synthetics can be ordered directly to deliver a particular color or shape.
Moreover, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission mandates specific guidelines regarding synthetic sales: The unnatural stones must be labeled with their material’s origin in order to inform the buyer that it’s truly synthetic, even though the gemstone could seem naturally grown upon first glance.
A synthetic gem is made in a laboratory using the same chemicals that compose a natural mineral gemstone. (However, with a handful of synthetic gems other compounds are added). Synthetic gems can even mirror the optical and physical characteristics of the sister non-synthetic gemstone.
An array of growing methods exists for creating synthetic stones including two umbrella categories: melt and solution. The resulting crystals from the melting processes are composed of the same chemical composition of the actual melt. Comparatively, the end-result crystal in a solution process carries a different chemical composition than the initial solution, because separate components are added to the solution when it reaches a high temperature. The crystal then forms on a small piece of single crystal while the temperature of the melt declines.
Over the past few decades the synthetic gemstone market has evolved. Pointedly, the creation of synthetic sapphires has increased nearly ten fold from less than 100 metric tons to close to 1,000 per year, according to Gemological Institute of America author Jennifer Stone-Sundberg in her 2013 “Sapphire Series Part 4: Gem Synthetic Sapphire and Diffustion-Treated Synthetics article.”
The growing demand of synthetic gemstone production could be attributed to a rising need for their industrial applications and a growing desire for extravagant gems that are more affordable than naturally grown versions—those naturally grown are typically more rare, which also keeps the price tag up. Another variable is fashion trends, which affect the price and preciousness of a stone depending on the era.
Over the last 10 to 15 years the number of synthetic-crafted categories of gems has plateaued. That lack of acceleration could signify limitations in material creation. However, with the growth of synthetic gemstone manufacturing worldwide, a demand must buoy the industry in order for it to survive long term. At this point, it is unclear if the need for synthetic gemstones will waiver, climb, or remain steady.
What is likely to persist, though, is a desire for gems that have naturally evolved. The intrinsic value of rare, earth-produced gems is inarguable, and the use of GK vibratory feeders, conveyors and other equipment to achieve successful recovery of these products will continue.