Last updated on December 27, 2022
Nowadays, the gemstone market offers a wide range of options, including lab-created rubies. These rubies are not mined from the earth but instead made in laboratories under controlled conditions with human aid. If you’re considering buying a ruby, it’s essential to understand the difference between lab-created rubies and natural rubies.
Lab-Created Rubies vs Natural Rubies Composition
Image: Photo-World / Canva
Natural rubies are formed over millions of years under immense pressure and intense heat beneath the earth’s surface. They consist of oxygen atoms called corundum and aluminum, which, under heat and pressure, turn into liquid and seep into cracks in igneous or metamorphic rocks. As the liquid cools, it crystallizes, often becoming colorless. However, when trace amounts of other minerals mix with corundum, it transforms into vibrant reds, pinks, blues, and yellows. When chromium is present, the corundum turns red, giving us rubies. Iron and titanium result in blue sapphires.
Natural rubies require extremely rare conditions to form. They need an environment free of silica and low iron content. However, since silica and iron are abundant minerals on Earth, the likelihood of these conditions aligning is very low. Moreover, the introduction of chromium into corundum and aluminum crystals further decreases the chances of ruby formation. As a result, natural rubies are both rare and expensive, leading scientists and gemologists to seek a more affordable alternative.
Lab-created rubies, also known as created, lab-grown, synthetic, cultured, or man-made rubies, are gemstones grown in laboratories under controlled conditions with human assistance. They have the same chemical composition as their natural counterparts (Al2O3) and exhibit identical optical and physical properties.
While natural rubies form in uncontrolled conditions and are highly prone to imperfections, lab-created rubies can be created with all the desired attributes. The growth process of lab-created rubies is highly monitored, ensuring a stone without imperfections. Therefore, lab-created rubies are more resistant to the conditions of daily life, although both natural and lab-grown rubies have a hardness rating of 9 on the Mohs scale.
Lab-Created Rubies vs Natural Rubies: Color and Clarity
Ruby images: Luen Wantisud / Canva. A derivative work by Diamond Buzz
Color is the most significant factor determining the value of a ruby. The most desirable and sought-after ruby colors are strong, pure red and red with a hint of purple.
Just like natural rubies, the color of lab-created rubies is the result of the combination of aluminum oxide with chromium. This allows lab-created rubies to achieve intense saturation and predominantly possess vivid and rich colors.
Clarity is often the giveaway when it comes to identifying lab-created rubies. Synthetic rubies, created in controlled conditions, typically have fewer imperfections than their natural counterparts. A trained professional can easily spot the difference using a 10x loupe or a microscope.
The growth process of synthetic rubies leaves distinct traces in the stone, assisting in their identification. For example, tiny amounts of lead indicate that the stone was created in a lab.
All rubies have structural patterns known as “growth lines” that occur during their formation. In lab-grown rubies, these patterns are characteristically curved, revealing their artificial origin. Created rubies may also contain gas bubbles formed during the manufacturing process.
How to Identify Lab-Created Rubies
If sending your ruby to a laboratory for testing is not an option, you can try identifying its origin using these tips. Keep in mind that these clues may not be 100% accurate in all cases.
Since synthetic rubies are created in controlled lab processes, they usually have higher clarity than most natural rubies. While not all flawless rubies are artificial, natural stones with a high clarity grade are rare and expensive. So, if you come across a high-clarity ruby significantly cheaper than an identical natural stone, it is likely a lab-created ruby.
Another indication of a lab-grown ruby is its size. Large natural rubies are rare and costly. Creating a synthetic ruby of the same size is often easier than finding a natural one. Therefore, if a ruby is relatively large and still affordable, it is likely to be lab-created.
Considering the factors mentioned above, a lower price is also indicative of a synthetic stone. If a ruby exhibits intense red color, high clarity, large size, and a relatively low cost, it is most likely not a natural ruby.
Featured image: Luen Wantisud / Canva