12 September 2023 5 min read
Here at illi, we’re celebrating September, because the birthstone for the month of September is stunning sapphire. And as we think our lab-grown sapphire jewellery is the perfect gift for a September birthday (or someone who just loves sapphires), we thought we’d answer some commonly asked questions about it.
A: Lab-grown sapphires are chemically and physically identical to sapphires that are mined from the ground. They are a form of the mineral corundum (also known as aluminium oxide) which, when combined with additional minerals, result in the beautiful colours we associate with sapphires. Blue, the most well-known shade of sapphire, is thanks to the presence of titanium when the stone is formed.
Lab-grown sapphires are grown in a lab, using one of two methods (melt or solution).
A: Yes. Lab-grown sapphires (like any lab-grown gemstone we sell) are 100% real sapphires. They are the same material as sapphires taken from the earth.
A: Lab-grown sapphires are just as durable as a mined sapphire. Sapphires come in at nine on the Mohs scale of hardness, making them the third hardest mineral - more durable than quartz, topaz or garnet (to name a few). They also have no cleavage, making it unlikely that they will break if hit. This makes lab-grown sapphires perfect for everyday wear.
As long as you look after your sapphire jewellery correctly (clean it gently with warm, soapy water and a soft brush every few months), your lab-grown sapphire should continue to shine brightly for a long, long time.
A: Sapphires are hardy gems and are unlikely to fade in hue. However, if they are exposed to extreme temperatures or certain chemical treatments, the colour can fade (although this only tends to happen to yellow-toned sapphires). A sapphire that has been exposed to extreme heat, causing the colour to fade, can regain its shade when exposed to UV light.
A stone’s brilliance may fade if it isn’t properly cared for. Like any gem, it can lose its sparkle when dust, dirt or grime starts to accumulate. That’s why we recommend cleaning your lab-grown sapphire jewellery every three to four months. Use warm, soapy water and a soft brush to clear away debris and restore your jewellery to a dazzling shine.
A: Yes. Lab-grown sapphires do still have inclusions, just like mined sapphires. Although they may be fewer in number.
Inclusions are small marks or ‘flaws’ within a gemstone. They occur naturally as the stone forms and most can only be seen under a magnifier. Most stones feature inclusions - a gem without inclusions would be incredibly rare.
A: Unless you’re a gem expert, you won’t be able to tell a lab-grown sapphire from a mined one. Gemologists may be able to detect very subtle differences between mined and lab-grown sapphires when examined under a microscope or with specialist equipment. But to the untrained eye, they are indistinguishable. They are physically, chemically and optically identical.
A: Two different methods are used to create lab-grown sapphires: melt and solution methods.
Aluminium oxide powder (the chemical compound which forms corundum) is melted to create a sapphire droplet. The flame fusion method melts the powder, adding in the other minerals needed to create the sapphire’s unique colouring. And the Czochralski method uses radio waves to melt the aluminium oxide, while a rod with a seed crystal is added to the compound, creating a sapphire column once it’s removed.
A: The first lab-grown corundum was made in 1873, using the flux method. Early lab-created sapphires were used in watches and jewellery. Since then, other processes have been developed to improve the quality of lab-grown sapphires.
A: Simply put, a lab-grown sapphire passes through fewer hands from creation to market. This contributes to its lower price tag (around 40% less than a mined sapphire).
Mined sapphires, with all the effort and destruction that comes from retrieving them from the earth in the first place, can pass through many pairs of hands to reach you. A lab-grown sapphire, on the other hand, cuts out all the middlemen. It is grown in a matter of weeks in a lab, without the same environmental and social cost, and travels a shorter distance than their mined counterpart. This shorter supply chain helps make lab-created sapphires (and other gemstones) less expensive to the buyer.
A: Absolutely. Lab-grown sapphires do have value, both sentimental and financial. However, buying any gemstone with the intent to resell it is not a great investment. Even with mined sapphires, you’re unlikely to make a profit. Gemstones drop in value once bought. And only rare specimens will garner a worthwhile resale value.
It’s a growing market, and we’ll have to wait to see how the increase in popularity of lab-grown gemstones will impact their price. As more and more people discover the pros of buying a lab-grown gemstone, it’s likely their value will rise.
Ultimately, it’s the ethical considerations that set lab-grown and mined sapphires apart. We know that mined gemstones come with a host of environmental and social concerns that can’t be said of lab-grown stones. Read more about it here: Sustainable Jewellery: What is it And Why Buy it?
So, if you’re looking for some sophisticated sapphire jewellery, without the ethical cost, take a look at our online shop.
We’re passionate about creating beautiful, sustainable jewellery, which is why we only sell lab-grown gemstones and recycled gold and silver pieces. Our Antibes collection, inspired by the deep blue of the Mediterranean sea, features truly breathtaking lab-grown sapphires set in 100% recycled solid yellow gold. Sign up to our mailing list and get 10% off your first order.
Or, to learn more about the September birthstone, read our post: September Birthstone: Sapphires - Why We Love Them.
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