The international gem trade can be a shady business. In a quiet corner of a busy London pub, a trader, who asked to remain anonymous, tells C&EN about passing off synthetic gems, made in a manufacturing plant, as natural.
“This is worth more than $500,000,” the trader says, flashing a hand upward to reveal a gold ring clasping an emerald the size of a sugar cube. “Well it would be, depending on whether you consider it real or fake.”
The trader admits to buying synthetic gems—which can be 30–40% cheaper to produce than natural gems—and then selling them to jewelers as natural. The trader is unwilling to discuss specific deals, as this could bring some heat from previous customers.
Scientists have been able to make synthetic diamonds and other precious gems for decades, but in the past couple of years, technologies such as the one used to make the London trader’s emerald are enabling the production of jewelry-quality synthetic gems that are identical to natural gems at the molecular level...It will be interesting to see how the gemstone mining business will be disrupted by the synthetic gemstone folks. I admit I won't shed too many tears for DeBeers.