by Dave Greene | Jan 5, 2019 | Diamond Alternatives, White Sapphire
White Sapphire is a beautiful stone for some brides searching for possible diamond alternatives, but terminology can sometimes be confusing. Some White Sapphire says it’s ‘Created’ or ‘Cultured.’
What does Created White Sapphire mean? The term ‘created,’ means that the stone is a man-made gem that was grown in a laboratory setting. Lab-grown White Sapphire is chemically and optically identical to White Sapphire that’s mined from the earth. Even though this created, or ‘cultured’ gem is identical, its origins have to disclosed.
I want you to feel informed and ready as you shop, and compare, mined and man-made White Sapphire, so I’ll share helpful information and concepts related to cultured sapphire below.
What’s the Difference Between ‘Mined’ Stone and ‘Created’ Stone?
White Sapphire is a very rare semi-precious stone that’s free of the trace elements that give other varieties of Sapphire their color. White Sapphire is naturally formed in the earth over thousands of years and then mined, to extract it.
It’s now possible for laboratories to grow, in just weeks, what normally takes the earth thousands of years to produce. The resulting White Sapphire is essentially identical to a mined stone. By identical, I mean that it’s made from the exact same elemental building blocks, visually looks identical, and has the exact same physical properties as the mined stone does.
How is White Sapphire Created in a Laboratory Environment?
Sapphire is a Corundum. The primary building block of Corundum is Aluminum Oxide. There are several methods used for creating lab-grown sapphire. Some methods are more expensive than others, but they also have different capabilities regarding size potential and the speed with which gems can be grown.
As with Synthetic Diamonds, the growing process often starts with a seed crystal. It always involves heat, and can involve intense pressure too, depending on the method used.
To form colored sapphires, additives like Chromium or Boron can be utilized. Chromium would generate a Ruby. Boron, could be used to form a blue sapphire.
What Other Names Are Used for Lab-Created White Sapphire?
There are a number of different names that are used to refer to lab-grown White Sapphire. Some of those could include:
- Synthetic White Sapphire
- Lab-created White Sapphire
- Lab-grown White Sapphire
- Man-made White Sapphire
- Cultured White Sapphire
- Created White Sapphire
- Above-Earth White Sapphire
- Above-Ground White Sapphire
Occasionally people will also use a term like ‘fake’ White Sapphire to reference a lab-created stone. That’s a really misdirected term in this case, because lab created Sapphires are still Sapphires in every sense of the word—they just came to us through a different process than normal.
Here’s an illustration, I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago with someone that works for a medical company that grows new sheets of skin for burn victims. They apparently take healthy skin cells, and use them to grow additional skin cells. The new skin that’s manufactured is an incredible blessing to the burn victims that need to use it.
We couldn’t really refer to the sheets of skin that this company creates in a laboratory as ‘fake skin,’ it’s not—it’s absolutely real skin, that’s just created differently than normal.
How Do New FTC Guidelines Treat Lab-Grown Gems?
In 2018, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) announced new guidelines regarding ‘Synthetic’ Diamonds. The federal department in charge of ensuring clear and accurate advertising practices, essentially said that lab-grown diamonds are not really ‘synthetic,’ because that word suggests that they aren’t real diamonds. The FTC found that they are real diamonds—they’re chemically and visually identical.
The department suggested using a term like ‘cultured’ to reference the fact that the gem was created in a laboratory, without giving the false impression that it’s fake. They also warned jewelers from using the word ‘synthetic’ to describe a competitor’s lab-created stones, because, in their eyes, that would be deceptive and misleading.
Through their research, and the new guidelines they announced, the FTC confirmed the fact that man-made gems, like diamonds or sapphires, are in no way fake or of lesser quality than gems mined from the earth.
What is Gem Enhancement?
Even gems mined from the earth are often processed by laboratories. It’s incredibly common practice for various types of stones to receive ‘enhancement’ to improve color qualities that will make the gem more valuable.
Heat treatment, for example, can create more vibrant color for many types of colored gems. It’s an enhancement that’s permanent for the stones that are treated. Heat treating can also be used to remove color from certain types of stone.
Morganite, for example, comes out of the earth in various shades of pink. Pink is a popular color ring now. Morganite can also have orange or yellow coloring present in the stone as well. Sometimes the blended color is desirable, and sometimes it isn’t. Heat treating can be used to essentially burn off the yellow and orange coloring, if needed, so that pink is all that’s left, and so the saturation of the pink stone that remains is improved.
What Are Labs and Retailers Supposed to Disclose?
Many clear and colored gemstones are now receiving enhancement through heat treatment and other processes. The aim is to make gems clearer or more colorful to make them more desirable than they were in their natural state.
Some forms of enhancement are discoverable through testing, others aren’t. Heat treatment at low enough temperatures doesn’t leave any signs. Retailers are expected to disclose any enhancement made to the stones they’re offering, just like they’re expected to disclose if a particular gem is lab created.
If enhancements make the kind of beautifully colored stones that we all want more available and inexpensive than they would otherwise be, then they’re a great thing, they just need to be disclosed.
Are Lab Created, or Lab Enhanced, Stones Less Valuable?
Lab created stones typically cost less than earth mined stones, but that’s not always the case. A lab-grown diamond is significantly cheaper than a mined diamond. The price difference with much less expensive stones is typically much less significant. In general, lab created stones will cost less, and will probably be more difficult to resell.
Gems typically don’t have a great resale value anyway, meaning that after buying them at retail, you would often be lucky to be be able to to turn around and immediately recover 50% of what you paid for the gem. You may have a harder time selling a lab created gem locally, because (while awareness has been exploding recently) the general public still isn’t very familiar with them.
Enhancements are done to make gems more desirable. Collectors may want to avoid enhanced stones because unenhanced stones with fantastic coloring are more rare and valuable, but outside of collectors, the fact that a gem’s color has been enhanced shouldn’t negatively impact the perception or value of a ring. Color enhancement is permanent, so there’s no real downside for brides that just love the color of the enhanced stone.
Will GIA Issue Gem Reports for White Sapphire?
GIA (Gemological Institute of America) doesn’t grade Sapphires at all, but they will evaluate and provide a report on your White Sapphire if you’d like. Those documents can report on physical characteristics like the cut, color, size (weight and other measurements), and shape of your gem.
GIA can also confirm whether your Sapphire is a mined or created stone, and report on any enhancements or treatments that it can detect. Finally, GIA will let you know the part of the world that your stone came from if they’re able to clearly discern that information. A report like this will cost around $70, and can be ordered directly from their website.
What is a Reasonable Synthetic White Sapphire Price?
A quality 1 carat AAA graded White Sapphire that was lab created would likely cost you $300-$350. The retailer you purchase the stone through, and a number of other variables could obviously cause the price to be a little higher or a little lower than this average.
How Can You Tell if a Sapphire is Lab Created?
Lab created sapphires aren’t particularly easy to distinguish from mined sapphires, but there are a few clues that are often present, depending on the process used to form the stone. A loupe is the little eye piece that jewelers use to magnify the stones they’re evaluating. You may want to buy or borrow one, so you can see your sapphire under a 10X, or greater, magnification.
Once magnified, look for small flaws and blemishes inside the stone. Inclusions mean that the stone is likely mined from the earth. A lack of inclusions and imperfections doesn’t necessarily mean that the stone you’re evaluating is lab-created, but it certainly increases the likelihood.
Inclusions like tiny air bubbles, or nail head inclusions (which look like tiny nail shaped bubbles in the stone) can be an indication that that the stone is man-made. The air bubbles aren’t noticeable unless you’re looking for them under magnification. They’re the result of the formation process used.
What’s the Meaning Behind White Sapphire Engagement Rings?
Many people believe that certain gems have specific powers and abilities that give them function beyond decoration. White Sapphire is believed to help you deal with extreme stress, so you can remain optimistic and creative as you craft your solution. It’s considered a stone of wisdom and positivity.
Who couldn’t use a little help with stress management and positivity from time-to-time? Creativity and positivity are always assets in life, but also in new marriages. The meaning that White Sapphire has carried for generations adds to the charm of the gem.
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by Dave Greene | Dec 27, 2018 | Diamond Alternatives, White Sapphire
White Sapphire and Cubic Zirconia are both commonly used as diamond alternatives.
Is White Sapphire the same as Cubic Zirconia? White Sapphire and Cubic Zirconia are not the same stone. They have different chemical and optical properties. White Sapphire is a naturally occurring stone that is both mined from the earth and created in laboratories. Cubic Zirconia is not a natural stone. It can only be produced in a lab.
Since these stones each have different properties. The rest of this post will dive into the details of their strengths and weaknesses, so you can determine if either might work well for your ring.
The Origins of White Sapphire
White Sapphire is a Corundum. The Corundum family includes all Sapphires and Rubies.
Pure Corundum is naturally transparent, but trace amounts of various other elements can the various rainbow of colors that the Corundum family has become known for. Technically, red Corundum is known as Ruby, blue Corundum is known as Sapphire, and all other varieties of Corundum are grouped under the umbrella term ‘Fancy Sapphire.’
Corundum boasts more than just a wide range of colors, it’s also one of the hardest materials. In fact, it’s second only to diamond in hardness.
Today, Sapphires are both naturally occurring and man-made in laboratories. Lab created stones are identical to earth mined stones in every way. They’re made of the same things and are visibly indistinguishable, and for jewelers and gemologists.
Sapphires have a long history. Their rarity and beautiful colors have made them prized possessions of the rich and royal throughout time. Today, earth grown Sapphires are mined in places like India, Africa, Thailand, and Myanmar.
During the 1990’s, White Sapphire became a popular alternative to diamond for many brides. As demand grew, the cost of the gem skyrocketed.
In the decades since, technology has continued to evolve. The quality of man-made diamonds, Moissanite, and Cubic Zirconia have all gotten dramatically better. Those advances have produced a range of great alternatives that have helped to drive the cost of White Sapphire back down.
The Origins of Cubic Zirconia
Cubic Zirconia is an entirely man-made stone that’s been used as a diamond alternative since the 1970’s. It’s comprised primarily of Zirconium Oxide and an additive like Calcium Oxide or Yttrium, that forms an optically perfect stone that’s consistently clear in color and free of inclusions and other imperfections.
As I mentioned earlier, advances in technology have allowed the quality of Cubic Zirconia to improve significantly over time. They now look more similar to diamond and last longer than early stones.
Not all Cubic Zirconia are created equal. There’s actually a quality scale ranging from ‘A’ (the lowest grade) to ‘AAAAA’ (the highest) that assigns a grade based on the 4 C’s (Color, Cut, Clarity, and Carat Weight). In theory, the very best stones carry a AAAAA rating, making it easy for novices to buy quality stones without having to know much about the 4 C’s.
In reality, manufacturers and retailers are inconsistent with their grading. Many retailers claim that their stones are AAAAA, even when they aren’t. Sometimes they’re aware of the deception, sometimes they aren’t. The manufacture may have made a claim about the quality of their stones that an uninformed retailer is just passing along. For all those reasons, it’s very much a ‘buyer beware’ environment.
You may hear people using the term Cubic Zircon occasionally when talking about Cubic Zirconia. They aren’t interchangeable names. Zircon is actually an entirely different, naturally occurring, stone. Because it has a similar sound, people sometimes get confused.
The hardness of a particular stone is critical, because when it comes to rings, hardness equals durability. The softer a particular stone is, the more susceptible it is to scratching. As the stone on a rings collects more scratches, it’s sparkle diminishes, and it often gets cloudy and dull.
In 1812, a German Geologist by the name of Friedrich Mohs developed a scale that’s used to compare and communicate the relative hardness of various materials. It essentially communicates which minerals are capable of scratching other minerals.
Mohs picked 10 initial minerals and then arranged them in order of hardness and assigned numbers to each based on where they fell in the lineup. The softest material (Talc) was labeled 1, the next softest was 2, and so on, until all ten had a number assigned.
Diamond was given a 10, as the hardest known material. Sapphire was the second hardest naturally occurring gem, with rating on Mohs scale of 9. While the 9 and 10 ratings are neighbors, that doesn’t mean that diamond is only a little harder than Sapphire. In reality, it’s about 4 times as hard. That disproportional disparity happens because Moh’s scale isn’t evenly spaced and distributed. Again, it’s comparative. It simply tells us which minerals are capable of scratching other minerals (for example, an 8 can scratch a 7, but a 7 can’t scratch an 8).
Cubic Zirconia is softer than White Sapphire. It’s rated between an 8 and 8.5, depending on the specific Cubic Zirconia being evaluated. Again, this means that White Sapphire could scratch a CZ, but a CZ couldn’t scratch White Sapphire.
While Cubic Zirconia is considered to be a relatively hard stone, it still can scratch as you go about your everyday routines, so you have to be mindful of your ring and keep it as safe and protected as possible.
When a White Sapphire or Cubic Zirconia is shaped for a ring, many flat surfaces are cut all around the ring to help refract light back out of the top of the stone as a sparkle. Those surfaces are called facets. A round brilliant cut stone, for example, has approximately 58 facets.
There’s a well defined ridge where two facets come together. Cubic Zirconia will often see those ridges wear over time, making the stone look more worn and rounded. Diamonds are hard enough that the ridges in between facets will never wear down.
In addition to the rounding effect of normal wear and tear over time, Cubic Zirconia can develop kind of a frosted or cloudy look through the years, as they collect scratches, and those scratches then collect dirt and oil.
While hardness is generally a really helpful quality for engagement or wedding ring center stones to have, it does come with a downside. While ultra-hard gems, like diamond, resist scratching incredibly well, their hardness makes them somewhat brittle, leaving them more likely to get chipped or fractured than softer stones.
When various trace elements are present in Corundum, it takes on the various shades of color that have made it famous. When there are trace amounts of Chromium, for example, the stone takes on a red hue and becomes Ruby. When it contains traces of titanium and iron, it becomes Blue Sapphire. When Corundum is free of other trace elements, it’s colorless. Colorless Corundum is referred to as White Sapphire.
Just as diamonds often have a slight yellowish tint them, White Sapphire can sometimes have a slight hue of some other color when very slight amounts of trace elements are present…but not enough to classify the stone as Blue Sapphire, Ruby, or some other gem. Because of this, it’s possible for White Sapphire to have a slightly blue, yellow, or even pink tint to it.
The more clear and colorless a White Sapphire is, the valuable it becomes. It’s rare to find a completely colorless sapphire, so the gems that contain slight tinting of various shades are very often heat treated to make the stones more clear. The process can also help to improve the stones clarity. Improving color and clarity raises the value of the stone. Manufacturers are supposed to disclose when stones have been treated in some way to improve their value, but that doesn’t mean it always happens.
Improving color through heat treatment has a permanent effect on the stone. The change isn’t just superficial, it continues throughout the gem, so heat treated White Sapphire can be re-cut or polished in the future without negatively impacting the color of the ring in any way.
White Sapphire is a very stable stone, that will not experience color change over time, so you don’t have to worry about your colorless stone taking on a yellow hue, for example, as the years pass.
As with all gems used in rings, especially as diamond alternatives, cut is most important. The cut of your gem will accentuate the features that you love most. When a quality round brilliant cut is applied to a White Sapphire, for example, it can be quite sparkly.
Even at its most sparkly though, it’s hard for White Sapphire to compare with stones like Cubic Zirconia for sparkle. It just doesn’t have the same propensity for the refraction that creates a fiery effect full of colorful sparkle. Some people actually appreciate the more muted sparkle of White Sapphire though. The want a beautiful, but more modest and understated look, which is exactly what White Sapphire delivers in spades.
Cubic Zirconia is full of sparkle, as long as it’s kept clean. It has a higher rating on the refractive index than White Sapphire. The refractive index measures how quickly light moves through a variety of materials. Various types of stones and gems handle the light that enters them differently…even if their cut and clarity are the same. Those that refract light faster appear more brilliant. Refraction has to do with the way captured light is fractured, scattered, and reflected back up through the stone.
Reflective Index Ratings:
- Diamond = 2.42
- Cubic Zirconia = 2.15- 2.18
- White Sapphire = 1.76 – 1.77
Because Cubic Zirconia’s refraction tendencies are closer to a diamond’s, it’s going to look more like a diamond in terms of brilliance. While White Sapphire is lower than Cubic Zirconia in this area, it has a high rating compared to other natural gems. Infact, aside from diamond, there are no other naturally occurring gemstones that have a higher refractive index rating than White Sapphire. There are lab-created stones, like Moissanite, that have higher index ratings though.
If you’re wearing White Sapphire on your ring because you love the stone for what it is (White Sapphire), you’ll be very happy. If you really want something relatively inexpensive that others will mistake for diamond, Cubic Zirconia would be a better option.
Cubic Zirconia have more light dispersion than White Sapphire, and even more than diamonds. Dispersion is the prism effect that takes white light entering the stone, breaks it into a full spectrum of color, that is then reflected back to the eye as a show of dancing color across the ring. These colored sparkles are referred to as ‘fire.’ A stone that has high dispersion is said to be fiery.
Cubic Zirconia is a very fiery stone. So is Moissanite. Both throw off more colored sparkles than diamonds do. They also are much more fiery than White Sapphire. Some people don’t like to have much fiery sparkle in their ring. White Sapphire might be a better option if that’s the case. Others find fiery rings beautiful and can’t get enough. They’ll love simulantslike CZ or Moissanite as a diamond alternative.
A quality AAA rated stone from a reputable dealer will likely cost $300 to $400/carat. That’s a colorless stone with excellent clarity. If retailers are significantly cheaper, you should be very cautious. It’s easy to buy a piece of glass that looks like it must be the real thing to an untrained eye.
For that reason, I’d definitely suggest that you avoid buying stones like these on auction type sites. You just never know what you’re going to get. It’s easy to get stuck with something that you can’t use or resell.
If the White Sapphire you find is significantly more than the range quoted above, it could be that you’re looking at a stone that hasn’t been heat treated. The listing should specifically mention that.
Remember, that most colorless stones have been heat treated to remove the negligible amount of tint they may have had from tiny trace amounts of elements like titanium or chromium. You’ll have to decide if you’re willing to pay a lot of extra money for a more rare colorless stone that hasn’t been heat treated.
While non-heat treated stones are far more rare, I personally wouldn’t pay any extra for them, because no one else knows or cares.
Cubic Zirconia can run a wide price range depending on a number of factors, but they’re still one of the least expensive diamond alternatives available. A 6.5 mm stone (the approximate equivalent of a 1 carat stone) typically starts between $100 and $150.
It’s possible to find 1 carat Cubic Zirconia stones for as little as $10, but you typically get what you pay for. You wouldn’t want to live in a cheap house where the builder cut lots of corners to save costs so they can sell the home to you as cheap as possible. If they skimped on nails and lumber, you home may not last nearly as long. The same is true for your ring.
In order to compete so aggressively on price, while still making a profit, manufacturers often cut corners with their materials. While their product may start out looking similar to a more expensive stone that was made with better materials, the difference in quality will start to be evident pretty quickly.
Ultra cheap stones often get very cloudy, which looks bad and makes them appear dull and lifeless. They may also scratch more easily, which again can lead to clouding and dullness.
At the other extreme, you may find 6.5mm Cubic Zirconia selling for up to $600 or so. Some of the more expensive CZ has a carbon coating to help protect the surface of the ring from scratching and outside contaminants.
Your wedding ring is going to need occasional cleaning to look its best, regardless of what it’s made of. Some materials need more frequent and careful care than others though.
Diamond will continue to sparkle even if it’s fairly dirty. Cleaning will make it sparkle even more. White Sapphire is a much needier stone. It tends to be impacted by dirt and oil from everyday life much more quickly.
You don’t have to dig in the garden or change the oil in your car for your ring to get dirty and begin to loose its shine. Even office workers that shuffle paperwork all day, will be surprised at how quickly the dirt in their environment combines with the natural oils from their skin to conceal the sparkle of their stone.
Soap scum, oil from lotions, hard water spots, chemicals and oils from hair products, and more can impact you stone. Since White Sapphire has a much lower refractive light rating than Cubic Zirconia, it’s impacted fastest by all of these elements, making the stone look tired and dull if not cleaned regularly. The same can happen with a Cubic Zirconia, but it might take a little longer before the stone has an impact that’s substantial.
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution. Remove your rings before showering or washing your hands. Also take them off before applying lotion, hand sanitizer, or hair care products as well. In fact, you should leave your rings off for 10 minutes following the use of any of those products as well.
In addition to exercising caution in those areas, you should clean your ring regularly. You may find that you need to clean your ring every week or two, in order for it to continue looking its best.
Cleaning your ring can be done by soaking the ring in warm water for 10 minutes and then scrubbing it gently with a soft baby toothbrush and mild dish soap. Rinse well after washing, and then dry it thoroughly by dabbing it with a soft towel and then blow drying the ring on a cool air setting.
Be sure to scrub well around all areas of the setting where dirt and oils can get trapped between the ring and your stone. When gunk is overlooked and left there, it can really affect the way light is captured, refracted, and reflected.
Another good option for most rings, is to buy an Ultrasonic jewelry cleaner like jewelers use. They’re very affordable, and it will save you a trip to your jeweler and a major expense over time to own your own. You can buy a home unit for less than $40. At that prices, it’s worth owning to make ring maintenance easier over the long-term.
Cubic Zirconia and White Sapphire clearly aren’t the same stone. They each have strengths and weaknesses. White Sapphire is mined from the earth, and has a rich history. It’s also a little more expensive, doesn’t sparkle as much, and requires regular cleaning.
Cubic Zirconia is entirely lab made. It’s softer than Sapphire, so it’s more susceptible to scratching, but less likely to chip. It has more sparkle and a lower price tag.
Either option can be a great frugal ring for your engagement or wedding, as long as you weigh the pros and cons thoughtfully and then shop carefully.
Is Lab Created White Sapphire Better or Cheaper?
Just like man-made diamonds are chemically and optically identical to mined diamonds, lab-created Sapphire is chemically, and visibly, an exact match for mined Sapphire. Man-made Sapphire is neither better or worse than the earth mined gem. Lab-made Sapphire is sometimes a little less expensive, but not always. It often sells right alongside mined Sapphire for the same price as well. Even when it costs less, the savings aren’t significant. A Man made stone might save you $10 per carat or so.
What’s the Meaning Behind White Sapphire?
Sapphires have long been a symbol of power and strength. The crowns, goblets, and thrones of many kings have been ornamented with them as a display of strength and prominence.
White Sapphire, specifically, is believed to help bring wisdom. It is also thought to provide clarity and objectivity to its wearer. The stone is believed to bring new perspectives on things that help foster creativity and eliminate negative thought.
All of that historic meaning behind White Sapphire, could make it an especially appropriate addition to a wedding or engagement ring, if the physical qualities of the stone meet your needs.
Is White Sapphire a Good Choice for Wedding Rings
White Sapphire can be an excellent choice, but it ultimately depends on what you’re after. If you want an almost identical diamond look alike, White Sapphire isn’t for you. If you can wear and appreciate White Sapphire on it’s own merits, you’ll probably love it. It’s a semi-precious gem that’s relatively hard, clear, and inexpensive.
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