Going to a Gem and Jewelry show?
What are the pro's and cons of Natural Stones and Man-made Stones?
How you tell the difference?
Recently I went to a gem and jewelry show and not only was it fantastic, but it was overwhelming because there are so many choices and suppliers, that it became difficult to keep my head. Thankfully I know what I like to work with, but it was still sometimes hard to sift through it all and not get to excited to pay attention to budget and quality, even with my favorite stone specialist and good friend by my side.
Personally I am a huge fan of natural stones. But I do like a few specific man-made stones. There are so many options out there and for many it is hard to tell the difference. Plus there are wonderful reasons to use both, and fall backs to both as well. So I am hoping to give you a better understanding of these differences and options to help you decide what you want to look for before you go to a gem and jewelry show.
First though I wish you to understand that my definition of ma-made stones is referring to those made of plastic, not glass. Natural stones I am referring to here are not colored through dying, or heat.
Let's talk about some of the differences between natural stone and man-made stones. Natural stones will give you a wide variety of colors and character to each and every stone within the same type of stone, even front and back of each stone will have it's own design, this can be a good thing to some like myself, or it can be a true bothersome issue with others. If you love the look of a uniform piece of jewelry this may be very difficult to accomplish with natural stones and it can get costly to try to do so. However if you love that each piece is different and unique then this will not hinder you but inspire you. Some man-made stones do strive to look natural, in which case it is more factors that will make your decision in purchasing one over the other.
Natural stones can also be found objects, or can be purchased in a multitude of ways. They come raw and untouched right off the beach and they come cut, polished and drilled in a mind boggling selection from suppliers and lapidary specialist. Man-made stones come in a huge selection of shapes and cuts as well. They are not limited by restriction and can be shaped into anything imaginable much more easily for a much lower cost than a natural stones. Also the weight of a natural stone vs a man-made stone is going to make a difference in your designs. Natural stones usually weigh more than there counterparts, which can come in to play when using large or multiple pieces in a jewelry design.
Now how about color selections? Man-made stones come in a much larger selection of colors because they can be dyed to any color imaginable, so if you want a bright neon pink, then man-made is perfect. Natural stones can be dyed as well, so you will have to be very aware of this when looking. Dyed stones, whether natural or man-made can have issue, the finish can flake or scratch easily, it can look very inexpensive if not dyed well, and the color fade quite fast. Natural stones come in a large selection of colors and combinations, they are usually a more subtle pallet than man-made. This is not to say you can not find a bright colored stone in nature, it only means the majority of them come as the name implies, in natural tones. Color of a natural stone can also fade in the sunlight or with age just like man-made stones. The difference in fading is that it is generally more uniform and more subtle as it happens. It can also be avoided, or slowed, if the finished jewelry kept out of direct sunlight when not being worn.
Natural stones also come in a large variety of hardness of softness, so this must be taken into consideration when using them in your jewelry designs as well as when they are cut and shaped. Man-made stones do not have this issue, so you can use them in any way you wish and made into almost any shape imaginable. Natural stones will also have a variety of shapes and characteristics to there look because of it hardness, which to me makes it that much more unique. However you may prefer a man-made stone for this exact reason. Uniformity may be very important to you and your design, but man-made stones can also chip or break, just like some natural stones so keep this in mind as well.
The last difference between natural stones and man-made is simply price. Any stone that is natural will be more expensive to its man-made version. This may or may not be an issue for you. The difference may be so slight that it makes no difference at all, or it can be so huge that it becomes impossible to even consider the natural stone over the man-made. But as is said, you get what you pay for, a man-made version will surely be of lesser quality when the price is so different from a natural stone.
Now how can you tell the difference between them? There are a few things you can do to find out if they are not labeled. Begin with what you all ready know about the differences. Use your eyes and look for a whether or not the shape and color are very uniform. Does it have chips in the dyed finish or is the color very bold and bright or more subtle? Turn it over to see if it has natural waves or variations. Feel the weight of it in your hand, natural stones are heavier than man-made. Does it's surface feel super smooth or does it have dips and curves? Sometimes you can even smell, and taste(if you dare) the difference. A man-made stone will actually smell and taste like plastic as opposed the earthy scent and taste(sometimes salty) of a natural stone. Also the difference between it's heat can be a clue. Normally out of the heat of the sun, a natural stone will be much cooler to the touch than a man-made stone. Lastly the price may be a very big clue as to whether it is a natural stone or a man-made one. If it seems to inexpensive to be a real stone then it probably is a man-made one. There will also be some sellers that exclusively sell one or the other, ask around to other customers for who is reputable in there experience, or even go on-line before the show to do a little research into who will be at the show and what they carry.
I hope this helps you to understand your choices better. Many factors come in to a jewelers design, and sometimes they all get thrown out the window because, well, you just have to have that stone no matter what kind it is or what the price in the end. However next time I go, I will be better pre-paired to make informed decisions on my own. And my friend will still help me stay focused, on budget and share in the fun of all that bling. I also know that I will have a list of what I really need for my supply budget and another budget for what I just can't live without.
Happy shopping everyone!
I am a self taught jewelry designer and artist. I studied fashion design and come from a very creative family.
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