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The Identification of Rubies, Sapphires and Emeralds

The “Big Three” as they’re often called, constitute the vast majority of colored gemstone sales across most international markets. Rubies are traditionally the most expensive among them, given similar quality levels, however in the U.S. sapphire is more frequently purchased by end-consumers.

Depending on your familiarity with gemstones and gemology, you might find it surprising to know that rubies and sapphires are very similar to each other on an atomic level. Both are composed of crystalline aluminum oxide, but are colored by different trace elements. Chromium is responsible for ruby’s vibrant reds, while iron and titanium cause the violetish blue hues of sapphire.

Identification of a gemstone species involves taking note of different gemological traits. When checking rubies for example, our gemologists here at Gemcamp factor in tests that determine properties like optic character, growth structures, birefringence, refractive index and many others. Each gemstone species has its own unique and definable values that allow gemologists to separate it from another similar looking species. Red spinel for example can look identically similar to ruby by just the naked eye, however its crystal structure is actually more symmetrical on an atomic level compared to ruby’s. This can be observed using a polariscope, giving our gemologists information that they can use to scientifically pinpoint a gemstone’s proper identity.

Emeralds are composed of different elements altogether, they are beryllium cyclosilicates. Here at the laboratory, we also look for clues and indicators of identity under the microscope. Mineral inclusions such as pyrite can help us separate natural emerald from man-made emerald- which can be created today using a variety of proprietary methods. Chatham and Tairus are two companies abroad who have pioneered the development of artificial gem growth. They regularly produce man-made emeralds among many other gem species.

Be careful when you’re looking to authenticate a gemstone. Know that two gems can overlap in both clarity and color. Sometimes more in-depth knowledge is required before you can properly separate man-made gemstones from their natural counterparts. Awareness of the different types of inclusions and their significance also helps.

Our laboratory also makes use of advanced instruments for tasks that go beyond microscopy or standard gemological tests. We use spectrometry based instruments for the detection and separation of natural diamonds against lab-grown (man-made) diamonds, which are also composed of pure carbon, with identical properties like hardness, luster and brilliance.
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