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Paul Hlava - Synthetic Gems

Gemstone Synthesis

 

 

Paul Hlava
Access to Gems and Minerals, Inc.
Albuquerque, NM

 

 

Abstract
From antiquity, gemstones have been so very highly prized for their beauty and rarity that they have always been difficult and/or expensive to acquire. Therefore it seems only natural that people would try to mimic them with less costly, artificial materials, often with noble intentions, sometimes with not so noble intentions. In olden times, let us say before 1800, these artificial materials were mere substitutes or simulants of variable quality. It wasn't until the end of the 18th century, when the science of analytical chemistry was well developed, that people knew what elements and contaminants were needed to form the desirable stones. From then on the race was afoot to produce synthetic materials identical to the best, perfect, natural stones. These quests benefited science and technology in that the researchers had to develop/perfect and control means of producing and stabilizing very high temperatures, medium to very high pressures, and extremely pure starting materials.

In this well illustrated and colorful talk I will discuss many (but not all, e.g., opal will not be covered) of the technologies used to produce true synthetic gemstones as well as simulants. After defining a few terms used throughout the talk, I will follow a more or less chronological path to briefly cover the various techniques and the materials they create.

People often have questions as to the ethics of synthesizing gems, their effect on natural stone sales, how to distinguish synthetic stones from natural stones, pricing issues, and more, so I will briefly address some these issues.

Come prepared! There is a short quiz at the beginning of the talk to test your pre-talk knowledge of synthetic gemstones.

Selected Reading: K. Nassau, Gems Made by Man, Gemological Institute of America, Santa Monica, CA, 1980.

Biography
Paul Hlava recently retired from Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico after 33 years. He ran the electron microprobe laboratory (as staff member in charge of the lab since 1980) the entire time. Because the EMP lab is part of the Materials Characterization Department, a centralized analytical facility for Sandia, Paul gets to work on a wide variety of (prosaic to exotic) materials and projects. He normally analyzes many alloys and joins (welds, brazes, solders, metal to ceramic, glass/metal seals, etc.) but also does work on high tech ceramics, low-temperature superconductors, electronic materials, phosphors, contamination, corrosion, failure analyses, nuclear waste simulants, thermal batteries, et hoc genus omne. As a result, he has written, co-authored, and/or presented over a hundred papers on a wide variety of materials.

Paul graduated from the University of New Mexico with a geology MS in 1974. At UNM he worked as a research graduate doing probe research under Klaus Keil in the Institute of Meteoritics. He worked on moon rocks, Hawaiian basalts, ultramafic rocks, meteorites, and inclusions in diamonds. Paul occasionally uses his geological and mineralogical expertise on Sandia projects but also does some personal research on minerals. He has been co-discoverer and co-author on the descriptions of several new mineral species.

Paul stays active in the area of geology, mineralogy, crystallography, and gemology. He has been president of the Albuquerque Gem and Mineral Club three times. He is the Chair for AGMC's annual show, geological/mineralogical expert for the New Mexico Facetors Guild, and often gives talks on geological/mineralogical/ crystallographic/ gemmological subjects. About twenty years ago, Paul started a side business, Access to Gems and Minerals, Inc., dealing in gemstones, jewelry, and related items. This has not only given him access to wholesale rooms full of gemstones but it has piqued his interest in the research side of this field. He has given several well-received talks on gem related subjects such as this one on the active and ever-changing field of gemstone synthesis.


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