Synthetic or man-made crystal dates back to the 16th century, and the term now covers anything grown in a laboratory or elsewhere, whether or not they also occur naturally.
The first attempts to grow crystals synthetically were of water-soluble substances that occurred naturally elsewhere, though the complex process and precise conditions mean that even today there are relatively few types of crystal produced on any scale.
As our scientific knowledge has grown and we understand better the composition of natural materials, it has become easier to develop roasting techniques to synthesize minerals from a powder form. This method began in the early 20th century, and it was A. V. Shubnikov who analysed the basic principles for forming crystals out of aqueous solutions and melts, and he was instrumental in setting up the first factory for manufacturing crystals.
Supply and Demand
Demand has always been huge for jewellery and décor, so crystals are a valuable commodity. Quartz is a particularly popular for synthetic production, partly due to the many uses for the crystals and partly because natural quartz often contains impurities, which mean they cannot be used in things like optical devices. Crystals can grow up to 15kg in size over a period of many months, but the top-purity crystals might take several years.
Demand for geometrically regular crystals is important for gems, so rubies, sapphires and even diamonds are also made synthetically now. Clarity is important for jewellery but also for homewares – imagine antique crystal chandeliers with mismatched crystals! High-end decorative lighting companies like http://roccoborghese.com demand the absolute best for their clients, so being able to source top crystals readily for their chandeliers is crucial.
We now use man-made crystals in so many places across industry – diamond drills, for example – and for precision requirements like watch-making.
The International Union of Crystallography (IUCR) has now been set up to ensure cooperation internationally in building on and sharing knowledge and experience of crystallography worldwide.
It is hoped to be able to develop better ways of manufacturing important gems such as diamonds – so essential in the drilling and mining industries, for example – so that production can continue and expand, and not just for jewellery markets. Techniques have been refined considerably since the 1700s, though demand shows no sign of slowing down.