Hydrothermal quartz, also known as "cultured" or synthetic quartz, is grown in an apparatus called an autoclave. This "pressure cooker" is able to produce an internal pressure of 21,000 psi (pounds per square inch) and very high levels of heat. Super-heated steam is a solvent for silicon dioxide.
A supersaturated solution can be created in the autoclave from which crystals of quartz can be grown on appropriate seed plates. Crushed silica is put into the bottom of the autoclave to function as the source material for the soon to be crystals. Slices of quartz are hung in the upper portion of the device to act as seed plates. The autoclave is filled to about 85% with a somewhat alkaline water that has an added 1% of sodium hydroxide. This increases the solvency of the water to the quartz.
The autoclave is heated and as the temperature increases various processes unfold. When at 2000C most of the water has become superheated steam. At 3000C the internal pressure has risen to 20,000 pounds per square inch or 100 times that of normal atmospheric pressure. The crushed silica at the bottom of the autoclave dissolves and the water, with the superheated steam, begins to rise. The temperature in the upper region of the chamber is about 400C lower than that at the bottom and when the solution of silica reaches this area it supersaturates and crystallizes on the seed plates.
Crystals up to 50mm x 150mm can be grown in 3 to 4 weeks. Larger crystals are created by using these first generation pieces as the seed plates in a second or even third run.
Colored crystals can be created by a process called "doping". This is the addition of chemicals to the mix to produce the desired color. Iron will produce green or yellow; cobalt produces blue. Amethyst is created by the addition of iron oxide to the crystal which is then irradiated.
This hydrothermal process is used in the creation of other types of crystals as well. Emeralds, for example, can be produced this way. Instead of the source material being only at the bottom of the autoclave, it is placed at both the bottom and the top. Seed plates of beryl (rather than quartz) are suspended in the middle portion. Oxides of beryllium, aluminum, and chromium (or sometimes vanadium), are in the lower part of the autoclave and crushed quartz is at the top. These constituents dissolve at 6000C and react together in the center of the autoclave, forming the emerald solution which crystallizes on the seed plates of beryl.
This process produces a controllable and some argue a purer form of crystal. Objectively, it can be very difficult to discern the difference between the synthetic and the natural crystal once it is faceted, although there are some guidelines that can be used. These guidelines are indicators such as inclusions, color zoning, and twinning.
One of the most common features in earth grown quartz is what is known as twinning. Twinned crystals occur when two or more crystals grow together and produce a symmetrical shape. This can happen when one of the crystals grows with one half rotated at 180 deg. to the other. This is called contact twinning. Penetration twins occur when one crystal grows through the other and there is a direct relationship between their crystallographic axes. Twinning can also occur in synthetic quartz if it is grown from twinned seeds.
Probably the most reliable method to distinguish natural from synthetic is the color zoning and inclusions of the crystal. In natural amethyst, for example, there is a feature called "tiger striping" in which zones of light and dark can be seen within the overall violet color of the crystal. This is unlikely to happen in synthetic amethyst.
The color variations in natural quartz can be corrected by "cooking" the crystals. Citrine can be created that has uniform color. In this process, poor color quality amethyst is heated to about 4500C with the result that it becomes a citrine. These crystals are sometimes known as "burnt amethyst". They are natural, but heat-treated. Citrines and amethysts are often processed this way to create a more homogenous, "sellable" color.
Natural quartz typically has inclusions such as groups of tiny prismatic crystals, flecks of various impurities, and so on.
The primary question for most individuals involved in healing and meditation work is "why use synthetic quartz?". The tendency is that most natural quartz has a twinned or "confused" spiraling of its molecular matrix. This means that the pattern of rotation of the molecules is not just to the left or to the right, but a hodge-podge of both. In the experience of some practitioners, this slows down the movement of energy through the crystal. Cultured quartz does not have this condition unless it was intentionally grown with source material from twinned crystals. This is why the quartz used in the electronics industry is laboratory-grown material.
Earth grown crystal will always have the imprint of the environment in which it grew. This is a plus for most people. It is a connection to the earth and a relationship to whatever coding may have been installed in the crystal either intentionally or through the natural process of its long history of growth.
Synthetic crystal does not have this history. Those who use such crystals use them for just this reason. They want a crystal that is devoid of any prior programming and has a purer matrix than is possible in nature.
One internationally renowned healer, a friend in Canada, prefers the synthetic crystal for his healing work because it delivers the energy he is working with in a much faster and more powerful way. He has both a natural quartz Vogel-cut®crystal as well as a Vogel® crystal faceted from synthetic material. For the most part he prefers the synthetic material. Although Vogel-cut® crystals are not normally made from cultured material, several customers have special ordered them and are very satisfied with the results.
Some individuals maintain that the synthetic crystal has no "life" or "life force". Our experience has been that everything is alive whether natural or synthetic. The point is understood, however. A cultured crystal is a different life than an earth grown crystal.
When one has a synthetic stone of any kind, if you take that stone, clear it and charge it with breath and mind, it will change. As we infuse the crystal with our own consciousness, our own energy, the stone will change. We breathe into the crystal our breath of life. The variable here is one’s ability to actually affect this change. It comes down to a matter of choice and a matter of what is better for the task at hand.
As Richard Bach notes in his book Illusions: "Argue for your limitations and they’re yours."
Our suggestion is to experiment with both types of crystal and find out what works best for you in each circumstance.
Still, unless specifically requested, we continue to create Vogel-cut® crystals from natural earth-grown quartz.
Synthetic quartz crystal wand