As diamond industry giant De Beers “slogan of the century” so aptly puts it “Diamonds are forever.” It’s more than marketing genius; it’s testament to the very formation of the stones. Over billions of years, carbons deep under the earth’s surface are exposed to 2200°F temperatures and pressure of up to 725,000 pounds per square inch. You can’t hurry nature’s perfection.
Or can you?
Diamond simulants are certainly not as old as real diamonds, but they’ve been around the block. However, in recent years, the market has seen the introduction of synthetic diamonds. When you are purchasing a diamond, what do you need to know about real versus “fake” diamonds?
Fake vs. Synthetic Diamonds
When it comes to diamonds, fake and synthetic are not synonymous. Fake diamonds are, well, fake. They have a completely different chemical composition than mined, or natural, diamonds.
Here’s where it can get a bit confusing: simulants, faux diamonds, and imitation diamonds can either be natural or synthetic. That is, they’re either a real stone masquerading as a diamond or a fake stone hoping to pass muster. Let’s take a look at some examples:
White Sapphire: This is a natural stone that, while not as hard as diamond, is still one of the hardest minerals in the world. It can be a good substitute for diamond in a ring, especially as the price point is much lower. However, white sapphire can look cloudy, and it has a lower “refractive index” and “fire.” This means it can lack sparkle compared to diamonds. Frequent cleaning is a must or it could end up looking like smudged glass.
Zircon: This is not cubic zirconia; rather it is a natural substance. White zircon can be cut and polished to fit into jewelry, but it quickly shows wear and it is nowhere near as hard as diamond (or as white sapphire for that matter).
White Spinel: White spinel is colorless and thus sometimes used as a diamond substitute. It scores a 7.5-8 on the Mohs scale (a measure of hardness; by contrast, diamond scores a 10). While it’s not a diamond, spinel is by no means a poor stone. In fact, red versions are substitutes for rubies and black and pink versions make for unique pieces when integrated into jewelry.
Moissanite: Another diamond substitute, moissanite is very hard and produces great sparkle when exposed to light. It has good clarity and durability. Moissanite is a real mineral, so why do we consider this a “synthetic” fake? Because of its rarity, this stone is artificially produced in labs. This is probably the best non-diamond, simulated, or faux option.
Cubic Zirconia: This is one of the most common diamond substitutes, and you’ll see it in pieces available everywhere from box stores to Amazon. Cubic Zirconia, or CZ, has a 8-8.5 Mohs rating, but it shows wear. After time, it often becomes scratched and dull.
Glass: It’s cheap and easy to obtain. But glass simply doesn’t have the shine or sparkle of diamonds.
There is nothing “wrong” with these fakes - as long as you know what you are getting and are paying the appropriate price.
Synthetic Diamonds: Not Fake - Or “Real”
Science is truly a wonderous thing! Today, scientists can “grow” diamonds in labs. Known as synthetic diamonds, they have the same chemical composition as mined diamonds. To the naked eye, they are indistinguishable from natural diamonds. So, yes, they are “real.”
The difference between mined diamonds and synthetics is in the timeline; as mentioned, a mined diamond takes billions of years to form. A lab can expose carbon atoms to pressure temperatures in chambers that are designed to mimic the conditions under the earth’s surface. In just weeks, they can produce several diamonds.
The result are stones that look and feel like diamonds; they are hard, colorless, and they can be cut as a diamond is cut. Laypeople will not be able to discern the difference. Even experienced geologists frequently have difficulty. It takes a trained eye to spot differences. One of the big ones is the lack of inclusions. Mined diamonds always have inclusions, or small imperfections. These are often referred to as the diamonds’ “birthmarks.”
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… It’s still a synthetic. And, as with diamond simulants, there is nothing wrong with synthetic diamonds. However, when you work with a diamond supplier or jeweler, you need to know exactly what you are buying.
Synthetics do not have the same value (either initial or enduring) as mined diamonds. They are beautiful; they are real. They’re just not natural stones.
A reputable jewelry supplier and jeweler will conduct appropriate testing to ensure you are geting the quality - and truth - that you deserve.
A diamond is forever. A simulant or synthetic may look great in a piece of jewelry, but when it comes to the pieces that matter - engagement rings, wedding bands, anniversary gifts- natural diamonds deliver the look and value you want. As the Diamond Producers Association’s latest campaign puts it: “Rare is real. Real is a diamond.”
Ready to place a diamond ring on the finger of your loved one? Check out this custom engagement ring buying guide.