What are so-called diamond “alternatives” or “simulants?” Are they the same as real diamonds? The answer is that although several of them may look like diamonds to the untrained eye, they do not have the same hardness, durability, or brilliance as a diamond. Many are lower price alternatives with vastly different features and chemical properties, and most are synthetically created versions.
Our man-made or lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds, with exactly the same chemical, physical, and optical qualities as earth-mined diamonds. They rate a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, as do earth-mined diamonds, so they are one of the hardest substances on earth with the same durability for everyday wear as natural diamonds. The only difference is that lab-grown diamonds have none of the negative “blood diamond” or “conflict diamond” connections, and they are not responsible for a drain on - or damage to – the earth’s natural resources.
Diamond simulants, however, are very different – and many types have been marketed over the decades in an effort to find an alternative to the much-prized beauty and brilliance of a real, earth -mined or lab-created diamond. Diamond simulants are not as hard as the real thing, and many tend to develop scratches and abrasions over time. Real diamonds are easier to polish than simulants, so their luster will appear brighter. Another difference is in the density of alternative diamonds, as is the case with Gadolinium Gallium Garnet (GGG). This alternative diamond has a greater density than a real diamond, so it will appear smaller than a real diamond of the same carat weight. Another difference, or negative feature, is that several simulants have excessive fire and rainbow sparkle, making them look so artificial, it is clear they are not real.
Here is a primer on some of the better-known diamond alternatives and how each one compares to a real lab-grown diamond.
This is a synthetic, man-made stone. It is made of Silicone Carbide. It ranks a 9.25 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, so it is fairly durable, and is the hardest of all simulants. It is practically colorless and has more “fire” than a lab-grown diamond. Although synthetic moissanite scores well in these two areas, many feel its extreme brilliance makes the stone look artificial, especially when cut in larger carat weights. Some moissanite can have a slight yellow or greenish tinge in certain lighting situations, and it tends to be doubly refractive, making the stone appear fuzzy or blurry.
Cubic Zirconia (CZ)
CZ is a colorless, flawless, artificial stone, which is very affordable. It is made by heating powdered ingredients to their melting point, then cooling to a solid state. It ranks 8.5 on the Mohs hardness scale so it should stand up to wear, although it will scratch more easily than a man-made diamond. CZ will give off extreme flashes of rainbow-colored fire which, to many, have an artificial, fake look.
Zircon (Zirconium Silicate, not to be confused with CZ above)
Zircon is a natural stone, which can come in many different colors. In its colorless state, zircon can look like an earth-mined or lab-made diamond, but it scores far lower on the Mohs hardness scale (7.5) and is brittle, so it is not a very hard or durable stone and not recommended for everyday wear. It is also double refractive, so when you look into the stone you will see a double image of its facets, making it appear blurry to the naked eye.
Sapphires are naturally mined and have long been used as an alternative to diamonds. In their colorless state they are almost identical and a reasonable substitute - were it not for a few key differences. They score a 9 on the Mohs scale, so they are durable, and they are mined “naturally,” if that is of importance to you. However, colorless sapphires are not as bright or sparkling as lab-made diamonds and they require frequent cleaning to keep them looking good. Natural, colorless white sapphires are relatively rare, so they are not as affordable as other diamond simulants, but in the 1920s, synthetic sapphires were invented making them more available. You will often see them used in September birthstone jewelry.
Gadolinium Gallium Garnet (GGG)
Most often seen in vintage jewelry, GGG is a lot denser than a lab-grown diamond, so the same carat weight GGG looks smaller than the same carat weight diamond. It is also softer than a diamond, ranking only a 6.5 on the Mohs scale, so it is more easily scratched and damaged if worn on a daily basis. GGG is not used much as a diamond alternative for these reasons.
Yttrium Aluminum Garnet (YAG)
YAG is a lab-made, synthetic diamond simulant which was first developed in the 1950s and used in optics and laser technology. It has an 8.5 Mohs hardness rating and high clarity. Although it has garnet in its name, it is no relation to a natural garnet. Unfortunately, it lacks the fire, brilliance, and luster of a real diamond, so it is not often chosen for engagement jewelry.
Another diamond alternative is white topaz. Like an earth-mined diamond it is a naturally occurring gemstone, although most of the mined topaz gemstones are dull and full of inclusions. To counter-act these blemishes the stones are then treated by various methods to give them a clearer coloration, which, in turn, does diminish their “naturalness.” Topaz scores an 8 on the Mohs scale, so it can withstand daily wear well, although to put this in perspective, with a 10 rating, diamond is actually 6 times harder than topaz. Over time, topaz’s facets will wear down, it will accumulate scratches, and it will start to look cloudy even after cleaning. A diamond has a refractive rating of 2.42. Topaz is 1.64, so a diamond will have far better light return than a topaz. You will often see topaz in November birthstone jewelry.
Although it is slightly brighter than a lab-made diamond, with seven times the fire, synthetic rutile is a much softer stone with a 6-6.5 Mohs hardness scale rating. Because of this, it will easily scratch and leave abrasions on the surface. It is also a doubly refractive stone, meaning that you will see double images of its facets which will give a blurry effect. Synthetic rutile can also be slightly yellowish in color and its intense fire easily marks it as an artificial, non-diamond stone.
Are diamond alternatives or simulants really worth it? That depends on the qualities and characteristics you are looking for in an ideal stone. Both earth-mined and lab-grown diamonds are harder than any simulant. Many are less brilliant and fiery than real diamonds, but some are so brilliant that they look unmistakably fake. Whatever your choice, make sure you know exactly what you are getting. The future value, durability and overall quality of your ring depends on it.
The bottom line is, our lab-made diamonds give you real diamond quality, clarity, color and cut at exceptional prices.