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Diamond Simulants: What to Know | Rare Carat

In a world filled with hundreds of types of natural gemstones, we love a diamond! We love a diamond so much that it has become a billion dollar industry on its own, with hundreds of millions of carats sold each year. Diamonds are dazzling, captivating, and can get a little pricey (especially the big ones!). It makes sense that people would want to find ways to imitate this beloved gem… which is exactly what a diamond simulant is - anything that imitates a diamond's appearance (like a white sapphire or synthetic moissanite). So, if you are curious about diamond simulants, how these compare to lab grown diamonds, and the pros and cons of such imitations, read on!

What is a Natural Diamond?

Diamonds are actually really incredible gems. It takes millions to billions of years for them to form underground, they are one of the hardest natural substances on the planet (only diamond can scratch diamond), they are made up of only one element (carbon), their thermal conductivity is extremely high, the brilliance potential of a cut diamond is literally unmatched, and they have a huge sentimental value attached to them. Pretty legit right?

All of these unique things are what make a diamond a diamond. Simulants could never match a diamond's perfect hardness or extreme brilliance, but they can look visually similar. And while some look more like diamond than others, that is the fundamental life goal of a simulant.

Lab Grown Diamonds vs. Simulants

There is a huge difference between a lab grown diamond and a diamond simulant - lab grown diamonds are real diamonds! Lab grown diamonds have the same physical and chemical composition as a natural diamond but (as the name implies) are grown in a lab under supervision. So, unlike a diamond simulant, lab grown diamonds have the same hardness and brilliance level that we expect to see from our beloved diamonds.

I should also mention that most diamond simulants will be considerably less expensive than what a lab grown diamond would be. People who love a sparkly diamond and the way it looks, but do not love the price tag, will fully appreciate a good diamond simulant.

Diamond Simulants

Even though diamond simulants have been worn for hundreds of years, the substance used as the simulant has continually evolved. Materials like colorless glass (still in use), foil backs - where metal foil is attached to glass (to enhance brilliance), and super brittle zircon were some of the earlier versions that we have tried.

More modernly, I’m talking around mid-1900’s, we started to see several advanced lab varieties emerge. Synthetic rutile, strontium titanate, YAG, and GGG are prime examples. Some of these you can only find in estate jewelry now, some of these are still being produced - but none are really as prevalent as they once were after more impressive options started to hit the market.

Synthetic Moissanite

A huge advantage that synthetic moissanite has over all other diamond simulants is its hardness. It is the closest that any simulant comes to being as hard as a diamond - which means it is extremely difficult to scratch. The intensity of the brilliance (or the white part of the sparkle) is less than a diamond, while the amount of fire (or the rainbow part of the sparkle) is more extreme. Synthetic moissanite can also have a slight yellow or greenish tint to it and might even appear a bit fuzzy - but it continues to rise in popularity as a solid choice for a diamond simulant.

Synthetic Cubic Zirconia (CZ)

If you have heard of any diamond simulant before today, it has to be cubic zirconia (not to be confused with zircon). CZ is the most common and continues to be one of the most popular simulants because of its brilliance level - although some think CZ can look artificial with its flashes of color when it sparkles. And even though it isn’t as hard as synthetic moissanite, it is still a fairly durable material. CZs are often colorless and flawless but can also be found in basically every color - and for a very good price.

White Sapphires

Speaking of, sapphires also come in almost every color - including white (aka colorless). These gems are even lower on the hardness scale than CZ, but still remain a stable option for consistent wear. Sapphires are beautiful but white sapphires have no chance at comparing to the brilliance and flash that a diamond gives. But! They are relatively affordable and really - who doesn’t love a sapphire?

Pros & Cons of Diamond Simulants

Still on the fence about diamond simulants? To keep it simple I have made this general list of pros and cons for diamond simulants as an easy checklist for you.

Pros

  • Affordable: Easily the biggest pro are the budget friendly prices diamond simulants offer. Whether it is a fun tiara or a cocktail ring (or something a little more serious), opting for a simulant can be a guilt-free buy.
  • Almost Perfect: Some of these are made in the lab - which means a controlled environment - which means their finished product is as close to a perfect product as they can get it (which gives us eye-clean simulants).
  • Availability: Diamond simulants of all types and sizes and colors can be found almost everywhere, making them extremely easy to obtain. This is great for quick custom creations!

Cons

  • Hardness: None of the simulants offer the perfect hardness that a diamond does. This is important to consider for the longevity of jewelry worn consistently.
  • Appearance: The job of a simulant is to look as close to a diamond as it possibly can, and some of these do a pretty decent job. But, nothing can ever truly have the entrancing brilliance of a round cut diamond.
  • Lack of Value: Yes, diamond simulants lack value monetarily, but they also lack value sentimentally (a CZ is not forever).

Whether it is budget, preference, or just for funsies, diamond simulants are here to help! Each option has their own set of advantages and disadvantages but overall - they give us an affordable alternative that we can turn to. We have been using diamond simulants for hundreds of years and will most definitely continue to use simulants for as long as diamonds remain the most valued gemstone in the world. After all - imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

Not sure diamond simulants are right for you? Read more about them and other options below:

Breean Mokede
Educated as an earth scientist, trained as a graduate gemologist, soul of an artist, lover of all things beautiful, and here to be your personal gemstone guru.