Updated: May 22
Diamond and diamond simulants are clear stones, but it is not clear at all for consumers what the real differences between them are. The market is very dynamic and constantly offering new alternatives at different price points, which inevitably adds to the confusion. Below is a brief overview of what one can find on the modern market of diamonds and diamond alternatives.
Natural Diamond and Lab-Grown Diamond
To begin with, I would like to explain what lab-grown diamonds are and how they are different from natural diamonds. Gemstones are crystals and therefore, they are relatively easy to make. I'm sure all of you will manage to grow a crystal of salt, for example, in almost no time in your kitchen if you follow some simple instructions. The same is true for most gemstones. Of course, with gemstones the process is more sophisticated, it usually requires high temperatures, high pressure and the use of special equipment. The result, however, is the same: you have a crystal of the same substance as the one that occurs naturally. If it is salt you are making, then you get salt, if it is diamond or sapphire then you get those. It doesn't really matter whether the crystal was formed naturally as a result of some natural forces and set of circumstances or you intentionally created those favourable conditions for crystals to form, they are still the same crystals. So, what you are really paying for when buying mined diamonds vs lab-grown are the sweat and blood of miners and the certificate where it is stated that the diamond is natural. Lab-grown and natural diamonds have the same properties, the same crystal structure and the same appearance, moreover, lab-grown gems tend to be better clarity and colour and often cut which result in even better appearance. It is also true that lab-grown gems are ethnically sourced because there is not need to rob the nature because the same crystals can be harvested in labs. In fact, even gem experts cannot always visually distinguish minded diamonds from lab-brown, this is especially true for the most expensive clear diamonds. Expensive and rare equipment is necessary to tell them apart but even then the results can not give a 100% guarantee of the origin of the gem.
Talking about what makes diamond so special and why it is so sought after, I would say durability, brilliance, and most importantly, the symbolic meaning attached to it in our cultures (of status or true love). These are the things diamond shoppers are really looking for, even if they are not fully aware of that consciously. Because of its unsurpassed hardness diamond is the most durable gemstone indeed. This means that diamond is a good investment because it will last for generations without loosing its attractiveness and brilliance and even if it gets dull it can be recut. Only sapphire and ruby can come close to diamond in that respect. Because it lasts for so long it gets flavoured by myth-based stories and aquires symbolic meanings. History and tradition clearly contribute a lot to the popularity of diamond nowadays. Think of good old days when balls and similar social events usually taking place in the evenings and with no electricity were the most desirable places for people young and old alike to shine and you will understand where all this fuss about diamonds comes from. Diamonds would sparkle magically in candle-lit ballrooms hundreds of years ago and ladies that would have the biggest and the brightest diamonds would be the center of attention, they would be most likely to have the highest social status as well. Therefore, not by coincidence diamond became an indicator of status, richness, and a generous and devoted lover or husband - a recipe for women's happiness and success in its traditional sense. More recently, De Beers and Tiffany contributed a lot to worldwide popularity of diamond jewellery through advertising, cinema, etc., and by creating the "need" for diamond jewellery. And after all, isn't it cute and sentimental to have diamond jewellery that you associated with a special occasion, love of your life or a period of your early life when you were happy and your dreams came true and then have that very diamond after years of wear sparkle the same way on your finger even when you all get wrinkly and saggy? Ah... Not surprisingly, however, all the above mentioned symbolic meanings and sentimental feelings attached to diamonds may appear too old-fashioned and ridiculous to some people, this is exactly the reason why moissanite's popularity is growing.
Moissanite and Forever One® Moissanite
Moissanite is a unique gem with its own set of chemical and optical properties that is advertised as exhibiting more fire and brilliance than any other gemstone (but in fact, except the Amora Gem). It is stated that on the Brilliance Refractive Index, moissanite is more brilliant than diamond, ranging from 2.65-2.69 (diamond reaches 2.42 on the scale) and that moissanite's fire dispersion is over 4x greater than diamond. However, it is useful to know that this difference in brilliance is not strikingly noticeable by the naked eye, it's rather a way of marketing the gem. The truth is that the brilliance itself looks slightly different. Brilliance of moissanite is more spread over the stone, diamond's fire, on the other hand, appears to be more intense and coming from within rather than on the surface. Because of this, one may perceive brilliance of moissanite as lacking elegance and sophistication of classy diamonds. Others, however, may prefer moissanites' brilliance with more spots of fire. In fact, a clear well-cut colourless moissanite will indeed look better and sparklier than an included, poorly cut not colourless diamond. It is important to mention though, that many people will probably not notice any difference at all in the appearance of diamond vs moissanite. However, this often reported difference in the brilliance breads a misconception that it is the brilliance that is responsible for the major difference between the two gems.
To be fair, the overall difference in structural and chemical composition of moissanite makes its' overall appearance slightly different from a diamond. This difference may be not noticed by some, but may be a cause of great concerns to others. Moissanites may indeed look very similar to diamonds depending on their quality, size, colour and setting, but they may also look noticeably different. Even not a very experienced eye may notice the difference between the two and the diamond-lovers don't like the 'plasticy' look of moissanite, which is more obvious in daylight far from direct sunlight or in incandescent lighting. The difference is more noticeable when stones are very small (smaller than 3mm) or very big (bigger than 8mm). However, moissanite is a gem in its own right which may look superb if the size of the stone and the setting are chosen wisely. But it is not the most straightforward choice for someone looking for a cheaper substitute for a diamond.
Another marketed property of moissanite is its hardness. On the Mohs hardness scale moissanite comes in second to diamond, measuring at 9.25, whereas diamond measures at 10. Moissanite's durability is therefore really good, slightly better than sapphire and ruby and meaning it will survive daily wear and tear. All the beauty of colourless gems is in their brilliance and transparency, and even diamonds get dull overtime due to their tendency to chip, as a result of daily wear. So, objectively speaking, one cannot assume moissanite or diamond will last forever without being recut or repolished at some point, however, that it is true that they are both the hardest and most durable gems.
It is useful to remember that all moissanites available today are lab-grown, we have discussed the issue of lab-grown gems above, not a big deal and even somewhat advantageous in terms of quality, but just a reminder. Considering that we are talking about lab-grown gems, moissanites can be very pricey (nearly as expensive as lab-grown diamonds). This is especially the case with colourless Forever One® (DEF) gems by Charles & Colvard. Quite often to cut the costs buyers get near-colourless Forever Brilliant® (GHIJ) or the least desirable yellowish Forever Classic® moissanites. Charles & Colvard used to offer the best moissanites on the market because of their excellent cut and quality control but cheaper moissanites may look just as great as long as they are colourless (DEF) and well-cut. The good news though are that since Charles & Colvard lost their patent granting them exclusive rights on moissanite production and other market players entered the market, which drives the prices on moissanite gems down and the quality of gems up. Moissanite gems are predicted to become only better quality and more affordable in the future.
Another often overlooked but quite important fact to consider about moissanite is that even though it has a beautiful legend-like story of its origin and discovery, it lacks the significance of diamond and its symbolic power in modern human society. One may think that those are trivial things, but those are intangible assets of diamond and those make diamond shoppers feel good about their purchase and enjoy wearing their perfect diamonds for decades. It just feels good to have a diamond, like to drive a Porsche or Ferrari, for example. Moissanite, on the other hand, is perceived as modern, ethically sourced, cosmic and unusual stone, somewhat futuristic, which undoubtedly makes it attractive too for some categories of people, especially the younger generations. Quite often jewellery with moissanites is bought in addition to already purchased jewellery with diamonds. Buyers like the idea of having the two different gems at the same time and mixing and matching them but buying moissanites as a cheaper alternative for expensive diamonds is not the best idea. In fact, because of how expensive moissanites can be for the same money one could afford buying lab-grown diamonds. Otherwise, without special meaning attached to a gemstone one could simply buy cubic zirconia which are very affordable but perfectly imitate all the beauty of a diamond. So, one has to have a very clear understanding of why exactly they want to purchase a moissanite vs diamond or zirconia.
Cubic Zirconia and Swarovski Zirconia®
Cubic zirconia has a very bad reputation which is not very well justified in my opinion. Zirconia is a high quality, reasonably durable (harder than natural Topaz and most other natural gems, only except diamond, moissanite, ruby and sapphire), and optically clear synthetic crystalline substance. It is a man-made material first created in 1970s which does not exist in nature. Because of its great similarities to diamonds, zirconia is often used as an affordable diamond substitute.
Swarovski Zirconia® is the most diamond like zirconia on the market – an excellent diamond imitation for use in jewellery. Not everyone knows, but zirconia has different quality grades with A being the lowest and AAAAAA the highest. Lower quality stones are to blame for bad zirconia reputation, however, mined diamonds and zirconia share a great number of optical similarities and are very difficult to distinguish from one another visually when zirconia is of the highest grades. The very high refractive index and perfect cut of 6A Swarovski Zirconia® imitate the brilliance and fire of the purest diamonds perfectly. The Pure Brilliance cut is the main reason why Swarovski Zirconia® looks so much like diamonds. By strictly adhering to the exacting standards for grading diamond cut quality from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the world’s foremost authority on diamonds, the company was able to develop a cut that equals the Tolkowsky diamond – the most brilliant diamond cut that reveals Hearts and Arrows optical effect. This makes the Pure Brilliance Swarovski Zirconia® the most diamond-like zirconia that is available on the market today.
Yes, zirconia will not last a lifetime and this is the main drawback but it can last for a decade if looked after properly. Swarovski Zirconia® gems look just as stunning as natural diamonds and for as little as they cost they will impress the owner and others with their brilliance and beauty. Because they do last for a decade, it makes sense to still set them in solid 14K gold to make them look even more like real diamonds, they can be later replaced by a new zirconia or by other gems. However, with moissanites becoming more affordable, quite understandably, more people give preference to moissanites over zirconia.
Lab Diamonds which are not Diamonds
You will notice that a new term 'lab diamond' is emerging if you try to shop for diamond or moissanite jewellery on the internet. There is plenty of such jewellery offered by a variety of jewellery shops, including international jewellery brands and selling platforms such as Etsy, eBay, Amazon, or the like. This term is in fact, probably the most confusing term in the entire jewellery industry. It's very interesting how widely it is used and how it can create confusion in the customers' perception of genuine lab-grown diamonds. By 'lab diamonds' sellers mean cubic zirconia or similar man-made diamond simulants (e.g. Amorphous Diamond Asha®) which do not exist in nature and do not share any similarities with diamonds except their appearance. Because the words 'cubic zirconia' and 'diamond simulant' are not appealing to customers, these terms are typically avoided and more appealing 'lab diamond' is used instead. However, this wide-spread use of the term 'lab diamond' referring to cheap simulants is not doing much good in advertising genuine lab-grown diamonds. It makes it look like lab-grown diamonds do not even exist or if they do, they are not real diamonds, or that it's dangerous to buy them because how would you know if it's a real lab-grown diamond or a simulant called "lab diamond"? In fact, a trustworthy retailer should explain things more clearly, otherwise, a simple gem certificate, a reliable diamond tester, or a local jeweller can easily tell which one is which. It's not as confusing as it may look like, after all.
Amorphous Diamond Asha®
An amorphous diamond is another type of a simulated diamond. It is composed of a multitude of tiny diamond crystals all aligned together. These microscopic diamond crystals are infused into the crystal through the Amorphous Diamond Treatment (ADT) process to give the crystal an upper layer that is both simulant and man-made diamond (SP3 carbon bonds, the same carbon bonds as a diamond). To better describe how the "hybrid" stone is completed, it is called "Diamond Infused", as atomic force microscope analysis shows that the microscopic diamond crystals literally penetrate into the upper layers of the crystal.
The amorphous diamond has a beautiful brilliance and fire similar to natural diamonds or cubic zirconia. Lab-created stones are almost always characterised by perfect colour, internal flawlessness, and excellent cut, this is true for amorphous diamonds too. Much of the amorphous diamond’s light return and fire are actually the result of skillful faceting. The latest generation of amorphous diamond Asha® (the only manufacturer of amorphous diamonds that has a patent pending form of amorphous diamond) is being cut to the exacting standards of excellent brilliant cut showing Hearts and Arrows effect. Hearts and Arrows is an industry term for a specific type of round cut where all facets are in perfect alignment, proportion and symmetry. Cut is one of the four major components of diamond grading that controls 98% of the brilliance of a round cut gem or diamond. However, cut is often the least understood of the four C's, and often the most disregarded, especially in natural gems. Only small proportion of natural gems (less than 1%) have excellent Hearts and Arrows cut due to limitations that apply to working with natural raw material that is imperfect.
In terms of hardness and durability, the amorphous diamond is deemed to be the hardest diamond substitute, being just under that of a mined diamond. A diamond ranks a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, a moissanite ranks at 9.2, a cubic zirconia rates an 8.5, and the amorphous diamond ranks at 9.8. However, many owners of the gem noticed that it cannot resist daily wear and tear very well, it can chip and often bears scratches already after 1 year of normal use. It also cannot be subjected to an open flame or boiling water and the like. In terms of price, it is similar to moissanite but not as affordable as cubic zirconia. So, I would say that an amorphous diamond is just a good example of clever marketing where an actual product is less exciting than what a buyer would expect it to be.
The Amora Gem®
The Amora Gem® is a durable lab-grown stone that is also cut to Hearts and Arrows standard and is brighter and more fiery than both diamond and moissanite. Chemically, the Amora Gem® is a single-crystal silicon carbide like moissanite with a Mohs hardness of 9.25 – 9.50. Moissanite is also a form of silicon carbide but the differences between the two are most likely to be due to special Ultra Hearts and Arrow cut that only Amora Gems® have. In terms of price, it is fair to say that Amora is as expensive as diamond and at least two times more expensive than moissanite. So, some people believe, it's an overpriced moissanite, while others prefer the Amora Gem® regardless its price because they fall for its appearance.
White Sapphire and White Topaz
Diamond simulant is a broad notion that incorporates anything from glass to natural gems or man-made substances that visually resemble natural diamonds. Quite often white sapphire or white topaz can be seen offered as diamond simulants. Both stones are transparent and reasonably hard but they lack brilliance and fire of diamonds which makes them not the best option if one is not just looking for a colourless gem but also for beautiful sparkle. They look just boring in comparison with sparkly stones.
Clear Quartz also called Rock Crystal is a very interesting option. It is a natural gem that has a very beautiful luster to it that is only typical of natural gems and cannot be replicated easily. Even though it does not necessarily look like diamond either, its colourless beauty deserves admiration. Quartz is a delicate gem with hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale. It should be worn with care to avoid scratches and chips to make sure it looks as good as new and impresses the wearer and everyone around with its marvellous shine.
Probably everyone would buy big and beautiful diamonds if they were more affordable, but diamonds are diamonds and they are very pricey because everyone wants them. The cheapest diamond simulants available nowadays are Swarovski Zirconia® which are visually really hard to tell from real diamonds by not a gem expert. Moissanite, on the other hand, should not be seen as a cheaper diamond alternative because it is a gem in its own right with different properties and characteristics. It may look slightly differently from a diamond or similar depending on its colour, size and setting. But it is not necessarily cheaper than diamond, especially if it is a certified Forever One® stone. Moissanite can provide a good balance between beauty, durability and sentimental value just like diamond but it also tells a slightly different story which is exactly the reason one one would prefer moissanite, apart from it being cheaper sometimes (depends on the brand/retailer). The Amora Gem® is a beautiful fiery stone with the same chemical composition as moissanite but it can be as expensive or even more expensive than diamonds and it's the sparkliest gem of all.
Talking about other natural and lab-grown alternatives, Clear Quartz also has a beauty of its own and it may look fabulous in jewellery that otherwise would have diamonds. White Sapphire and White Topaz, on the other hand, are not the best options because they lack shine and look plane and boring in comparison with other alternatives on the market.