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Diamond Alternatives: Know what you're buying

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Diamonds are forever but forever actually comes with a very high price tag.  Given the supply issues that surround the diamond trade, I would be more comfortable buying a synthetic or a simulant alternative, than an affordable diamond that is conflict-sourced. And you cannot guarantee where a diamond is sourced unless it is certified. But then again, certification comes with the added costs that makes a diamond even more elusive to the average buyer.

Synthetics and Simulants exist with me and my market in mind: we want pretty things that sparkle, but we're not going to spend our lifetime savings just to own one. You can be glamorous without breaking the bank, and you don't have to apologize for it. When it comes to diamonds, synthetics make for an ethical choice.

I will discuss synthetics and simulants in a separate blog post as it extends to colored gemstones as well. But in basic definition by the Gemological Institute of America:

Synthetic diamonds are grown in a laboratory and have essentially the same chemical composition, crystal structure and physical properties as natural diamonds.

Simulated diamonds have a chemical composition and physical properties that are very different from natural or synthetic diamonds.

As synthetics carry the chemical properties of a natural diamond, they posses the same durability that a diamond is known for: the hardest material on earth. Simulants, conversely, are made to resemble a specific natural gem, they may be natural or lab-grown, but the chemical properties does not match that of a diamond, in any way. Synthetics are technically diamonds, only they lab-produced, and not naturally derived as coveted diamonds are. Simulants only look like diamonds, but in no way equal them in hardness and durability.

Synthetics are lab-grown and often may easily pass the highest scores on the 4Cs (Cut, Color, Clarity, Carat weight) rating scale as they were developed to copy the best of the best. However, while synthetics may flood the market, branded synthetics remain the best option for optimal cut and quality. You may also read about brands for synthetic diamonds here.

The thing is finely-made synthetics are so well-made, even gemologists would not be able to confirm it's only synthetic without a full scale gemological laboratory to do the testing. Sans the conflict, drama and difficulty of acquiring natural diamonds, these actually make for the best choice, unless you're a stickler for the natural, and can easily afford the high cost of natural diamonds.

Simulants, on the other hand, remain questionable alternatives. For someone only after the aesthetic nature of a diamond, and with a very limited budget, a variety of alternatives are available:

  • Cubic Zirconia - perhaps the most popular simulant. Lab grown with hardness at 8.5 Mohs*. Brilliant but easily scratched and must be kept clean to maintain it's brilliance.
  • Gadolinium gallium garnet (GGG) - lab grown at 6.5 Mohs. Has a similar fire to a diamond but scratches really easily as it is quite a soft stone.
  • Colorless Sapphire - may be natural or synthetic with a hardness of 9 Mohs. A sturdy stone but has none of the brilliance and fire of a diamond. 
  • Synthetic moissanite* - lab grown and the hardest of all diamond simulants at 9.25 Mohs. Has more fire than a natural diamond.
  • Synthetic Rutile - lab grown at 6-6.5 Mohs. Slightly eyllowish, brilliant with lots of fire, but the very soft material makes it prone to scratches. Also has a distinctive fuzzy appearance due to how the facets are cut.
  • Yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG) -  with 8.25 Mohs, it has good hardness, but actual stone lacks fire and brilliance.
  • White Topaz - Hardness of 8 Mohs, but with very low dispersion of fire and brilliance.

*Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness is a qualitative ordinal scale that measures the scratch resistance of most minerals. Diamond measures as the hardest with 10 Mohs and and Absolute Hardness Rating of 1500; Talc at the bottom of the scale with rating of 1 Mohs and absolute hardness of 1. It is to be noted that the Mohs scale is not a quantitative measure as Corundum (Sapphire) measures at 9 Mohs, with an absolute hardness rating of only 400.

**Synthetic Moissanite is often confused as a synthetic diamond but the chemical properties are actually different as Moissanite is composed of Silicon Carbide, Diamond is pure Carbon. Natural Moissanite is very rare, but has been discovered as natural inclusions in diamonds.

To give you an idea of how the more popular simulant options compare, see table below:

Most of our pieces are set with Signity Star, which is a high grade Cubic Zirconia that has been cut to ideal and maximum reflection. In terms of color, clarity, it is superior to other stimulants, and has a better fire dispersion than an actual diamond. Cost-wise, it is very affordable. 

Cubic Zriconias are easily dismissed as fakes, and while they are technically cheap, man-made copies of diamonds, Signity Star encompasses a different level of quality. Unlike traditional CZ, Signity will not cloud over time, and is a more lasting alternative compared to older, traditional CZ variants.

Still, a diamond is a diamond and should always be the first choice. However, not all diamonds are equal - lower grades variants under the 4C rating, would also render a low refracting index, a low dispersion or "fire", and clarity, rendering it aesthetically inferior to the other alternatives available.

Bottomline:

  • If you can afford a high quality diamond with supporting certification from a reputable seller, opt for that as an investment piece.
  • Synthetics are excellent alternatives at 30-40% less the price of an actual diamond with equal rating.
  • Simulants are a good choice for budget conscious buyers, and they also render superior payoff for the wearer.

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