Understanding the Difference Between Diamonds; Simulated, Synthetic and Natural
If you shop for jewelry with diamonds chances are that you will find many different descriptions of diamonds (or look-a-likes) with a high degree of variation of price. This can be confusing for many and seemingly overwhelming. Getting the right knowledge to identify, classify and decide what works best for you is an important step in a buying decision, especially one that will hopefully last a lifetime.
There are four main categories for which diamonds fit in to: Natural, Synthetic, Simulated and Other.
Natural Natural diamonds are of course, natural. Natural diamonds are dug out of the ground in the various countries where there are plenty. Diamonds come in a rough uncut form and in a variety of conditions, colors and sizes. Natural, large, white diamonds with minimal inclusions and high clarity are some of the most valuable in the world. It is important to understand that the quality and size of a diamond can drastically change the price and value. It is not a bad idea to watch videos about the 4 Cs to better understand the difference in the quality of a diamond. Positive: You know you have the real deal. Negative: The knowledge that it could be a conflict diamond and blood was shed for it.
Synthetic All synthetic diamonds are exactly the same chemical composition as natural diamonds with hardness and look. Synthetic diamonds are grown in a lab under special conditions to accelerate the growth of the diamonds. Most industrial diamonds used in saws and cutting tools are synthetic. One benefit of synthetic diamonds are the fact that the process is controlled and therefor the quality and color can be manipulated. In fact, synthetic can reach a higher degree of clarity and color than what most natural diamonds can achieve. Additionally synthetic can even reach a higher hardness than natural diamond for a single crystal. Synthetic diamonds are also called man-made, lab-created, cultured or cultivated. They are also called by either of the two creation methods; HPHT diamond or CVD diamonds. Positive: You can find a very high quality synthetic diamond for a more affordable price than a natural. Negative: The knowledge that it was created in a lab and does not have the long history of a natural diamond.
Simulated Many different simulated diamonds have been created over the years to produce an inexpensive alternative to natural diamonds. Though made in a lab through various chemical processes, simulated diamonds do not have the same physical, chemical or optical properties that a synthetic or natural diamonds have. There are many many different types of simulated diamonds, the most popular being Cubic Zirconia. You may also find the following: glass, white saphire, spinel, rutile, strontium titanate, YAG, GGG and Moissanite. The last has some unique properties that deserve a bit more explanation. Other marketing terms that are used, especially out of China are NSCD Diamonds or SONA Diamonds both of which are enhanced CZs (Cubic Zirconia). Positive: Get a beautiful stone for a great price, far more inexpensive than any diamond. Negative: Can scratch and dull over time as well a break. Does not have the same look and feel of a real diamond.
Other There are some other important stones that should be in it's own category. As mentioned earlier, Moissanite deserves a special introduction. While technically, Moissanite is a naturally occurring stone, it is extremely rare. In fact, it was discovered in a meteorite. Since it's discovery it has been synthetically made, and like diamond, has all the same properties of a naturally occurring Moissanite. It can be made to be near colorless and is only a little less hard than diamond. Quartz, Zircon (not to be confused with Cubic Zirconia), and White Topaz are also used in place of diamonds but are naturally occurring. None of these have the same properties such as look, feel, hardness or brilliance as a true diamond. Positive: Great price and unique look. Negative: With the exception of Moissanite, the lack of luster and hardness will strongly diminish the entire feel of the stone. It will also be more fragile and may not last.
As a professional jeweler, we recommend always using natural diamonds or, if on a budget, use high quality synthetic diamonds. These will last a lifetime and you will be able to pass them down for generations. Case in point, the natural diamond on my wife's engagement ring has been passed down in my family for five generations. It will most likely continue to do so for many more.