Synthetics Diamonds vs Diamond Simulants

Proposing can be difficult enough, but deciding on the type of diamond engagement ring to buy can be daunting. There are many factors to consider when purchasing diamonds, including price, size, style and type of stone. Many of us also have ethical questions about the diamonds we buy, taking into account social and environmental concerns. You may have come across the terms “synthetic” and “simulant” while researching your diamond engagement and wedding rings. Understanding these words and how they relate to these gemstones can help clear up a lot of confusion and make your decision easier to make. The reason these terms are even mentioned in relation to diamonds is that today we have several choices when it comes to which type of gem we wish to have placed in our jewelry. There are mined diamonds, taken from beneath and above the earth, often with environmental degradation, and sometimes with human mistreatment. There are lab-grown diamonds created by humans that are identical to mined diamonds in their structure, makeup, and appearance. Then, there are stones that are meant to replicate diamonds that are made from other materials, like Moissanite or Cubic Zirconia. So, what’s the difference?

What is a Synthetic Diamond?

A synthetic diamond is defined as a compound formed through chemical processes by human actions as opposed to through natural actions, so technically, all human-made gems are synthetics. But, the word “synthetic” is also sometimes confused with terms like artificial, phony, and fake, which is not what lab-grown diamonds are at all. The use of the word synthetic in the diamond industry can, therefore, be disingenuous. Calling a human-made, lab-grown diamond a synthetic, is like saying the ice you make in your freezer is a synthetic compared to the ice that formed into glaciers over long periods of time. In fact, ice is ice and a diamond is a diamond, whether made outside over longer stretches of time, or inside in shorter time frames.

Yet, the word “synthetic” has often been used to describe lab-grown diamonds by the mined diamond industry. The term carries a negative connotation and can be confusing to the consumer, causing some to believe lab diamonds are imitations, or “simulants,” instead of real diamonds. Lab diamonds start with an actual diamond seed that has the same chemical, physical and optical properties of diamonds that formed in the earth. The creation of lab diamonds replicates the process by which diamonds are created in the earth’s mantle, just in a fraction of the time.

For years, mined diamond companies referred to lab diamonds as “synthetics” and their own diamonds as “natural,” in the hope of dissuading buyers from choosing the newer, more ethically-sourced lab-grown gems. In July, 2018, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, made a significant change to its jewelry marketing guidelines, removing the use of the word “natural” from the definition of “diamond,” and stating that the use of the word “synthetic” in referring to a competitor’s lab-grown diamonds would be considered deceptive.

What is a Diamond Simulant?

You might find it strange to search the word “simulant” for a definition and find no results. That’s because the jewelry industry has adapted this term to mean “imitation.” To simulate, according to the dictionary, is to “give or assume the appearance or effect of, often with the intent to deceive.” Moissanite and Cubic Zirconia are sometimes referred to as simulants because they may have the appearance of a diamond, but are actually diamond look-alikes or imitations.

Mining for gem-sized Moissanite crystals doesn’t exist due to the lack of raw material big enough to cut down into jewelry stones. The largest Moissanite crystal was recently found in Israel, but at  4.1 mm, it is smaller than an eraser on a pencil. Most Moissanites are very small crystals embedded in other rocks. Large Moissanites crystals, therefore, are created in labs using synthetic silicon carbide, then cut into gemstones for the jewelry industry.

Cubic Zirconia also exists in natural mineral form, but only in microscopic sizes, therefore, it is only made into large crystals in labs. Like Moissanite, the first uses for synthetic CZ were in industrial applications, but then as replacements for diamonds starting in 1976. CZs, as they are sometimes called, were the main diamond simulants until Moissanite gemstones were manufactured for sale in the 1990s. 

Although Moissanites and Cubic Zirconias are used by the jewelry industry to simulate diamonds, many jewelers now market them for their own attributes. Moissanite is preferred by some buyers for its intense, colorful sparkle. They are both more affordable than either lab-grown or mined diamonds, so both offer a great way to own gemstone jewelry. 

Some people purchase CZs or Moissanites as stand-ins for diamonds in their jewelry. Perhaps they wish to gift their loved one with a diamond when they can afford to. Some pregnant women have their real diamond ring replicated with a simulant to wear while their fingers swell. People who travel a lot might have replicas of their diamond jewelry made with simulant diamonds for safe keeping. Diamond simulants have a valuable purpose in the luxury jewelry industry, either as place holders for real diamond jewelry, or as alternatives to more expensive gemstones.

Let’s Do This!

Now that you know the difference between synthetic diamonds and a diamond simulants you can confidently make the decision to choose the gemstone that is right for you and your loved one: a decision that reflects your values and principles.

Whether you choose a real diamond, either mined or ethically grown, or a simulated diamond alternative, like Moissanite or Cubic Zirconia, you can rest assured that you made your decision with a better understanding of their similarities and differences.

Frequently Asked Questions

1) Can Synthetics Diamonds also be Diamond Simulants?

Yes. A synthetic gem, like a Moissanite or Cubic Zirconia, are both synthetic (human-made) and simulants (stand-ins or look-alikes) for a real diamond. Neither is a real diamond, but different gems, altogether.

2) Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Synthetic?

Technically, lab-grown diamonds are synthetic diamonds because they are human-made, however, the term is no longer used in the diamond jewelry industry as it is misleading. Lab-grown diamonds are structurally, chemically, and optically identical to mined diamonds as they are both pure carbon crystals. Lab diamonds are real diamonds, without the ethical implications of diamond mining.

3) Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Simulants?

No, lab-grown diamonds are not diamond look-alikes because they are real diamonds. Thanks to human innovation, the process for making a lab diamond replicates the process a mined diamond went through, just in a very accelerated way.

4) Do Lab-Grown Diamonds, Moissanites, and Cubic Zirconias cost the same?

No, although lab diamonds average 30% less than mined diamonds, they are still more expensive than diamond simulants because they are real diamonds. Moissanites are less costly than lab diamonds, but both are much more expensive than Cubic Zirconias.

5) Do raw Moissanite crystals and raw Cubic Zirconia crystals grow outside of labs in rock formations?

Yes, however, not in sizes large enough for use as raw gemstones for jewelry. Moissanites are found in crystal form in rock formations in various places around the world, however, the largest found was 4.1 mm, smaller than a pencil’s eraser. Cubic Zirconia has only been found in the form of microscopic grains included in metamict zircon. Both Moissanite and Cubic Zirconia are both, therefore, only made in labs.