A diamond and an engagement go together like coffee and cream and, in many parts of the world – the US included – there’s really no question over their ability to signify the ultimate commitment or, of course, their ability to look incredible.
Still, diamonds are expensive. And, if you want to impress with a particularly large diamond, you’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that big diamonds require big money. The average engagement ring budget famously circles around the $6,000 mark, and the fact that the average engagement ring features a center stone of 1 carat gives all the indication you need of the high price of ‘going big’.
That’s why, each year, a number of shoppers consider breaking from tradition and taking an alternative route. While some go for a totally different option, like ruby or sapphire, others are eager to look into options that resemble diamond as closely as possible – ideally, in every sense except for the price tag.
It’s this exact journey that brings them to two options: moissanite and cubic zirconia. Of all the gemstones available, these two share the most visual similarities with diamond – but how do they stack up? Here’s what you need to know.
No. Diamond, moissanite, and cubic zirconia are three totally different gemstones.
Diamond is a naturally-occurring gemstone, created deep within the earth’s mantle over more than a billion years, as a result of intense pressure and heat. It is the crystalized form of carbon, with incredible strength, and a high refractive index.
Moissanite is naturally-occurring, but the moissanite you’ll find in jewelry is exclusively man-made. It is silicon carbide, not carbon, and features a slightly higher refractive index than diamond (creating a tangible difference in light performance), and a slightly lower rating for hardness.
Yes. A jeweler or gemologist will find it easy to identify the differences between diamond and moissanite, and, after learning about the differences in light performance between the two, even someone with no prior experience will find it a relatively straightforward process.
The biggest difference lies in the fact that moissanite produces significantly more fire than brilliance, whereas diamond is capable of producing that distinctive (and highly coveted) combination of bright white flashes, and sparks of multicolored light.
Cubic zirconia can also occur naturally but, as with moissanite, the gemstones used in jewelry have all been created in a lab setting. It is zirconium dioxide in crystalline form, a lower refractive index than diamond (making it less sparkly), and a much lower rating for hardness. It is also generally colorless (unless a specific color like red, pink, or blue has been intentionally added), while most diamonds fall below the D color grade.
Yes. Cubic zirconia doesn’t produce anywhere near the level of brilliance as diamond, as a result of its low refractive index. Provided the cubic zirconia isn’t fresh-out-the-box new, you’ll also be able to identify it by the various signs of wear and tear these gemstones take on. Discoloration, scratches, chips, and other marks are par for the course with a gemstone lacking the strength and durability of diamond.
Cubic zirconia is also considerably heavier than diamond. They are often advertised using their measurements, rather than their weight, and presented by ‘carat equivalent’. If a jeweler were to place a cubic zirconia in one of your hands and a diamond in the other, you would be able to identify the real diamond without even looking.
No. Cubic zirconia’s key traits make it a poor choice in comparison with diamond.
Not only does cubic zirconia look inferior to diamond when it’s brand new, but it is also incapable of looking good after regular wear. For most people, it will need to be replaced within a year of regular wear, meaning that it’s not even a good choice for a temporary engagement ring.
In many ways, yes, although neither are ideal. For fashion jewelry, moissanite is a better choice as a result of its higher refractive index, which makes it a more impressive gemstone, and its superior strength.
Moissanite is, however, more expensive than cubic zirconia. A one carat moissanite will cost between $500 – $600, while a cubic zirconia of the same weight will cost less than $20.
Even jewelry intended to be worn once in a while, and not intended to hold any strong sentimental value, is better off if it is created from durable materials. So, if you’re looking for a piece of quality costume jewelry, we’d recommend moissanite over cubic zirconia.
For any special pieces, however – whether an engagement ring, eternity ring, or sentimental gift – neither moissanite nor cubic zirconia is worth the price. They might be capable of resembling diamond from a distance but, up close – and when worn day-in, day-out by your partner – the differences will be clear to see, even to a diamond novice.
No engagement ring is objectively tacky, provided the giver and the receiver both love it. Moissanite doesn’t enjoy the same high status or lofty reputation of diamond, so it’s not for everyone.
Another factor to consider when you’re thinking about diamonds vs diamond simulants is that many, many jewelers continue to work solely using diamond and other precious gemstones. Moissanite remains more of a niche interest in the jewelry world, so shoppers often struggle to find excellent jewelers in their area working with moissanite as well as diamond.
It’s certainly not impossible, but it’s nowhere near as easy.
Unless you’ve got a budget way above average, it’s only natural that you find yourself wondering about ‘diamond alternatives’, that will give you a lot more bang for your buck. Larger diamonds come at a much higher price, and plenty of shoppers start off with some grandiose dreams only to realize that the market saw them coming.
Cubic zirconia and moissanite are all over the internet – partly because of interest from shoppers, but also because the internet is the ideal place to sell something that, in a picture, looks just like diamond.
Don’t do yourself, your partner, or your wallet a disservice. Understand why diamond is the superior choice not just in terms of looks, but durability and sentimentality, too. Work with your jeweler to find a beautiful stone in your price range, and accept that there is a lot more to buying an incredible engagement ring than getting the biggest rock money can buy.