Diamond is a pretty mysterious substance to most first-time buyers. Since so many people don’t give it much thought until they reach a point in their lives when they’re ready to propose, even the basics – like the difference between cubic zirconia and diamond, or the difference between diamond and diamante – can pass them by.
No big deal – until you’re actually ready to invest, and then it’s just a huge disappointment waiting to happen.
A lot of the time, we focus on the things people need to know about diamonds, not the wider world of gemstones. But, if you’ve spent any amount of time looking online – a true mixed bag – your eye has probably already been caught by the better prices offered by diamond simulants like moissanite, CZ, white sapphire, and crystal.
At the risk of bursting your bubble, here’s everything you need to know about these types of gemstones – and why you really, really don’t want one.
Simulated diamonds, or diamond simulants, are non-diamond gemstones that share some visual similarities with diamond. There are a number of diamond simulants out there, each used in different types of jewelry to create the impression of diamond.
A number of gemstones, most of which are man-made, can make for quite convincing diamond alternatives from a distance but, on closer inspection, they have a habit of betraying themselves.
Diamond simulants are often significantly cheaper than diamond and, while this can make them a popular choice for fashion jewelry, they don’t get a lot of attention in the world of fine jewelry. Engagement rings featuring diamond simulants in particular are widely regarded as being an inferior choice, even if the size of stone is a lot bigger and, outwardly, more impressive.
There is more than one way to mimic a diamond, but every simulant offers its own list of positives and drawbacks to the buyer. Here are all of the common diamond simulants you probably have – or will – encounter, particularly if you’re searching for lower cost engagement rings.
Perhaps the most common diamond simulant of all, cubic zirconia is a common, lab-grown gemstone used widely within the jewelry world. As a diamond simulant, it looks a lot more convincing in still photographs – in real life, its ability to mimic diamond is derailed by its lack of sparkle.
What’s more, CZ is far less durable than diamond. A CZ that is not ‘fresh out the box’ new will quickly start to show proof of its age – something diamond will not do unless it is subjected to significant damage.
Cubic zirconia certainly has its uses, with many popular, chain jewelry stores offering affordable pieces that feature this gemstone. Still, it’s worth understanding why it makes for such a poor choice for any special jewelry pieces.
Rhinestones are generally made from lead crystal. They can be made from plastic but, when used as a diamond simulant in jewelry making, it’s a lot more common for these stones to be glass.
Glass crystals are a lot cheaper than diamonds. They’re not naturally-occurring, so can be produced to meet a high demand for more affordable fashion jewelry pieces. They can (and are) widely appreciated in and of themselves, and not as ‘imitation diamonds’.
One of the best examples of this is Swarovski, which has gained a reputation around the world for its work with crystals. It’s no secret that Swarovski Crystals are a world away from diamonds in terms of value, rarity, meaning and sparkle, but they have found a great way to market them to jewelry enthusiasts.
Rhinestones will shine under various light sources, and the facets cut into their surface help to create more of an impression of sparkle, but they’re not capable of refracting light like diamonds, so don’t possess the same brilliance.
Like cubic zirconia, the moissanite used in jewelry is exclusively lab grown. It has grown in popularity in recent years, primarily because a patent once held by a single jewelry company (which severely limited moissanite’s availability around the world) only came to an end within the US in 2015. Since then, people have become more aware of moissanite, and its uses in lower cost jewelry.
Moissanite resembles diamond much more closely than cubic zirconia or rhinestone, as a result of its higher refractive index. This is, however, also its downfall, since its refractive index is actually higher than that of diamond, meaning it can be a lot more sparkly, and, as a result, more dazzling.
While getting as much sparkle out of a diamond as possible is high on many shoppers’ lists, moissanite’s heightened sparkle is widely regarded as being a little too much. The effect can seem less natural, less refined, and less desirable.
You can read our full guide to moissanite if you want to know more about its value as a diamond simulant – and why it’s still a pretty unpopular choice for engagement rings and other high-end jewelry.
Sapphires are most easily recognized by their deep, royal blue color, but they’re actually found in a rainbow of colors. Just like real diamonds can be separated into categories – white (or colorless) and fancy color – so can sapphires. Any sapphire that is not blue is known as a fancy color sapphire.
Sapphires with no color at all are called white sapphires. They’re pretty rare compared with blue sapphires, since they feature fewer chemical impurities, and the greatest concentrations are found in Sri Lanka. Most ‘white sapphires’ on the market today are actually enhanced grey or yellow sapphires, since this keeps costs down, but they’re also sometimes lab grown.
The resemblance between white sapphires and diamonds tends to go only as far as cut and transparency. Since white sapphires don’t possess diamond’s incredible ability to refract light, they cannot offer the scintillating brilliance and fire.
The result is a stone that looks dull – that doesn’t react energetically to movement or light sources. Where diamond’s light performance is sharp, crisp, and defined, white sapphire’s is pretty unmemorable.
This is also made worse by the fact that a lot of white sapphires feature inferior cuts. A poorly cut gemstone – even a diamond – will not have a sparkle that lives up to expectations.
We would strongly urge any of our readers to avoid any of the hype generated around diamond simulants as much as possible. There is always a sacrifice when it comes to replacing your diamond with a cheaper alternative. Sometimes, you miss out on the beauty of the real thing – other times, you also have to accept that the ring will not last more than a couple years (at best).
Here are the rest of your questions answered.
No. While some diamond simulants are great for more affordable fashion jewelry, they’re not capable of rivalling diamonds, or offering a worthwhile alternative to diamond.
Obviously, some are better than others. Moissanite is a lot more convincing than cubic zirconia or white sapphire (or glass crystals, for that matter) but they’re still not convincing enough to fool gemologists, or even shoppers who understand the basics of diamonds.
Yes, diamond simulants or not real diamonds. Keep in mind, however, that not every vendor is trying to fool you into thinking that their diamond simulants are real diamonds.
So, while simulated diamonds are not real diamonds, there are plenty of jewelers and retailers out there who are not trying to sell them as fakes.
Regardless, if it says ‘diamond simulant’ – or if it’s labelled as CZ, moissanite, white sapphire or crystal – it’s not diamond.
Some diamond simulants can pass some of the more basic diamond tests. For instance, moissanite can pass a diamond test that looks at thermal conductivity.
Still, it’s never impossible to identify a diamond from a simulant, and vice versa. Most gemologists can do it on sight but, even if one diamond test is fooled, another won’t be. There are always plenty of ways to tell if a diamond is real.
Yes, simulated diamonds have value, although this differs from substance to substance, and is nowhere near as high as diamond’s value.
If you take a look around the web, you’ll easily find a cubic zirconia the equivalent size of a 1 carat diamond for around about $20. Moissanite is more expensive, but still $50 – $100 range (as a loose stone).
Like any other product, simulated diamonds have their own value. Part of their appeal for buyers stems from the fact that their value falls way, way below that of diamond – but, as always, there are some major sacrifices shoppers have to make for those savings.
Not for engagement rings, or any other bridal jewelry. The name ‘simulated diamonds’ is perhaps a little misleading since none of the simulants out there – whether cubic zirconia or moissanite – are anything close to diamonds.
Diamonds are rare, natural stones with deep historic and cultural meaning, a beautiful sparkle and incredible strength that makes them perfect for use in pieces of jewelry that are going to be worn for decades to come, each and every day, as a symbol of the ultimate commitment between two people.
Other gemstones and crystals like cubic zirconia and moissanite have totally different backstories, physical properties and, when you’re looking closely enough, appearances. What can pass as diamond from three feet away will reveal itself on closer inspection. What looks okay right now will look worn and damaged in a few months’ time.
There’s nothing wrong with going against tradition and using a different gemstone for an engagement ring. Plenty of people enjoy the look of sapphire or aquamarine, for instance. But, when you decide you’ve got your heart set on the look of a diamond engagement ring, there really is only one way to go.
Diamond is a fascinating and strong natural gemstone, and there’s a very good reason why it has been the clear choice for engagement rings throughout so many generations of brides and grooms.