Mined Diamond Alternatives: Lab-made, or Synthetic?
If you’re like most people, buying a diamond seems confusing. To make matters worse, many retailers toss around these terms: “synthetic” diamonds, “lab-made” diamonds, “natural” diamonds, and "simulated" diamonds. Luckily, we’re here to help you decide what you really want, and for you to know the differences.
When we’re talking about gems, most people separate the terms “lab created” and “lab grown” from “synthetic.” For this reason, we will define “synthetic diamonds” as referring to something that isn’t a diamond at all. Otherwise known as “diamond simulants” or “fake diamonds.” Below are some examples.
If you want a quality synthetic diamond ring, chances are you’ll run into jewelers who sell Moissanite. This can be a natural mineral, but nearly all of it is made in a lab. Chemically, Moissanite is made up of crystalline silicon carbide. It is nearly as hard as diamonds and harder than all other diamond substitutes on the market. Natural Moissanite is extremely rare, but scientists have been able to create it in the lab.
Increasingly, Moissanite is popular for higher quality synthetic diamond engagement rings. And there’s a good reason for this: the stone has excellent sparkle when cut well. Since the chemical composition is partially carbon, Moissanite is the closest thing to a diamond without its being a diamond. Even better, the stones are almost as durable as actual diamonds, which makes them great for a ring that’s worn every day. Experts can tell a Moissanite from a mined or lab created diamond, but most of the differences are subtle. For that reason, most people consider Moissanites to be the best synthetic diamonds.
Cubic Zirconia is the substance most of us think of when we hear the term lab grown synthetic diamonds. There are a couple of reasons for this: first, it’s the cheapest diamond simulant you’re likely to find in good-quality jewelry. Some people even make synthetic diamond engagement rings out of it. Although commonly set in sterling silver, some of these rings have gold or even platinum settings.
What is Cubic Zirconia? Chemically speaking, it’s zirconium dioxide. The mineral was naturally occurring originally, but like Moissanite, only the synthetic version is commercially important. Also, the mineral itself is softer than both diamond and Moissanite, making this type of synthetic lab diamond less durable. On the other hand, it does cut into a beautiful stone people love to wear. In other words, if the person wearing the ring is okay with synthetic diamond rings, most observers will be none the wiser.
Lab created diamonds
If you want a real diamond, but the price of mined diamonds is prohibitive, consider lab grown diamonds. They are chemically identical to natural diamonds, but the lab created diamonds price is much less. Currently, a diamond ring made with a lab grown stone is selling for about 1/3 the price of a ring with similar specifications.
Lab created diamonds are grown in a lab, but using different techniques from their synthetic counterparts: in one method, the carbon crystal is formed in similar conditions to those found in natural diamonds. We have an in-depth discussion of these processes about lab grown CVD diamonds (chemical vapor deposition) and lab created HPHT diamonds (high pressure high temperature) : How Are Loose Lab Diamonds Made?
So what’s the difference in synthetic vs lab created diamonds?
They’re both man made and cheaper than mined diamonds, but the similarities end there. For instance, gem graders don’t certify Moissanite or Cubic Zirconia. On the other hand, lab diamonds are graded and certified. On their individual grading reports, the respective institute should note its man made origin. Here at With Clarity, we only carry lab diamonds with certification from the International Gemological Institute. Moreover, that includes certification for all of our diamonds, whether loose or set in a ring.
If it is a mined diamond from With Clarity, it will have a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) certificate. If it is a lab grown stone, it will have an IGI certificate.
Labs are able to do these reports for two reasons. First, lab created diamonds are considered “real” diamonds. Second, their value is determined by the same 4C’s of natural diamonds: carat, cut, clarity, and color. They’re subject to the same variations in these factors as natural diamonds, although the types of flaws differ. All of the properties of lab grown diamonds are the same as with natural diamonds, so they’re indistinguishable. On the other hand, synthetic diamonds are always white or near-white, unless made intentionally colored. Synthetics with flaws aren’t commercially viable and are generally considered without any resale value.
Making Your Selection
As we said before, lab created diamonds are about 30% of the cost of their natural equivalents. You can choose a nice lab grown engagement ring without the worries about environmental or ethical considerations while saving money. On the other hand, CZ and Moissanite are less expensive. For a closer equivalent, choose Moissanite: the synthetic diamonds price is higher with this type, however. CZs are wonderful if you’re on a budget but want to “wow” with a large stone. In the end, it’s mostly a matter of taste, budget, and what kind of lab made jewelry you want.