What is a simulated diamond?

What is a simulated diamond? The answer is – simulated diamonds are mostly man-made stones that closely resemble natural diamonds in appearance.  These stones are often created in a laboratory setting using various materials and techniques to mimic the characteristics of real diamonds.  Simulated diamonds are frequently often used as more affordable alternatives to natural diamonds, offering consumers a similar look without the high price tag.

By way of formal definition, leading gemstone authority, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) defines a simulant as the following, “the jewelry industry uses the term “simulant” to refer to materials that look like another gem and are used as its substitute but have very different chemical composition, crystal structure and optical and physical properties.  These simulants, also known as imitations or substitutes, can be natural or man-made.”

Common man-made diamond simulants are cubic zirconia and moissanite.   However, natural gemstones such as colourless quartz, topaz, sapphire, beryl and especially zircon, have been used as diamond simulants for centuries.

Simulated diamonds are popular and can be a great option for those looking for a diamond-like appearance without the cost associated with natural diamonds.  While simulated diamonds may not have the same intrinsic value as natural diamonds, they can still be a beautiful and affordable choice for those who appreciate the look of a diamond but prefer a more budget-friendly option. It is important to note that simulated diamonds are not the same as synthetic diamonds, which are chemically identical to natural diamonds but are also created in a laboratory.

In this blog we aim to answer questions on what are diamond simulants, what are simulated diamonds made of, what are the pros and cons of diamond simulants and we finish with frequently asked questions.

What are simulated diamonds
PHOTO 1: What are simulated diamonds?    A diamond simulant, diamond imitation, fake diamond or imitation diamond is an object or material with gemological characteristics similar to those of a diamond.  Simulants are distinct from synthetic diamonds, which compositionally are actual diamonds exhibiting the same material and optical properties as natural diamonds.

What Are Simulated Diamonds? 

Diamond simulants are gemstones manufactured to look like diamonds but are both visually and compositionally different than diamonds.  Simulated diamonds, such as cubic zirconia (CZ) or moissanite, look like diamonds but are not real diamonds. Simulants do not have the same chemical and physical properties as diamonds and therefore sell at a lower price point.

While the quality of diamond simulants has greatly improved with time, diamond simulants lack the hardness and exact same light management as natural or lab grown diamond.   Some simulated diamonds can be distinguished from natural or lab grown diamonds using only the naked eye due to the way they sparkle.   Since all simulated diamonds have an entirely different chemical composition to natural diamond various tests exist to differentiate them.  A professional gemologist who has a Graduate Gemologist (GG) degree will be able to tell you definitively if a stone is a diamond or not.

What are simulated diamonds made of?

What are simulated diamonds made of?   There are many different types of simulated diamonds, all of which vary in composition, quality, and appearance.   Below are some of the most common stones used as diamond simulants including details on what the diamond simulants are made of.

Topaz is a naturally occurring gemstone and a silicate mineral made of aluminium and fluorine.   Topaz is as hard as cubic zirconia but has a much lower refractive index (RI) than natural diamond and therefore Topaz appears less brilliant and sparkly than diamond.

What are simulated diamonds made of
TABLE 1: What are simulated diamonds made of? A technical table of common diamond simulants in comparison with diamond. The most advanced artificial simulants have properties which closely approach diamond, but all simulants have one or more features that clearly and (for those familiar with diamond) easily differentiate them from diamond.

White Sapphire is another naturally occurring gemstone and popular diamond simulant.   Sapphire consists of aluminium oxide (α-Al2O3) with trace amounts of elements such as iron, titanium, cobalt, lead, chromium, vanadium, magnesium, boron, and silicon.   Sapphire is a member of the corundum family, a precious gemstone.   White sapphire is harder than CZ.   On the downside, white sapphire can be less brilliant and sparkly than CZ or Moissanite.   It is also far more expensive.

Colorless Quartz is another naturally occurring gemstone which has in times past used as a diamond simulant.    Quartz is a hard, crystalline mineral composed of silica (silicon dioxide).  Since antiquity, varieties of quartz have been the most commonly used minerals in the making of jewelry.    Colorless quartz, sometimes called rock crystal.    While quartz may superficially resemble diamonds, their lower hardness and different crystal structures distinguish them from genuine diamonds.

Leaded glass or crystal.     Made famous by the Swarovski® brand, crystal is a man-made material.   The crystal is produced by melting a mixture of quartz sand, soda, potash and other ingredients at high temperatures.   Crystal has a much lower refractive index (RI) than diamond.    While crystal is a popular diamond simulant it is only around 6 on the Mohs hardness scale.   This means crystal is easy to break, chip or crack and is not recommended for jewelry with hard use – such as engagement rings.

Beryl is a natural gemstone with a long history.  Beryl is a mineral composed of beryllium aluminium silicate with the chemical formula Be3Al2Si6O18.  Well-known varieties of beryl include emerald and aquamarine, but colourless Beryl, called goshenite is sometimes used as a diamond simulant.   However, natural impurities and flaws of this gemstone greatly reduce its shine vs. diamond.

White zircon is chemically similar to cubic zirconia but should not be confused with cubic zirconia.  Zircon is a widely occurring mineral, with the chemical formula ZrSiO4.   Zircon is a silicate mineral whose colorless versions were traditionally used as a diamond simulant. Its luster varies from vitreous to greasy to adamantine, the latter of which matches that of diamonds.  Zircon’s refractive index is much lower, between 1.925 and 1.961 compared to diamond’s 2.418.   Zircon is rated 6 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale.

The last two categories of simulated diamonds – cubic zirconia and lab created diamond simulants – are of particular importance to examine. They are often the most commonly used substitute for diamonds and have become more popular in engagement rings trends, yet there are significant differences between them.

How long do simulated diamonds last Mohs hardness scale
TABLE 2: How long do simulated diamonds last?    The answer depends in part on stone hardness.   The Mohs Hardness scale (pronounced “moze”) is a scale used for identifying gems and minerals based on their “hardness”, or resistance to being scratched.   Most professional jewelers recommend a hardness of at least a 7 or higher for natural gemstones or simulated diamonds set in engagement rings.

Cubic Zirconia & Moissanite are the most popular simulated diamonds

Cubic zirconia and Moissanite are popular diamond simulants often mistaken for real diamonds. Though visually similar, their properties, both optically and chemically differ significantly.  

According to Wikipedia, because of its low cost, durability, and close visual likeness to diamond, synthetic cubic zirconia is the most gemologically and economically important competitor for diamonds since commercial production began in 1976.   Its main competitor is another lab created gemstone, moissanite.   CZ is rated 8.25 – 8.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, with natural diamond rated at 10.   CZ is a popular choice for the best fake diamond rings due to its brilliance, sparkle and close visual likeness to diamond.   CZ stones are nearly always colorless (a perfect D color) and flawless in clarity (equiv. to IF or FL grade).   Indeed, its perfection that’s the most common giveaway that cubic zirconia is not a real diamond.

Moissanite is the 2nd most popular choice for simulated diamonds.  While being 10 times more expensive than cubic zirconia it is far more durable.  Moissanite has a Refractive Index (RI) of 2.65 whereas diamond’s RI is lower at 2.42 and CZ at 2.18.   This means moissanite has a higher dispersion of light, giving it much more fire than natural diamond.   Moissanite is also a very hard gemstone, ranking 9.25 on the Mohs scale of hardness.   In comparison Diamond, the hardest natural material that we know of is rated at 10.   Rubies and Sapphires are a 9 on Mohs Scale.   So, Moissanite is a durable choice for everyday wear.

Which of the two, cubic zirconia or moissanite, looks most like a diamond?    Read our blog Moissanite vs. cubic zirconia to find out!

what is a simulated diamond worth? photo of pink diamond simulant ring
PHOTO 2:    What is a simulated diamond worth?    Imitation diamonds can be stunning beautiful but because they mostly lab made and mass produced, they are not scarce.   Accordingly, simulated diamonds have practically no resale value.    Seen above is a 2 carat Pink CZ engagement ring which simulates a pink diamond.   This ring, set in 925 silver retails for US$49.

Pros of Simulated Diamonds  

Having discussed what is a simulated diamond and what simulated diamonds are made of we now turn our attention to the pros and cons of them. Below we list three advantages of simulated diamonds.

1. Affordability

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of simulated diamonds is their price.    A natural 1 carat round cut, D color, IF clarity diamond with excellent cut might retail for US$15,000.    A similar sized near colorless lab Moissanite typically retails for US$100, with prices dropping rapidly because of increased competition from synthetic diamond which is vastly superior.  Finally, a 1 carat round cut, equiv. D color, flawless (FL) cubic zirconia of 6A grade retails for just retails for less than US$10.   

To the untrained naked eye, all these stones look similar.  Clearly though, the most popular simulated diamonds; cubic zirconia and moissanite are far more affordable than natural diamond. 

Another advantage, linked to affordability is that simulated diamonds don’t need to be insured and can be more easily replaced if lost, stolen or damaged.    Many use so called imitation diamond rings for travel for peace of mind.    Others use simulated diamond rings as placeholder or temporary engagement rings to make a proposal with.

2. Environmental friendliness

While diamonds are highly coveted around the world for their beauty and value, the environmental impacts of diamond mining are significant.   According to Geoscience Australia typically 250 tonnes of ore must be dug from the ground to produce a one carat (200 milligram) polished diamond of gem quality.  Is one ring worth the destruction millennials ask?    The answer is increasingly no and alternatives are looked into with interest.

In contrast the most common simulated diamonds, cubic zirconia and moissanite are both lab created.    There is minimal environmental impact and vastly reduced carbon emissions.  Similarly, lab created diamond is better for the environment too.   According to Clean Origin the difference in carbon emissions between lab grown and mined diamonds is staggering. While a traditionally mined diamond produces more than 125 pounds of carbon for every single carat, grown diamonds emit just 6 pounds of carbon – a mere 4.8 percent of what mined diamonds produce.

Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine in Western Australia
PHOTO 3: The environmental impacts of diamond mining are substantial. For every carat of diamond that is mined via traditional methods, nearly 100 square feet of land is disturbed, and more than 5798 pounds of mineral waste is created. In contrast, labs creating diamond simulants are often located in areas that have a negligible impact on the environment and have almost no impact on biodiversity in the area of operation.

3. Conflict Free

Simulated diamonds are growing in popularity among ethically minded shoppers.   This is because lab grown stones don’t contribute to the poor working conditions, human rights violations and child labor issues – all of which have dogged the traditional diamond mining industry.

With simulated diamonds you have a much higher level of certainty that no one was harmed or injured in the process.   Moreover, since simulated diamonds have little or no meaningful resale value they can’t be used as illegal currency to fund war and conflict-related activities.

Cons of Simulated Diamonds

Although simulated diamonds have a number of advantages, you should also be aware of their downsides.    Below we list three disadvantages of simulated diamonds.

1. They are not diamonds

At the end of the day, only a diamond looks like a diamond.    To be blunt, simulated diamonds are not diamonds.   Simulated diamonds are mostly man-made stones that closely resemble natural diamonds in appearance.  No matter how closely a simulant resembles a diamond, there are still ways to distinguish real from imitation.

For some people, only a natural diamond will do.   Every natural diamond is unique.   Each stone is formed naturally, resulting in variations in color, clarity, and inclusions.   Each natural diamond carries a distinctive geological narrative, making them rare and unique.  This often adds sentimental value to the stone.

2. Simulated Diamonds have no resale value

Simulated diamonds have no long term value and almost no resale value.    Natural mined diamond has intrinsic value, but diamond simulants don’t.    While a natural diamond typically loses ½ its value simply by leaving the jewelry store, a diamond simulant is so cheap to begin with, that it has practically zero resale value.

3. Durability

Important simulated diamonds like cubic zirconia and moissanite are less durable than diamond.    If it’s worn every day cubic zirconia will lose its shine from daily wear and tear.  Cubic zirconia has a cloudy look when too many scratches accumulate on the stones surface.   As a result it may need to be replaced in a couple of years.    Moissanite is far superior to CZ in terms of hardness and durability.   Moissanite is a highly durable gemstone, ranking 9.25 on the Mohs scale of hardness.  While Moissanite is not as hard as diamond, which measures 10 on the scale, it is still relatively resistant to scratches. However, as with any gemstone, it is possible for moissanite to get scratched with enough force or if it comes into contact with a harder material.

Asscher Diamond Bridge Halo Diamond Engagement Ring
PHOTO 4:   For some only a real diamond will do.   Seen above is a Asscher Diamond Bridge Halo Diamond Engagement Ring set in 14k Rose Gold.    Source:  BLUE NILE

Diamond Simulant FAQs  

Are Diamond Simulants Worth Anything?

Diamond simulants can be a stunning alternative to diamonds but are not compositionally and optically the same as diamonds. Because most diamond simulants are manmade and mass produced, they have no scarcity. A 1 carat moissanite can be purchased for US$25 – $500. A 1 carat cubic zirconia can be purchased for US$1 to $10. As a result, common diamond simulants like cubic zirconia and moissanite are not a store of value and have very limited resale value.

Are Diamond Simulants good quality?

Many popular diamonds simulants on the market today are extremely durable and are suitable for everyday wear.

It is important to do your research on the different properties of each diamond simulant to determine which is most suitable for your use and lifestyle. The quality of the diamond simulant depends on its grade.

Is a Simulated Diamond a Cubic Zirconia?

Although cubic zirconia is a widely known simulant, there are several other options for diamond simulants. Other important diamond simulants include moissanite, white sapphire and crystal. Diamond simulants such as moissanite and white sapphire are becoming increasingly popular diamond alternatives.

What is the most popular Simulated Diamond?

Cubic zirconia is hands down the most popular simulated diamond. Cubic zirconia was purposely created in 1976 to mimic a diamond. Because of its low cost, durability, and close visual likeness to diamond, synthetic cubic zirconia has remained the most gemologically and economically important diamond simulant.

How long do Simulated Diamonds Last?

Simulated diamonds do not have the same durability or strength as lab-grown or natural diamonds. How long simulated diamond last depends on their composition, how they are worn and how well they are cared for. Worn daily cubic zirconia or white topaz may last a couple of years. Moissanite can last a lifetime if cared for. Be aware that all gemstones, natural or lab created will lose their shine due to chemical and residue buildup from body oils and cosmetics.

Does Simulated Mean Fake?

Yes. Simulated diamonds are fake diamonds. Simulated diamonds are not the same chemically or optically as real diamonds but are merely designed to appear like them.

Do Simulated Diamonds test as real?

No. Simulated diamonds will not pass a diamond test or test as real diamonds. Simulated diamonds and real diamonds have entirely different chemical compositions. An electricity conductivity test will indicate if the gemstone is a true diamond or not. A diamond will show conductivity while other stones like moissanite and cubic zirconia will not.

Are simulated diamonds graded?

Simulated diamonds are not graded in the same way that real diamonds are. GIA does not issue grading reports for diamond simulants. Simulated diamonds like moissanite and cubic zirconia have their own set of unregulated criteria to evaluate their quality. Moissanite is graded in color (D grade being best) and clarity. Cubic zirconia is graded from A to AAAAAA. A is the Lowest Quality, while AAAAAA (or 6A) is the Highest Grade available. There’s a difference in the look and the price between the lowest and highest Grade, and there’s a market for them all.

Are real diamonds unethical?

The diamond industry has made significant progress in ensuring that natural diamond is conflict-free and ethically sourced. 99% of natural diamonds are considered conflict-free. However, some diamonds marketed as “conflict-free” are not ethically sourced. A lack of accountability in the diamond supply chain makes it difficult to determine that a stone is ethically sourced. Many GIA certificates don’t show the diamonds origin. The best way to ensure a diamond is conflict-free and ethically sourced is to buy mine-to-market diamonds.

Lab created stones are often marketed as ‘ethical alternatives’ but be mindful that natural diamond mining still contributes to the development of communities and economies around the world.

Simulated diamond wedding ring set for travel
PHOTO 5:    Simulated diamonds serve many purposes and are widely used in jewelry.   They are popular gifts for Mothers Day.   Seen above is a silver wedding ring set which is popular for use while travelling or on vacation when you don’t want to loss or damage your real diamond engagement ring.     

What is a simulated diamond – Summary

Simulated diamonds, sometimes called ‘fake diamonds’ have grown in popularity as an affordable, environmentally more friendly and an ethical alternative to natural diamonds.

In this blog post we have defined what is a simulated diamond?    The answer is a simulated diamond is a stone that mimics the appearance of natural diamonds but possess different physical and optical properties.    Simulated diamonds may be naturally occurring – for example, white Sapphire, or lab created, for example cubic zirconia.

We have also discussed what are simulated diamonds made of?     The answer is that natural gemstones such as colourless quartz, topaz, sapphire, beryl and especially zircon, have been used as diamond simulants for centuries.    Today, the most popular simulated diamonds are cubic zirconia which is made of zirconium dioxide (ZrO2) and moissanite which is made of silicon carbide (SiC).

We have also detailed the pro’s and con’s of simulated diamonds.   We have noted that whilst simulated diamonds are affordable and often more environmentally friendly – they don’t look exactly like a natural diamond, have no intrinsic value and very little resale value.    Moreover, simulated diamonds are not as durable as the real deal.    Sometimes unethical actors try and pass of simulated diamonds as real ones but as the American Gem Society (AGS) points out many tests are available to distinguish real from fake. Finally, in our FAQ section on simulated diamonds we have answered many commonly asked questions including what is a simulated diamond worth and how long do simulated diamonds last.

Want to learn more?

Interested in learning more about the differences between simulated diamonds and synthetic diamond?     Read this, Diamond Simulants & Synthetics – Differences Explained.

Want to know reasons why people buy fake diamond rings?    This article gives seven key reasons why.

Would you like to know more about fake diamonds?     This article answers common questions including what defines a good fake diamond and what types of fake diamonds are best.

Shopping for realistic fake diamond rings?   Click the button below:


About Us

Luxuria Diamonds is a designer and marketer of  diamond simulant rings and colored gemstone engagement rings.    Luxuria is a professional member of the International Gemological Society (IGS), USA and a member of the Jewellers and Watchmakers Association of New Zealand (JWNZ).

The post What is a Simulated Diamond? appeared first on Luxuria.

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