A Guide to Lab Diamonds vs Simulated Diamonds | A Guide to Lab Diamonds vs Simulated Diamonds – Brilliant Carbon
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A Guide to Lab Diamonds vs Simulated Diamonds

Many conscientious consumers today are looking for an alternative to mined diamonds. If you've googled alternatives, you may be wondering just what is the difference between lab diamonds and simulated diamonds? That's because there are plenty of retailers out there who are actively trying to confuse their customers to think that there isn't much of a difference. That honestly isn't true. To help clear up some of the confusion and help you understand what simulated diamonds are and what lab diamonds are and the similarities and differences between diamond simulants and lab diamonds, we put together this guide. Read on to clear up the confusion and get the facts so you can make your own decision on what's right for you.

Certified lab grown diamond

What are Lab Diamonds?

This one is easy. Lab diamonds are actual diamonds that are made by people, not mined from the Earth. It's that simple. Both are crystals of pure carbon. Everything about their physical, optical and chemical properties is the same as mined diamonds because they are diamonds too. They look the same, last the same, and are graded the same way by the same labs.

Although lab diamonds and mined diamonds look the same, there are differences in where, how fast, and the conditions under which they form. These differences in the growth environment leave gemological traces that can be used to tell them apart. The most common test to separate lab-grown diamonds from mined diamonds is to see how pure they are. All lab grown diamonds are Type IIa, a very pure type of diamond chemically that doesn't contain nitrogen, the trace element that gives diamonds a yellow color. (Type IIa natural diamonds exist but they are very rare. They include many famous diamonds, like the Cullinan in the British Crown Jewels.) If a diamond is not Type IIa, you know it's natural. If it is, you can send it to a gem lab for testing to see if it's lab-grown or natural. The gem lab uses microscopic analysis and the growth patterns revealed by fluorescence to identify whether the Type IIa diamond is lab grown or a rare pure natural Type IIa diamond.

Although diamonds were first grown in the lab in the 1950s, the first lab-created diamonds were far from gem quality. For decades, lab-created diamonds were just used as abrasives. (As the world's hardest substance, there is a lot of demand for diamond powder to cut and polish things, including diamonds for jewelry use.) It wasn't until the 2010s that the technology to create lab grown diamonds was affordable enough and advanced enough to produce lab-grown gems of the size and quality you would want to wear in jewelry. And lab grown diamonds only cost 20% less than natural diamonds until new technology to create diamonds was developed about a decade ago. Since then, lab grown diamonds have become much more affordable and available, becoming a real option for consumers. It's a new diamond age.


Diamond vs Moissanite Simulated Diamond

What are Simulated Diamonds?

Simulated diamonds aren't diamonds. Period. They are other materials that look like diamonds (more or less). They are, in short, imitations. Most diamond simulants are somewhat similar in appearance to diamonds at first glance but have different characteristics and properties. How much they simulate the way a diamond looks depends on what kind of simulant diamond they are. The most popular diamond simulant (or simulated diamond) is cubic zirconia, or CZ.

Cubic zirconia is colorless and sparkly but it is much softer than diamond, with less brilliance. CZ is zirconium oxide, which is grown in the lab specifically as a diamond simulant. Because zirconium oxide crystals aren't stable, growers add other chemicals like yttrium oxide or calcium oxide to help the crystals form. Each grower has a different recipe, so CZ has a range of properties and characteristics.

Not all CZ is completely stable, so you should anticipate that it might dull or yellow over time. But since it's about $10 per carat, if the sparkle dulls, you can just replace it. CZ diamond simulants are fun for costume jewelry or travel jewelry because you won't worry if you lose it. of course, it's not as much fun when sellers like Diamond Nexus, MiaDonna or Agape sell it as “a lab-created diamond simulant” with huge markups. The FTC warned these three retailers not to use language that “falsely implies that the jewelry has laboratory-created or mined diamonds.” Choose CZ if you want jewelry with an affordable colorless stone. But it isn't diamond. 

The other popular diamond simulant or simulated diamond is lab grown moissanite. Lab grown moissanite is usually marketed as a diamond alternative under its own name. Moissanite is crystallized silicon carbide. It doesn't crystallize in nature and it is usually dark green in color. It is doubly refractive so the facets that you see through the table have two reflections, an optical effect that can make them look a little blurry. The company that developed the process to make lab grown moissanite almost colorless and transparent had a patent on the process so they were able to market lab grown moissanite as a premium product that was better and different than CZ. Now that the patent has expired it is much more affordable. Lab grown moissanite has very high dispersion so it has noticeable rainbow flashes. Generally, it is not as white or bright as diamond but it has more colorful reflections. This “disco ball” effect is an easy way to tell diamond apart from moissanite at a glance.

Although there are other kinds of diamond simulants, like lab-created white sapphire and old imitations like YAG and Strontium Titanite, these simulants are very uncommon compared to lab grown CZ and lab grown moissanite. You may come across a branded simulated diamond that a retailer claims is more similar to diamond but generally this is just CZ under another name. Sometimes a retailer will add a coating to try to make their CZ seem more special and valuable. These coatings don't really last and don't add to the value of the CZ.

Lab Diamonds vs Simulated Diamonds: What's the Right Choice for You?

If you love diamonds, there is no substitute for the brilliant way the world's most popular gem looks and feels when you wear it. Lab diamond, because it really is diamond, is a more affordable way to own the gem you love. And if you choose a sustainably grown lab diamond engagement ring or sustainably grown lab diamond jewelry, you can feel confident that you are contributing to a brighter future too. You can be confident that your lab diamond engagement ring or lab diamond jewelry will have the kind of long-lasting beauty that diamonds are famous for. Your lab grown diamond jewelry will be set in gold or platinum so you will be able to wear it for a lifetime.

If you are looking for fun jewelry that is as affordable as possible, a diamond simulant like CZ or moissanite is a great choice because it isn't expensive. This affordable sparkle is especially good for earrings which won't be subjected to too much wear day in and day out. CZ is the most affordable diamond simulant option. You'll find inexpensive styles set in silver, gold-plated metal and base metal that allow you to try out designs with almost no investment. If you really love rainbow reflections, it might be worth it to you to spend more for a moissanite diamond simulant design. It will cost more than jewelry set with CZ diamond simulants but it has a distinctive look that sets it apart. Jewelry with diamond simulants aren't a good choice for pieces that you want to last, like an engagement ring. Only diamonds have the lasting beauty and meaningful symbolism to represent the promise of forever.