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Simulant Diamonds vs. Lab Created Diamonds: Everything You Need To Know

If you’re looking for an affordable alternative to a traditional diamond, you’ve come to the right place. We’re explaining the pros and cons of real diamonds and diamond simulants, so you can choose the right stone for you.

Simulant Diamonds Vs. Lab-Created Diamonds cover1

Note: At James Allen, we sell only U.S. Federal Trade Commission-certified true diamonds, which include both lab created diamonds and earth-created diamonds.

What’s A “Real Diamond”?

The term “diamond” refers to a very specific stone: the crystalline form of carbon. While other forms of carbon exist, what makes a diamond special is its particular atomic configuration. A carbon atom can bond with a maximum of 4 other atoms – and in diamond, all the available spots are taken by…other carbon atoms! That’s right, it’s carbon all the way. And this results in an extremely stable, super hard, super sparkling stone. 

Real Diamonds
Earth-created diamonds

The Lab Created Diamond

The crystalline form of carbon we call “diamond” can be attained only through intense heat, constant pressure, and a good amount of time. Nowadays, we can achieve that in a lab in specialized machines that knock a few billion years off the cooking time. The result is a lab-made diamond that differs from an earth-created diamond in name only. If you were to look at both types of diamonds through a professional jeweler’s loupe, or if you were to inspect both diamonds on a molecular level, you would see no difference. The same result was achieved through very different processes. Lab-grown diamonds and earth-created diamonds are optically and chemically identical, the only difference being their relative origins. And this difference in origin leads lab grown diamonds to flaunt a much lower price point.

Lab Created Diamonds
Lab-created diamonds

Simulants, however, are not diamonds. They’re different minerals that bear a resemblance to diamonds. We’ll dig into two of the most popular diamond simulants: cubic zirconia and moissanite.

Diamond Simulants: Cubic Zirconia and Moissanite

Diamond simulants are various types of man-made stones that are synthesized for the purpose of being diamond lookalikes. These clear, sparkling stones mimic the beauty of a diamond, but at a much lower cost. However, they do display marked differences to both lab-created and earth-mined diamonds in non-visual traits. Why does this matter? It’s important to remember that clarity is only one characteristic of jewelry stones. Color, resilience, and sparkle vary between these different stones; stones’ specific characteristics can greatly affect how you wear them in jewelry, and their lifetime cost to you.

Cubic Zirconia

What is cubic zirconia?

Cubic zirconia is arguably the most popular diamond simulant. It’s a man-made, crystalline form of zirconium dioxide. 

How is cubic zirconia made?

In a laboratory, zirconium oxide powder is melted into various stabilizing agents at a super-high temperature of nearly 5,000 degrees F. When left to cool, this mineral mixture forms crystals, which can then be cut and polished into jewelry-grade stones.

Moissanite

What is moissanite?

Moissanite is a form of silicon carbide crystal that’s synthesized in a lab. The result is a clear stone that, on the surface, bears a striking resemblance to real diamonds

How is moissanite made?

Moissanite occurs naturally, but it’s incredibly rare. Thus, all the affordable moissanite on the market today is created in a lab. 

Distinguishing Between Diamonds and Diamond Simulants

Durability

The standard measurement to determine a stone’s strength is the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. It describes a mineral’s resistance to being scratched, and is measured from 0 (maximum softness) to 10 (maximum hardness).

Lab-created diamonds and earth-created diamonds:

Diamonds are the toughest stones out there. They score a maximum of 10 on the Mohs scale, meaning they can withstand absolutely anything you throw at them in your daily life. This durability is one of the reasons diamonds are the go-to stone for engagement rings, which are worn daily for decades at a time. Because diamonds’ structure never changes, they can be passed on as family heirlooms. Both lab-grown diamonds and earth-created diamonds will last for, well, forever. 

Moissanite:

While moissanite isn’t the hardest mineral out there, it’s close. It scores a 9.25 on the Mohs scale. It’s more susceptible to scratching than diamonds are, but it still holds up extremely well to daily wear-and-tear.

Cubic zirconia:

Cubic zirconia is moderately hard. At an 8 on the Mohs scale, its resilience is comparable to that of other jewelry stones like emerald, beryl, and amethyst. Because it’s scratch-resistant, but not scratch-proof, cubic zirconia (particularly much-worn stones like those in engagement rings) often acquires many tiny scratches that cloud its appearance. When this occurs, a professional jeweler can recut the stone to restore its clarity.

Laurel Side-Stone Diamond Engagement Ring

14K White Gold Laurel Leaves Diamond Engagement Ring

“Love it! I got an oval diamond for my girlfriend and she loves it, so many compliments about the vintage style to the setting. It looks amazing.”
– Brian L.

Marquise Side Stone Diamond Engagement Ring

14K White Gold Shared Prong Marquise Side Stone Diamond Engagement Ring

I am absolutely in love with my ring! It is so beautiful. The diamond is sparkly and the setting is also very beautiful. Dainty and feminine.
– Christine L.

Lifespan

Lab-created diamonds and earth-created diamonds

How long do diamonds last? Well, you’ll never have to throw one out due to deterioration. As the famous De Beer’s slogan correctly claims, “A diamond is forever.” The oldest diamonds found have existed for nearly 4 billion years, and they’re holding strong. You can rest assured that any diamond you buy, whether earth-mined or lab-created, can be comfortably passed down through the generations. 

Moissanite:

Though not as long-lasting as diamonds, moissanite will comfortably last for decades without any significant degradation in quality. However, since it’s a relatively newly recognized mineral, its exact lifespan is unknown. Although discovered over a century ago, jewelry-grade moissanite crystals only began to be synthesized in the 1970’s and only became widely available in the 1980’s. Meaning, many couples getting engaged today with moissanite engagement rings were born before moissanite engagement rings became a thing. 

Cubic Zirconia:

Cubic zirconia is made for short-term wear. With daily wear, you can expect them to last less than 5 years. This means cubic zirconia is a great “for the time being” stone; you can wear it as a placeholder until you replace it with your dream diamond. Be advised that contact with common chemicals will cause cubic zirconia to lose its shine, making it wearable for shorter periods of time. So make sure to remove cubic zirconia jewelry before doing daily tasks like putting on lotion, using cleaning supplies, or using hairspray.

Martini Diamond Stud Earrings

14K Yellow Gold Three Prong Martini Round Brilliant Diamond Stud Earrings

“These diamond studs far exceeded any expectations. They truly glisten. Quality is outstanding. So happy with them!”
– Anita P.

Halo Diamond Stud Earrings

14K White Gold Halo Lab Created Diamond Stud Earrings

Beautiful earrings for a great price! I ordered the VS1 1CT lab-created diamond halo earrings. They are stunning and my wife loves them. Great quality and the pricing is competitive.
-Shivam J.

Color

Lab-created diamonds and earth-created diamonds

Colorless isn’t the only option! Due to trace elements in their composition, diamonds can display a range of colors. Plus, diamonds’ color is permanent. It won’t change at high temperatures or fade over time. 

Moissanite:

Moissanite exhibits “thermochromism,” meaning that it is sensitive to a color change at temperatures above 150° F (65 C). These are usually temporary, but these heat-sensitive color changes can sometimes be permanent.

Cubic zirconia:

Cubic zirconia doesn’t change color when exposed to heat, but under UV radiation it can turn color, albeit temporarily. Most commonly, it turns yellowish, light green, or white. Indoors your stone will remain clear, but if you go outside on a sunny day it may change hue.

Kite-Set Diamond Pendant Necklace

14K Yellow Gold Kite Set Solitaire Lab Created Diamond Pendant

‘My wife loves her new solitaire necklace. The chain is dainty, perfect length and great quality.”
– Kylie O.

Four-Prong Solitaire Diamond Pendant Necklace

14K White Gold Four Prong Basket Solitaire Lab Created Diamond Pendant

More incredible than I could have hoped! I have to say, I am so impressed! This design is just perfect and really lets the diamond shine.
– Maggie L.

Sparkle

A diamond’s sparkle is largely thanks to two qualities: brilliance and fire.

“Brilliance” is a specific term describing a gemstone’s ability to return white light. It’s measured by the refractive index; a higher refractive index indicates a greater amount of white light reflected. The more white light reflected, the brighter the gemstone appears to the human eye.

“Fire” refers to a gemstone’s ability to return colored light, and is measured by the dispersion score. The higher a gemstone’s dispersion, the more it will display a rainbow of colors.

Lab-created diamonds and earth-created diamonds

Diamonds have a refractive index of 2.42 and their faceting pattern returns light remarkably. They’re strikingly bright, but not too much so. Its dispersion is relatively low, at 0.044, so diamonds remain quite bright, with only minimal colorful sparkle. The combination of this brilliance (reflected white light) and fire (refracted color) give diamonds a truly balanced and unparalleled sparkle.

Moissanite:

Moissanite actually has a higher refractive index than diamonds, at 2.65, and thus appears incredibly bright under natural light. However, moissanite has crazy high dispersion: 0.104. This is why it reflects back a ton of colored light, leading to a “rainbow effect” that tends to overshadow its brilliance. The rainbow effect tends to make moissanite look fake to the well-trained eye, and is especially noticeable under natural light and in larger stones. In short, moissanite can often appear “too sparkly” under certain lights.

Cubic zirconia:

With a refractive index of 2.15, cubic zirconia is the least brilliant of the bunch. Its lower score means that it reflects less light back to the eye, appearing duller than both diamond and moissanite under identical light. It has a slightly higher dispersion than diamond, around 0.058, but isn’t very noticeable. Under natural light it will appear quite white, but it will definitely lack the sparkle of either diamond or moissanite.

Four Prong Diamond Tennis Bracelet

14K White Gold Four Prong Lab Created Diamond Tennis Bracelet

My girlfriend absolutely loved this bracelet. It looks amazing. Her eyes shined as bright as the diamonds on this piece when she opened the box. Definitely worth it.”
– Isidro O.

Bezel-Set Diamond Tennis Bracelet

14K Rose Gold Bezel Diamond Tennis Bracelet

This bracelet just exceeds my expectations! The diamonds sparkle, the bracelet is smooth, and overall the design is very nice! I just love my bracelet and NEVER take it off!
– Beth L.

Ideal Size

Lab-created diamonds and earth-created diamonds

Diamonds come in every carat. At James Allen, we sell loose diamonds in a huge range of carat sizes: from petite diamonds in 0.20 carats, all the way to large diamonds that are upwards of a whopping 20 carats. Diamonds’ stunning bright white brilliance and minimal color dispersal look amazing in any carat weight.

Moissanite:

Moissanite’s intense rainbow effect increases as the stone get larger. For this reason, it’s best to avoid large moissanite stones in jewelry. Stick with the smaller sizes; under 1 carat is best. Think: diamond for center stones, and moissanite for accent stones.

Cubic zirconia:

Cubic zirconia comes in as wide a range of carat sizes as diamonds do. While you can find cubic zirconia in as large a carat as you’d like, it’s best to choose an average-sized carat (around 1 carat) both to maximize the amount of light that hits the stone, and to avoid the relatively dull shine that becomes obvious in larger stones.

Seven-Stone Domed Diamond Anniversary Ring

14K Rose Gold Seven Stone Low Dome Basket Diamond Ring

“This was an anniversary gift. It’s a beautiful ring. I loved it!”
– Pankaj S.

Five-Stone Shared Prong Diamond Anniversary Ring

14K Yellow Gold Five Stone Shared Prong Contour Diamond Ring

I received this ring in honor of our 35th wedding anniversary and it didn’t disappoint. The size and clarity of the diamonds are perfect!
– Annette S.

Cost

Earth-created diamonds: 

Traditional diamonds are the most expensive choice. The process of discovering, mining, and shipping earth-created diamonds is resource-intensive; the high cost of bringing them to market has helped diamonds achieve their luxe reputation.

Lab-created diamonds:

For when you want a real diamond, but want to pay 30% less. Because the process of creating a diamond takes significantly less time and resources than mining a diamond from the earth does, lab-made diamonds cost significantly less than earth-mined diamonds.

Moissanite:

This is quite affordable compared to diamond, but it’s the more expensive of the diamond simulants. Moissanite costs about half of what a traditional diamond under 1 carat costs. As a traditional diamond increase in carat weight, comparable moissanites become relatively more affordable. 

Cubic zirconia:

Cubic zirconia is the most budget-friendly choice. It costs next to nothing compared to a traditional diamond. While a colorless, eye-clean 1 carat diamond could cost thousands of dollars, a comparable cubic zirconia will cost only a few dozen dollars.

Twisted Shank Diamond Engagement Ring

14K White Gold Twisted Shank Contemporary Solitaire

“Stunning diamond & band! Perfect engagement ring, my fiancèe was floored at how beautiful the ring was. It was exactly what she wanted and she cannot stop raving about it. I’m extremely happy with this purchase.”
– Christopher R.

Bezel-Set Solitaire Diamond Engagement Ring

14K Yellow Gold Comfort Fit Bezel Set Solitaire Engagement Ring

I love my ring. I love that it is a secure setting so that I don’t need to worry about prongs being damaged, and my diamond is insane – so sparkly!
– Anne B.

The Low-Down

Choose a classic earth-created diamond if:

  1. You love diamond’s sparkle
  2. You’ll wear your diamond jewelry often
  3. You admire the billions of years of history contained in each stone

Choose a modern lab-created diamond if:

  1. You love diamond’s sparkle
  2. You’ll wear your diamond jewelry often
  3. You want a large diamond at a lower price

Choose moissanite if:

  1. You’re on a budget
  2. You like small-carat stones
  3. You’ll wear your jewelry intensively

Choose cubic zirconia if:

  1. You’re on a budget
  2. You’ll wear your jewelry carefully and not every day
  3. You’re saving up for a more expensive stone

Choosing the stone that suits your lifestyle is an important part of designing meaningful jewelry that will last you throughout your life. And if you choose to buy either lab-created diamonds or earth-created diamonds, you can choose from 1000’s of beautiful options at James Allen.

Keep up on your diamond reading:

  1. Diamonds: The April Birthstone
  2. How To Take Care Of Your Diamond Jewelry
  3. Earth-Created Vs. Lab-Created Diamonds
  4. True Hearts™ Lab Created Diamonds
  5. Lab-Created Diamonds vs. Moissanite

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Rachel Hoar

Rachel is an unabashed linguistics fanatic who can identify the ancient Greek root of any word. She promises not to spray you with Windex.

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