Diamond Simulants: What Are They and Are They Right for You?

Simulating the sparkle of diamonds...

Sometimes, people want the shine of a diamond without paying the hefty price of a natural stone. Even lab-grown diamonds can be pricey, and it can seem impossible to find a gem of equal shine and sparkle for less.💎 However, diamond simulants are an easy way to get the same look and feel of a diamond for a fraction of the price.

Jeweler Differentiate Between Diamonds and Diamond Simulants

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What are diamond simulants?
  • What are the desired properties of simulated diamonds?
  • How to shop for the most popular diamond simulants.
  • The benefits and downsides of simulated diamonds.
  • Things to consider when shopping for simulated stones.

Basics: What is a diamond simulant?

Diamond simulants: A definition

In short, diamond simulants are gems or other materials that have gemological characteristics that are close or identical to diamonds. These stones are selected for their durability, dispersion, density, and other factors that make them a good replacement for actual diamonds.

Simulants can be natural stones or artificial creations, and in some cases, they’re both! Common simulants include moissanite, cubic zirconia, white sapphire, white spinel, and white topaz. Certain high-leaded glass materials, such as rhinestones, also count as diamond simulants.

Gemologists may also call diamond simulants any of these names: simulated diamonds, diamond alternatives, or fake diamonds. However, while the first two terms can be used interchangeably with diamond simulants, we do not recommend using the term “fake diamonds”. Diamond simulants are gemstones that jewelers sell to offer affordable diamond alternatives and ethically sourced options. There are no tricks involved in selling properly labeled diamond simulants.

Compare Between Simulated Diamonds

In contrast, the idea of a “fake diamond” is tied to a seller’s intentions rather than the stone itself. For instance, if a jeweler is selling diamond simulants while assuring the customer they are actual diamonds, those would constitute “fake diamonds”. The jeweler intends to trick the customer, therefore selling fake stones in the place of diamonds.

The history of simulated diamonds

Diamond simulants have been around for centuries, and records of such materials trace back to the 1700s. Then, flint glass, rhinestones, and other glass simulants were beloved diamond alternatives of the Baroque Period.  

In the early 1900s, the first crystalline diamond simulants—white sapphire and spinel—joined the market as popular, mass-produced alternatives.  

Synthetic rutile and strontium titanate became popular options in the 1950s-1970s. By the end of the 20th century, the discovery of cubic zirconia and moissanite revolutionized simulated diamonds.😎

Comparing simulants and other stones

So how do simulated diamonds compare to other lab-created stones? Here are a few comparisons to keep in mind:

Diamond simulants vs. Lab-grown/synthetic diamonds

Although simulated diamonds look and, sometimes, feel like diamonds, their composition is typically very different. Cubic zirconia and moissanite are affordable, durable stones that have the same appeal as diamonds.  

However, lab-grown or synthetic diamonds are just that: diamonds grown in a lab. They are atomically identical to natural diamonds, and they have a similar carbon structure. Because they are actually the same as natural diamonds, lab-grown stones sell for a higher price than simulants.

Diamond simulants vs. Enhanced diamonds

Enhanced or treated diamonds are actual diamonds that have gone through additional processing to improve their appearance.

For instance, gemologists may enhance diamonds with laser drilling, fracture filling, or high-pressure high-temperature to eliminate imperfections. Unlike simulants, these diamonds require extra care over their lifetime, so it’s important to weigh your investment between the two.

Natural simulants vs. Artificial simulants

Natural simulants are natural minerals that optically resemble a diamond when cut. These gems often have impurities that mimic a diamond’s color, and quartz, beryl, spinel, and zircon are notable natural simulants.

Artificial simulants are man-made diamond copies formed from other materials. Glass and other man-made simulants are not natural minerals, but rather materials refined in labs to produce simulated diamonds.

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Lab Created Diamonds

Understanding 5 properties of diamonds and their simulants

There are a few properties experts use to differentiate between diamonds and simulants. Let’s look at the five main ones below:

Chemical Composition

Diamonds and diamond simulants are very different even at an atomic level. Natural and lab-grown diamonds have a unique, orderly atomic structure composed of carbon with traces of other elements. In contrast, diamond simulants have a less organized structure, and this can lead to differences in the other factors below.

Refractive Index

Gemologists use the refractive index (RI) to measure the speed at which light travels through a gemstone relative to the speed of light in a vacuum.  

To find the RI, gemologists study how light “refracts” or bends through the gem, paying close attention to its angles. Most gemstones are “doubly refractive”, which means light splits into two beams when it enters the gem. Experts measure the difference between these two beams—which have different refractive indices—as “birefringence”. Diamonds are singly refractive, but simulated diamonds can vary in their refractive properties.

Dispersion

Another measure of light, dispersion accounts for the colorful wavelengths produced by white light entering a gemstone. This is also known as “fire”, which is a grading criterion for a diamond’s cut when looking at a diamond report.

To measure dispersion, experts use a refractometer to inspect the gem. Different colored lights are used to measure the RI and the dispersion of gemstones, and the higher the number the more intense the gem’s dispersion.  

Illustration of the Dispersion Property

While there is a reference dispersion value for each stone—a diamond’s is .044—this does not mean every specimen of that stone will score the same. In fact, there are factors that play into each stone’s score; density and color play a large role in how well a gem disperses light.🌈 However, the stone’s faceting is the most important characteristic, as critical angles and planes of the diamond influence how light travels through the stone.

Hardness

Gemologists utilize the Mohs scale of hardness to categorize gemstones by their durability, and it measures stones on a scale of 1-10. Diamond is the hardest gemstone available at a score of 10, and it can withstand daily wear effortlessly. Despite being lower on the Mohs scale, simulants are still rather durable, and we’ll discuss each one’s hardness rating below.

Density

Also known as “specific gravity”, relative density is important for understanding how gemstones can be different physical sizes at the same carat weight. Relative density is the ratio of a gemstone’s density compared to a given reference material’s density. If the gemstone’s relative density measures less than 1, it is less dense than the reference material. In comparison, it is denser than the reference material if it measures more than 1.

Diamonds have a fairly consistent specific gravity of 3.52. However, simulants vary widely, with some of them being much higher or somewhat lower than the average diamond.

What are some popular diamond simulants?

So which diamond simulants are the most popular? Here is a rundown of popular simulated diamonds and how they measure up to diamonds:

Moissanite

Originally found in a crater from a fallen meteor, moissanite was discovered by Henri Moissan in 1893. It is composed of silicon carbide, which is a rare, naturally occurring mineral. As such, most moissanite is lab-grown nowadays.

Moissanite’s default color best translates to a K grade on the GIA diamond color scale, with hints of yellow, gray, and green. However, certain companies have created premium versions of moissanite that are near colorless. One popular example is Forever One Moissanite, created by Charles & Colvard. This brand guarantees high-quality moissanite that is only graded in colorless or near-colorless ranges.

When it comes to clarity, moissanites are graded much like diamonds. Both gemstones are known for small inclusions, and moissanites are rarely produced below the VS grade level. However, these grades do not come from independent labs like the GIA or AGS. Instead, the manufacturer issues these reports for clients.

Round Cut Moissanite (Brilliant Earth: MO7.0RD1)
Round cut moissanite (Brilliant Earth SKU: MO7.0RD1)

Princess Cut Moissanite (Brilliant Earth SKU: MO7.5PC1)
Princess cut moissanite (Brilliant Earth: MO7.5PC1)

Moissanite actually has a higher dispersion and refractive index than diamond. This means more colorful light displays and extra brilliance and sparkle!

Moissanite measures as a 9.25 on the Mohs hardness scale, so it’s actually exceptionally close to diamond. As such, they are a durable alternative for active lifestyles.

Finally, when it comes to price, moissanite is usually about half the price of a diamond of equal quality and size. Although, it’s difficult to make such comparisons, as moissanite weighs about 15% less than diamond. Unlike diamonds—which can vary in price due to quality—moissanites tend to cost the same across similar gems unless there is a major difference in size or type of stone.

Cubic Zirconia

Formed from zirconium dioxide, cubic zirconia (CZ) is a man-made diamond simulant that is mostly colorless. Although it is created to be purely colorless, it does reflect orange light in certain instances.

Unlike most diamonds, cubic zirconia is always flawless because it is lab-created. However, this perfection sometimes has the negative effect of making the stone appear fake.

Cubic zirconia has a lower refractive index and higher dispersion than a diamond. As such, CZ can create an abundance of rainbow-colored light, but white light will not reflect back as easily through its facets. If you want more fire, choose a CZ; but diamonds are the best choice for brilliance.🍸

Cushion Cut Cubic Zirconia Stud Earrings
Amazon Collection / Amazon

While cubic zirconia is noticeably denser than diamond, it only rates at 8.5 on the Mohs scale. Furthermore, CZ can become scratched or cloudy over time, which is a far cry from the durability of a diamond. However, being synthetic does lend CZ some protection, it just will not compare to that of a genuine diamond.

While diamonds can hold their value over time, cubic zirconia is worth near nothing once purchased. A CZ stone may only cost $20-$100, whereas a diamond of equal quality may range from $3,000-$9,000. If you’re looking for a stone to create a family heirloom or sell later in life, CZ is not a good choice for you.

White Sapphire

Part of the corundum family, sapphires are typically deep blue stones. However, white sapphires are a great dupe for diamonds! Sapphires consist of aluminum oxide with traces of iron, magnesium, titanium, chromium, and copper.

Most white sapphires are slightly yellow or gray, but they can be treated to be pure white. Color consistency is key with sapphires, and you’ll want to ensure the stone is the same bright white throughout.

When it comes to clarity, white sapphires aren’t graded like diamonds. Colored stones do tend to have more inclusions than diamonds, so make sure you inspect your chosen sapphire carefully to ensure none of the imperfections are perceptible to the naked eye. Overall, most inclusions and blemishes won’t be visible with less than 10x magnification.

Cushion Style Halo Round Cut White Sapphire Ring
Zales (SKU: 20345762)

White sapphires score much lower than diamonds on the refractive index, so they offer a murkier brilliance. Similarly, due to the slightly cloudy appearance, the color displays will be muted as well.

Regarding durability, white sapphires rank as a 9 on the Mohs scale. While not as hard as diamonds, they’re still rather resistant to most scratching. However, if you’re rough with your jewelry, a diamond is the best way to guarantee less damage over time.

White sapphires cost less than diamonds, and two stones of equal size and quality will see a significant difference in value. A $500 white sapphire may equate to a $1,500 diamond of equal quality!

Diamond and simulant comparison chart

So what is the best diamond simulant for your needs? Here’s a handy chart to understand how each simulated diamond stacks up to the real thing:

  DiamondMoissaniteCubic ZirconiaWhite Sapphire
Hardness109.258.59
Beauty and BrillianceFascinating fire, brilliance and sparkleMore fire and brilliance than diamonds; a different quality of sparkleMore fire and less brillianceLess fire and brilliance than diamonds
Dispersion Rate0.0440.1040.058-0.0660.018
Refractive Index2.41-2.422.65-2.692.15-2.181.77
ColorFrom light yellow or brown to colorless, depends on the color quality chosenNear-colorless; under certain lights, yellow and green tints can be seenColorlessA cloudy white hue
ClarityDifferent levels of inclusions and blemishes depending on the clarity grade chosen, but some flaws are eye-cleanThe average clarity level is higher than that of natural diamondsCan be regarded as flawlessTends to have more inclusions and blemishes than diamonds, but depends on the quality chosen; some are invisible
Density3.50-3.53
3.22
Around 15% lighter than a diamond
5.6-6.0
Heavier than a diamond
3.95-4.03
Slightly heavier than a diamond
Price$$$$$$$$$$$

Other diamond simulants

📈While the simulants above are the most common options, there are a couple of others that deserve a mention. Here are two more options for simulated diamonds:

White Spinel

Once of the first crystalline diamond simulants, white spinel consists of magnesium aluminum oxide. Near colorless, the gems can sometimes seem lifeless compared to diamonds and other simulants. With a lower refractive index and dispersion than a diamond, this white stone won’t sparkle quite as brilliantly as a diamond. White spinel only rates as an 8 on the Mohs scale, so it can scratch and may require replacement over time.

White Topaz

Usually a yellow or blue stone, topaz does have a white variant that works as a diamond alternative. White topaz is incredibly affordable, but it does not offer the same brilliance and fire that a diamond does. While it does sparkle very well, it will not have the colorful dispersion of a diamond. Similar to white spinel, topaz is only an 8 on the Mohs scale, making it one of the less durable options. This stone can chip over time, so be sure to get a very sturdy setting to protect it!

The benefits and downsides of diamond simulants

So how can you figure out whether diamond simulants are right for you?🔍 Let’s weigh the benefits and downsides below:

Benefits

  • All simulants are available for affordable prices, making them ideal for any budget.
  • Because simulated diamonds are less expensive, there are more options available for every buyer. There are plenty of shapes, cuts, and carat options that would not be possible with a natural or lab-grown diamond.
  • Diamond simulants are a great way to avoid unethical diamond mining, which causes local conflict, slave labor, and environmental issues.
  • Some simulated options have special optic effects. For instance, moissanite stones have more brilliance and fire than natural or lab-grown diamonds, which may appeal to anyone looking for extra sparkle.🌟
  • Most simulants are fairly durable, rating at about 8-9 on the Mohs scale.
  • Because they are rather durable, simulants are great for most lifestyles.

Downsides

  • Simulated diamonds have a low investment value and do not appreciate over time. This is especially true of artificial simulants.
  • Simulated diamonds require more care, and they should not be stored together with diamonds. Diamonds rate as a 10 on the Mohs scale, and they can damage the slightly softer diamond simulants over time.
  • Although simulated diamonds may carry a lot of meaning for their buyer, many people feel simulants do not compare to the rarity and symbolism of real diamonds.

Buying a diamond simulant: Things to consider

What questions should you ask yourself before buying a simulated diamond? Here are some things to consider before committing to diamond simulants:

Keep in mind simulants are not “real diamonds”

It’s important to remember that although simulants may pass for diamonds at first glance, they are NOT the real thing. While you may be comfortable with this, you should always check with your partner before purchasing one for an engagement ring.

Many people believe diamonds have symbolic value, and purchasing a diamond simulant engagement ring may hurt their feelings and make them feel as though you don’t think they’re worth the real gemstone.👫🏻 Although this may not be your intention, it’s always a good idea to check first and feel out your intended giftee for any negative feelings about diamond simulants.

Which diamond simulant should you choose?

Which simulated diamond you choose should come down to your preferences and lifestyle.

For instance, if you live an active lifestyle or tend to snag your jewelry, consider tougher simulants like moissanite and white sapphire. Or, if you’re looking for extra sparkle, moissanite will provide additional fire for your jewelry piece. And, if you have a limited budget, cubic zirconia is a great way to get shine similar to a diamond without breaking the bank.

Consider Which Diamond Simulant Is Right for the Ring

Combining real and simulated diamonds

Adding diamond simulants to a piece with a natural center stone and vice versa is a perfect way to save money while still having the best of both worlds.

Avoid paying top dollar for a diamond center stone and opt for a white sapphire with natural diamond accent stones. Or, spend a bit more on a beautiful, natural center stone and then surround it in glittering diamond simulants. Moissanite is a perfect choice for accent stones because it sparkles more than the average diamond, making your center stone look even more dazzling.

Can you save money on a metal setting as well?

While you're saving serious cash on a diamond simulant ring, consider whether you need a pricey setting as well. Premium metals like platinum are ideal for diamonds and delicate shaped stones, so if your center stone has plenty of points that could chip it may be your best option.

However, if you have a sturdier shaped simulant—such as a round, oval, or cushion—you can always opt for less expensive metals for your piece. White, yellow, and rose gold are strong yet beautiful setting options, and palladium or titanium are great options for men.

Think of simulated diamonds for any other jewelry purchases

Have you considered diamond simulants for any other jewelry you wish to buy?

Simulants are a great option for pieces other than engagement and wedding jewelry, as fashion pieces often have less symbolism.

Stud earrings are a great example of jewelry that benefits from simulated diamonds, especially since people rarely get close enough to inspect your ears! Or, try simulated diamonds in a pendant or bracelet to acquire the same diamond shine without the hefty price.

Where should you buy diamond simulants?

⚠️It’s important to purchase your simulated diamonds from a trusted retailer who won’t try to sell you “fake diamonds”. Most laboratories do not issue grading reports for simulants, which means reputable sellers are crucial. Here are a few places you can find quality simulants for a decent price:

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Choosing diamond simulants

Diamond simulants may not be the best choice for everyone, but many people are able to reap the benefits of these stones. With more bang for your buck, simulated diamonds offer more options for buyers with limited budgets. Additionally, they shine just as efficiently as diamonds, and most people would not be able to tell the difference between these stones and the “real deal” unless told.😎

While simulated diamonds are typically a great deal, they do have some setbacks. They're slightly less durable than natural and lab-grown diamonds, and some simulants require more care over time. It’s important to weigh these factors when choosing the right center or accent stones for your piece, as the gems must fit your lifestyle.

If you’re not entirely sold on diamond simulants, consider reading our articles about natural and lab-grown diamonds to see if either choice is right for you.

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