Synthetic diamonds, diamond simulants and natural diamonds, if you find yourself getting confused when it comes to terms used to describe different stones in the fine jewelry industry you’re not alone. But have no fear, in this article, we’ll break down the difference between mined and man made diamonds, as well as diamond simulants, to help you get a better understanding of which kinds of stones are available on the market.

Two engagement rings featuring lab grown diamonds

What Is a Diamond Simulant

So, first things first, what is a diamond simulant? 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.” While there is some truth to this, there are good, better and best when it comes to diamond simulants.

Diamond simulants are stones that are created to look like a natural diamond but are composed of different materials. As mentioned above, diamond simulants share similarities in appearance to diamonds, however, some alternative stones are of higher quality than others. Because simulants don’t share the same chemical and physical properties as the real thing they are available for purchase at a much lower price.

In addition, naturally occurring gemstones that look like a diamond may also be classified as a diamond alternative, although they’re not diamond simulants since they aren’t trying to appear like diamonds.


Simulated Diamonds vs Synthetic Diamonds

Did you know: simulated diamonds and synthetic diamonds are not the same.

Unlike a simulated diamond, synthetic diamonds are lab grown diamonds that share the same physical and chemical properties as a natural diamond. To put it simply, synthetic diamonds are real diamonds.

These lab created diamonds are indistinguishable from their natural counterparts, “identifying synthetic diamonds can be a challenge, because the optical and physical properties of synthetic diamonds are identical to those of natural diamonds. Only a gemological lab with advanced testing equipment can authoritatively determine whether a diamond is natural or synthetic,” said GIA.


Why Choose a Diamond Simulant

Conflict-free:
Diamond simulants are growing in popularity among ethically-minded shoppers as these lab grown stones don’t contribute to the poor working conditions, human rights violations and child labor associated with the traditional diamond mining industry. Choosing a diamond simulant means that you know exactly where your gem is coming from and you can rest easy knowing that no one was harmed in the process.

Environmentally friendly:
Not only is mining for diamonds damaging to human life, the industry is also responsible for the destruction of countless landscapes, habitats and wildlife each year in places like Africa, Russia, Australia and Canada (yes, even the so-called ethically mined diamonds from Canada wreak havoc on the environment).

Price tag:
Last but not least, price is often a big factor when determining which stone to choose for your forever adornment or fine jewelry piece. When you purchase a diamond simulant you can expect to pay up to 80 percent less than you would on a traditional diamond.

A lab grown diamond in a halo engagement ring setting

Simulated Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds

The difference between mined diamonds and diamond alternatives is in the price. How well a simulated diamond compares to a diamond depends upon the variety of stone that you choose. There are several popular diamond simulants on today’s market including the Nexus Diamond™ alternative sold by our sister company Diamond Nexus, moissanite, cubic zirconia, topaz and white sapphire. Here’s how each stone stacks up against the real deal.


Lab Diamond or Natural Diamond
Physical Properties: Famous for their captivating sparkle, quality diamonds are clear in color and are cut to enhance their natural brilliance and fire.
Durability: Diamonds are the hardest substance known to man ranking as a 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness. Diamonds are super strong and will not chip or crack with everyday wear.
Chemical Composition: Diamonds are made from pure carbon, although they may contain other trace elements as well.

 

The Nexus Diamond™ Alternative
Physical Properties:  The Nexus Diamond™ alternative is a simulant stone that most closely imitates the look and wear of a perfect diamond. The Nexus Diamond™ alternative is completely colorless and is cut to maximize brilliance and fire.
Durability: This stone can cut glass and is less likely to chip, crack or become discolored or cloudy over time than other simulated diamonds.
Chemical Composition: Created using a proprietary blend of elements and patented coating material, the Nexus DiamondTM alternative is heavier and more durable than other simulants.

 

Moissanite
Physical Properties:  While moissanite shares the same colorless hue as a diamond, this stone is far more sparkly than its natural counterpart. Dubbed the “disco-ball” effect, the shimmer of moissanite is one-of-a-kind thanks to its unique facet pattern.  
Durability: First believed to be a diamond due to its hardness, moissanite scores a 9.5 on the Mohs scale. This gem is very durable and is suitable for day to day wear.  
Chemical Composition: Lab created moissanite is composed of silicon carbide, an extremely rare, naturally-occurring mineral.  

 

Cubic Zirconia
Physical Properties:  Similar to moissanite, cubic zirconia also emits a disco ball type effect when it catches the light. This stone is engineered to simulate the colorless look of a D-rated diamond and is commonly used in costume jewelry.  
Durability: Cubic zirconia ranks at an 8.5 on the Mohs scale making it a softer gemstone than other diamond alternatives on the market. Cubic zirconia is popular due to its affordable price tag, however, this stone is more likely to chip or scratch.  
Chemical Composition: Cubic zirconia is made of zirconium dioxide.  

 

White Topaz
Physical Properties:  Not the closest to a diamond in appearance, white topaz is a natural gemstone that often emits a glassy look. However, this stone can still appear clean to the naked eye if you choose a gem with minimal inclusions. You can expect less sparkle and fire than a diamond when you purchase a piece of white topaz fine jewelry.  
Durability: This stone ranks as an 8 on the Mohs scale meaning that it is even softer than cubic zirconia and is not recommended for everyday wear. White topaz is more prone to chips and scratches than other diamond alternatives.    
Chemical Composition: White topaz is a silicate mineral that is formed using the combination of Fluorine and Aluminium.  

 

White Sapphire
Physical Properties:  White sapphire is a member of the corundum group of gemstones and can be colorless or white in appearance. The sparkle of white sapphire is not nearly as impressive as that of a diamond and the stone can become quite milky or cloudy.  
Durability: What white sapphire lacks in optical similarities to a diamond it makes up for in durability, ranking as a 9 on the Mohs scale.  
Chemical Composition: White sapphire is a naturally occurring colorless gemstone.  

Which Diamond Simulant Is Best?

As you can see, not all simulants are created equal. When selecting a stone for a fine jewelry piece or engagement ring it's important to consider how well it will hold up to everyday wear.

For an engagement ring we recommend going with the most durable of diamond simulants including the Nexus Diamond™ alternative and moissanite. While these gems are a little more expensive than budget diamond alternatives, they are far more likely to hold up to the test of time. Plus, some stones like the Nexus Diamond™ alternative come with a lifetime guarantee ensuring that you’re investing in an heirloom piece that can be passed down for generations.

If money is tight, a stone like cubic zirconia can be a good place to start. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this stone is more likely to chip or scratch and will not perfectly replicate the look of a real diamond. Choosing cubic zirconia as your engagement ring’s center stone is a bit of a gamble as the stone may need to be replaced and is more likely to discolor over time than other diamond alternatives.

If you’re still not sold on the idea of a diamond simulant but don’t want to support the mined diamond industry, consider a lab grown diamond instead. Lab grown diamonds are more expensive than a diamond alternative, but they are the best contenders when it comes to rivaling an earth-grown stone.


Where Can I Buy a Simulated Diamond

Most diamond simulants are available for purchase via traditional jewelers or on the online market. However, some stones such as the Nexus Diamond™ alternative are exclusively available online and are not sold in brick and mortar shops.