Simulant Diamonds vs Lab Created Diamonds
15th November 2021
Lab-created, synthetic, simulant, imitation diamonds… With so many different terms, it can be difficult to understand the difference between them.
While they are both more affordable alternatives to naturally-mined diamonds, you may be surprised to learn that lab-created diamonds and simulated diamonds are not actually one and the same.
If you are looking for diamond jewellery without a huge price tag, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the different characteristics of lab-created diamonds and simulated diamonds.
Simulated diamond vs lab-created: what’s the difference?
While both terms contain the word “diamond”, this is somewhat misleading: out of the two, only lab-created diamonds can be considered to be real diamonds.
In short, the key difference between lab-created diamonds and simulated diamonds is that the former only differ from natural diamonds in how they are produced, but are otherwise identical in appearance and composition. Simulated diamonds, on the other hand, are made of non-diamond material manufactured to imitate the appearance of diamonds.
Below we’ll explore their differences in more detail.
What is a lab-created diamond?
All real diamonds are composed of carbon, and formed by extreme pressures and high-temperature conditions.
The key difference between lab-created diamonds and naturally-mined diamonds is the way they were formed.
Naturally-mined diamonds were formed in the earth billions of years ago, and therefore need to be mined out of the ground and transported across the world.
Lab-created diamonds, which are also known as synthetic, manufactured, or man-made diamonds, are grown in a lab with special equipment rather than produced deep underground.
This technology has existed since the 1950s, but has developed to the point of now being able to produce flawless, colourless lab-created diamond jewellery. This is a much faster process than the way naturally-mined diamonds are formed, and also more affordable and ethical.
Lab-created diamonds are chemically the same as natural diamonds, as they are made of carbon atoms arranged in a crystal structure. This means that they have the same durability and brilliance as natural diamonds, and are available in all shapes and sizes.
How to tell the difference between naturally-mined diamonds and lab-created diamonds
Because they are virtually identical, it is very difficult to tell the difference between naturally-mined diamonds and lab-created diamonds. Only trained gemologists using specialised equipment are able to distinguish them by looking at their inclusions or by identifying trace amounts of nitrogen in naturally-mined diamonds.
What is a simulated diamond?
Are simulated diamonds “real”? No, because they aren’t technically diamonds.
Simulant diamonds, which are also called diamond imitations, are manufactured to imitate the appearance of real diamonds, but are in fact composed of a different material. While they may look like diamonds, they are not made of the same carbon atoms as diamonds and therefore do not have the same features.
Some of the most common examples of simulated diamonds include:
- Cubic zirconia is made of the crystallised form of zirconium dioxide, and was discovered in 1892. It is naturally-occurring but in jewellery is typically man-made. Read our full guide on diamonds vs cubic zirconia to learn more about the differences between the two.
- Moissanite is silicon carbide, a mineral that was discovered in 1893 that is now usually man-made for jewellery. If you’re considering moissanite as a diamond alternative, make sure to read our article on diamonds vs moissanite.
- White sapphire is a naturally-occuring colourless sapphire, and forms part of the same family as rubies and blue sapphires. They are made of aluminum oxide and their colour depends on traces of iron, copper, chromium, magnesium, and titanium.
- Glass can sometimes be found in diamond imitation rings, even though it’s very different from diamond in atomic composition and appearance as it’s non-crystalline.
Are simulated diamonds good quality?
Because simulated diamonds are made of a different material, they have noticeable differences in durability, colour, brilliance and value compared to lab-created diamonds.
Real diamonds are famously one of the hardest naturally-occurring materials you can find. Simulated diamonds are usually more easily scratched and rounded off compared to diamonds. For example, on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, diamond has the highest grade of 10 compared to cubic zirconia’s 8.5 and moissanite’s 9.25. This is why lab-grown diamond rings are a better choice for everyday wear, as they are as hard as naturally-mined diamonds.
Naturally-mined diamonds can range from being colourless at the top end to more yellow or brown on the more affordable side. Simulated diamond jewellery can be made to be either colourful or colourless, but even when completely colourless they shine with a rainbow-like sparkle compared to the white brightness of diamonds. Lab-created diamonds can also be made in a number of colours as well as completely colourless, and sparkle white just like naturally-mined diamonds.
Simulated diamonds don’t have the same refractive index and dispersion rates as real diamonds, so their appearance is different compared to the way diamonds hold light and sparkle. Cubic zirconia, for example, has a lower refractive index and higher dispersion rate than diamonds, so doesn’t have the same depth of brilliance. Lab-created diamonds have the sparkle and scintillate exactly like naturally-mined diamonds.
Simulated diamonds are cheaper than lab-created diamonds, but they don’t have the same level of prestige as diamonds. They shouldn’t be purchased as a long-term investment, since their value won’t grow over time. Lab-created diamonds tend to cost 30-60% less than naturally-mined diamonds because they are not limited in supply, but they have a proportionately similar resale value.
Choosing lab-created or simulated diamonds
Still unsure which type of jewellery to go for?
While simulated diamonds are available at a cheaper price point, they are no match for the quality, durability, and prestige of real diamonds. If you are looking for a more affordable and sustainable alternative to naturally-mined diamonds, without compromising on the look, feel, and shine of your gemstone, lab-grown diamonds are a better option.
Browse our beautiful range of ethical lab-grown diamond rings, ideal for engagement rings or wedding bands.