Diamonds: Natural, Simulants and Synthetics

Marissa HollandPart 1 of a three-part series on diamonds.

Have you ever shopped for a diamond and found the options to be overwhelming?  Well, you’re not alone.  There are a variety of natural, simulants, and synthetics to choose from.  The qualities of each vary about as much as the price for each option. 

Natural Diamonds: “Untamed,” Beautiful and Rare

The origin of the word diamond can be traced back to a Greek word adamas, which means invincible or untamed. Natural diamonds are created in the most hostile environment with extreme temperature and pressure.  They are made of pure carbon and are one of the hardest substances on earth. On average, to locate a half of a carat, one million tons of ore must be mined.  Real diamonds are incredibly difficult to excavate and the majority of the diamonds unearthed are industry-quality diamonds, meaning they are the quality used for tools such as saws and drills. When a gem-quality diamond is found and cut, the diamond displays beautiful fire and scintillation. Diamonds are beautiful, rare, and durable, which make them a highly desirable adornment. The price of diamonds increases as the size of the diamond increases and with the presence of color. Smaller diamonds are more abundant, so larger diamonds cost more. Vivid color in diamonds and clarity affect pricing as well. It’s difficult to place a firm price range on diamonds. Do your research to make sure you buy the cut, carat size, clarity, and color that you desire.

In some cases, it can be very difficult to tell a natural diamond from a lab-made synthetic diamond. It’s best to make sure your diamond comes with either a Diamond Grading Report or a Diamond Dossier report from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Diamond Dossier reports are for diamonds 1.99 carats or smaller. The full Diamond Dossier report is for stones that are larger than 1.99 carats. Both reports feature an easy-to-understand format that includes a report of the 4 Cs: Carat weight, color, clarity, and cut scales.  Keep the report in a safe place and provide a copy of it to your insurance company in the event of a claim.

Diamonds have been a source of controversy for many years. This controversy has been featured in major Hollywood movies and the media.  The diamond industry has responded with Kimberly Process, which certifies that adiamond is conflict-free.  Evermore, the popularity for simulant and synthetic diamonds has been on the rise due to heightened public interest in ethical and humanitarian treatment of workers. In the 21st Century, diamonds may not be as “untamed” as they once were believed to be.

Simulants and Synthetics: Popular Alternatives

Simulants and synthetic diamonds are often confused.  Simulants are not diamonds but look like them. They can be either a natural or synthetic (lab-created) stone or multiple stones fused together to resemble a diamond. Both simulants and synthetics can be found in just as many color options as natural diamonds. Simulants are not as durable as a real diamond and are less expensive.  Some popular simulants are moissanite and Cubic Zirconia.

There are two kinds of moissanite, natural and synthetic. The majority of moissanite that is sold is synthetic or lab created. Natural moissanite is incredibly rare and has a hardness of 9.5 on the Moh’s scale of hardness (diamonds register as a 10). It has optical properties that exceed a diamond’s properties. For some, this can be too much luster.  The color tends to have a yellow tint as well. Synthetic moissanite was introduced in the late 1990s. Because of the rarity of natural moissanite, you’ll see colorless synthetic moissanite used in jewelry. Some designers guarantee that the created moissanite jewels will maintain their brilliance and fire for the lifetime of the owners.  Lab-created moissanite starts at about $600 + per carat in jewelry.

The most popular competitor to the diamond is the cubic zirconia (CZ). Its hardness is an 8.5 on the Moh’s scale of hardness. However,  it can be less durable and can become cloudy over time. It is colorless and has no visible imperfections. It has more fire than real diamonds.  It’s very inexpensive and completely lab made.  The price per carat in jewelry starts around $15 per carat.

Some customers do not want lab-created simulants.  A third alternative to a diamond is a naturally formed white sapphire. Like moissanite, white sapphires can be natural or manmade.  Sapphires score a 9 on the Moh’s scale of hardness. They have scintillation, but lack the fire of natural diamonds.  Prices on natural stones vary depending on the 4 Cs. Synthetic white sapphire jewelry can start around $200 per carat and increase depending on its features.

Synthetic diamonds are lab-created diamonds that have essentially the same chemical composition and hardness of a naturally formed diamond. The only way to tell the difference between a lab-grown diamond and a real diamond is through a trained diamond grader. Synthetic diamonds are categorized by their production process as either high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) or chemical vapor deposition (CVD).  Either process leads to a beautiful and durable diamond. The popularity of synthetic is increasing but they still make a small portion of the marketplace. As previously mentioned, lab-created stones can be made in as many colors as a naturally formed diamond.  One major benefit of synthetic diamonds is that, because they  are created in a laboratory, they do not involve laborsome mining or the possibility of unethical procedures.  In addition, they are less costly than natural diamonds.  The price per carat for jewelry with synthetic stones starts around $400 as compared to natural diamonds, which can be in the thousands of dollars.

The GIA offers a variety of reports to confirm the authenticity of synthetic diamonds as well.  The Synthetic Diamond grading report offers the same information included for natural diamonds. The report is available for synthetic diamonds weighing .15 carats or more.

Whatever your jewelry buying occasion may be, it’s important to keep in mind all your options: natural, simulant and synthetic diamonds.  To ensure the validity of your purchase, if your jeweler does not have a GIA grading report, make sure you receive a detailed receipt that breaks down the 4 Cs, and includes your name and purchase price. It’s also important to provide this information to your insurance carrier in a timely manner to make sure your treasured new purchase is appropriately covered.

Related posts:
Part 2: Simulants: An Alternative to Real Diamonds
Part 3: When Buying Diamonds, There’s an Unnatural Alternative






Marissa Holland, AJP (GIA), is a portfolio underwriter for Chubb Personal Risk Services. 


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