Today we will focus on the ever popular Natural Diamonds and alternatives to it to achieve a similar appearance including the trending synthetic lab grown diamonds. I will touch on the differences between them , drawbacks and prices to take into consideration. So let's have a look!

Natural Diamonds as I highlighted in previous blogs have a huge range of variables for such a seemingly straight forward gem. The fact that diamonds are a natural resource and need to be physically mined, varying degrees of quality that is subject to nature and there is a limit on it in nature makes the natural diamond a sought after item throughout history. The relative rarity especially the high quality diamonds gives a consistent demand worldwide. The higher the quality of a diamond the more "perfect" it is and in nature more perfect means rarer and more costly hence the movement in prices as I explained in previous blogs. I will stay away from the scientific and gemology explanations to keep it to the point and not over technical, feel free to message me if you want to know.  

Out of all the options in colourless or White transparent gems Diamonds are by far the most costly for a few reasons but not limited to; The fact that they are natural gems therefore limited supply, mined, small in size and not readily available in nature i.e. rare vs other minerals and crystals makes the biggest difference. Other factors such as the labour inputs in terms of cutting is higher than other counterparts due to hardness and crystal features that need to be taken into account and accuracy in symmetry needed plays a part too.

So what other options are there or what can one consider beside the premium on natural diamonds? Well there are quite few and virtually all of them are man made to imitate or copy the look of a diamond. Our first one would be a well known one called a cubic zirconia (cz).

Cubic zirconia is a synthetic simulant and is a great alternative to a diamond given it's super low price and similar look at the start. The good part is when you buy it it looks quite similar to the public to a diamond. CZ's have a high dispersion in other words sparkle or fire that is up there with a diamond. The main drawback is a CZ is softer than a diamond and they lose their beauty quite quickly to such an extent that CZ in rings can do with replacing every couple of years as the stone abrades on the edges called facets that causes blurriness. They tends to also be "whiter" in look and have a plastic feel to them on the surface, I also noticed they break easily compared to a diamond.

White Sapphire is another old time alternative to a diamond as per above picture. These stones are the one natural counterpart that was commonly used until synthetic stones came around. Now the majority of White Sapphire used is synthetically made White Sapphires. White Sapphires are mostly more white and cloudy looking than a diamond due to lower refractive index that is less brightness in a sense due to the type of crystal. The good part is the hardness of Sapphire so they tend to not be as susceptible to abrasion as other imitation gems. They are relatively cheap vs diamonds synthetic even more so than the natural white sapphire. It gives a different look and as with all gems beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The look is whiter more snow type feel and is softer on the eye than the fiery bright dispersion of diamonds.

Our third commercial option you will see a lot is a synthetic alternative called Moissanite. This option came along more readily in the early 2000's and is very close to a diamond in structure and composition but obviously with some differences. The main difference between the two in look is that Moissanite actually has a higher dispersion than diamond so busier in look and has doubling so the facets in the gem doubles up when reflecting and viewed through the gem. One way to distinguish between a moissanite and diamond. They are the more expensive option of the alternatives but still about a tenth of a diamond although these prices can be way less on bigger sizes and all other factors considered. The stone looks very similar to a diamond due to the higher dispersion so not white look necessarily when comparing the two. They also do not wear as easily which is great news and often used in rings for engagement purposes lately. Compared next to a diamond I always noticed that the table and facets are more obvious because edges are thicker. This always stood out to me mainly because I worked with gems often. Diamonds are the hardest gems crystal and therefore it can take polish and cutting the best and to perfection whereas all the other gems can't achieve it due to the crystal structure and lesser hardness. this is always evident to me when having alternatives next to a natural diamond. 


I am giving the table above to show to points I highlighted in a more scientific manner out of interest. The second last alternative I want to touch on is Yittrium Aluminium Garnet (YAG) this used to be a popular alternative in the previous millennium but as can be seen on the above table lost in most department when compared to other simulants and therefore fell out of popularity however this can be used.

The last but not least is probably the biggest alternative now to natural diamonds and that is synthetic diamonds or marketed lately as Lab grown(LG) Diamonds.

 Ok so first thing is all the previous alternatives are called imitation or simulant gems to diamonds. Each with noticeable differences inherently and in appearance as it looks similar but isn't as a gem. The lab grown (LG) diamond is a different story since it is exactly the same in it's structure therefore it performs the same as the natural diamond since it is a copy in essence. Synthetic diamonds have been around for a while but in minute sizes and recently I would say from 2015 onwards new techniques lead to making larger sizes viable due to much cheaper methods of creating copies. The processes are quite interesting how they are made point is they are a copy of the natural. The good news is as with all gems for gemologists there are methods to identify man made gems versus the natural gems. As far as the appearance goes and performance in terms of use it is exactly the same as it is a copy.  This makes lab grown a real exact option to consider if looking into diamond alternatives.

This caused great excitement and confusion in the market recently with very polarized views on the entry of this alternative into the general market. I can merely give my view on this and how I would look at it as a consumer. Lab grown are about 25-33% of a similar natural diamond counterpart price and it seems that it is getting cheaper as time goes on. The first thing to remember is there is no right or wrong when buying a man made or natural gems. You can even buy a treated natural diamond that is in between like the High pressure High temperature (HPHT) example below that also run 50% cheaper than a natural untreated diamond to help confuse you even more!

  Point is there are many options available to achieve your goal and budget. I would approach it by first looking at what is an obvious out for me and the person I am buying it for. If the parties concerned prefer natural stone due to the romance or feeling of rarity behind it great, if they prefer man made because it looks the same and they don't care about the traditional rarity in it or want the big look or save money great! I personally love all 3 due to uniqueness in them all but I tend to go with natural as I love the fact that nature created the raw material , it's limited in supply and no one gems is really alike once you go "into" the gem. A lot of ethics are being promoted in this area both ways but I would as with anything go and really check the facts objectively between lab made pollution and a lab profiting vs mining pollution and local populations benefiting to see where it makes sense to oneself. The idea of buying a diamond is the symbolism of love and commitment and that is the core be it for getting married or a gift. Lot of people ask me how much they should spend and a lot say 3 month salary but I say there is no rule. Firstly you should not compare with others and care about what others spend or say. This is about you and the receiver of this gem. I would say if you love and commit to someone you don't cheapen out on them by knowingly going cheap routes to give something lesser knowing you can do better. This is relative to the purpose, what you can and can't afford and the why.

For every one this is different regardless of the type of gem and price- it must be something that one in a responsible manner feel a bit stretched in because that will mean something inside of the person buying and one receiving because of the motive. The beauty of the jewellery and gem world is that one can achieve "the look" for virtually any price and type of material but the true knowing and feeling behind how you go about it will always be felt inside the giver and receiver. This can in my opinion only be achieved by first being on the same page as to what is important to one another and then do the best you can with what you have and in your intention to show your heart.   

I hope this helped in giving some insight into diamond alternatives and how I go about choosing between a natural and alternative gem. Next up will be how to buy engagement rings for guys I'm quite excited as this should help a lot of people to get a starting point so please share when you can!


David van Niekerk