Thanks to an incredibly effective advertising campaign from De Beers, every marriage proposal seemingly requires one thing: a diamond ring that cost three months' salary. Regardless of personal taste, budget, or ethical concerns, anything less is unacceptable, right?
But synthetic diamonds are becoming increasingly common. They're grown in a laboratory instead of being mined from the earth, yet are perfect replicas of their naturally occurring cousins. Plus, at 20% to 40% of the price of a natural diamond, they might help you get the ring you want without maxing out your credit card.
So what exactly is a synthetic diamond, and does it fit your needs? Read on for our full rundown.
What's the Difference?
Simulated diamonds: These are materials that mimic the look of a diamond but are not diamonds. These stones are likely to be cubic zirconia or moissanite, both of which have their own chemical composition that doesn't match a real diamond.
While these options are economical, anyone with a sharp eye can tell them from the real thing and they may not wear as well as a diamond. They do have that diamond sparkle (and some may even prefer their look). But if you're in the market for a diamond, a simulant is not it.
Lab-created diamonds: Also called man-made or synthetic, these artificially created diamonds are both chemically and visually indistinguishable from the real thing — even a jeweler won't be able to tell the difference without specialized equipment. While they cost less than natural diamonds, synthetic diamonds in exotic colors can be especially economical. Some colors that are hard to find in natural diamonds are easy to create artificially, making for a steep price difference.
Natural diamonds: They're created by nature and mined from the earth. They come in a variety of sizes, qualities, and colors.
What Kind of Diamond Are You Getting?
The seller should clearly identify what they're offering. Simulated diamonds will be labeled as such, and you may be able to tell the difference visibly if you know what to look for.
While lab-created and mined diamonds don't have the same visual differentiation, any reputable seller should still clearly identify the diamond's origin. If you're not sure, ask what kind of diamond you're looking at — and ask to see the diamond's certification. Man-made diamonds should have a certificate identifying them as lab-created.
Lab-Created Diamonds Are More Ethical
The US gem industry has instituted safeguards to ensure that diamonds in the country are not conflict (or "blood") diamonds. But the non-conflict certification process has been criticized as ineffective, and can still allow for diamonds that fund war crimes or human rights abuses.
As a result, some jewelers have begun selling "ethical" diamonds, ensuring that workers were compensated fairly and the environment wasn't harmed by their mining. However, this term and certification is not yet standardized across the industry.
However, buying a lab-created diamond completely avoids this ethical quagmire. By definition, no lab-created diamonds are blood diamonds. Plus, they avoid the potential negative environmental impact of mining.
Who Shouldn't Buy a Lab-Created Diamond?
Given the above information, why wouldn't you want to buy a lab-created diamond? There are a few reasons a man-made diamond might not be the right choice for you, though.
Size: Synthetic diamonds come in an increasing range of sizes, but you can't yet find them in the variety of sizes you can get a mined diamond. Synthetic stones typically go up to about 1.5 carats, though you can find them larger for a cost.
Color: Natural diamonds come in a wide range of colors beyond white, including blue, yellow, green, purple, pink, orange, and red. While some of these colors are rarer — and thus more expensive — many simply don't exist in synthetic diamonds. Yellow, blue, and pink are common colors in synthetic diamonds, and are likely to be less expensive than their mined counterparts. But other colors are likely to be harder (or impossible) to find.
The romance factor: You're probably familiar with jeweler De Beers' tagline "A Diamond Is Forever." While this marketing campaign single-handedly created the overwhelming demand for diamond engagement rings, there's certainly a sentimental factor to buying a natural diamond that's been around for possibly millions of years. It might not feel the same to own a diamond that was grown in a lab in just a few months.
Know Where to Buy Diamonds
Diamonds — especially high-end diamonds — are something you probably want to see in person before you commit to purchasing. The first step to buying the right stone should be calling around to your local jewelers to see which retailers offer what you're looking for, whether it's man-made, ethically sourced, or just a natural diamond.
If you're having trouble finding synthetic gems locally, you can often buy them directly from the manufacturer, either in a setting or as loose stones to be set by a jeweler later. Alternatively, you can contact the manufacturer to find the nearest dealer for their gems. Here are some synthetic diamond makers to consider:
Readers, would you ever consider buying or wearing a man-made diamond? Let us know in the comments below!