While DeBeers succeeded in marketing the diamond as the must-have gemstone for romance and commitment, there are diamond alternatives that, for many customers, are good enough to do the job. Of course, precious gemstones, such as rubies, emeralds, sapphires and more, are also a viable option for consumers. Yet, for those who want the look, feel and light performance of a diamond – but without the hefty price tag – here are some diamond alternatives.
Many people believe cubic zirconia to be man made. Some even call it “paste”. However, the natural form of the mineral zirconium oxide was originally discovered in 1892. At the time, it was not thought to have any value. Throughout the years, scientists continued to experiment with it. Cubic zirconia only really became popular after 1977, when Russian scientists discovered how to grow the crystals using a synthetic process. They called these synthetic stones ‘Djevalite’, and began to market them as simulated diamonds. While this first attempt at diamond alternatives didn’t set the industry aflame, it did pave the road in the late 1980s for cubic zirconia to become vastly popular in costume jewelry, and a cheaper alternative to engagement rings. Today CZ, as it has become known, is enhanced with chemicals that make it appear more like diamond, and also make it harder. One of the major differences between CZ and diamonds is the greater amount of fire given off by CZ, which causes it to sparkle in rainbow colors. New coatings help to dull the fire, which has even caused the CZ to give a false positive diamond reading when placed under a Raman spectroscope. CZ can also now be colored to give the appearance of fancy colored diamonds or precious gems.
Although the name sounds similar to that of cubic zirconia, white zircon is a natural material, known as zirconium silicate, which can also be purchased as an alternative to the costly diamond. Colorless in its pure form, white zircon is found in places such as Cambodia, Burma, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Australia and East Africa. Compared to other precious gems, and particularly its look-alike cousin the diamond, white zircon is much cheaper. It can also rival diamonds with its brilliance, and comes in a large array of colors. And because zircons are natural, they can often contain inclusions or other flaws just like diamond.
Swarovski is the brand that is credited with first making crystals popular and even acceptable as diamond alternatives in jewelry. Swarovski Crystals are not gemstones. In fact, they are not even really crystals. They are a form of glass that’s made at high temperatures by melting silicon oxide powders with lead to form what is known as lead crystal. A man made stone, produced in Austria specifically for Swarovski, these precision-cut crystal glass pieces are combined with lead in order to make them harder, and less likely to scratch or chip, similar to the makeup of a diamond. The lead also gives the crystal a more sparkly appearance than ordinary crystal. When referring to Swarovski Crystals, they are commonly called Simulated or Imitation Diamonds.
Moissanite can be natural or synthetically made. It was initially discovered in its natural state in 1892 by French scientist Henri Moissan, who found particles of the gem in a crater site in Arizona formed by a fallen meteorite. However natural moissanite is extremely rare. Since then, scientists have found a way to recreate its properties artificially, using silicon carbide. Moissanite is generally more sparkly than natural diamonds and gives off more fire. Moissanite is artificially created, so it does not contain any inclusions, and can often, under certain lighting, present a greenish or grayish tinge. Unlike diamonds, moissanite is not graded on color. When compared to a diamond on the standard diamond color spectrum, it is often regarded as similar in color to a GIA certified K grade diamond.
So how to diamond alternatives stack up against the real thing? Check out the comparison chart: