Synthetic vs. Natural Diamonds

Over the past two decades, synthetic diamonds have been growing in popularity. Many people are becoming curious and more open to the idea of synthetic stones instead of naturally occurring ones. Here’s a little insight into what, exactly, “synthetic” means when compared to earth-made ones.

Naturally occurring diamonds are, chemically speaking, Carbon. They can be colored blue, yellow, brown, green purple, pink, orange, or even red, depending on impurities that can sometimes make their way into the chemical structure. Without impurities, diamonds are completely colorless and clear. Diamonds are formed over billions of years (1 billion to 3.3 billion) and because of their rarity and age (up to 75% of the age of the earth) they have been coveted and valued in many societies.

Synthetic diamonds are man-made diamonds that are grown in laboratories that approximately simulate growing conditions of natural diamonds. These diamonds are chemically exactly the same as a real diamond—and sometimes better (fewer flaws). Because they are chemically the same, they refract light identically to natural diamonds and the two are indistinguishable to the naked eye. Synthetic diamonds are currently available widely in yellow, blue, and colorless or white.

Diamond simulants should be distinguished from the two options above. Simulants include gems like cubic zirconia and moissanite, which have the same material properties as diamonds but have different chemical properties. Cubic zirconia in particular is considered compositionally superior to natural diamonds, but because of this consumers have often complained that you can tell it is fake just by looking at it (since it simply looks too perfect). Ironically, some manufacturers have started adding “flaws” to try and make more realistic looking gems.

Other gems, such as emeralds, rubies and sapphires are also available synthetically. Like synthetic diamonds, they are chemically the same as their natural counterparts. One positive side of purchasing synthetic diamonds over natural diamonds is that it avoids financing potential “blood diamonds,” which are sold to finance insurgency, war efforts, warlords, and other ethically unsound practices. Most blood diamonds come from Africa, where about two-thirds of all diamonds are mined.

Another reason more people are choosing synthetic stones is because they are less expensive than geologically occurring ones. Prices vary depending on the size, color and cut, but synthetics tend to be between 10% and 40% cheaper. Colorless diamonds are much harder and more expensive to produce synthetically, though, so they tend to be closer in price to natural diamonds than their colored counterparts. Emeralds, sapphires, and rubies are all incredibly inexpensive when bought synthetically.

Should you go synthetic? That’s a choice you’ll have to make with your significant other. While some people may find it important to have a stone that comes from the earth, others may not. The ethical concerns over blood diamonds will inevitably matter more to some than others. And of course, price will also play a role. But in the end, it’s your diamond and your decision.

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