Regardless of what the old song might say, diamonds are no longer a girl’s best friend. The purchase of diamonds has become fraught with ethical concerns, and beyond the ethical concerns, their exorbitant cost is a major issue. For the first time, though, a number of attractive alternatives to traditional diamonds are available, giving jewelry purchasers compelling choices.
The Problems with Diamonds
Historically, diamond prices have been controlled by the South African DeBeers cartel. Although the power of the cartel has been weakened through discovery of other diamond sources and by global lawsuits, diamond prices remain extremely high. These high prices are illusory since at any time the production of mined diamonds can significantly increase, flooding the market and shattering diamond values.
Above and beyond their exorbitant pricing, increasing awareness of conflict diamonds, also referred to as “blood” diamonds, has tarnished their desirability. In certain African countries, the proceeds from the sale of diamonds are used by rebel and terrorist groups. While the industry has attempted to police itself, the fact of the matter is that blood diamonds are still being sold, in many cases with a “conflict-free” label.
Today’s diamond buyer has a number of attractive options above and beyond the traditional mined, natural diamond. By buying either a simulant like CZ or moissanite or a lab-created diamond, he can avoid the ethical issues present in diamond purchases. He also stands to save a significant amount of money.
Upon deeper inspection, though, cubic zirconia is different from diamond in many ways. It is much denser than diamond, with a CZ stone weighing almost twice as much as a comparably sized diamond. CZs lower refractive index gives it a different type of sparkle than a comparably cut and shaped diamond, while its lower hardness rating makes it less strong. To answer these concerns, some laboratories now cover CZs with a thin coating of powered diamond to give them a more diamond-like appearance. These higher quality CZs can be more expensive than lower cost regular stones.
These lab-created stones have significant advantages over cubic zirconia and, in many cases, over diamonds as well. Moissanite is much harder than CZ, with a Mohs hardness rating of 9.25 – higher than any gem other than the 10-rated diamond. Its refractive index of 2.67 is not only higher than CZ, but is actually higher than that of real diamond as well. Moissanite is more effective than diamond at dispersing light, giving it additional “fire,” while also repelling the oils that can coat diamonds.
Although Moissanite is more expensive than other diamond simulants, its advantages are clear. It is also significantly less expensive than diamonds.
While diamonds have traditionally been created by intense pressure in the earth’s crust acting on carbon deposits, scientists have now found ways to create diamonds in the laboratory. Lab-created diamonds first debuted in the 1950s, but their small size and low quality made them suitable only for industrial applications. Now, new “high pressure, high temperature” and “chemical vapor deposition” technologies allow laboratories to make diamonds that are essentially indistinguishable from mined diamonds.
These created diamonds are truly diamonds, made from carbon and having the same optical and physical characteristics. They are currently marked to allow gemologists to tell them apart from natural diamonds, but otherwise are equivalent to the “real thing.”
One of the most interesting aspects of these lab created diamonds is the array of carbon sources that can be used to make them. One company offers diamonds made from either a lock of hair or the cremains of a loved one. Another uses peanut butter as a carbon source to make diamonds, although it is unclear as to whether they have also tried to make them out of jelly.