Buying Natural vs. Synthetic Diamonds

There are many diamond alternatives that have come to market in recent years, and in some cases these ‘fake’ or synthetic diamonds look almost identical to a natural diamond. One of the most important factors to consider when choosing is how will the bride-to-be feel about being proposed to with a real diamond engagement ring as opposed to a fake or synthetic diamond ring? If the bride is not concerned (and some women are truly alright with diamond alternatives) there are still other considerations such as the value, durability, and benefits of a natural diamond vs synthetic diamond.

A natural diamond is made from carbon and is the hardest natural known substance on earth. Natural diamonds are created over a period of one to three billion years, at least 85 miles below the earth’s mantle under natural conditions of very high pressure and high temperature. Once a diamond has been created in these underground conditions, it travels via molten rock to the earth’s surface, where it is mined, refined, and turned into beautiful jewelry or used for industrial purposes.

Fake, or synthetic, or otherwise enhanced diamonds are not true natural diamonds as they have either been manufactured or chemically altered. An enhanced diamond has been altered and treated in order to improve its appearance. Enhancements can include fracture filling, laser drilling, and high-pressure high temperature treatment, which may result in cracks or discoloration in the future.

Synthetic and fake diamonds can include cubic zirconia, white sapphire, moissanite, zircon, rutile, spinel, and synthetic garnet. Synthetic diamonds are created with the same physical and chemical properties as a natural diamond would have but are created by man and not in nature. Fake diamonds are not made with the same physical and chemical properties as a natural diamond and are much less expensive in most cases.

Benefits of Buying Natural Diamonds

There are a number of benefits to buying a certified diamond for an engagement ring. The first and most important is that most women will prefer to know that the ring their future husband proposed with is in fact a real diamond engagement ring. A diamond that took billions of years to form is going to be more meaningful than one that was created in a factory that may have only taken a few weeks. The diamond itself is meant to represent the love and commitment to each other over a lifetime.

While some people believe that a synthetic or fake diamond looks just as beautiful as a natural diamond, in most cases this isn’t true. One drawback to fake diamonds is that the very process used to create them can result in future discoloration or even cracks or visible lines. The durability of a natural diamond is second to none as the strongest material known to man.

A natural diamond’s value will usually increase over time with inflation however diamonds are a product of supply and demand. The larger a diamond the more rare it is and this usually results in a good investment. Finding a diamond with perfect clarity and color is also rare which also makes for an equally sound investment. The key to purchasing a real diamond engagement ring is to make an informed decision and choose a quality stone.

Natural diamonds that may appreciate more quickly in value include fancy colors such as canary yellow diamonds which are considered investment grade. If looking to make a great investment in a diamond the rarest natural diamonds are red. Pink and blue are also considered higher value in terms of appreciation.

Durability & Certification

A natural diamond may be more durable over time than any other substance. Because they rate a 10 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness they are an ideal choice for everyday wear. Because an engagement ring will be worn every day in most cases a natural diamond is the most obvious choice. They have survived billions of years and are the most durable stone a woman could wear on her finger.

The drawback of synthetic and fake diamonds is that they are not created naturally and every process during their creation cannot exactly mimic nature’s perfection. In fact, non-natural diamonds have differing inclusion profiles to natural diamonds. A GIA study indicates that many of the inclusions (when magnified) look more like tiny black graphite spots. These are considered growth remnants, per GIA. Synthetics also often do not mimic all the natural diamond inclusions found, such as twinning wisps. What's more is that pricing is very opaque and very young -- synthetics are unlikely to retain market or resale value as the supply will effectively become infinite. In fact, the price and value of synthetic diamonds is dropping at a record pace.

GIA (Gemological Institute of America) was established in 1931 and is considered to be the world’s authority on certified diamonds. GIA is a non-profit institute that ensures that every report on a diamond is accurate and discloses its origin (natural or not), treatments that may have been performed on the stone, and grades the diamond for the 4 Cs – cut, clarity, color, and carat.

GIA is the foremost authority in the diamond industry worldwide and is considered unbiased. It can be difficult to find GIA certified diamonds less than 0.20 carat, but buying a GIA certified natural diamond engagement ring is one way to ensure that you know exactly what you’re buying. It can be very ambiguous how synthetics are categorized or described.

Identifying Natural and Nonnatural Diamonds

Diamond identification is critical. Non natural diamonds tend to have "tells" that may help you notice whether they are real or not. First, they tend to have a brighter color. The reflection of sparkle is higher, but not in a positive way. They look more glassy and reflects more colors, like crystal. A spectrometer is a tool that can help in this endeavor. It can help determine the structural and growth patterns in the carbon substance. Another interesting test is thermal conductivity. Diamonds conduct and react to heat. Most simulants or synthetics do not. Additionally, a gemstone like moissanite (diamond simulant) will even conduct electricity, while natural diamond will not. Simulants tend to have lower hardness on the Mohs scale than diamonds, making them more prone to chipping or breakage. Their artificial creation can mean few or no clarity inclusions (one of the instances where inclusions are a good thing!). They are often colorless so they look too white to be true. Finally, price is a tell all. If they are priced too well (fraction of the price of a natural diamond), then you'll have a signal that the diamond may not be natural. Eyes have natural training to understand synthetics. When seen side by side, your eyes will naturally desire a diamond versus a synthetic or simulant stone.

At With Clarity, we only use natural diamonds, which are tested by GIA-trained graduate gemologists. We use equipment that is calibrated and measured to successfully differentiate between natural and nonnatural diamonds. Our diamonds come with GIA certificates as further verification of authenticity. We also have the budget-friendly option of lab diamonds, which are guaranteed conflict free and has the same visual, physical and chemical properties as a natural stone.

Chemical Vapor Deposition

Chemical Vapor Deposition: CVD is the newest simulant introduced in the diamond industry about a decade ago. It requires state-of-the-art technology and has been the biggest "threat to the natural industry. The CVD process actually uses some natural diamond particles to build or create a synthetic diamond (lab-created). With a CVD machine, carbon gases are heated to extreme temperature, causing the carbon molecules to break apart. Then, as the molecules vaporize, they slowly drip and bind to the seed diamond (tiny version) in the machine, building layer by layer till the larger diamond is formed. Today, as scientists have perfected the technique, they're been able to remove the color in the diamond and also increase the size. In the early days, the color was grow or black with very tiny diamonds. Today, it is white with up to 3 or more carats. It is now difficult to discern between natural and CVD. Professional testing tools and laboratory certification can easily identify the difference, but it's much more difficult to do so with the untrained eye. Other methods include things like CVD diamonds can have rainbow fluorescence colors

Other common simulants include cubic zirconia, white sapphire and moissanite. These diamond alternatives can be more easily identified and differentiated from diamond. They have properities that are non carbon based and react different to heat, electricity, color, brightness, weight, etc.

A natural diamond is considered the hallmark of what an engagement ring should be – to symbolize an endless love between two people. A certified diamond that took billions of years to create is going to be more valuable symbolically and as an investment in the long run.

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