Cubic Zirconia | Moissanite | Lab-Grown | Natural Diamonds
Diamonds are a sought-after commodity due to their beauty, mystery, and contribution to social status. As with all luxury items, there are also alternatives to satiate a range of budgets. Below, we dive into the world of diamonds and go over the key differences between the four major players. In the synthetic realm, we explore Cubic Zirconias and compare them to Moissanites. We then go on to examine Lab-Grown Diamonds and the ultimate investment: Natural Diamonds.
The most popular synthetic diamond, Cubic Zirconia (CZ), is the crystalline form of zirconium dioxide (ZrO2). CZ looks similar to natural diamonds but has no trace of carbon, which makes it classified as a diamond simulant. CZ stones are machine-made, so no such opportunity for natural imperfections exists. They do not possess inclusions. As CZs aren't made up of the same material compound as diamonds, they are not graded on the same scales. Instead, CZ distributors rely on an internal quality scale of A (1A) to AAAAA (5A), with 5A being the highest quality. That being said, the CZ grading system has no science behind it, no standards across retailers, and no policies to ensure quality, so the CZ grading system doesn't hold weight outside of marketing.
CZs are hard – typically an 8 to 8.5 on the Mohs scale – but scratch easily and fade from daily use; even household dust can scratch the stones. CZs also absorb oils from the skin and everyday products. Since you'll need to replace your jewelry after a few years, it isn't worth spending more money for a setting like real gold or platinum.
CZ is clear, comparable to a D color rating for a diamond. Real diamonds give off white light under natural light. CZs will show more fire. If you're looking for that diamond sparkle, you won't find it in a CZ. As for cost, a standard price for a CZ ring is very cheap – 2 and 3 carats are usually well under $100.
Moissanite is a diamond alternative that is more valuable than a CZ, though it may be lesser known. Moissanite is a natural mineral called silicon carbide discovered by the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dr. Henri Moissan in the 19th century. It is a rare mineral that isn't found in nature large enough to cut a 1-carat gemstone. The stone was named "moissanite" in his honor.
Moissanite has been lab-grown since the late 1990s in a process where scientists use pressure and heat to create crystals from silicon and carbon that mirror the structure of natural moissanite. The process is complex and takes around two to three months to develop a single gem.
In key characteristics such as hardness, fire, and brilliance, moissanite is comparable to other popular gemstones, including diamonds, ruby, sapphires, and emeralds. On the MOHs hardness scale, moissanite comes second only to a diamond, measuring 9.25. Moissanite actually appears more brilliant than natural diamonds and CZs because it has a higher refractive index score due to its faceting design. Its fire dispersion is more than 4x greater than any other gemstone. In addition, moissanite is durable, tough, and highly resistant to scratching and abrasion.
Moissanite uses a three-color grading scale which is based on the GIA's diamond grading scale. The three grades available to moissanite are colorless (D-F range), near-colorless (G-I range), and with faint hues of color (J-K range).
One carat of a moissanite stone can sell for $350-$400, while the exact size of CZ is about $40. The price of moissanite is lower than a diamond but much greater than that of CZ because it comes from natural materials that are very rare, even if it needs to be lab-created.
The only major physical difference between lab-grown diamonds and mined diamonds is the origin. Lab diamonds are created in a controlled environment using cutting-edge technology and have identical chemical, physical and optical properties to mined diamonds from the earth. Its chemical makeup is comprised of pure carbon, just like natural diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds typically take between a few weeks and up to a few months to complete.
There are two processes used to create lab-grown diamonds. The first, most common method is Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). A "seed crystal," a tiny diamond (natural or lab-grown), is placed in a small chamber and filled with gases that are heated. Once the gases reach the right temperature, carbon layers begin forming on the seed crystal. This process causes the seed to grow into a square-shaped diamond crystal.
The second process is called High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT), which replicates the earth's process of forming naturally mined diamonds. The natural graphite is placed in a large machine that simulates what happens in nature, crushing it with extreme pressure and temperatures until it turns into a diamond.
Lab diamonds can contain inclusions and imperfections. Natural and lab-grown diamonds are the hardest substances on earth, earning a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. Once grown, cut, and polished, they are sent to an independent gem grading lab, such as the GIA, to be certified by an expert. When grading lab-grown diamonds, the same 4 C's: Color, Cut, Clarity, and Carat, are applied. Whether mined or lab-grown, completely colorless (D FL) diamonds are extremely rare and expensive.
Because lab-grown diamonds are not finite in amount, not subject to the same supply chains, and take less labor and energy to produce than traditional mining, they often cost considerably less than naturally occurring diamonds of a similar grade. The process of making lab-grown diamonds has gone through continuous innovations and technological advances that have drastically reduced production costs. The technology of lab-grown diamonds will keep evolving, which could lead to changes in the diamond value. If these lab-grown diamonds become even easier to produce and cost even less to make, their price and value will likely go down.
Natural mined diamonds are created under the pressure of the earth's crust over millions or billions of years and are mined, cut, and polished. A lab-grown diamond is placed through the simulated circumstances in a lab setting. Natural diamonds contain nitrogen, while lab-grown diamonds have no nitrogen, which is a signifier gemologists use to identify if a diamond is lab-grown or natural.
A lab-grown diamond seems to circumvent some of the environmental and ethical issues that can come with mining natural diamonds, but there are also sustainability issues with lab-grown diamonds. An HPHT-processed diamond needs enormous energy because of the extreme heat required to produce diamonds. The CVD method requires so much energy that it could power a home for a month.
The demand for mined diamonds will always remain much higher than for lab-grown diamonds if return on investment (ROI) is the goal. From a supply standpoint, the market giants have carefully regulated supply, preventing a lowered value or price. Also, the diamond mining process has been around for generations and doesn't typically experience innovations.
Natural diamonds and other natural gemstones are expensive but will last a lifetime. Diamonds are the hardest substance on earth, ranking 10 on the Mohs hardness scale. Diamonds are very durable and won't scratch from daily use, but they do absorb oils, so they need to be cleaned to maintain their sparkle.
A natural diamond has a rarity factor due to a finite supply and is more valuable than a lab-grown diamond. The basics of supply and demand maintain that the value goes up as demand increases, especially with limited supply. Lab-grown diamonds are produced and may not hold their value over time, so resale prices could continue to depreciate as more enter the market.
Please email FCD Invest at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your personalized long-term investment strategy. For more information on Fancy Color Diamonds as an investment, please visit our Fancy Color Diamond informational page linked here.