You can't beat a flawless real diamond for fire and sparkle, but if your budget doesn't run to them there are lots of faux diamond simulants available to give you the look for less. Here are some of the diamond simulants and imitation diamonds you may have heard of...
Originally Rhinestone was the name given to natural rock crystals gathered in the Rhine River regions of Europe. These quartz crystals had a higher than usual lead content that made them sparkle like diamonds, and they were highly prized amongst jewellery makers who would use them as 'paste' diamonds. Wealthy clients often recreated valuable diamond jewellery pieces with paste diamonds so the imitation set could be worn in public while the real diamonds were safely locked away in a bank vault. Eventually the natural rhinestone crystals became harder to find, which lead to the first artificial imitation diamonds being created.
From the late 18th century scientists had been experimenting with creating the diamond look from glass. It's not really known who discovered the process, but somewhere along the way a thin metal foil was added to the back of cut glass crystals and lead crystal glass to create the first artificial diamond sparkle. These first imitation diamonds were all individually hand made and quite pricey, but over a century later, in 1895, Daniel Swarovski launched his patented gem cutting machine. For the first time ever, artificial gemstones could be mass produced and finally became affordable for more people. But what is a Swarovski crystal rhinestone?
After experimenting with different blends, Swarovski perfected their diamond rhinestone recipe with a 30% lead content in their glass gems. The lead gave the glass its diamond-like fire and sparkle, density, and the perfect amount of durability to be cut in the Swarovski machine. Once perfected, the clear rhinestone recipe remained unchanged for another century until a new process was perfected in 2012. The new 'Advanced Crystal' rhinestone has no lead content at all. Swarovski rhinestones are considered the best in the world, but mass produced rhinestones – effectively cut lead crystal glass with a metalled or powdered base – are manufactured worldwide.
Moissanite does occur geologically, but it's extremely rare. It was first recorded at the site of a meteor strike in Arizona in 1893 and named for chemist Dr Henri Moissan, but the sample found was tiny. All moissanite on sale today has been artificially created under a formula perfected in 1998. Moissanite is the most diamond like simulant available: almost as hard and almost as dense, but 120 times more expensive to produce than cubic zirconia.
Cubic zirconia is the most diamond-looking of the diamond simulants available. In fact, it takes a professional eye, a good quality loupe (a jeweller's magnifying glass) and special tools to spot the difference. Cubic zirconia, often abbreviated to CZ, was first created in 1892 when powdered zirconium (a silvery white metal) was blended with zirconium dioxide and heated to a very high temperature. The end result was a gem with amazing clarity, flawlessness and sparkle. Cubic zirconia wasn't mass produced until 1976, but it's one of the most affordable and diamond-like simulants on the market. You can read more about the similarity between cubic zirconia and diamonds in our Related Posts at the bottom of this page.
Created Synthetic Diamond (Lab Diamonds)
The closest thing to a real diamond is a real diamond ... that has been made in a lab! Scientists can recreate the conditions needed for natural diamonds to form, resulting in a diamond with the exact same chemical composition and structure. The heart of every lab diamond is a tiny seed of real diamond, then clever science takes over and does the rest. Real diamonds can take millions of years to form deep with the earth, while lab diamonds take only weeks.
Although not entirely recreating the look of real diamonds, there are many other clear gemstones that are used in their place in costume jewellery. White spinel, white sapphire, white topaz ... see the theme? Many 'white' gemstones, which are actually clear rather than white, can be used in place of diamonds in jewellery.
The cheapest diamond simulant is simple glass, with or without any lead content. It's easy to cut, highly obtainable and affordable, and great for low cost fashion jewellery.
Here at Alyssum Jewellery you'll find lots of artificial diamonds in our bridal and fashion jewellery, including high quality cubic zirconia jewellery (ideal for bridal jewellery and evening wear), Swarovski and other rhinestones, and glass crystals at the most budget friendly end of the range. We have diamond simulants for everyone!
Next week: "Gemology: Gemstones beginning with Q"