Diamonds, as the ever-old adage goes, are a girl’s best friend. But how many people are able to tell the difference between white, sparkly gemstones from the real deal these days?

For ages, the jewellery industry has been skewed to that of mass-produced costume creations studded with cubic zirconia to high-end collections boasting clusters of diamonds. In more recent times, as a middle-range option offering good quality jewels at less pocket-burning prices has been growing immensely.

Diamonds
Atelier Swarovski specialises in lab-created diamonds (Image credit: Atelier Swarovski )

And there comes the rise of diamonds in all manners and forms. Natural diamonds are getting smaller and affordable, perfect for pave jewellery. At the same time, lab-created diamonds and simulants are offered as more affordable gemstones.

In the past few years, consumers have been exposed to brands like Orro, The Better Diamond and Gordon Max offering either culture diamonds and diamond alternatives. Other brands, such as the locally-grown SK Jewellery and Love&Co., has also jumped on the bandwagon for lab diamonds.

But what are the difference between all these stones? Here’s a quick low-down on what simulant and lab-created diamonds are.

What are natural diamonds?

diamonds
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Simply put, diamonds are naturally occurring crystal structures formed from carbon after a millennium of intense pressure and heat. Diamonds are typically created near the Earth’s mantle but ‘rose’ to the surface due to volcanic eruptions. These precious gemstones are the hardest on Earth, making it very suitable for everyday jewellery. Most diamonds are white, though they can come in various colours such as blue, yellow or pink due to exposure to other elements and gases.

Simulants aren’t diamonds

Diamonds
Simulant diamond rings (Image credit: Eclat by Oui)

These are gemstones meant to resemble certain qualities of a diamond, say its dispersion or hardiness. These stones are sometimes called ‘imitation diamonds’ and can be either natural or artificial gems. Of these, the cubic zirconia is the most commonly used as it is more affordable and shares a significant resemblance to diamonds. Other stones like moissanite (or synthetic silicon carbide, colourless spinels and white topaz have become increasingly popular alternatives to diamonds in recent years. While not as brilliant or clear as diamonds, these gemstones rely on polishing and cut to make them stand out. Even then, these gemstones don’t come dirt cheap either. One-carat moissanite stones are sold upwards of S$1000.

Laboratory-created diamonds are technically diamonds

Diamonds
Penelope Cruz’s collection for Atelier Swarovski weaves in lab diamonds (Image credit: Atelier Swarovski)

Lab-created diamonds, or lab-grown or synthetic diamonds, are basically gemstones created through man-made processes. Unlike simulants, these man-made diamonds share the same chemical make-up as natural diamonds. Synthetic diamonds are produced through several ways such as the High Pressure, High Temperature (HPHT) method in which diamond ‘seeds’ are put through conditions mimicking the creation of natural diamonds. Such diamonds have been around since 1986, but improvements in technology have made growing quality gemstones much faster. Harbouring the same chemical, physical and optical properties, lab-created stones are hardly distinguishable from natural ones under the naked eye.

Natural and lab-created diamonds are both graded by Gemological Institute of America…

Diamonds
(Image credit: Reuters/Yves Herman)

But it is more of a precaution than acceptance. GIA diamond certifications are considered to be one of the most reputable and reliable in the world. As such, GIA tends to be more wary of laboratory-grown stones. For lab-created diamonds, GIA issues a different certification called the Laboratory-Grown Diamond Grading Report. While the report includes the colour, clarity and cut of the stone, it looks vastly different from the usual reports for natural diamonds to further distinguish them. GIA also declares the stone as lab-grown with a microscopic laser inscription of the diamond’s girdle.

Verdict: So which is better?

Diamonds
(Image credit: Lightbox Jewellery)

As consumers grow more wary about ethics, sustainability and price, simulated and lab-created diamonds have been on the up. More jewellery brands, such as Atelier Swarovski and De Beers’ sister brand, Lightbox, are highlighting lab-created diamonds through exquisite pieces too. There’s certainly no wrong in picking out natural diamonds as well if one still appreciates the romanticism behind it. One thing’s for sure: there are now more options than ever for engagement rings and high jewellery. Only time will tell if it all works out to be a sparkling revolution for the jewellery industry.

Jasmine Tay
Senior Writer
Jasmine Tay is the dining, culture and jewellery writer. She makes fine silver jewellery and causes mini-explosions in the kitchen when she can't afford fancy dinners. Sometimes she tells people what she thinks about art, and binges on the music of Danzig when they don’t agree.