If you’re looking to buy an engagement ring, chances are you’re in the market for diamonds. Upon seeing the prices, though, you might be tempted to look into some different options. Maybe the diamond just needs to be smaller. Maybe she won’t mind if there isn’t a diamond at all. Does she really need a ring for this thing, anyway? Now, most of the time, the ring is the quintessential part of a proposal – but there are plenty of options for substitutes if you’re looking to save some money on the gem. So, here’s our take on some of the various substitute gems you’ll find out there, and how they stack up against the real deal.
First, real diamonds: How are they made? What defines them?
Most diamonds are actually not usually formed from coal. Turns out, diamonds have been around longer than coal has even existed on Earth. There are a few ways they can form, but one of the most common ways you’ll see it happen is in the Earth’s mantle. Diamonds form in places of very high temperature and pressure, making the mantle an ideal place. The carbon in the area will start to bond together, eventually forming into the incredibly hard crystals we know as diamonds.
As it turns out, the hardness of a real diamond is one of the main things that set it apart from its imitators. It is the hardest substance found on Earth, having a perfect rating on 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness. Other attributes, like the way light refracts through it or the color of the stone, also help in finding fakes.
On to the fakes: What different kinds are there? How different are they from diamonds?
Cubic zirconia is a popular substitute for diamonds. You won’t find it anywhere in nature – it’s synthetically produced from zirconium dioxide. It pretty accurately copies the clarity and color of diamonds, making it a good replacement, but there is a major drawback. Cubic zirconia only scores an 8 – 8.5 on the Mohs scale as opposed to a genuine diamond’s score of 10. Because of this, they scratch more easily and lose their brilliance over time.
If the person you’re buying the ring for isn’t a fan of lab-grown gems, white sapphire is another option. It’s mined out of the earth, just like a diamond is. It’s also pretty hard, with a 9.0 on the Mohs scale, which is similar to a diamond’s hardness. White sapphire isn’t quite as durable as diamond, though, and because of that you’ll need to clean it frequently. Very frequently. That being said, its durability – combined with its colorlessness – makes it a great substitute.
You remember when you were a kid and you played with fake rings that had colorful bits of plastic in them instead of real gems? Well, glass is about one step above those. It’s an obviously cheap substitute, and because it has a hardness of only 5.5 on the Mohs scale, it scratches and chips very easily. Its brilliance and sparkle are also both inferior to real diamonds. Sure, it’s colorless, but given how quickly it’ll wear out, you won’t be fooling anyone for long.
Finally, we have moissanite. Moissanite is created in a lab just like cubic zirconia, although it has its own strengths and weaknesses. It has a very similar look to diamond, with lots of clarity and few imperfections. In the past, moissanite wasn’t as desirable because of its color. However, colorless moissanite has recently become available, and although that option is more expensive, it is much more similar to diamond now. Aside from that, moissanite is actually more brilliant than diamond and doesn’t need to be cleaned as often. While some may appreciate this, it is one way for others to tell that your ring isn’t genuine.
(If you’re still wanting to know more about artificial diamonds, check out this post and read the thoughts of someone that owns a few different kinds!)
A synthetic third option: The best of both worlds?
While the fake diamonds we’ve discussed so far all try to copy the look of a real diamond, synthetic diamonds go one step further. That’s because synthetic diamonds are real diamonds; they just don’t come from the ground. Instead, they come from a lab.
The way that synthetic diamonds grow is interesting, and it’s something that we’ve actually covered in an earlier post, so here’s a quick summary of how it works. First, you choose a carbon source. This can be pretty much anything, as long as it’s carbon. After that, its put in a pressurized chamber full of methane gas, which is mostly carbon. Over time, the carbon in the methane gas detaches from the gas and sticks to the carbon, growing into a diamond chunk. Once it’s big enough, all you have to do is cut it to the shape you want!
There are lots of benefits to synthetic diamonds. For one, synthetic diamonds have the same chemical composition as diamonds, so you don’t have to worry about them scratching more easily or being noticeably different. It’s the real deal. Second, since you grow the diamond from scratch, you can actually control some of the properties of the diamond, like its size and color. Finally, synthetic diamonds are cheaper than natural diamonds, so you still see a cost benefit!
Making the decision
There are plenty of things to choose from when deciding what your engagement ring should look like. You may even decide on a gem that doesn’t look like a diamond at all. Whatever you choose, remember that your ring should be very personal to you and the person you’re buying it for. In the end, as long as you’re both happy with what you get – whether it’s real, fake, synthetic, or something entirely different – you’ve made the right choice.