Mined diamonds are expensive! If you’re looking at potential alternatives, Synthetic Diamonds and Cubic Zirconia may be options you’re considering. Some people wonder if those are two names for the same stone.
So, are synthetic diamonds the same as cubic zirconia? Synthetic Diamonds are not the same as Cubic Zirconia. Synthetic stones are literally diamonds…they’re just man made instead of earth made. Synthetics are chemically, physically, and visibly the same as a mined diamonds. A Cubic Zirconia (or CZ) is not a diamond. It’s a look alike (a Simulated Diamond).
While Synthetic Diamonds aren’t the same as Cubic Zirconia, both options are cheaper than a mined diamond. The features and info outlined below will help you determine the option that will work best for you.
Like Zebras and Horses
Horses and Zebras look similar in many ways. In fact, very young children might call both animals a horse because they haven’t yet learned to identify Zebras as a separate animal. They both have the same basic shape, and a young horse might even be the same size as an adult zebra for a while, but they’re still very different.
They both have four legs, hooves, long faces with similar basic features, mains, tails, and similar ears. They’re similar in more ways than they’re different, but their still very different. If you genetically removed the iconic stripes from a zebra, and even made it grow as large as a horse, it still wouldn’t be a horse. The same is true of Lab-grown diamonds and Cubic Zirconia. The Cubic Zirconia may look similar, but it contains no carbon, so it’s chemically very different and could never be considered to actually be a diamond.
Getting our Terminology Straight
There are a couple of important terms that you’ll want to be familiar with as you learn and shop. The term, “Synthetic Diamond” refers to a diamond that was grown in lab rather than mined from the earth. In this application, the word synthetic is misleading because the word is typically synonymous with fake, but in this case, there’s nothing at all “fake” about a synthetic diamond.
In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has stated that it’s misleading for companies to refer to their competitor’s man-made diamonds as “Synthetic” because of the potential to misunderstand the meaning of the term.
The term “Simulated Diamond,” essentially means a look alike of some sort that isn’t actually a diamond. Simulated stones could be natural or man-made. They’re general much less expensive than synthetic stones. Examples of simulated stones could include: Cubic Zirconia, Moissanite, White Topaz, White Sapphire, Zircon, Rutile, Spinel, and synthetic garnet.
Other Names that are Used
“Synthetic” Diamonds are known by many other names as well. Because you’ll see all of these names used in different places and applications, it’s important that you recognize that they all refer to the same thing. Some of the other names that these stones are known by, include:
- Cultured Diamond
- Cultivated Diamond
- Laboratory Diamond
- Lab Diamond
- Created Diamond
- Manufactured Diamond
- Above-ground Diamond
- Man-made Diamond
- HPHT Diamond
- CVD Diamond
Cubic Zirconia are also commonly called by the abbreviation CZ. It’s important to know that people sometimes mistakenly use the term Cubic Zircon. Zircon is something completely different. It’s a naturally occuring gem. It’s actually a birthstone for those born during the month of December.
All of these terms can be used interchangeably.
How Man-Made Diamonds are Made
There are a number of processes that have been devised for creating diamonds in a laboratory, but the two most common are HPHT and CVD.
The HPHT process is most common currently. It’s a laboratory process that simulates the forces that the earth uses turn carbon into diamonds. With intense heat and pressure the earth produces diamonds over the course of 3 million years. Labs can now make identical diamonds in 6 to 10 weeks using machines also use intense heat and pressure to turn carbon into a man-made diamond.
CVD is an entirely different kind of process. It uses a low pressure process with gases that are rich in carbon. Heat is used to break the carbon bonds in the gas, and then the carbon falls and settles on a substrate below.
How Cubic Zirconia are Made
Cubic Zirconia are also manufactured in a laboratory, but unlike lab-grown diamonds, they don’t contain any carbon. The crystals that comprise this stone are made of Zirconium Oxide and an additive like Yttrium or Calcium Oxide. Stones that use Yttrium seem to be higher quality, and more durable, stones than those that use Calcium Oxide.
The relative hardness of the various components of a potential engagement ring or wedding ring is important information to have, because it tells you something valuable about potential maintenance needs and durability. Any material can be scratched by an item that’s harder than it is. If your ring is made of a soft material, then everyday house or yard work could easily scar your ring.
In 1812, Fredrich Mohs contrived a relative scale of hardness that would allow us to have a clear way to conceptualize and communicate the relative hardness of various materials. He chose ten minerals and arranged them in order of hardness, with the very soft talc first and the hardest material, diamond, last.
Each mineral was assigned a different number ranging from from 1 to 10 based on hardness with 1 going to the softest material, 2 going to the next softest, and so on. In the end, Fredrich created a scale known as Mohs Scale of Hardness. Using that same 1-10 scale, we can now easily communicate the hardness of a variety of materials.
Man-made diamonds, like diamonds mined from the earth score a 10. In reality today’s lab-grown diamonds are even harder than mined diamonds. That hardness means that the gem on your ring is unlikely to scratch as you do everyday tasks with your ring. The edges of your stone’s cut will stay sharp and crisp, without ever wearing down.
A Cubic Zirconia is between an 8 and a 8.5 on the Mohs scale. Anything harder than the stone can easily scratch it. Scratches on the surface of your stone can mute it’s sparkle and make it look worn. Abrasion can also wear down the sharp edges and corners of your CZ, making those appear more rounded and dull over time.
A Cubic Zirconia is, by no means, considered a “soft” stone, but it is softer than various items it may bump up against as you go through your daily routine. To avoid wear and scaring, you would need to be especially careful to guard and protect your Cubic Zirconia from coming in contact with things that could come in contact and scratch it. If you’re playing with your kids in the yard, doing yard work, helping new neighbors move in, or even cleaning around your house, you might want to take your ring off first.
The terms “Fire” and “Dispersion” refer to the way a stone takes light, breaks it, and then reflects colorful sparkles. A stone that glitters with colorful sparkles is said to be “fiery.”
The term “Brilliance,” refers to the way a stone takes light, and reflects white light back.
Sparkle is one of the things that is attractive about diamonds, but it can also be a noticeable point of differentiation with many stones that are used as diamond alternatives. Cubic Zirconia tend to have lower brilliance and more fire than diamonds do. When they catch light, they reflect back a rainbow of sparkles that are full of color. While both lab-grown and mined diamonds also have fire, it’s nowhere near the amount that your average CZ has.
Many brides really love the fiery look for their Cubic Zirconia engagement rings. They don’t care that it isn’t exactly like a diamond in this regard. A fiery ring can be really hard to keep your eyes off. You may often find yourself slowly moving your hand back and forth as you notice light hitting your ring, so you can watch the colorful display of sparkles shining back.
While the weight difference wouldn’t be noticeable on your hand, Cubic Zirconia are significantly more dense, and therefore heavy, than diamonds. It’s one more way that these stones can be distinguished.
Another difference in the two stones is their conductivity. Diamonds are excellent conductors of heat and electricity, but a CZ is not. There are electronic tests that can quickly and decisively determine if a particular stone is a diamond or not based on conductive properties.
You can do the same thing by breathing on a stone to fog it up. If it’s a diamonds, the fog will clear within a couple of seconds. If your stone is a Cubic Zirconia, or some other diamond alternative that’s less conductive, it will take much longer for the fogged stone to clear again.
Synthetic diamonds are far more expensive than Cubic Zirconia. While a CZ isn’t as durable as a lab-grown diamond, because of the differences in physical and chemical properties described above, they cost so little that replacing them isn’t a serious financial set back if it’s needed at some point.
A 1 Carat Synthetic Diamond currently runs approximately $2800 to $4,400. By contrast, a 1 carat Cubic Zirconia will only set you back between $20 and $40! That’s a HUGE cost difference! The CZ is roughly 1% the cost of the Lab-Diamond. It would be hard for someone to argue that it only provides 1% the value and beauty of a lab-grown gem. It’s not the same as a diamond, but it may be a great value for those that really need, or want, to keep their ring costs minimized.
If you buy a Cubic Zirconia and it gets scratched over the course of 10 or 15 years, you can pay to have a new CZ put in. You could even upgrade at that point to something like a Moissanite, a White Sapphire, or lab-grown diamond if you’d like.
Comparing Color and Clarity
Diamonds, both lab and earth created) come in varying shades. Sometimes they’re clear, but often, they have a yellow or brown tint to them. Diamonds also have flaws called inclusions that develop naturally. Diamond that have clear coloring and are more free of inclusions sell at big premiums.
Cubic Zirconia are far more consistent in terms of color and clarity. In fact, Cubic Zirconia are optically perfect. They’re very clear and don’t have inclusions.
Comparing Tendency to Cloud Over Time
Like mined diamonds, lab-created diamonds have a clarity and color that will never change. They will occasionally need to be cleaned in order to remove dirt and oils that can temporarily dull their sparkle, but one well cleaned, they should sparkle like new again.
Cubic Zirconia, by contrast, can cloud over time, meaning that they get white haze that dulls the stone’s fire and brilliance. The original synthetic CZ stones tended to all get cloudy with time. Recognizing that issue, manufacturers found additives that corrected the issue. Today it’s far less common. Clouding isn’t something that will happen to all CZ stones. In fact, it’s probably more the exception than the rule if you buy a quality stone.
There are several potential causes of clouding. It seems that really cheap CZ stones are more prone to clouding, so it seems that maybe corners are being cut in the manufacturing process to minimize costs. It could be that they’re using less expensive, but also less effective, stabilizers for example. Cubic Zirconia are inexpensive as it is, so it’s probably worth it to spend just a little more to get a stone that was less likely to skip on quality materials.
Another cause is scratching. A stone with a scratched surface is going to be more muted and dull, however the scratching allows space for substances like oils to collect and impact the ring. Cubic Zirconia also has a surface area that is somewhat porous compared to diamond. Those tiny pores in the stone can collect dirt and oils that are the most likely culprit for most clouding.
Chemical exposure could also potentially cause clouding issues. It’s recommended that you don’t apply lotion with rings on generally, because of the oils in the lotion. It’s also a good idea to remove your ring before applying hand sanitizer.
Washing your CZ ring regularly, and thoroughly, in warm water and mild dish soap can help to remove dirt and oils to preserve brightness and sparkle of your ring hopefully delay or prevent clouding.
Comparing Grading Standards
Without going into exhaustive detail, Cubic Zirconia are sometimes promoted as be grade A, AAA or AAAAA. It would nice if those grades were tightly policed and regulated, but their not. Because of that, lots of retailers with what truly amounts to grade A stones will claim they’re AAAAA grade. Just know that you can’t put much weight in a promoted grade for your CZ. Instead, just personally inspect the stone and make sure you’re happy with its appearance.
Both man-made and mined diamonds have a very regimented grading scale and certifications that you can have much better confidence in. Grading standards for diamonds address cut, color, clarity and carat weight.
The Best Stone for Your Engagement or Wedding Ring
Choosing between a Lab-made Diamond and a Cubic Zirconia is a little like choosing between a Ford and a Mercedes. Both can get you from point A to point B, and both can look good and run well, but they just aren’t the same in terms of features or cost.
You could decide the Ford is the best, and most practical fit, given your budget. That would be good choice. If you have the money available, you might decide that it’s worth splurging for the Mercedes because it has some features that you really love. That’s would also be a great choice given the situation.
It’s important to know that there is a wide variety of options that fall in between the Ford and the Mercedez before you make your final choice. Maybe a Toyota or Lexus could strike a better overall balance between cost and features. In terms of diamond alternatives, the mid-range could include things options like Moissanite or White Sapphire for example.
How Much Does it Cost to Have a New Stone Set?
If no additional repair or work is needed, a reasonable range would be $30 to $150. Some jewelers may ask as much a $300, especially if they’re making other repairs at the same time. Prices can vary a lot from store-to-store, so checking with multiple jewelers before settling on one could save you some decent money.
Do Lab Created Diamonds have Resale Value?
All diamonds tend to lose at least 30% of their value (often more) the moment that you buy them. You can’t sell them back to the store for anything remotely close to what you paid for them. Jewelers aren’t likely to buy your diamond for cash when they can buy diamonds that are as cheap, or cheaper, from wholesalers with better terms. It’s best if you view your ring as a sunk cost, and assume your ring will only have sentimental value in the future.
How Big is too Big for a Cubic Zirconia Ring?
You should get a size that makes you happy with the look and feel of your ring, but wearing a stone that’s too large is the most obvious clue for most people that the rock on your hand isn’t a real diamond. If you want others to assume your CZ is a diamond, then don’t over do the size of your stone…less is more.