When you're buying a ring you plan to wear every day, you want something that can keep up with your lifestyle. Here we break down the difference between our three most durable gemstones: natural diamonds, lab diamonds, and moissanites, to help you choose your perfect gemstone centerpiece.
What Are Lab Diamonds?
Lab diamonds are not imitations—they are the same as natural diamonds in their chemical makeup and appearance. Their main difference is how they’re created. Natural diamonds form when carbon deposits are exposed to extreme heat and pressure deep beneath the earth's crust, a process that can take millions to billions of years. In the 1950s scientists developed a way to replicate those same conditions to create diamonds and by 1972 the first lab-created diamonds were on the market. Today a diamond can be created in a laboratory within six to ten weeks and almost half of all diamond engagement rings sold worldwide feature lab-made diamonds.
What Are Moissanites?
Moissanite is a lab-created stone made of crystalline silicon carbide. This stone shares more gemological properties with a diamond than any other diamond simulant. While moissanite can occur in nature, it is very rare and the crystals are extremely small. Interestingly, the man-made material predates the discovery of the natural stone! Synthetic silicon carbide has been used since 1891 as an abrasive for industrial purposes, but it wasn’t until two years later that a chemist discovered natural moissanite in a meteorite crater.
All diamonds, whether natural or lab-created are a 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness. The Mohs scale refers to the scratch resistance of a stone, and diamonds being the hardest gems in the world, can only be scratched by another diamond. Moissanite is the second hardest mineral at 9.25 but it should be noted that although the numbers seem very close, the difference between a 9.25 and 10 on the Mohs scale is very large. Diamond's unique hardness makes it the most durable gem for everyday wear.
Both stones have good to excellent toughness, which means they have a high resistance to breaking and chipping. Lab-created diamonds and moissanites have a slightly higher toughness since they have few to no inclusions. Inclusions can disrupt the crystal's internal structure, weakening the tight molecular bonds of the stone and creating possible fracture points. Both diamonds and moissanites can withstand exposure to light, heat, and chemicals so you can wear them daily without worry.
The sparkle we associate with diamonds consists of three things: Scintillation (the flashes between light and shadow), Brilliance (the white light or white flashes in the stone), and Fire (the colorful or rainbow flashes in the stone).
Laboratory-grown diamonds are graded on the same scale as natural diamonds, using the 4 Cs: Color, Carat Weight, Clarity, and Cut. There is no visible difference between a lab diamond and a natural diamond of the same grade.
What makes moissanite such a fantastic diamond substitute is that it’s visually closer to the way a diamond sparkles than any other stone. The main contrast is that moissanites tend to have more fire than diamond, while diamonds are usually more brilliant. However, many things can affect the way a stone sparkles—the cut type and quality, the number of facets, size, the stone’s cleanliness, and even the lighting it’s viewed under— so it’s very hard to tell the difference between these stones just by looking at them.
The biggest difference between the three gemstones is their price point. Because they are rarer and cannot be produced as quickly, a natural diamond will have a higher cost than a lab diamond of the same size and quality, and moissanite is overall the most affordable of these stones.
The longevity of a gemstone also affects its overall value. While all three stones are durable and should last lifetimes if they're properly cared for, natural diamonds are a more practical investment piece. Natural diamonds have been used in jewelry since at least the 4th century and consistently retain a good resale value. Lab-created diamonds are relatively new compared to natural stones, so we cannot yet tell if future generations will consider them valuable. There is currently no resale market for lab created gems, since they’re more accessible and creating new ones is a process that gets quicker and easier as time goes on.
As always, sustainability is a topic that Automic Gold cannot leave out. Historically, there have been environmental and ethical issues with both mining and synthetically creating stones. In recent years, measures have been implemented to reduce the harm to the earth and to protect the workforce in both industries, however, synthetically creating a single gemstone still uses a large amount of energy. In order to further reduce environmental harm, all of the natural diamonds we use at Automic Gold are either reclaimed from recycled jewelry or come from small family-owned and operated mines.