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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Synthetic Diamonds

What is a synthetic diamond (or any synthetic gem material)? A synthetic diamond is a diamond created by man that has all the same physical and chemical properties of the natural version. This is different than a diamond simulant (something like cubic zirconia) which mimic the look of a diamond, can be man made, but are not actually diamond material.

In the last ten years there has been a lot of talk about synthetic diamonds. It has been possible for quite awhile now to manufacture fancy colored synthetic diamonds in a wide range of sizes. However the quest to manufacture white diamonds has been a lot slower in coming. Creating white diamonds is significantly harder than creating colored diamonds, for a variety of reasons, which usually require a degree in the sciences somewhat beyond mine to explain and understand in detail but I am sure if you are interested in it, a quick online search should yield some results.

Unfortunately a great deal of the talk generated about the availability and the manufacturability of white diamonds was generated by the two companies who seem to be currently in the forefront of production. Both of these companies have made some of the most wildly exaggerated claims about their capabilities and their experiences (one of the owners claimed that agents from deBeers were following him around and had threatened to kill him). They have been saying for years that in just a little while (usually within the upcoming year after whichever conversation they were having) they would be flooding the market with white diamonds of all sizes, especially stones over 1 ct (which is kind of their end goal). Well so far none of that has come true. Are they currently able to produce white diamonds? Well yes but they haven't been able to come anywhere near their claims of the size range they can produce nor of the quantities they can produce.

However I had a customer come in recently who is a scientist and she had decided that she wanted a synthetic white diamond. I won't sell synthetic diamonds (of any color) but I told her I would be happy to make up a ring for her if she was able to procure a stone from one of the two manufacturers. So she went to them and after a little period of time she was able to buy one of the largest stones they had been able to make to date. It was a .65 ct. stone. Not exactly a 1.00 ct. diamond. Not completely white either in my book since it was an "H" color and I only sell "D", "E" and "F" (completely colorless) diamonds. It also, despite the fact that they claimed it was an excellent cut, did not fall into the ideal cut range that I sell.

But here is the most interesting fact. I went to check the pricing against other normal retail prices for like natural goods and it was only about 15% less expensive than a natural stone. Now this is somewhat understandable because it does take a huge amount of heat and pressure (read: energy) to produce these stones. So it isn't exactly a bargain, nor are they exactly dramatically undercutting the pricing of equivalent natural goods.

It also is not, for those of you concerned with environmental damage from diamond mining, a whole lot better for the earth because of the energy used to produce it.

As a gemologist, it is an interesting stone to see and work with. I'm sure that sometime in the future, the companies may actually be able to produce truly top color, larger stones. But for now, I don't think the natural diamond producers have much to worry about.

You should also note that it is possible with the right equipment to identify these stones as synthetics as well. However there have already been numerous incidents of small synthetic fancy colored diamonds being sprinkled into pieces that have some natural fancy colored material. It is becoming ever more important that you buy your jewelry from someone you trust and who has reliable sources.

My next posting will be about pearls. I can't remember if I ever wrote an article about the different varieties but I think it's an important topic so I'll be writing it up in the next week for your reading, and educational, pleasure!

The 18k gold ring picture above has one of my ALL NATURAL diamonds in it.

1 comment:

  1. I got pretty excited about a certain diamond simulant until I saw it in person. It was birefractive, I believe, which meant that its sparkle seemed "off", and its sparkle was also too colorful rather than white. No good. I would have rather had a cubic zirconia. I also investigated synthetic diamonds and couldn't, a few years ago, even find white ones easily to look at, and also noticed the price wasn't really all that great. So as a consumer I came to much the same conclusions.

    My conclusion was that, if a "natural" diamond in good size and quality is out of one's price range, why not go for a nice colored non-diamond stone? They offer a color of a hue and nuance that will probably not be mimicked by man-made stones any time soon. To me, that's preferable to the iffy cost advantages of man-made diamonds or diamond substitutes.