WHEN YOU CAN'T AFFORD the real THING
Diamonds are a timeless staple in the jewelry world. You’ve probably heard, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” or, “A diamond is forever,” hinting at the staying power of this unique gem.
However, for a variety of reasons, many diamond alternatives are gaining popularity among today’s consumers—many of whom either can’t afford the real thing or want an option that feels more ethically sourced.
This guide will share alternatives for those who want the look and feel of a diamond without the diamond price tag. First, we’ll share why diamond alternatives exist and explore the arguments in their favor. Then, we’ll take a look at the different types of diamond alternatives and how they compare to the real thing
Finally, we’ll walk through everything you need to know when shopping for a diamond alternative, including where to go, what jewelry to shop for, and a few final tips and tricks. Without further ado, let’s get started with a brief introduction to the world of diamond alternatives.
COMMON REASONS TO CHOOSE A diamond alternative INSTEAD OF A DIAMOND
There are a couple of more common reasons why people choose a diamond alternative in lieu of a diamond.
Today’s consumers are seeking alternatives to “real” diamonds for a number of reasons. One of the most common explanations is that diamonds are simply too expensive. Many jewelry enthusiasts can’t afford the price of a real diamond. Others can, but would prefer a larger alternative option as opposed to a tiny natural diamond.
The De Beers Diamond Story
You may also be familiar with the story of diamonds being commercialized as the result of a marketing campaign from the De Beers company, a diamond seller back in the 1930s. According to accounts of the story, the company found a surplus of diamonds in South Africa and created a marketing campaign around the idea of scarcity and rarity to drive up the price and artificially increase demand.
De Beers is also responsible for the tagline, “A diamond is forever,” and is often credited with single-handedly creating the perception that an engagement ring needs to be a diamond.
Regardless of your interpretation of these accounts, many people still feel that the diamond prices are driven up by jewelers who lean on the “rare” trait to justify markups.
Others point out that before the 1940s, engagement rings didn’t have to contain diamonds at all, and suggest returning to that standard.
Ethical concerns have been raised about diamond sourcing and consumption for a number of years. Diamond mining in many areas is unregulated, and sourcing a material as rare as a natural diamond inevitably leads to some destruction in the natural environment.
Diamond Sieve In West Africa
Mining in any scenario is typically unsustainable, creating a significant amount of damage and waste, releasing carbon emissions, and affecting the biodiversity of natural areas.
The other side of the ethics conversation has to do with “blood diamonds,” a term used to describe diamonds that are sourced using slavery, abuse tactics, child labor, or otherwise lead to conflict or harm.
These tactics ruin the appeal of the diamond for a significant portion of the population—especially when it comes to engagement rings. Many couples interpret an engagement ring made with a blood diamond as a bad omen for their marriage before it even begins.
The public outcry around the concept of blood diamonds led to a new classification for diamonds: conflict-free. Conflict-free diamonds are said to be sourced ethically, ridding consumers of the concern that they’re inadvertently supporting practices like slavery and child labor.
There’s some skepticism about whether conflict-free diamonds can truly be guaranteed as conflict-free, but this option does make many consumers feel better about their diamond purchases.
Lastly, there’s a subset of consumers that doesn’t necessarily reject traditional diamonds. Instead, they appreciate the variety that’s being offered by diamond alternatives and evaluate options based on personal preference rather than attachment to one gem over another.
We’re seeing this especially for engagement rings, which have traditionally been a diamond-dominated space. Today, many consumers choose to forego diamond engagement rings in favor of other options simply as a matter of taste and aesthetic preference.
DIAMOND alternative OPTIONS
Thankfully, while consumers have shifted focus away from real diamonds, increasingly convincing alternatives have entered the market. Here are some of the options for diamond alternatives available for purchase today.
LAB GROWN/ARTIFICIAL DIAMONDS
Lab-grown or artificial diamonds are one of the most commonly purchased diamond alternatives. Why? These gems meet all the natural criteria for diamonds—they are, in fact, “real” diamonds—but are made in a lab instead of being found in nature. For people who want to get as close to the traditional diamond as possible, artificial diamonds are an easy solution.
However, the conversation isn’t quite that simple. For those with ethical concerns around real diamonds, lab-grown diamonds do still have shortcomings.
Lab-grown diamonds use a substantial amount of electricity in their production, so consider looking for a company that uses renewable energy for the creation process to be sure about your environmental impact.
CVD Lab Grown Rough Solitaire
In any case, rest assured that the impact from lab-grown diamonds is far smaller than the impact from traditionally-mined diamonds.
Price Of Lab Grown Diamonds
Lab-grown diamonds typically cost slightly less than natural diamonds—about 10% to 50% less expensive, in most cases. Expect lab-grown diamonds to start around $1,000 and increase in price with increased carat weight.
Keep in mind that unlike natural diamonds, lab-grown diamonds often have very little resale value over time. Most people aren’t willing to pay nearly what you paid when buying a lab-grown diamond secondhand, so as an investment piece, a natural diamond may make more sense.
LAB GROWN WHITE GEMSTONES
In addition to lab-grown diamonds, there are also lab-grown gemstones that are very similar to diamonds. If what you’re looking for is the general effect of a diamond, but you’re not attached to the stone being a diamond itself, these options may work well for you. This category of alternative white stones is referred to as “diamond simulants.”
One of the most common stones for this purpose is moissanite, which looks exactly like a diamond to the untrained eye (although, to the trained eye, there are differences). Most of the differences between the two exist in their durability, brilliance, and color.
When it comes to durability, diamonds are a 10 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, while moissanite stones are a 9.25. This makes moissanite durable enough to withstand daily wear and tear, but the diamond is still more durable.
For brilliance, moissanite has a higher reflective index than diamonds, making it shine differently in the light and emit rainbow flashes. When it comes to color, moissanite is typically sold as “colorless,” but there’s often a slight tint that’s noticeable in larger stones.
The last difference is price; moissanite stones are significantly more affordable than even lab-grown diamonds, making them a popular alternative—especially for engagement rings. Moissanite actually does exist naturally, but it’s so rare that almost all of the moissanite stones on the market today are lab-grown.
Cubic zirconia is another popular diamond simulant, often favored in cheaper uses like costume jewelry. Today’s cubic zirconia (also referred to as CZ) resembles a diamond much more closely than the original options from decades past.
Clear CZ stones may be one of the most popular diamond alternatives in the fashion world, although they’re also used for fine jewelry in many cases. CZ stones tend to be relatively affordable, with max prices topping out in the hundreds rather than the thousands.
Swarovski crystals are not gemstones—they’re a type of glass made by melting silicon oxide powders as extremely high temperatures. This is a man-made process created by the Swarovski company itself, which is widely known for its crystal glass pieces.
When the process is finished and the glass pieces are cut and perfected, the finished product does look and feel similar to a natural diamond. Lead is also added in the process to make the crystal more durable and more reflective.
Like CZ, Swarovski crystals have max prices topping in the hundreds rather than the thousands. If you’re not attached to the Swarovski name, there are other glass crystals that look very similar and can also be used in jewelry.
NATURAL WHITE GEMSTONES
White natural gemstones also make great diamond alternatives. Here are a few of the most common options to consider.
White sapphires are the colorless version of the sapphire stone that occurs when there are no metal oxides to create the color. These stones are often used as smaller accents for colored sapphires, but they’re also used on their own as a diamond alternative in jewelry pieces like stud earrings and engagement rings.
The main differences between diamonds and white sapphires has to do with their brilliance and their “fire,” the term for the colorful sparkle that gives the rainbow effect. Sapphires don’t have the same fire that diamonds have, and their sparkle is a silver/white color only.
This has a secondary effect as well: diamonds sparkle even through a layer of dirt and grime, while sapphires need to be cleaned more regularly to maintain their shine.
White topaz is also available as an alternative to the yellow version you may be most familiar with. There are a few main differences between white topaz and diamonds. The main difference is hardness—diamonds are more than six times harder than topaz, leaving white topaz much more vulnerable to scratches and dents than a natural diamond.
This also means white topaz will lose its shine more easily over time as it accumulates scratches. While a diamond just needs to be cleaned periodically to stay shiny, a white topaz would actually need to be professionally re-polished to get rid of the scratch marks and restore the shine.
Like many of the options on the list, white topaz stones are much more affordable than diamonds. A single carat topaz may cost a few hundred dollars at most, compared to thousands for the real diamond option.
White zircon is a great diamond alternative if you want something that appears as close as possible to a natural diamond. White zircon really excels in this area—it has brilliance and a general appearance that closely mimic diamonds.
However, it’s much less durable and will show chips and scratches easily over time. The good news is that replacing this stone periodically to account for the scratches will still be more affordable than a single diamond.
Lastly, quartz is another alternative that differs from diamonds most significantly in its hardness and brilliance. Quartz is also different from diamonds in its crystal structure, which can vary while diamonds always have cubic or round crystal formation.
Quartz is also the second most common gemstone mineral in nature, which contributes to its relatively low price point.
TYPES OF JEWELRY to pair with DIAMOND ALTERNATIVES
There are several different types of jewelry you can pair with diamond alternatives that will do a spectacular job showcasing your diamond-wanna-be!
Earrings are a popular place to swap in a diamond alternative because it’s a less flashy option than a ring or necklace, for example, and the substitute may be less noticeable.
In a small pair of diamond-esque studs, it may be virtually impossible for even a trained eye to notice the difference from a distance. It’s only when viewed especially close-up that the differences become slightly clearer to professionals.
Another benefit of using a diamond alternative in earrings is that earrings are easily lost in the jewelry world. Because many stud types are so small, it’s easy to misplace one or both earrings in a set. Clasps also sometimes fail, and you may go about your day without noticing that your earring has fallen out.
With real diamonds, these unfortunate moments carry much more weight than they do with a more affordable alternative.
Necklaces are another option for diamond alternatives, although slightly less popular than earrings or rings. You may see the options we detailed above in fashion jewelry or costume jewelry, which aren’t typically meant to be long-term investment pieces.
You may not associate diamonds with birthstone necklaces, but the diamond actually is the birthstone for anyone born in the month of April.
Beyond that, many birthstones are colorful gems that may be placed alongside smaller diamond (or diamond alternative) stones to help the main feature pop.
Diamond alternatives make excellent choices for these smaller accent stones because the differences are much harder to spot on a gem that’s not the focal point of the piece.
Bracelets are also a place where you may see diamond alternatives. Like necklaces, this use case is slightly less common, but the smaller nature of stones typically used for bracelets lends itself well to diamond alternatives rather than shouldering the cost of the real thing.
For bracelets that use many small diamonds side to side, alternatives may be more feasible than paying for a full set of real diamonds.
Lastly, rings are undoubtedly the most common place to use diamond alternatives. Rings provide the ideal canvas from which to showcase and display your diamond alternative. And because of the wide variety of ring types available, your options are endless!
Engagement rings in particular are beginning to trend towards favoring moissanite rings and other options on our list, but even non-engagement rings that are intended to be statement pieces often feature a diamond alternative.
As we mentioned at the beginning, there are several reasons someone might prefer a diamond alternative over the real thing. Cost is the first reason that comes to mind for most people, but the ethical concerns around diamond sourcing and a lack of variety among real diamonds also contribute to the marketplace for alternate options.
Heirloom rings are another example of rings that may have a hefty gem as the focal point, and diamond alternatives work well. Just be aware that diamond alternatives used for heirloom rings may need to be re-polished or even replaced over time as the piece is passed from generation to generation.
The durability of a lab-grown diamond may be preferable for these pieces that are designed to stand the test of time.
WHERE TO BUY diamond ALTERNATIVES
There are several different places where you can find a wide and varied selection of diamond alternative jewelry. This is ideal for those that like to price shop and choose from different styles and types of pieces.
Almost all jewelry stores will have some items that feature stones other than diamonds. If you do decide to purchase a piece with a diamond alternative, especially if it’s an option that pales in comparison to diamonds on the hardness scale, make sure to ask about what the shop can offer for scratches or dents over time.
Many jewelers can either re-polish the stone for you over time or work with a partner to offer those services, but it’s best to know your options up-front so you’ll know where to turn if your gemstone loses its punch.
Gemstone shows are a useful place to learn more about gemstones and, of course, purchase them from experts. Most major cities will have a gemstone show at least once a year, and the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in Arizona, USA is the largest one in the world.
If you’re not ready to make a purchase yet and just want to learn more about your options, there’s no better collection of experts to learn from.
Handmade jewelers are a helpful option if you have a specific end goal in mind for your piece. If you know the look and feel of the jewelry you want to end up with, a handmade jeweler can work with you one-on-one to bring your vision to life. While you’ll still save money compared to a natural diamond in this case, bear in mind that commissioning a custom piece will come at a more significant cost than buying something pre-made.
Want to learn more about handmade jewelry? Check out our comprehensive article here.
Flea markets can be hit or miss for jewelry, but if you’re not attached to having a natural diamond in your piece, check out a few markets and see what you find! Just be careful not to be overcharged for the item you choose.
Don’t let yourself believe that something is a natural diamond—with the higher price tag attached—unless you’re really sure. The haggling nature of flea markets can make buyers susceptible to scams or overcharges, mostly as a result of misinformation about the jewelry’s contents.
Craft fairs offer a similar environment as flea markets, but you may find a better concentration of jewelers in the mix, and you’re more likely to be buying directly from the creator in person. If you like to support small businesses but want to explore a few options at once, craft fairs may offer the perfect setup for your needs.
TIPS FOR SHOPPING for diamond ALTERNATIVES
Here's a few tips to keep in mind when shopping for diamond alternatives.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
The best way to make an informed purchase for your diamond alternative is to do your research. Try to come into the shopping experience with an idea of what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re willing to spend, and how you plan to wear your diamond alternative (e.g., as a necklace, as a ring, etc.). When you have this background information figured out ahead of time, it’s much easier to work with your jeweler on a solution that meets your needs.
ASK ABOUT FINANCING OPTIONS
If cost is a prohibiting factor in your decision, make sure to talk to your jeweler about financing options. No need to be embarrassed about this conversation—as a seller for items at higher price points, your jeweler likely gets this request often and knows exactly how to handle it in a way that makes everybody comfortable. Plus, the worst they can say is no!
TAKE YOUR TIME
You’ll get better results from your purchase process if you’re willing to take some time to find the right solution for your needs. If you’re rushed to make a purchase, you may end up paying a premium for the convenience of taking the first option that meets your needs. Having the flexibility and extended timeframe to take a look at what’s out there and weigh your options almost always means you’ll get a better price in the end.
Make sure to check reviews—yes, even for jewelers—before you commit to making a purchase. While you’ll get the typical information that reviewers share, like the quality of customer service, you’ll also be easily alerted to any scams or reasons to distrust a particular seller.
Unfortunately, because many jewelry shoppers are in a position where they have to trust the experts about gem quality and comparable pricing, the environment lends itself to up-charges and falsities. Avoid being scammed or overcharged by checking reviews. If nothing in the reviews gives you a reason to be skeptical, you’ve likely found a good fit.
Similar to the point above, it’s important to take any quote you get from a jeweler and compare it to similar alternatives in the market. You may even want to get a few quotes from different jewelers to compare price points. While this gives you the option to choose the more affordable option in the end, it also serves another purpose—protecting you from being overcharged.
If you only get one quote and make a purchase right away, you have no reference point to understand if the price was reasonable or not. On the other hand, if you compare to similar gemstones or jewelry pieces, you’ll get a feel for whether the price you’ve been given is in the same ballpark as the rest of the market.
BE CAREFUL SHOPPING FOR OTHERS
Lastly, be careful shopping for others! Jewelry is a distinctly personal concept to many people, and it can be difficult to make a purchase for someone else without knowing their style, preferences on color or shape, and even their bracelet or ring size. When in doubt, it’s best to consult with the person who will ultimately be wearing the jewelry, even if that means spoiling a surprise a little early. If you’re in the market for a jewelry gift for a loved one, check out our bestsellers!
DIAMOND ALTERNATIVES frequently asked questions
Do lab-grown diamonds get cloudy?
You might assume they do, but the answer is actually no! Lab-grown diamonds have all of the same properties as a natural diamond, meaning that they meet the same qualifications for hardness, brilliance, fire, and other key qualities. Natural diamonds tend to resist clouding or fading over time, and you can expect the same outcome from your lab-grown diamond in almost all cases.
Is it more ethical to buy lab-made instead of natural diamonds?
Depending on your specific ethical concern, the answer to this question may vary. In most cases, though, lab-made diamonds can be considered more ethical than natural diamonds. For one thing, the mining process is less invasive and doesn’t disrupt natural spaces. Lab-grown diamonds also use less energy than natural mining (although a significant amount of electricity does go into the process, so it’s not 100% environmentally friendly).
If your concern is around the concept of conflict diamonds, lab-grown alternatives definitely have more ethical labor practices attached to them than some natural diamonds, although this may not apply if you specifically choose a conflict-free natural diamond.
Can a jeweler tell the difference between lab-made and mined diamonds?
This is another question that may have a counterintuitive answer. You may think your jeweler can tell all when it comes to diamonds, but lab-made and mined diamonds are so similar that most jewelers actually can’t tell the difference.
This explanation makes sense if you stop to think about it. Lab-grown diamonds were developed to exactly mimic the natural diamond creation process, and the resulting gemstone has identical properties to a natural diamond. For this reason, there’s no distinction for a jeweler to look for that would give away the status one way or another. The only way a jeweler would know is if he or she knew the origin story of the particular diamond.
How are lab-grown diamonds made?
There are two common processes that lead to lab-grown diamonds. The first is called High Pressure High Temperature, abbreviated HPHT. In the HPHT process, a pure carbon source is placed in a machine that creates the high pressure, high temperature conditions that create diamonds in nature. This process is becoming slightly less common, but it has a much longer history in the jewelry world than the next option.
The second process, called CVD (short for Chemical Vapor Deposition), is becoming increasingly common today. The CVD process works differently—rather than starting with a piece of carbon, the diamond itself is actually grown from material deposited by a gas. The process is very slow, typically taking anywhere from 21 to 28 days to complete.
Is it considered “cheap” to buy lab-grown diamonds?
Not anymore! While this may have been a common opinion in the past, today’s consumers typically understand the complexity of the decision behind buying a diamond. The price is not the only factor that people consider, and the ethical and eco-friendly concerns surrounding natural diamonds have led to more open-mindedness around alternatives in recent years.
What retailers sell lab-made diamonds?
Because of the popularity of lab-made diamonds today, most jewelry retailers will have options with lab-made diamonds. Popular jewelry chains like Zales, Jared, and Kay all have lab-created diamonds in full sections on their website and in their physical stores. A quick Google search for lab-made diamonds will show you hundreds of purchase options online, and likely many in your local area if you live in or around a city.
What types of gemstones are white like a diamond?
The examples we shared above, including white sapphire, white topaz, and quartz are the natural gemstones that most closely resemble diamonds. There are other white gemstones available, but the other options won’t pass as a diamond in most cases. If your end goal is a beautiful white gemstone rather than specifically looking for a diamond alternative, you can also check out white opal, white agate, moonstone, white jade, and white jasper.
What is the best diamond alternative?
The best alternative depends on a few factors that only you can identify. Your perfect solution will align with your use case (e.g., a ring to wear every day, a necklace to pull out once a year, a nice gift for a friend, etc.), your budget, your timeline, and your personal preference.
If you want a piece you can wear every day, you may want to go with the more durable alternatives on the list like moissanite. If you prefer a natural stone over a lab-grown option, white sapphire or white topaz might work best for you. For earrings that you might lose, a less durable and more affordable option may work fine. If you know the answers to these questions, have a discussion with your local jeweler about which stone aligns most closely with your needs.
What is the price difference between lab-made diamonds and real diamonds?
The prices for both lab-made diamonds and real diamonds fluctuate for a number of reasons—changes in the market, carat size, brilliance, cut, and even where in the world you’re located. In general, lab-made diamonds will be anywhere from 10% to 50% cheaper than real diamonds. For a more accurate comparison, you’ll want to take a look at two specific options that meet your personal criteria for a beautiful gemstone.
Is it ok to purchase an engagement ring with a diamond alternative?
Yes! In recent years, many couples have begun to specifically choose diamond alternatives because the ethical concerns around natural diamonds feel like a bad omen for the union. Plus, alternatives give you the opportunity to discuss your priorities as a couple and make a personal decision. Especially if you’re focused on being especially budget-conscious, alternative options are almost always the way to go.
What if I can’t afford an engagement ring?
If you can’t afford a diamond engagement ring, we’d encourage you to go visit a jeweler and ask to see some of the alternative options on this list to give them a shot in real life. While you may not like the idea of a substitute, in person, you may realize just how similar the options really are.
If you still can’t afford a ring or you decide to go with a natural diamond, ask your jeweler if they have financing options or payment plans. Because engagement rings are typically big-ticket items, almost all jewelers will be familiar with how to navigate this conversation and likely have an option to make the payment more feasible.
How should I care for my diamond alternative pieces?
Great question! We put together a full guide for how to care for any jewelry—including your diamond alternative pieces—which you can read and download here. In general, use common sense to keep your pieces out of harm’s way and take them off before any particularly dirty or risky behaviors. This is especially true for rings, which see the full wear and tear of everything your hands touch throughout the day.
Check out the guide for a full breakdown of jewelry best practices.
DIAMOND ALTERNATIVES - A best friend TO EVERYONE!
At the end of the day, only you can make the call about which diamond alternative—if any—is right for your needs. We hope this information shed some light on your options and helped you to feel more prepared to tackle the rest of your exploration (and, hopefully, a conversation with your jeweler!).
If you have any lingering questions about diamonds versus diamond alternatives, feel free to reach out. Otherwise, check out more of our in-depth jewelry guides here.
July 29, 2021 by Conor Daniels