Three luxury sustainable lab-grown diamond rings with different diamond cuts and shapes.

Lab-grown Diamonds Vs. Cubic Zirconia

As the saying goes "nothing sparkles like a diamond," and it’s true. They're some of the most coveted and valued stones on the planet. Whether formed by nature or lab-grown, the unique internal structure of diamonds brilliantly reflects light. It’s this quality, among others, that makes diamonds so desirable as jewelry.

But diamond simulants, including cubic zirconia, are also available, and you may not know how to make the distinctions between those simulated stones and lab-grown diamonds.

The lab-grown diamond is, in fact, a true diamond gem. However, the cubic zirconia stones are not diamonds at all. Here we go over the other key differences and comparisons to know before you make any purchasing decisions.

What Do Lab-grown Diamonds and Cubic Zirconia Have in Common?

Both lab-grown diamonds and zirconia have a cubic crystal-like form and are similarly clear, colorless, hard, and sparkle in the light.

Zirconia is often cut and polished to reflect diamond shapes like the Cushion, Pear, Princess, or the ever-popular Round Brilliant cut.

To the untrained eye —and let’s face it, most of us are exactly that — zircon gems can be challenging to distinguish from genuine diamond stones. But the similarities end with those surface appearances.

Key Differences Between a Lab-Grown Diamond and Cubic Zirconia

Lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds, while cubic zirconia is officially labeled as a diamond simulant. Another key difference between the two involves their chemical makeup: diamonds are created from carbon, while zirconia is formed from zirconium dioxide.

Methods of Examination

The average consumer can tell the difference between a lab-grown diamond and a cubic zirconia stone in two ways. So, before you buy any gemstone, you can use these methods to identify key distinctions.

A gemstone professional will evaluate more in-depth. However, to an untrained eye, there are visible characteristics to distinguish between a genuine lab-grown diamond and cubic zirconia.

  1. Using a magnifying glass, examine the cut edges of each stone. The hardness of the diamond enables the sharpest of faceted edges to be cut, while zirconia has rounder edging due to its softer material. Unfortunately, zirconia is also much more prone to scratching and can become quite dull over time.
  2. Introduce light to each stone and study the reflective qualities. Lab-grown diamonds have brilliance, i.e., intense white light is reflected, while zirconia’s light-reflecting qualities are comparatively subdued, displaying the spectrum of rainbow colors.

While neither of these methods is necessarily precise, they can be helpful to the average consumer looking to evaluate and invest in a lab-grown diamond. And lab-grown diamonds will always represent a higher quality and brilliance since they’re, in fact, real diamonds. Cubic zirconia will pale in comparison in every facet.

Weight Comparison

Another noteworthy difference is that diamonds are heavier than cubic zirconias.

So, simply holding them in your hand should help you compare the two. So, if it’s lighter and flawless, the stone is actually a cubic zirconia. Conversely, if there are blemishes but no scratches, you can be fairly confident that it is a lab-grown diamond.

If you’re unsure or harbor any doubts about the gem, you’re better off taking it to a reputable jeweler who will use a professional diamond tester tool to verify its authenticity.

The Differences in Geological Processes

Natural diamonds were created three billion years ago as carbon atoms crystallized as a result of intense heat and pressure under the earth’s crust. They are commonly found 150-200km below the earth’s surface. As legacy mines become depleted, natural diamond supplies are expected to keep falling.

Lab-grown diamonds, as the name suggests, are created in laboratories. This commonly happens through two main processes;

High-pressure high-temperature (HPHT)

Using a press, diamonds seeds are heated to around 1600°C and put under 870,000 lbs of pressure per square inch. Carbon atoms subsequently turn the diamond seed into a synthetic diamond, which is then polished and cut.

Chemical vapor deposition (CVD)

After placing diamond seeds in a chamber, carbon gasses are introduced and heated to 1200°C. A plasma cloud is then deposited onto the seed crystal. Top layers are removed at regular intervals (every few days) until the diamond is formed and polished.

There are many more distinctions between HPHT vs. CVD Lab-grown diamonds vs. Mined Diamonds, like price, technology, and ethics.

Melting Zirconium Oxide

When looking at cubic zirconia, the processes are a little different. Using a chamber, zirconium oxide is melted before having calcium and magnesium added. It is then heated at around 2,700°C. Once removed it can be cut and colored as desired, although the characteristics are limited and cannot match the beauty of diamonds.

Assessing Hardness and Reflectivity

When evaluating lab-grown diamonds and cubic zirconia for quality and authenticity, it's essential to assess key characteristics such as mineral hardness and reflectivity.

Mohs Hardness Scale

When assessing the mineral hardness of diamonds and cubic zirconia, the Mohs Hardness Scale provides further insight into the true characteristics of both products. The scale starts with talc as the softest material at level 1 and increases in hardness. Cubic zirconia usually falls between 8.0 and 8.5 on the scale while diamonds are ranked 10.

The increased hardness of diamonds give them an advantage over cubic zirconia, which is why the geologic Mohs Hardness Scale is valuable for comparing the two. However, it’s also important to assess the reflectivity.

Reflectivity Characteristics

As stated, the naked eye can spot the difference between the white light of diamonds and “rainbow” colored lights. However, it’s important to understand the science behind light reflection and dispersion in gemstones too. Diamonds have a unique ability to refract and reflect light, which gives them their brilliance and helps us understand why that unmistakable sparkle is sought. The proportions, symmetry, polish, and cut of the diamond will all contribute to the way it reflects light, thus highlighting how one diamond may sparkle differently to another.

Conversely, cubic zirconia has contrasting optical properties, which is why they often show yellow-green under shortwave UV light. This becomes less noticeable however, under longwave UV light.

Implications for Quality and Durability

The durability and longevity of lab-grown diamonds easily surpass those of cubic zirconia. After all, CZ is susceptible to scratching and abrasion due to its reduced hardness and ability to be scratched with relative ease. They are also known to lose their shine and sparkle within a few years, even if you implement proper care, making it a bad choice for everyday jewelry. Similarly, this means that it can not be seen as a long-term investment that will hold or appreciate its value.

Conversely, lab-grown diamonds are as hard, strong, and durable as naturally mined diamonds. They can be worn as everyday jewelry without fear of damage or lost sparkle. In fact, you can wear them with the same level of confidence as mined diamonds, making them the ideal alternative for affordable jewelry and engagement rings alike.

Taking Care of Lab-Grown Diamonds

While lab-grown diamonds are the better choice for everyday jewelry ranging from custom design standout pieces to minimalist jewlery, you still need to take care of them. The following checklist should help you maintain their sparkle for the long haul;

  • Clean them with mild soap and warm water. Gentle brushing around the stone with a toothbrush is one of the most effective techniques.
  • Never use bleach, acetone, or chlorine to clean your diamonds as this will damage the diamond.
  • Consider taking the diamonds off when exercising or using household cleaners as sweat or chemicals can cause problems.
  • Keep them safely stored when not worn, but keep them away from other jewelry to avoid scratches.
  • Clean your lab-grown diamonds at least once a fortnight, even if you do not wear them often as dirt and grime could damage the gemstone.

Ultimately, the majority of your jewelry care will focus on avoiding abrasion. Of course, you should take extra care to avoid losing them.

Real Diamonds for Everlasting Jewelry and Symbolism

There’s a reason that diamonds are the preferred gem for engagement and wedding rings. It’s not just their hard-won nature, whether mined or lab-created, or their unique sparkle. As one of the hardest, most durable substances on earth, diamonds can last a lifetime and, with high-quality, beautifully designed settings, can be cherished forever.

On the other hand, cubic zirconia is easily scratched, losing its luster after a few months, and you can expect that the gemstones will have to be regularly replaced. Unlike lab-grown diamonds, which are created as nature intended, the cubic zirconia materials are intended to “look” like a diamond without the enduring properties and associated value.

The lasting symbolism of diamonds as an expression of everlasting love has a strong emotional appeal for engaged couples. And somehow, a marriage proposal with the words, “Honey, will you accept this fake diamond as a symbol of my love for you” doesn’t have quite the cachet as would the real thing. Before buying or investing in any gem, consider what message you intend to convey with your gemstone gift. If you want to say “forever,” it has to be a diamond.

Create Your Unique Engagement Ring Design with Our Lab-grown Diamonds

If you want your engagement or wedding jewelry to reflect your special relationship uniquely, custom design can deliver this for you. Carbon Diamonds will help you express your sentiment, artistry, and personal tastes and capture these elements into a meaningful Bespoke jewelry piece. From the initial concept through all the design steps, selecting your diamond stones, choosing precious metal settings, and then crafting your rings, we will assist you all the way.

Contact us for a virtual appointment or visit our showroom and start exploring the brilliant lab-grown diamond options for yourself. We offer virtual and in-person consultations to serve you regardless of your location.

Carbon Diamonds advises having your jewelry cleaned by a reputable jewelry professional. Regardless of whether you choose professional services or opt to clean your jewelry and gemstones yourself following the suggestions in this article, you accept full responsibility for the outcomes. Carbon Diamonds absolves itself of any responsibility for items not cleaned by our in-house team.