Diamonds are among the most valuable of gemstones, which has naturally inspired the search for less expensive alternatives.

In some cases, honest mistakes have been made, and many famous "diamonds" have been found to actually be other gemstones such as spinel.

And there is nothing wrong with buying a stone that looks like a diamond but isn't - only in selling one to a misinformed buyer.

Historically, many gemstones and even glass (more likely leaded crystal) has been used to replace diamonds. All of these stones have strongly different characteristics, and it is surprising how often fakes have been passed as genuine diamonds. Of course, if you bribe the gemologist, ....

Cubic Zirconia was found to be an excellent simulant, because of its low cost and high fire (dispersion). However, its dispersion is higher than diamond, such that a CZ sparkles more than a diamond of the same size. Also, it is much less dense, meaning that a 1-carat CZ is noticeably larger than a 1-carat diamond.

More recently, lab-grown moissanite has been offered as a diamond substitute. It has the high fire and durability needed for a good diamond substitute, can be produced at a reasonable cost, and (unfortunately) can even pass a simple thermal conductance test (usually the easiest way to prove a diamond is real). However, moissanite exhibits double refraction (splitting images such as newsprint), plus it usually has a faint green color.

Zircon has been substituted for diamond, as it is a gemstone with a similar index of refraction and high dispersion, allowing jewelry that sparkles like a diamond.

The other gemstone substitutes (topaz, beryl, sapphire (corundum), and spinel) all suffer from a relative lack of dispersion. They simply don't sparkle enough to make a convincing diamond substitute.

Note that every gemstone worth the name will cut glass, as will quartz (the most common mineral in the Earth's crust). However, only another diamond will scratch a diamond, and only a diamond (and moissanite) can scratch a sapphire, such as the crystal face of a Rolex. Assuming you don't want to damage your Rolex, the most reliable test remains the thermal conductance test, as diamond conducts heat far better than any other solid substance (at room temperature). However, it takes a high quality thermal test to distinguish a diamond from a moissanite gemstone (the double refraction of moissanite more easily distinguishes it from diamond).


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