Like almost every other industry, the jewellery trade is a vastly different landscape to what it was 20 years ago. This is largely due to technological advancements, allowing for new designs, new manufacturing techniques and new materials to come into play. Purchasing a diamond is no longer what it used to be. There are so many options available (shapes, sizes, certificates, brands etc) which makes it very confusing for consumers to navigate through this minefield of information. This article aims to eliminate the confusion surrounding diamonds and the many by-products associated with them in the marketplace.
There are 4 broad categories that diamonds as a product can be broken down into – each with their own unique place in the market. They are: natural, treated, lab-grown and simulants.
As the name suggests, these diamonds are completely natural. They have been formed in the earth’s core over millions of years under extreme heat and pressure. They are then mined, sorted, cut and polished into the finished jewels that you see in stores today. The old saying of “no two diamonds are the same” is very true. Each natural diamond has its own unique colour and clarity characteristics.
These are naturally formed, mined and cut diamonds, however, they have had some additional work done to them other than cutting and polishing. The most common treatments here are laser drilling/fracture filling and colour enhancement. Laser drilling or fracture filling is done to diamonds that have a very low clarity grade due to heavy inclusions. The surface of the diamond is penetrated by a laser, the inclusions blasted and then the cavity is filled with a clear silicon-based filler. This is done to enhance the clarity of the diamond, thus improving its beauty and appeal. There are 2 important things to note here: firstly, in most cases, the treatments performed are not permanent (meaning they will discolour over time showing a noticeable brownish tinge). Secondly, in most cases, you can notice the effects of the treatment with the unaided eye (the most common effect being a red-flash when it is exposed to light) as well as a cloudy/hazy appearance in the diamond. The term that is used to describe these diamonds in the marketplace is “Clarity Enhanced”. Colour enhancement is another common treatment, where the natural diamond is exposed to High Pressure and High Temperature (HPHT) and/or coated in a clear chemical solution to help enhance the colour of the diamond. Another common treatment for fancy coloured diamonds is Irradiation treatment. This enhances the intensity of the colour in fancy coloured diamonds.
As the name suggests here, these diamonds are grown in a laboratory in a controlled and simulated environment. They have the same physical, chemical and optical properties as natural diamonds. They are still cut and polished in the same way as natural diamonds, they are only formed differently. These diamonds tend to have much higher clarity levels and are available in colourless and fancy colours. The two most common ways these diamonds are grown is via CVD (Chemical Vapour Deposition) and HPHT (High Pressure High Temperature). To the untrained eye, these diamonds can be impossible to differentiate from their natural counterparts. With the correct equipment, gemologists are able to differentiate between natural and lab-grown diamonds.
For centuries, people have been using an array of different materials to imitate diamonds or simulate them in jewellery. It is important to note one major point here: THESE ARE NOT DIAMONDS. The synthetics used have been as cheap as glass and plastic to the extravagant like Cubic Zirconia and Moissonite (the latter being known for its superior hardness and brilliance – although still nowhere near as hard and strong as a natural diamond).
As a consumer, there are some basic questions you can ask the jeweller you are dealing with to help you make your purchasing decision:
Any reputable jeweller should disclose any treatments, processes or simulants during the sales process. If they cannot answer your questions regarding treatments and synthetics clearly and confidently, then that should act as a warning sign to proceed with caution. Hopefully, this helps clarify some of the confusion associated with diamonds.