The high price of gem-grade diamonds has created a large demand for materials with similar gemological characteristics, known as diamond simulants or imitations. Simulants are distinct from synthetoc diamond, which unlike simulants have material properties identical to those of natural diamond. Enhanced diamonds are also excluded from this definition. A diamond simulant may be artificial, natural, or in some cases a combination thereof. While their material properties depart markedly from those of diamond, simulants have certain desired characteristics?such as dispersion and hardness?which lend themselves to imitation. Trained gemologists with appropriate equipment are able to distinguish natural and synthetic diamonds from all diamond simulants, primarily by visual inspection.
The most common diamond simulants are high-leaded glass (i.e., rhinestones) and cubic zirconia (CZ), both artificial materials. A number of other artificial materials, such as strontium titanate and synthetic rutile have been developed since the mid 1950's, but these are no longer in common use. Introduced at the end of the 20th Century, the artificial product moissanite has gained popularity as a supposedly superior diamond simulant, although its much higher cost and limited production have kept it a relatively minor simulant.
In order to be considered for use as a diamond simulant, a material must possess certain diamond-like properties. The most advanced artificial simulants have properties which closely approach diamond, but all simulants have one or more features that clearly and (for those familiar with diamond) easily differentiate them from diamond. To a gemologist, the most important of differential properties are those that foster non-destructive testing, and most of these are visual in nature. Non-destructive testing is preferred because most suspected diamonds are already cut into gemstones and set in jewelry, and if a destructive test (which mostly relies on the relative fragility and softness of non-diamonds) fails it may damage the simulant?this is not an acceptable outcome for most jewelry owners, as even if a stone is not a diamond it may still be of value.
Diamond and its simulants can be both compared and contrasted by the following properties:
The Mohs scale of mineral hardness is a non-linear scale of common minerals' resistances to scratching. Diamond is at the top of this scale (hardness 10) as it is the hardest naturally occurring material known. The hardest substance known today is ultrahard fullerite, which has an estimated hardness 1.17-1.52 times that of diamond. Since diamonds are unlikely to encounter substances that can scratch it, other than another diamond, diamond gemstones are typically free of scratches. Diamond's hardness also is visually evident (under the microscope or loupe) by its highly lustrous facets (described as adamantine) which are perfectly flat, and its crisp, sharp facet edges. For a diamond simulant to be effective, it must be very hard relative to most gems. Most simulants fall far short of diamond's hardness, so they can be separated from diamond by their external flaws and poor polish.
In the recent past, the so-called "window pane test" was thought to be an assured method of identifying diamond. It is a potentially destructive test wherein a suspect diamond gemstone is scraped against a pane of glass, with a positive result being a scratch on the glass and none on the gemstone. The use of hardness points and scratch plates made of corundum (hardness 9) are also used in place of glass. Hardness tests are inadvisable for three reasons: glass is fairly soft (typically 6 or below) and can be scratched by a large number of materials (including many simulants); diamond has four directions of perfect and easy cleavage (planes of structural weakness along which the diamond could split) which could be triggered by the testing process; and many diamond-like gemstones (including older simulants) are valuable in their own right.
Other guides relating to jewelry and gemstone buying which you may find helpful are as follows: