In the fairy tale of King Midas, the king hires an alchemist to try to turn straw into gold. In many ways, scientists and jewelers have imitated King Midas’ dream for finding an easy way to create or mimic natures perfect stone, the diamond, with varying results.
Ever since the chemical composition of diamonds was discovered to be pure carbon in 1797, science and industry have been on a mission to recreate the diamond in a laboratory setting. The first attempts at creating diamonds were made by pressurizing heated coal – a method developed by Ferdinand Fredric Henri Moissan in 1893. Although this method was widely copied by other scientists, the results were varied and many scientists argued that the diamonds produced didn’t have the proper chemical compound to be considered a true synthetic diamond.
In the 1950s, corporate-funded synthetic diamond projects, like the one initiated by General Electric, produced the first verifiable synthetic diamonds. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that gem-quality diamonds were produced.
Today’s gem quality synthetic diamonds can be found at most jewlery stores. Synthetic diamonds are often colored yellow or blue, although colorless stones are available.
Because the cost of creating synthetic diamonds is far cheaper than mining real ones, the jewelry business has begun to mark diamonds with lasers to insure customers who want mined diamonds that they are buying real and not synthetic diamonds.
Unlike synthetic diamonds that share the same chemical compound as real diamonds, diamond simulants are actually not diamonds at all. They are stones created or made to only look like diamonds.
The most common diamond simulant found today is the Cubic Zirconia. Cubic Zirconias are made from synthysising zirconium dioxide into a crystal form. Cubic Zirconia look so much like real diamonds that there is no way for the untrained eye to differentiate between the two unless under a microscope.
Other diamond simulants include synthetic moissanite – a reproduction of a mineral discovered in meteor rocks by Ferdinand Fredrick Henri Moissan. Moissanite is a carbon-based mineral and has properties similar to diamonds, which makes it an ideal diamond simulant. Synthetic Moissanite may even one day surpass the cubic zirconia as the leading diamond simulant.