We test all recommended products and services independently and exhaustively. If you buy through our links, we might receive compensation. Our recommendations are not influenced by monetary considerations. Learn more.
Are you looking for jewelry and have considered diamond jewelry but think it’s too expensive? Then you may have come across either cubic zirconia or lab-grown diamonds. But one is a real diamond, and the other is not. Learn what is real and the right choice for you in our complete buying guide to lab-grown diamonds vs. cubic zirconia.
In this buying guide, we’ll compare lab-grown diamonds vs. cubic zirconia and their respective advantages and disadvantages. We’ll compare prices, quality, brilliance, and beauty. And we’ll explore their distinct characteristics, including their crystal structure, carat weight, and position on the Mohs hardness scale, to help you better understand the differences between cubic zirconia and lab-created diamonds.
We will also highlight the benefits of choosing lab-grown diamonds over natural or mined ones while discussing some potential drawbacks of cubic zirconia stones. Finally, we’ll provide an in-depth cost comparison between lab-grown diamonds and cubic zirconia for those seeking an affordable gemstone who may mistakingly believe that real diamonds are expensive.
This information will equip you with all you need to make an informed decision in your search for high-quality fine jewelry featuring either lab-created diamonds or synthetic diamond simulants like cubic zirconia. If you’re wondering about moissanite, then read our guide to lab-grown diamonds vs. moissanite.
- What is a Lab-Grown Diamond?
- What is Cubic Zirconia?
- Lab-Grown Diamonds vs. Cubic Zirconia: Pros and Cons
- Can you tell cubic zirconia from lab-grown diamonds?
- Lab-grown diamonds vs. Cubic Zirconia for Engagement Rings
- Cost Comparison: Lab-Grown Diamonds vs. Cubic Zirconia
- Why Choose Lab-Grown Diamonds Over Cubic Zirconia?
- Lab-grown diamonds vs. cubic zirconia FAQs
- Summary of lab-grown diamonds vs. cubic zirconia
- Where to Buy Lab-Grown Diamonds
The 3 best places to buy lab-grown diamonds
SALES ALERT! See the best diamond deals (terms apply):
What is a Lab-Grown Diamond?
A lab-grown diamond, also known as a lab-created or simply lab diamond, is a real diamond and gaining popularity in the jewelry industry for ethical sourcing and affordable pricing.
Lab-grown diamonds are created using advanced technology that replicates the natural process of diamond formation. These high-tech processes include High Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). They grow from a tiny “seed” into a rough diamond over months.
The result? A beautiful, sparkling gemstone with the exact same properties as mined diamonds. They’re just as hard, refractive, and brilliant. But here’s the kicker: lab-grown diamonds are eco-friendly. No harmful mining is involved, just clean laboratory environments.
Difference between mined diamonds and lab-grown diamonds
Lab-grown diamonds are made in controlled laboratory conditions within weeks or months, while natural diamonds take billions of years to form deep within the Earth. They have the same properties but different origins.
Lab-grown diamonds are environmentally friendly and free from concerns like conflict funding or child labor. No guilt, just sparkle.
We have analyzed the prices of natural and lab-grown diamonds and have found that lab-grown diamonds are 60-80% cheaper than mined diamonds with the exact same properties. See, for example, how much a 1-carat lab-grown diamond costs.
Lab-grown diamonds can be used in any jewelry piece. They’re affordable and offer the same quality as mined diamonds, so you can be sustainable without sacrificing style or value.
What is Cubic Zirconia?
Having learned that lab-grown diamonds are indeed real diamonds, what about cubic zirconia?
Cubic zirconia, also known as CZ, is a synthetic diamond simulant composed primarily of zirconium dioxide. This synthetically created stone mimics the look of real diamonds but lacks their hardness and durability.
Cubic zirconia, often used as an affordable diamond alternative, is a synthetic gemstone. Note the keywords diamond alternative and synthetic. That means that, unlike lab diamonds, cubic zirconia is not a real diamond.
This lab-created gemstone has a cubic crystalline form that closely resembles the sparkle and brilliance of real diamonds. It’s worth noting that while both lab-grown diamonds and cubic zirconia stones are lab-created, they differ significantly in their composition and properties. We’ll get to that later.
The history of cubic zirconia
Cubic zirconia has been used since the 1970s as an affordable diamond alternative. This synthetically created stone is made from zirconium dioxide and shares a cubic crystalline form with diamonds.
Cubic zirconia chemical structure
In terms of crystal structure, although both share a similar shape (cubic), lab-created diamonds have an identical atomic structure to mined ones due to being pure carbon like them. This is not true for cubic zirconia stones, which lack such uniformity because their primary component is not carbon but oxygen combined with the metallic element zinc.
How cubic zirconia is made
Creating cubic zirconia involves heating powdered ingredients to extremely high temperatures until they melt into a liquid state. The molten material then begins to cool and harden, forming crystals in the process. These crystals are later cut and polished into gemstones that closely resemble real diamonds that mimic different types of diamond shapes and cuts.
The appeal of cubic zirconia over real diamonds
Cubic zirconia offers an affordable diamond alternative for those on a budget because they are much, much less expensive than both mined and lab-grown diamonds. A well-cut cubic zirconia ring can shine brilliantly like a high-quality lab-grown diamond, making them popular in cheaper jewelry.
Cubic zirconia has gained popularity due to its affordability compared to other alternatives, such as synthetic diamond simulants, including moissanite, or options like fine jewelry made with lab-created diamonds.
Another advantage is that it is available in larger carat weights without hefty price tags. This is in contrast to diamonds, including lab-grown diamonds, where prices increase exponentially with carat weight.
Lab-Grown Diamonds vs. Cubic Zirconia: Pros and Cons
When shopping for diamond jewelry, it’s important to understand the differences between cubic zirconia and lab-grown diamonds. These two types of stones offer different benefits and drawbacks that can significantly impact your purchasing decision.
Choosing between lab-grown diamonds and cubic zirconia might seem complicated, but it’s not. Let’s break it down.
Differences between cubic zirconia vs. lab-Grown diamonds
While at first glance, cubic zirconia and lab-grown diamonds may look similar. But there are key differences that you should be aware of.
In terms of composition, too, they vary greatly. While lab-grown diamonds consist almost entirely of pure carbon, just like their natural counterparts, cubic zirconia contains no carbon. Instead, cubic zirconia consists mainly of a stabilized version of the mineral baddeleyite, also known as ‘ZrO2’ or ‘zirconium dioxide’.
Durability and Hardness
On the Mohs hardness scale, for example, while a real diamond ranks at 10 – making it one of the hardest substances known to man – cubic zirconia scores an 8 to 8.5, meaning it’s less durable than its diamond counterparts.
A significant disadvantage of cubic zirconia and its lower hardness grade is that it tends to lose its sparkle and become cloudy over time due to everyday wear and tear. In contrast, lab-grown diamonds will withstand almost anything (bar the rare chipping that a few shapes can be prone to).
The main reason is the difference in hardness, which is often measured on the Mohs scale. While cubic zirconia only manages 8 to 8.5, diamond (mined or lab-created) gains the highest rating.
|Topaz (and cubic zirconia)
|Corundum (and moissanite)
|Diamond (lab-grown and mined)
Cubic zirconia often looks “too perfect” because it’s synthetically produced without imperfections. Lab-grown diamonds, on the other hand, have minor inclusions, just as mined diamonds do, giving them an authentic appearance. Learn about lab-grown diamond clarity.
Most cubic zirconia stones appear colorless, while lab-grown diamonds come in various shades. Lab-grown diamonds offer more options, from colorless to near-colorless, and even fancy lab diamond colors like blue and pink.
In a nutshell, cubic zirconia may seem attractive due to its lower price, but it lacks the depth, brilliance, and quality of lab-grown diamonds. So, if you’re a discerning shopper, make an informed decision that suits your needs, preferences, and budget.
In terms of environmental impact, both lab-grown diamond and cubic zirconia wins over mined diamonds and other mined gemstones. The process used for creating these high-quality lab stones doesn’t disrupt ecosystems, nor does it involve any human rights issues sometimes associated with traditional mining practices. This makes them more ethical and sustainable choices compared to even some of the supposedly ethically sourced mined counterparts.
Can you tell cubic zirconia from lab-grown diamonds?
The world of lab-grown diamonds and cubic zirconia stones can be confusing for many and, at first, glance, may look similar. Both are popular choices in the jewelry market, but can you tell the difference between lab-grown diamonds vs. cubic zirconia?
Unlike lab-grown diamonds vs. mined diamonds, which you cannot tell apart (because they are the same), spotting cubic zirconia is easier.
But it may not be how you expect.
- Weight: Cubic zirconia is heavier than diamond, and 1-carat of cubic zirconia will be smaller than 1-carat lab-grown diamonds.
- Brilliance: Lab-grown diamonds primarily emit white or colorless light, while cubic zirconia disperses a more colorful light, almost like a rainbow of colors.
- Clarity: Cubic zirconia rarely has any blemishes or inclusions and is almost too perfect compared to even lab-grown diamonds, which will never be perfect.
- Color: Cubic zirconia is typically colorless, while lab-grown diamonds are rarely completely colorless.
- Scratches and cloudiness: If the gemstone is scratched or has a cloudy appearance, chances are it’s not a lab-grown diamond but cubic zirconia (or another diamond alternative).
The most obvious and quick way you can tell that a diamond is not a real diamond (mined or lab-created) is by the simulant being too good! The clarity will often be perfect and the color non-existent, i.e., perfectly colorless. They can also appear more glass-like with a sharp and colorful brilliance that nevertheless lacks the depth of real diamonds.
The lack of flaws makes them appear almost fake. Which, if they are trying to imitate diamonds, they are. But they are still real gemstones.
Lab-grown diamonds vs. Cubic Zirconia for Engagement Rings
When selecting the perfect stone for an engagement ring, two options that often come up are lab-grown diamonds and cubic zirconia. Both offer affordable alternatives to pricey mined diamonds but differ significantly in quality, durability, and value.
Cubic Zirconia: The Affordable Diamond Simulant
Cubic zirconia stones, made from zirconium dioxide, have a cubic crystalline form, giving them their name. They rank at 8-8.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, and while this makes them hard enough for everyday wear, they’re not as durable as real diamonds or lab-created diamonds, which score a solid 10 on the same scale (see above).
That makes them less suitable for engagement rings, which should last forever while subjected to everyday wear and tear. Unlike earrings or necklaces, engagement rings are often exposed to brushes and scrubs and should be durable.
The brilliant shine of cubic zirconia may initially resemble that of a diamond’s sparkle, but over time, these synthetic stones may become cloudy and lose their luster, unlike lab-grown or mined diamonds whose brilliance lasts forever.
Lab-Grown Diamonds: Affordable but identical to mined diamonds
Mined natural diamonds, formed deep within Earth’s mantle over billions of years under high-pressure conditions, are identical in crystal structure to lab-grown diamonds. These created stones consist of pure carbon, just like natural ones, making them ‘real’ too!
A major advantage is that these lab-grown beauties cost significantly less than mined diamonds without compromising on carat weight or highest quality characteristics such as cut, color, and clarity – ideal attributes when considering an important jewelry purchase like engagement rings! Additionally, being environmentally friendly with no mining involved adds another feather to its cap!
That’s why we recommend lab-grown diamonds for engagement rings. Learn how to save and find the perfect lab-grown diamond engagement ring and how much a lab-grown diamond engagement ring costs.
Cost Comparison: Lab-Grown Diamonds vs. Cubic Zirconia
If you want bling on a budget, let’s compare the costs of lab-grown diamonds vs. cubic zirconia. It’s like a battle of sparkle versus savings.
Lab-Grown Diamond Costs
Lab-grown diamonds are 60-80% cheaper than mined diamonds. No need to worry. They’re not imitations. These lab-created diamonds have the same sparkle and durability as mined diamonds. Plus, they’re eco-friendly because no mining is involved. Shine bright and save money.
Here’s an overview of the average prices of round brilliant lab-grown diamonds (the most popular lab-grown diamond shape).
Cubic Zirconia Costs
Cubic zirconia is the budget-friendly option. Though cubic zirconia costs less than even lab-grown diamonds, its durability is not as long-lasting and may require more frequent replacements due to chipping or scratching. These sparklers can easily chip or scratch over time.
But cubic zirconia is incredibly affordable. You can find a 1-carat cubic zirconia for about $20, while a 1-carat lab-grown diamond costs from $600-1300 (mined diamonds are a lot more expensive).
You can even pick up a pair of cubic zirconia earrings set with 1 carat CZ each for less than $40.
There really is no beating the price of cubic zirconia. But, as you will have learned, they do not look like diamonds, and their durability is not even comparable to the longevity of forever diamonds.
Quality vs. Price
As mentioned, when it comes to price, cubic zirconia is unbeatable. But, considering value, lab-grown diamonds win the crown. They offer long-term durability, beauty, and potential resale value. Cubic zirconia may save you money upfront but can’t compete in the long run. Pay a little more, and get a lot more.
Why Choose Lab-Grown Diamonds Over Cubic Zirconia?
When selecting a precious stone for your fine jewelry, the choice often boils down to lab-grown diamonds and cubic zirconia. Both offer an affordable diamond alternative but differ in several crucial aspects.
Disadvantages of Cubic Zirconia
While cubic zirconia is often touted as a budget-friendly alternative to diamonds, it’s important to understand that the two have significant differences. Let’s delve into some of the key disadvantages associated with cubic zirconia.
While both types of gems can be cut into various shapes with similar carat weight options available, there’s no denying that the two have significant differences. Diamonds far surpass those of cubic crystalline form found in CZ stones.
Durability and Hardness
Cubic zirconia ranks much lower on the Mohs hardness scale, making them less durable than lab-grown diamonds, which rank 10 (the highest). This means that cubic zirconia can easily get scratched, chipped, or even cloudy over time compared to the resilient option of lab-grown or mined diamonds.
Artificial Brilliance and Fire
Although they may look similar at first glance, cubic zirconium dioxide does not possess the same brilliance (the white light reflected from within a gem) as real diamonds do. Moreover, its fire (the dispersion of light into colors) is excessively colorful and high—higher than any real diamond—which makes it look somewhat artificial when closely inspected. The brilliance lacks the depth and playfulness that you experience with real diamonds.
Poor Heat Conductivity
Cubic zirconia doesn’t handle heat well. Unlike lab-grown diamonds, cubic zirconia is a poor conductor of heat. This is one way to test whether the stone is made of diamond or a diamond simulant.
Lab-grown diamonds vs. cubic zirconia FAQs
Are lab-grown diamonds better than cubic zirconia?
How to tell the difference between cubic zirconia and a lab-created diamond?
Can jewelers tell the difference between lab-grown diamonds vs. cubic zirconia?
Do lab-grown diamonds pass a diamond tester?
Does cubic zirconia pass a diamond tester?
Summary of lab-grown diamonds vs. cubic zirconia
Lab-grown diamonds and cubic zirconia are both popular choices for shoppers looking for affordable alternatives to natural diamonds, but there’s a catch.
Lab-grown diamonds are a sustainable and ethical choice compared to mined diamonds, with the same chemical composition and physical properties. At the same time, cubic zirconia is just a synthetic material trying to imitate the real deal.
Regarding cost, lab-grown diamonds may be a bit pricier than cubic zirconia, but they offer better value in terms of quality and longevity.
Remember that despite similarities in appearance between lab-grown diamonds vs. cubic zirconia, notable differences remain, such as long-term resilience, which should be considered before deciding what type suits your needs best!
So, if you want a sparkly substitute that won’t break the bank and will last, lab-grown diamonds are the way to go. Lab-grown stones provide ethical advantages over traditional mining practices while offering comparable beauty and quality at lower prices than mined ones.
If you’re looking for fine jewelry without breaking your bank account, go for the real deal with lab-grown diamonds.
Where to Buy Lab-Grown Diamonds
At LabGrownCarats.com, we review lab diamond jewelers, and based on our numerous in-depth reviews, we recommend the following places to buy lab-grown diamonds (over cubic zirconia).
Brilliant Earth review ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Brilliant Earth is the leading sustainable lab-grown diamond jeweler. Their deep commitment to sustainability, including being the only seller of sustainable graded lab diamonds, sets them apart. The prices are excellent, too, and they have an extensive inventory of beautiful lab diamonds.