What Is a Real Diamond?*

It’s unlikely that you’ll hear a professionally trained gemologist call a diamond a real diamond, or use the word “real” to describe any material. If you want to come across as a smart shopper, you’ll need to rephrase the question.

For decades, diamonds have been the gem of choice for engagement rings. But with the advent of synthetic diamonds and diamond simulants, it’s only natural to ask about real diamonds. “Real” is not a gemological term. But to the consumer, it’s an important one.

A Diamond Is a Diamond Is a Diamond

From a gem professional’s point of view, a diamond is a diamond if it has a characteristic chemical composition and crystal structure. Diamond is composed almost entirely of a single element: carbon. It forms under conditions of high temperature and pressure that cause its carbon atoms to bond in essentially the same way in all directions. Another mineral, graphite, also contains only carbon, but its formation process and crystal structure are very different. The result is that graphite is so soft that you can write with it, while diamond is so hard that you can only scratch it with another diamond.

This definition of diamond applies to diamonds that come from the earth, as well as those that are created in a laboratory. It does not apply to other materials that might masquerade as diamonds.

So, when you ask a jeweller for a real diamond, you could be asking for a diamond created by nature or one created in a lab – since both materials qualify as diamond. Reputable jewellers avoid the term “real” altogether and distinguish between natural diamonds, lab grown hetic diamonds and diamond simulants (or imitations).