Now diamonds are EVERY girl’s best friend

Nothing beats the sparkle of a diamond, but engagement rings aside, few of us can afford the genuine article. Soon, however, grand jeweller De Beers will have a solution: a range of reasonably priced ‘almost-diamonds’.

Grown in a laboratory, a tiny seed of real diamond is blasted with high-pressure, extreme temperatures and carbon atoms to mimic a three-billion-year process in just three weeks.

The result? A stone that looks like a diamond, with the same physical and chemical characteristics, but which costs considerably less.

Diamonds are sold by the carat, with one carat measuring 6.5mm in diameter, roughly the size of a garden pea. A one-carat laboratory-grown diamond from De Beers’s Lightbox Jewelry collection (which will initially launch online in the U.S. in September) will cost $800 (around £600). By comparison, a one-carat natural diamond will start from at least £3,000 for a low-grade stone without any settings.

Savvy shoppers have been faking their diamonds for years. Laboratory-grown jewels from  De Beers are the latest alternatives to real diamonds for those trying to get the look (file image)

It’s a volte-face for centuries-old De Beers, which has always been firmly against anything that hasn’t been dug up from the earth. Now, though, it has decided to satisfy the growing global appetite for seriously good synthetics, which are expected to make up 15 per cent of the diamond market by 2020.

A handful of UK jewellers already sell laboratory-grown diamonds — Nightingale, Brilliant Earth and Kinetique all sell online — but without the same economies of scale as a global power-player like De Beers, the prices are higher at around £1,500-£1,800 per carat. (Kinetique also sells ‘hybrids’, where the diamond is grown around a man-made ceramic core: a one-carat hybrid IQ diamond set on an 18ct gold band costs about £1,000.)

The truth is, really savvy shoppers have been faking their diamonds for years, opting for high-grade zirconium oxide, commonly known as, whisper it . . . cubic zirconia. While ‘cz’, as it’s known in the business, is often sneered at (you’d be forgiven if cracker prizes spring to mind) the good stuff is on a different level.

‘It’s the difference between 1,000-thread Egyptian cotton and regular, mass- manufactured cotton,’ says Scott Thompson, founder of Carat London, which specialises in synthetic stones.

As the official jewellery partner of the Bafta Awards, chances are some of the sparklers on the red carpet are one of Carat’s designs.

Top-quality cz won’t go yellow or lose its sparkle; combine this superior raw material with hand-cutting and expert polishing by master craftsmen and you’ve got something extremely convincing.

Prices vary depending on the level of workmanship involved. Carat gems, for example, are typically rated ‘IF’ (internally flawless) — the highest level of clarity. The firm’s cz diamond earrings range from £59 for a pair of baby hoops, to more than £400 for show- topping chandeliers.

Brilliant Inc founders revealed design is often a giveaway of cubic zirconia jewlery (file image)

Brilliant Inc founders revealed design is often a giveaway of cubic zirconia jewlery (file image)

Although Carat taps into the mid-range ‘bridge’ market (‘we’re not cheap, but we’re not expensive,’ says Scott), it does have a boutique in London’s exclusive Burlington Arcade alongside luxury brands such as Manolo Blahnik and Mulberry.

‘Our customers may go to a lot of black-tie events, but with us they can get themselves some lovely pear drop earrings for £300 instead of £30,000,’ says Scott. Their flashy cocktail rings are a popular payday purchase. Combining cz diamonds with lab-grown sapphires and rubies (which are cheaper to make than lab-grown diamonds), a whopping cushion-cut ‘sapphire’ ring, the equivalent of seven carats, can be yours for £99 (reduced from £169: another advantage of going synthetic . . . natural diamonds are rarely discounted).

For sisters Emma Canning and Dervla Cogan, democratising diamonds was their goal when they founded Brilliant Inc ten years ago.

‘Like the majority of women, a real diamond is something we might receive as a gift maybe two or three times in a lifetime,’ says Dervla, who believes the quality of their designs elevate their cz stones. ‘A cheap, clunky setting is always a giveaway. A finer setting, with a quality metal, really makes the difference.’

Dervla Cogan claims the ethical implications involved with real diamonds are partially driving the popularity of alternatives (file image)

Dervla Cogan claims the ethical implications involved with real diamonds are partially driving the popularity of alternatives (file image)

Their pieces are so realistic, even women who can afford the real thing make a beeline to their Chelsea boutique.

‘We see celebrities, Saudi princesses . . . in fact, women with their own collection of natural diamonds are some of our best customers. They can mix and match and it looks the part,’ says Dervla. ‘These are people who really know their stuff, too. They spot our pieces in the window, and come in asking if a few zeroes have fallen off the price.’

The firm’s Art Deco-style ‘Camilla Ring’, inspired by the Duchess of Cornwall’s engagement ring, retails at £165. A trilogy style — a la Meghan — is £155. And if you think no bride-to-be would be caught dead with anything less than the real thing, think again. ‘Couples often buy them as stand-in rings to be replaced later, but generally they don’t end up changing them!’

Dervla also notes that customers are aware that opting for a synthetic diamond avoids the ethical implications involved with the real deal, whether it’s the environmental impact (1,750 tons of earth have to be extracted to find a one-carat rough diamond), or the human cost of child labour and ‘blood diamonds’, where stones mined in conflict zones fund warlords.

Belinda Scott revealed clients choose cz diamonds to avoid the worry of breaking or losing their jewels (file image) 

Belinda Scott revealed clients choose cz diamonds to avoid the worry of breaking or losing their jewels (file image) 

Ethics aside, the big benefit of a cz diamond is practicality. ‘It’s not going to break your heart or bank balance if you lose them,’ says Belinda Scott, whose Fab Fakes have been worn by the Duchess of Cambridge and the Countess of Wessex.

Those in the know go to Belinda for their ‘diamond’ studs (her round-cut ‘super studs’ are £50) and tennis bracelets (from £100). Flanking a real engagement ring with two of her eternity bands is another bargain bling-boost: a single 3.5mm cz-encrusted band in 18ct gold is £55.

Her clients aren’t at all embarrassed about their not-so natural jewels. ‘Quite the reverse,’ she says, ‘people take the attitude of “look how clever I am”. They don’t have massive insurance fees or the hassle of locking something up in a safe every night, and they still get compliments.’

Belinda’s fakes may have saved a marriage or two, as well. ‘One lady came in brandishing a single diamond earring — the other was lost on a beach and she didn’t want to tell her husband.

‘We supplied her with one of our Fab Fakes, and ever since she’s been walking around with a £12 stone in one ear, and a £4,000 stone in the other — and her husband is none the wiser!’

As well as supplying classic pieces you can wear every day, and everywhere, without fretting (cz diamonds are sometimes referred to as ‘travel diamonds’ for this reason), a big part of Belinda’s trade is one-off event dressing, such as mothers of the bride who want to impress guests.

Whether you plan to save up for a top-grade, lab-grown diamond, or you’ve been converted to the joys of cz, would-be fakers who’d prefer not to be rumbled should heed Belinda’s number-one tip: don’t get too carried away.

‘Keep your carat size within the realms of possibility,’ she says. ‘Too big and your friends will know instantly that it’s not real. Plausibility is everything.’