Year in Review

As this year draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the roller coaster that was 2020. So much changed, literally overnight, and the future is still so uncertain. In thinking back on my jewelry acquisitions from the past year, I realized that they pretty accurately reflect the mental state and life events I was experiencing at the time of purchase. Revisiting each quarter in turn:

Q1: We were so naive.

As of January / February 2020, we heard rumblings of the “novel coronavirus” sweeping through Wuhan, but we convinced ourselves that it would never hit the U.S., and that even if it did, it would be gone in just a few weeks. In other words, we were idiots. I distinctly remember joking with my colleagues about how we were going to start selling black-market hand sanitizer, and I’m embarrassed to admit now that I harshly judged people who got on the crowded morning train wearing masks, which, at the time, seemed unnecessarily performative. Little did I know that just a few weeks later, my paradigm would completely flip flop, such that anyone not wearing a mask became a pariah.

In those early, blissfully ignorant days of 2020, I bought this magnificent, Georgian-inspired, pear-shaped pendant on a gold swivel dog clip from jewelry designer Shan Adams:

It is razzle dazzle to the max. It shimmers, it shines, it screams “glam.” It is completely incompatible with the sweats, messy buns, and makeup-free looks I would soon be rocking for the foreseeable future. It is a reflection of the optimism I still held onto at the start of 2020, naively believing I would be attending cocktail parties, weddings, or really any social events at all, in the coming months. It is the embodiment of delusion about what was to come.

Q2: Sh*t hit the fan.

Late March through June was, as you are so painfully aware, a time of lock-downs, fear, rising Covid numbers, suffering, social unrest, police brutality, and disillusionment with just about everything. Days felt like weeks, and the news was a never-ending source of fresh anxiety. It was a rough go, to say the least. (In no way do I intend to trivialize any of this by pivoting to talking about jewelry. However, this is a jewelry blog, so true to form, I will now take a frivolous turn.)

During those months when it was hard to see a way out of all the despair in this country, I drowned my sorrows in hours of scrolling through photos of beautiful things online. Jewelry, of course, but also travel destinations, fashion editorials, gourmet recipes, even makeup tutorials. I often landed on Etsy, which seems to be a truly bottomless source of treats for the eye.

It was on Etsy that I found this green onyx and gold necklace, made by Irish designer Jane Asple under her brand EMMABYJANE:

The necklace shipped right away, but I realized after a few weeks had passed that I hadn’t received it yet. I checked the Royal Mail tracking number, and it showed that the necklace was still sitting at Heathrow Airport in London. More weeks went by, but no movement. Finally, nearly two months after it shipped, the necklace arrived at my door unexpectedly one day. I later learned that the U.S. had closed its borders to parcels from other countries for a while. A true pandemic purchase experience.

Q3: The calm before the storm.

When the summer months arrived, things started to look up. Covid numbers seemed to stabilize, the weather was beautiful, small social gatherings could be held safely outside, and my own optimism was at its peak for the year. I bought this beautiful and cheery butterfly necklace by designer Joy Dravecky in August (my exact necklace now sold out; similar option available here). It captures that sense of hope that came with my brief taste of “normalcy” this summer:

Q4: Winter is coming.

The experts were right: the massive fall / winter Covid surge is upon us. We knew the summer lull couldn’t last, and yet it seems we are ill-equipped to deal with the long, dark, indoor months ahead. Thank heavens for the arrival of the vaccine! Seeing videos of healthcare workers receiving their shots brings me joy like nothing else. I am also deeply relieved to know that January 20, 2021 will mark the end of a very dark time in U.S. history. Things admittedly aren’t good right now, but there is promising light on the horizon.

For my October birthday, I requested and received from my mom this beautiful Jane Win pendant that says “GARDEZ BIEN” (meaning “KEEP WELL” in French) with a snake motif on one side and “PROTECT” on the other:

I’m fairly superstitious, so I like to wear this necklace as an amulet to offer me a little extra protection as I make my way through this uncertain world. To dress it down for my leisure-wear lifestyle, I put the pendant on a blackened silver chain rather than something shinier. It adds just the right amount of pizzaz to my décolletage for virtual calls.


Looking back years from now, 2020 will probably feel like a bad dream–a very long, surreal dream. One thing’s for sure: we won’t soon forget any of it.

High Low

There is so much beautiful jewelry in the world that has a ton of sparkle without costing a fortune. Gone are the days when your only choices for bling were either expensive diamonds or lackluster rhinestones. Today, you can find gorgeous pieces featuring diamond-like substitutes that quite convincingly replicate the real deal at a wide range of price points.

This post explores the multitude of options and the differences among them. Along the way, I’ll present you with quizzes to test how well you can identify which pieces are made of diamonds vs. a less-expensive substitute. Answers appear at the end (don’t cheat!).

Lab-Created Diamonds

Naturally mined diamonds come from within the earth and were formed billions of years ago under conditions of intense heat and pressure. (Read more here.) Lab-created diamonds, on the other hand, have all the same physical and chemical properties of naturally mined diamonds, but are grown in a lab under conditions that replicate the natural diamond growing process.

The biggest advantage of lab-created diamonds is that they cost less than natural diamonds while looking indistinguishable to the naked eye. Don’t be mistaken, though, they are not cheap. According to this site, the capital costs for lab-grown and mined diamonds are similar, but lab-grown diamonds have a shorter supply chain than mined diamonds, which makes them somewhat cheaper.

Another big advantage of lab-created diamonds is that they don’t pose the same ethical concerns as mined diamonds. And because they don’t require mining, they are also kinder on the environment.

Interestingly, lab-created diamonds are graded and certified using the same standards as naturally mined diamonds (i.e., the 4 Cs–cut, clarity, color, and carat). So you can easily compare a lab-created gem with an equivalent naturally mined gem to really see the price differential.

Not everyone is a proponent of lab-created diamonds. According to this article, which was published by the National Diamond Council (so take it for what it’s worth), diamond experts caution that lab-created diamonds will not hold their value over time as they become easier to produce and more widely available. These diamond loyalists also bemoan that lab-created diamonds have “something soulful missing” because unlike mined diamonds, which are “miracles of nature,” they are mass-produced in a lab and lack the deep “historical significance, symbolism, and yes, love.” So if you care about that stuff more than getting sparkly bling at a lower price, lab-created diamonds aren’t for you.

Here are two nearly identical pieces, except one features naturally mined diamonds and costs $36,000, while the other one features lab-created diamonds and costs $1,400:

Moissanite

Moissanite is a mineral that was discovered by Henri Moissan in 1893 when he was analyzing rock samples taken from a meteor crater in Arizona. Moissan initially thought the crystals were diamonds, but later identified them as silicon carbide.

Because natural moissanite is super rare, the moissanite used in jewelry today is lab-created. According to this helpful guide, there are some key differences between diamonds and moissanite, even though they superficially appear quite similar.

Diamonds are the hardest known mineral (with a score of 10 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness), but moissanite is not far behind at 9.25. That makes this mineral suitable for use in engagement rings, which take a lot of knocks through everyday wearing.

Moissannite is actually more brilliant than diamond and emits a “fiery, rainbow flash” in bright light. Some people prefer the more subtle sparkle of diamonds.

Like lab-created diamonds, moissanites are ethically less controversial than naturally mined diamonds and are more eco-conscious. They are also much less expensive than diamonds.

Finally, unlike diamonds, which are graded on the “4 Cs,” moissanites are graded solely based on color. The most expensive moissanites are colorless.

So, think you can tell the difference between moissanite and diamond? Below are two similar pendants, one made with moissanite that costs $600, and the other made from diamonds that costs $6,300:

Cubic Zirconia

If we’re getting technical, cubic zirconia (“CZ”) is the “cubic crystalline form of zirconium dioxide (ZrO2).” It is exclusively manufactured in labs and does not occur in nature. Commercial production of this diamond alternative began in 1976.

Like the other substitutes discussed above, CZ is significantly cheaper than diamonds and, because it is not mined, it is ethically and environmentally more favorable than diamonds. It is also inherently flawless, which can’t be said for most naturally occurring diamonds.

CZ is not a perfect substitute, however. It has a lower hardness than diamond and moissanite (8.5 on the Mohs Scale), meaning it scratches more easily and will show more wear. It also has a lower refractive index and is thus less sparkly than diamonds. CZ will also become cloudy over time and requires regular cleaning to keep its shine. Read more here and here.

All that said, CZ may not be the best choice for an engagement ring (if the other options above are feasible), but it is a fine choice for convincing costume jewelry.

Below are two similar flower bracelets, one made with diamond that costs $20,000, and the other made from CZ that costs $150:

Other Choices

Lab-created diamonds, moissanite, and CZ are certainly the most well-known diamond alternatives, but there are others worth considering:

  • White Sapphire: Sapphire, one of the four precious gemstones (along with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds), comes in several colors, including white. It ranks a 9 on the Mohs Scale, but has a lower refractive index and less sparkle than diamond. It appears more transparent than diamond and requires regular cleaning or else it can look dull. It is much more affordable than diamond. Read more here and here.
  • White Topaz: Topaz is a commonly found, naturally occurring semi-precious gemstone. It ranks at an 8 on the Mohs Scale, which–because the scale is non-linear–means it is roughly 6-8 times less hard than a diamond. That said, it is more prone to being damaged through regular wear than diamond. Topaz also has a lower refractive index than diamond, making it less sparkly and bright. As you probably predicted by now, topaz is much, much cheaper than diamond–1 carat of high-quality white topaz likely costs around $100, whereas a 1 carat flawless, colorless diamond runs around $15,000. Read more here and here.
  • Herkimer Diamonds: I only recently learned about Herkimer diamonds and find them very intriguing. These stones aren’t actually diamonds, but rather are a type of quartz crystals that were discovered in and around Herkimer County, New York and the Mohawk River Valley. (Read more here.) They don’t look nearly as convincingly diamond-like as the other substitutes discussed above, and at only 7.5 on the Mohs Scale, they are not durable enough for daily wear. While Herkimer diamonds may contain flaws like air bubbles and black carbon deposits, it is possible to find high-quality, completely clear stones. (Personally, I think the flawed stones are pretty neat–see here and here.) These stones can resemble glass because they lack the brilliance of diamonds. But–you guessed it–they are more affordable than diamonds! Read more here, here, and here.

Long story short, nothing is as hard, perfectly brilliant, or expensive as diamonds. But most of these details are quite technical unless you’re looking specifically for a piece that will last forever with minimal wear and hold its value (e.g., an engagement ring). If, instead, you’re just looking for some pretty bling, any of the above are excellent choices!

For your last quiz, I challenge you to rank the following pieces in order of least expensive to most expensive:


Here are some great online stores I’ve found for beautiful diamond-alternative jewelry:


Answers

Don’t peak until you’ve completed all the quizzes!

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Quiz #1: Lab-Created vs. Naturally Mined Diamond:

  • Answer: The ring on the RIGHT is more expensive.
  • Left: Lab-Created Emerald Cut Five-Stone Engagement Ring ($1,400)
  • Right:Flawless 2 ct. Three-Stone Emerald Diamond Engagement Ring ($36,000)

Quiz #2: Moissanite v. Diamond

  • Answer: The pendant on the LEFT is more expensive.
  • Left: Diamond Halo Pendant Necklace Round Solitaire ($6,300)
  • Right: Round Moissanite Halo Necklace ($600)

Quiz #3: Cubic Zirconia v. Diamond

  • Answer: The bracelet on the LEFT is more expensive.
  • Left: 12.41ct Fancy Floral Cluster Diamond Bracelet ($20,500)
  • Right: 15.50 ct. Multi-Cut CZ Floral Bracelet in Sterling Silver ($146)

Quiz #4: Least to Most Expensive

  • Answer: 2, 1, 3
  • No. 1: Starburst Drop Earrings ($295)
  • No. 2: Lab-Created White Sapphire Chandelier Drop Earrings ($279)
  • No. 3: Reflection de Cartier Earrings ($30,800)