Enhanced Diamonds vs. Natural Diamonds
In the world of precious gems, diamonds can be divided into two major categories when jewelry shopping: natural diamonds and enhanced diamonds. Both are naturally found in the earth, then they are mined, cut and polished for the consumer. Despite their origins, enhanced diamonds have a considerably cheaper market price, so you can get a larger, enhanced stone for the same price you would pay for a smaller, natural diamond. Natural diamonds are not enhanced in any way, so each stone exhibits its own naturally-occurring colors and characteristics. However, a diamond altered to change its color or the visibility of inclusions is referred to as an “enhanced” diamond.
Designed to increase the beauty of the diamond, several treatments are used to enhance the stone by reducing the appearance of naturally-occurring flaws that affect the transparency, color, and sparkle. The clarity of the diamond is usually enhanced by laser drilling or fracture filling, while the stone’s color can be enhanced by high-pressure high-temperature treatment (HPHT).
Laser drilling uses heat, or injects chemicals into the diamond, to make discolorations and small flaws less visible. Sometimes, laser drilling is followed with fracture filling to further decrease the visibility of small cracks. Fracture filling involves adding a glass-like resin into the diamond to close small cracks, making imperfections invisible to the human eye. In order to permanently alter the color of the diamond, HPHT may be used. This method of enhancing a diamond uses a cubic press to recreate the natural, diamond-forming conditions of the Earth. Depending on the chemicals involved, the diamond will either exhibit a fancy color or be colorless following the treatment.
More details about these enhancement processes and the differences between enhanced and natural diamonds are available on the Blog by Brilliance.
Benefits of Purchasing an Enhanced Diamond
Saving money on your stone is the greatest benefit of purchasing an enhanced diamond over a natural one. On average, enhanced stones cost 30-50% less than those which are natural. Many buyers want a diamond that is perfectly colorless and clear of imperfections, narrowing their selection of diamonds to only those of the highest quality and raising the price significantly.
Fracture filled enhanced diamonds show a noticeable improvement in appearance following treatment, since imperfections are no longer visible by the naked eye. Small cracks and feathering seem to magically disappear, while bleaching solutions injected into the stone void it of any color.
While the sparkling beauty and lower cost of an enhanced stone appear to make it the ideal choice, you need to consider the durability of your diamond over a long period of time.
Downfalls of Purchasing an Enhanced Diamond
Many chemical jewelry cleaners use a formula containing ammonia, a chemical that can alter the enhancement-processed area of the diamond. Therefore, you will need to ensure you only use ammonia-free jewelry cleaners when cleaning any piece of jewelry containing an enhanced stone. Jewelry stores often clean jewelry with either a steam or an ultrasonic cleaning machine. The heat of the steam may cause the filler in the enhanced diamond to deteriorate and leak out of the stone, or it may expand, causing the original fracture to widen.
A study performed by members of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) also found that extended ultrasonic cleaning can cause damage to the filler, affecting its clarity. Depending on the chemical makeup of the filler used to enhance the diamond, researchers found the filler at the surface of the diamond to be visible after 90 minutes of ultrasonic cleansing.
If you don’t remove your jewelry before playing sports, working out, or doing manual labor, you may be more inclined to damage your jewelry. Ranging from retipping to polishing, most jewelry stores offer a variety of repairs. However, if you take your diamond ring in for some touch up work and fail to inform the jeweler that the stone is enhanced, you may end up with a stone you don’t recognize after the repair.
Quite a few repairs require the jeweler to heat the piece in order to make the metal malleable, and this increase in temperature can cause visible damage to an enhanced stone. GIA members retipped the settings of several enhanced diamonds, with the stones intact, to find out what would happen to the filled fractures. Major damage to the filling occurred; in some cases, the filling melting and leaked from the stone, in others the filling changed to a darker color or became cloudy, and gas bubbles appeared within the filler in other diamonds. Nearly all the enhanced diamonds that were tested showed the inability to withstand heat inside a furnace. Some filler began melting and leaking from the stone at temperatures between 390-455 degrees Celsius, while the strongest filler maintained its solidity until the temperature of the furnace hit 600 degrees Celsius.
Another type of repair that can damage an enhanced diamond is repolishing. Tests concluded that depending on the type of filler used, some stones lost filler on the surface, resulting in a “pitted” appearance, while others formed more gas bubbles or developed a cloudiness inside the original fracture.
If you purchase a piece of jewelry containing an enhanced diamond, it is very important you inform your jeweler about its authenticity in order to protect it. Request the jeweler remove the stone from the setting prior to performing any metal work requiring heat.
One of the goals of enhancing a diamond is to make it colorless. However, unless your diamond is HPHT treated, there is no guarantee of the permanence of its enhanced color. Fracture filled enhanced diamonds vary in the substances used to fill the cracks in the stone. Some fillings may initially appear inside the diamond as a light brown, pale yellow, or orange-yellow color, while others may darken or change color over time. In fact, depending on the composition of the filler, some stones dropped a letter in color when evaluated!
Do you spend a lot of time in the sun during the summer months? Tests performed by GIA researchers simulated the effect of sunlight on enhanced diamonds. After 60 hours of exposure to long-wave UV radiation (the equivalent of 1,000 hours of being in the sun), some fillers showed discoloration within the diamond.
Enhancing a diamond by fracture filling should make the stone look unblemished. However, depending on the substance used to fill the cracks, some may show even more imperfections. Some fillers give the appearance of a flowing, glassy substance inside the stone, while others show voids in the filling where air bubbles developed. Any shallow area near the surface that is not completely filled may appear as a white scratch on the face of the diamond, while thick, filled fractures may result in a cracked, web-like appearance.
Natural diamonds can obtain a grading report by agencies like the GIA, to determine the qualities and value of a particular gemstone. The GIA has a policy of not grading reports on filled diamonds because the treatment is not considered permanent, and one cannot accurately determine the color and clarity of the stone following the treatment. Instead, the GIA will issue a report stating “the identity of the stone and note that a clarity-enhancing, foreign material was artificially introduced into the surface-reaching features, precluding quality analysis.”
One of the beauties of diamonds is their ability to maintain, if not appreciate, value over time. Enhancing a diamond could actually cause the stone to depreciate over time due to the fact it is no longer comprised of all-natural materials, and because the filler can erode or change color over time.
Purchasing a diamond is no small task, so it is important you take your time and learn as much as you can about the various types, shapes, sizes, and colors of these gems so you can make an informed decision.
At Brilliance, there are no loose diamonds or pieces of diamond jewelry that feature enhanced stones. Many professionals believe that natural diamonds should not be treated in any way. Every Brilliance diamond comes with a diamond certificate verifying the quality and characteristics of the loose stone. The only stone that truly looks amazing and can withstand every condition is a natural, non-enhanced diamond.