Herkimer Diamonds: An All American Diamond Alternative

Angelica Frey | September 14, 2023

Herkimer diamonds are not real diamonds. They owe their name to their place of origin, Herkimer County in New York, and they are called “diamonds” because they’re clear and display a natural faceting pattern with 18 total faces: six on each point, six around the center. They are not actually diamonds, but double-terminated quartz crystals.

Given that they are quartz crystals, they lack the physical properties of a diamond, and this makes them not suitable for fine jewelry meant to stand the test of time, unlike VRAI created diamond engagement rings and bridal jewelry. Herkimer diamonds are a suitable option for fashion and trend-focused jewelry.

What Is a Herkimer Diamond?

A Herkimer diamond is a double-terminated quartz crystal native to Herkimer County and its surrounding areas. Double-terminated refers to crystals that have natural facets on both ends, and they are quite rare in nature. This characteristic means they grow with very little or no contact with their host rock. Their host rock is the Little Falls Dolostone, which hails from the Cambrian age (541 to 485.4 million years ago).

Where Can You Find Herkimer Diamonds?

Herkimer diamonds are native to Herkimer County, New York and its surrounding areas, such as the Mohawk Valley. Still, you can find double-terminated quartz crystals in several areas. In the United States, similar crystals developed in Arizona. Around the world, double-terminated quartz crystals have been found in Norway, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and China. While quartz crystals found in those areas appear identical to Herkimer diamonds, they cannot be called that because of their different origins.

What Are the Properties of Herkimer Diamonds?

Herkimer diamonds are quartz crystals, so they share most physical properties with the quartz mineral. However, in order for a quartz crystal to qualify as a Herkimer diamond, it has to both come from Herkimer county and be double-terminated. The actual shape and distribution of the facets, within the double-termination pattern, can vary. Some Herkimer diamonds have a more prominent central section, others are more elongated.

Their colors range from colorless to smoky, and they contain inclusions, which are responsible for the smoky coloring that some Herkimer diamonds display. Herkimer diamonds can also contain liquid inclusions, especially water and liquid petroleum. The most common mineral inclusions include calcite, dolomite, pyrite, smaller quartz crystals, and sphalerite.

As a quartz crystal, they are a 7 on the Mohs hardness scale. Minerals with a similar hardness level that are used in fine jewelry include zircon (7.5) cordierite, tourmaline, garnet, and jadeite.

“Herkimer diamonds have a rough hewn quality to them that works very well with a more rustic or bohemian style for earrings, necklaces, or rings,” says Grace Taylor, VRAI’s Senior Director of Sales and CX. “Think wire wrapped gems for your friend who has a crystal collection! They have a glassy sheen to them and come in a variety of unique shapes depending on the individual stone.”

Is the Herkimer Diamond an Actual Diamond?

A Herkimer diamond is not an actual diamond. In order for a mineral crystal to qualify as a diamond, it has to be almost entirely made of carbon (save for a minimal presence of trace minerals) and have its atoms arranged in a crystal-like structure.

A Herkimer diamond is a quartz double-ended crystal, and quartz is a crystalline mineral composed of silicon dioxide, also known as silica. Carbon is not present in the chemical composition of Herkimer diamonds.

Herkimer diamonds look different enough from the real diamond, mainly in terms of luster and specific gravity, and can hardly be used as diamond simulants.

Herkimer Diamond vs Cubic Zirconia

Cubic Zirconia are the cubic crystalline form of zirconium dioxide, which is a white crystalline oxide of zirconium. It’s a synthesized material, and should not be confused with zircon, a zirconium silicate. Cubic zirconia are clear and known for their rainbow-colored refraction, which makes them cost-effective and rather convincing diamond simulants.

Herkimer diamonds have a glass-like luster and lack significant brilliance (white light) and fire (colorful flashes). Chemically, Herkimer diamonds are silicon dioxide, a completely different chemical compound.

Herkimer Diamond vs Quartz

Herkimer diamonds are double-terminated quartz crystals, so they are, indeed, a variety of quartz notable for being colorless. Amethysts, citrines, and carnelians are also a variety of quartz, but they have a distinguishable hue.

What sets them apart, from a physical standpoint, is the fact that Herkimer diamonds come with two six-sided pyramids at each end and they have to come from Herkimer County.

Herkimer Diamond vs Diamond

The only similarity Herkimer diamonds and diamonds share is their name and, to some extent, their colorlessness. Chemically, physically, and optically, they are two completely different crystals.

While Herkimer diamonds are made of silicon dioxide, a diamond is entirely made of carbon (plus a very small part of other trace minerals). A Herkimer diamond, as a quartz crystal, is a 7 on the Mohs scale, while a diamond is a 10.

Herkimer diamonds have a glass-like appearance, while diamonds have their characteristic adamantine luster (adamantine means diamond-like). They’re transparent, translucent, and they have a high refractive index. Zircons and cubic zirconia are among the few mineral crystals that share this type of luster with diamonds.

Should I Choose a Herkimer Diamond or a Lab-Grown Diamond?

Herkimer diamonds and lab-grown diamonds have very different appearances and they suit different contexts and different jewelry settings. Herkimer diamonds are budget-friendly colorless quartz crystals that seamlessly pair with fashion jewelry or an understated, boho-inspired look.

“Herkimer diamonds are a really fun entry level stone - you can often find affordable options set in real gold,” says Grace Taylor, VRAI’s Senior Director of Sales and CX. “They are typically clear so they pair well with any other jewelry you wear.”

Lab-grown diamonds are chemically, physically, and optically identical to mined diamonds and have ample usage in jewelry, engagement rings, and bridal jewelry. While the price point of a lab-grown diamond is higher than the one of a Herkimer diamond, it is still much lower than the price of a mined diamond.

Why Lab-Grown Diamonds Are a Better Alternative

If fine jewelry is what you currently have in mind, lab-grown diamonds are a better choice compared to Herkimer diamonds, because they have all the same characteristics of a mined diamond — they’re graded on the very same scale, and yes, they also get inclusions. Add to that the lack of human and environmental toll.

VRAI created diamonds are produced in a foundry located in the Pacific Northwest that is Carbon Neutral certified as zero-emissions. All VRAI created diamonds were created with no mining, no human toll, no emissions. VRAI created diamonds are physically, chemically, and optically identical to mined diamonds.