Herkimer Diamonds VS Diamond – 6 Important Differences That Set Them Apart

When it comes to diamonds you’ve probably never imagined there’s more than one type of diamond, or rather more than one type of gemstone that has the name ‘diamond’. Well today we’re taking a look at Herkimer diamonds, what they are, and how they’re any different from regular diamonds.

herkimer diamonds vs diamonds

Herkimer diamonds vs diamonds

Herkimer diamonds are far softer than diamonds, so they will scratch and chip much easier. Carbon diamonds are far more expensive and they carry a prestige a Herkimer does not have. But a Herkimer diamond comes in a beautiful double-terminated crystal straight out of the ground, while a carbon diamond rough does not have much of a shape and can be confused with glass at first glance.

In short, Herkimer diamonds are impressive in their own way, as a novelty item that comes in a pleasing shape and clarity sought from the mine. Carbon diamonds are different in every way that can impact its final price tag.

What is a diamond ?

A diamond is a form of pure carbon, with slight nitrogen inclusions in some cases (the yellow tint). These are what people refer to when they ask for a diamond, and these gems have a lot of history and prestige about them. You can find diamonds in any color but the most common ones are clear diamonds (sometimes mistakenly called white) and they offer that classic sparkle on engagement rings.

What are Herkimer diamonds ?

Herkimer diamonds are not true diamonds per se, they are a form of clear quartz (silica) that forms in a very specific shape, like someone glued two round cut brilliants together.

herkimer diamonds
Very fine specimens of Herkimer diamonds (rough)

Herkimer diamonds are perfectly clear and may have occasional inclusions. Their shape is impressive in that they look like they’ve been roughly cut and polished into a nicely faceted crystal, by the earth itself. Herkimer diamonds are called so after the Herkimer County mine in New York, and there is another in Mohawk River Valley.

So are Herkimer diamonds just a fancy form on clear quartz ? Pretty much, yes. These quartz crystals form in a very specific shape that clear quartz does not. but other than that there is no difference.

Read also: Demantoid Garnet VS Tsavorite 

Now let’s take a closer look at the differences between Herkimer diamonds and traditional diamonds. We’ll compare and contrast them, so you can decide for yourself which would be better for your particular project.

1. Herkimer diamonds are far softer than actual diamonds

A gemstone’s hardness is its resistance to scratches and chipping. Carbon diamonds are the hardest gemstone possible, as they score a 10/10 on the Mohs hardness scale. A Herkimer diamond is not as resilient because it is actually quartz, which scores a 7/10 on the Mohs scale. This means it may be worn every day, but will accumulate some scratches and possibly chip. For comparison you should know that a glass bottle has a hardness of 6.5, quite close to that of quartz.

So between the two a carbon diamond will stand the test of time, not scratch, and will be perfectly good to pass down to future generations if you wish. A Herkimer diamond will scratch and may not be a good idea to wear in a ring or bracelet. It’s best to use these gems as pendants, brooches, or earrings.

Herkimer diamond earrings set in 14k yellow gold. See them on Amazon.

2. Diamonds are more expensive than Herkimer diamonds

There is a significant price difference between diamonds and Herkimer diamonds. Carbon diamonds are judged by the 4 Cs – clarity, cut, carat, and color – which means that $10,000 can net you a few different diamonds in terms of size, color, and clarity.

The usual diamond you will find in jewelry has:

  • a nearly-white color, or rather it has the least amount of yellow possible (the D-F range)
  • FL-to VVS2 inclusions, almost impossible to see with the naked eye
  • excellent to very good cut

These diamonds the the most coveted, and they sell for an average of $16,000 per carat for a medium range diamond. You’ll find the D color and FL and IF ones can sell for an average of $24,400 per carat while the G and H color ones with VVS2 clarity sell for as ‘little’ as $8,000 per carat. So in short, no matter how to turn them, diamonds are truly expensive.

Herkimer diamonds sell for $1 per carat, and they usually come in large-ish pieces such as 20-50 carat crystals double-ended crystals. So these gems are truly inexpensive, and you can easily get large ones for very reasonable prices if you’re after a large gem.

Split-shank diamond pave ring with yellow marquise center diamond, set in 18k gold. See it on Amazon.

3. Herkimer diamonds are more difficult to source, less known

Despite Herkimer diamonds being so affordable they’re actually not easy to source. Major retailer or jewelers simply don’t carry these gems because they’re not as widely sought as carbon diamonds.

So this means you will find a whole slew of carbon diamonds for any sort of jewelry you like, but Herkimer diamonds will have to be sourced elsewhere. Etsy and Amazon offer some options for rough Herkimers.

4. Diamonds sparkle much more than Herkimer diamonds

There is a significant difference in sparkle between Herkimer diamonds and carbon diamonds. A carbon diamond owes its fire and brilliance to a combination of high Ri (2.42), excellent cut and polish, adamantine luster, and high clarity.

A Herkimer diamond does not have a high Ri (1.55) and a vitreous to waxy luster, which seriously diffuses light. A Herkimer diamond cannot offer you the same sparkle as a carbon diamond, especially in its rough form.

And if you’re thinking of cutting this gem into something with more sparkle, you have two options: keep the Herkimer’s original shape but improve it, or give it a whole other cut which will definitely sparkle more.

The whole appeal of the Herkimer diamond is its natural shape and how clean and clear it is (in very good specimens). Cutting it would improve sparkle, but lose its trademark shape. It’s up to you.

5. Herkimer diamonds are naturally faceted, diamonds must be polished

Another difference between Herkimer diamonds and carbon diamonds is the rough they come in. You can leave a Herkimer as-is and in many cases it would still look great. A rough carbon diamond has only a vague shape and no sparkle at all. It needs the cut and polish for it to become impressive.

If you were to set down a Herkimer rough and a carbon diamond rough, you’d think the Herkimer was better, or more impressive.

6. Diamonds carry prestige, Herkimer diamonds are novel, new gems

There is prestige associated with carbon diamonds, and that cannot be easily surpassed. Diamonds have been well-known for their brilliance and fire, and they’ve been associated with the highest of nobles. Wars have been fought over them, diamonds have been stolen from safehouses purely for their high sparkle.

Herkimer diamonds are more of a novelty, something more aligned with an unconventional bride who wants to abide by her own rules, not tradition.