Ever since they first came on the jewelry-making scene, I’ve gotten lots of questions about lab grown diamonds. And since the questions just keep on coming, I thought I’d round up some of the basics in a post! There are many misconceptions about these increasingly popular gems, so I’m going to talk both about what lab grown diamonds are and what they aren’t.
How are lab grown diamonds made?
Also known as "synthetic diamonds" or “cultured diamonds,” lab grown diamonds are created by human technicians in (you guessed it) a lab. They generally use one of two processes: HPHT (high-pressure high temperature) or CVD (chemical vapor deposition) to create the gems. So the primary difference between man-made and mined diamonds is that natural diamonds are formed deep in the earth and lab grown diamonds are made in facilities using one of the two processes mentioned above.
CVD diamonds (image from Thermal News)
Synthetic diamond technology has changed significantly in the last decade, and even in the last two years - where once only small colored diamonds were on the market, now more clear diamonds and significantly larger diamonds are available.
But! Both natural and lab grown diamonds are made of pure crystallized carbon. This sets them apart from “diamond simulants” or “imitation diamonds” which are not not diamonds at all, but other crystals that merely look like diamonds. For instance Moissanite is a very high quality diamond simulant, but it’s made of silicon carbide, which means it’s definitely not a diamond!
Are lab grown diamonds less expensive than natural diamonds?
Yes! But don’t expect them to be cheap. For both lab grown diamonds and natural diamonds, price is determined by size and quality; the four Cs everyone’s heard about – color, clarity, cut, and carat weight. Both types of diamonds come in all shapes and sizes, and can range in quality. A lab diamond will usually cost about 30% less than a natural stone, but a deeper discount should raise a red flag. If you’re looking at something that’s been labelled a “lab diamond” and you think the price is too good to be true, you may want to double check that you aren’t scoping out a diamond simulant instead. (Sometimes the marketing for diamond simulants can be confusing or downright misleading, so be aware of the wording and ask questions if you’re not sure!)
So lab grown diamonds come in various qualities?
Indeed! Just like natural stones, lab grown diamonds run the gamut of colors and clarities, and their price will vary depending on quality. If you’d like more information on the four Cs, check out this helpful page at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
Are lab diamonds as durable as natural diamonds?
They sure are. Diamonds are the hardest known material in the world, and lab grown diamonds have the same hardness as their natural counterparts.
Can you tell the difference between a lab diamond and a natural diamond?
Nope! You can’t tell the difference between natural and lab diamonds with the naked eye. In fact, they have confused trained gemologists, and for this reason there has been serious concern in the industry about lab diamonds being mixed in with natural diamonds and sold to consumers without their knowledge. The GIA, along with other gem-testing laboratories, use instruments that allow them to see the growth patterns of the crystals in order to identify lab grown diamonds, so although you can't tell by looking, experts with the right tools can definitely tell the difference.
And if you’re curious to see if you can tell the difference, have a look at this ring! The yellow diamond in the center is lab grown, but so is one of the white diamonds on the sides. (The other came from my client’s original wedding ring). Can you tell the difference? (I can’t!)
Which of the white diamonds is the natural one? I'd have to send the ring to GIA to find out!
If lab diamonds are so great, why should I buy a real diamond?
For some people, knowing that a diamond is natural makes the stone more special to them. You have to admit that there is something amazing and magical about the process of how a diamond is formed. Most diamonds are between 1 and 3.5 billion years old, formed about 150 to 250 kilometers underground, and brought to the surface by deep volcanic eruptions called Kimberlite pipes. It’s pretty amazing! So if you want a real diamond, then by all means, get one!
But if your stone’s history isn’t compelling to you or you find the idea of a human-made stone intriguing, you certainly don’t need to buy a natural diamond. Consider your options and see what best fits your needs and budget. (And remember that diamonds aren’t the only option for engagement rings. My own engagement ring features a beautiful teal blue fair-trade Malawi sapphire.)
I’ve heard that lab diamonds won’t maintain their value the way that natural diamonds do
At this point, it’s a little early to tell, but that is a possibility. It’s also possible that a massive influx of lab diamonds into the market will lower the price of ALL diamonds. But in my experience, most people don’t purchase their engagement ring or special pendant as an “investment piece” anyway. They purchase a diamond for sentimental reasons, not because they’ve got plans to turn around and sell it.
The types of diamonds that people buy as an investment are generally the gargantuan gobstopper-sized gems, or diamonds that have been incorporated into very unique pieces by well-known designers. And of course, no investment is guaranteed to do well anyway; it’s all a gamble! So I’d recommend focusing on what kind of stone you want in your own personal jewelry, and letting go of any worries about what kind of price you’ll get for it in 20 years.
Can I get a certification for my lab grown diamond?
Absolutely. Just as with a natural diamond, you can get a certification for your lab grown diamond, and for stones that are larger than about ½ carat, it’s generally a good idea to do so regardless of whether the stone is natural or lab grown. Having that documentation makes it easier for appraisers to give you an accurate appraisal, and helps assure that if you lose your stone, your insurance company will replace it with a comparable stone.
Are lab grown diamonds better for the environment?
Good question! Most of the information I could find about how much energy it takes to grow a diamond claim that it is significantly lower than the energy it takes to pull a natural diamond out of the ground. But my caveat here is that most of the answers that I could find to this question came from companies promoting their own lab diamonds…so take that for what it’s worth. Also, an enormous amount of earth needs to be moved to find a single natural diamond, leaving scars and holes in places where diamonds are mined. And mining introduces pollutants into the water supply and pumps carbon into the air. Although lab grown gems aren’t entirely without emissions, their footprint is far smaller. And involves no moving of earth!
Are lab diamonds more ethical than natural diamonds?
What makes a diamond ethical is another complicated question. We’ve all heard about blood diamonds or conflict diamonds, diamonds that have been illegally traded to fund foreign wars or mined by slave labor. Certainly, lab grown diamonds are more ethical than blood diamonds. But there are a few places where diamond mining and cutting can bring good jobs and build communities. If you can buy a natural diamond from a company or cooperative that pays fair wages, has safe working conditions, and supports the local economy, then that is also a pretty ethical purchase!
I hope this has helped answer some questions and dispel some myths about lab grown diamonds. If you have ANY other questions, by all means, drop me a note!