What are lab-grown diamonds?
What exactly are “lab-grown” diamonds? Are they the same as “natural,” earth-mined diamonds?
The answer is yes. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officially recognized lab-made diamonds as real in 2018.
The difference is that man-made diamonds are grown in a laboratory, but they have exactly the same interior carbon structure as natural diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds, and they are chemically, optically and physically identical in every way to earth-mined diamonds, apart from the price. Lab-created diamonds generally cost about 40% less than natural diamonds of a similar weight and quality, but unless you are a trained gemologist using high-tech machinery, you will not be able to tell the difference. In fact, no true gemologist would tell you they can tell any difference, even with a 10x magnifying loupe! However, do not confuse lab-made diamonds with cubic zirconia, moissanite, glass or other "look-a-likes," which are “simulant” diamonds with an entirely different interior composition.
Lab-made diamonds are composed of 100% pure crystallized carbon. Think of ice-cubes created in a freezer compared with ice found on a glacier; they have precisely the same structure - and both are frozen H20. A similar analogy holds true with cultured and natural pearls; cultured pearls are made by injecting a tiny bead into the oyster shell which irritates the oyster to produce a pearl. Both have the same composition, but natural pearls are increasingly rare due to water pollution and over-harvesting, so cultured, man-induced pearls have taken over the market.
The history of synthetic diamonds
Alchemists, chemists, and physicists had tried for centuries to create lab-grown diamonds for jewelry, but it was General Electric in the 1950s that first developed a successful technique. Although the first lab-made diamonds were small, of poor quality and were used for industrial purposes, the techniques for producing them continued to improve, so that today, man-made diamonds can be made up to 12 carats in weight and they are available in the same color, cut and clarity standards as natural diamonds. Man-made diamonds are cut, polished, and graded by the same world-renowned labs that certify earth-mined diamonds.
How are lab-grown diamonds made?
The process for creating lab-created diamonds is essentially the same as that for earth mined diamonds, the difference being in the amount of time it takes for the diamond to form. Mined diamonds were formed deep beneath the earth’s surface between 1 billion and 2 billion years ago, when carbon dioxide was exposed to extreme heat and pressure, and deep volcanic eruptions brought the resulting diamonds to the surface.
Lab-grown diamonds use two processes - High Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). HPHT diamonds are made using a small diamond seed that is placed into carbon and exposed to temperatures of about 1500 degrees Celsius and pressurized to approximately 1.5 million pounds per square inch. The pure carbon melts and starts to form a diamond around the starter seed, which is then cooled to form a pure carbon diamond.
A CVD diamond begins as a thin slice of diamond seed, which is placed in a sealed chamber and heated to around 800 degrees Celsius, and filled with carbon rich-gases, which is ionized into plasma. The ionization breaks the molecular bonds in the gases, and the pure carbon adheres to the diamond seed and slowly crystallizes.
How long does it take to produce a lab-grown diamond? How does this affect their price?
Chemically and physically identical to earth-mined diamonds, lab-grown diamonds develop in just a few weeks, rather than billions of years. The advantages are clear; they offer the same quality; they can be produced in larger quantities but at a lower price because they are more readily available. Jewelry made with man-made diamonds are a very cost-effective alternative to their natural counterpart.
What about their quality and durability? Do synthetic diamonds have flaws?
Lab-created diamonds, just like natural diamonds may have some “inclusions,” which are tiny internal flaws, the same types found in natural diamonds, such as feathers, clouds or pinpoints, but they tend to have fewer flaws than natural diamonds because of their controlled lab creation. No two lab-grown diamonds are the same, however. Each has its own distinctive “fingerprint.” They are often almost colorless with a brilliant white coloration to better capture the light and optimize their sparkle, which is what couples are looking for in an engagement diamond.
Your lab-grown diamond will be professionally graded and priced accordingly based on color and flaws, like any natural diamond. They both rate a 10 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, making them equally as durable for a lifetime of wear.
Why are lab-made diamonds growing in popularity?
It is about price, supply, comparable beauty - and sustainability. The global supply of earth-mined diamonds is decreasing, and it is important to many that we preserve our dwindling resources. It also requires a huge amount of energy to mine diamonds from the earth's crust, compared with creating them in a lab. Add to that the detrimental impact of diamond mining on the environment, including soil erosion, deforestation and ecosystem destruction, and it is no wonder that many engaged couples are turning to ethical lab diamonds as a safer, preferable and more sustainable choice when choosing an engagement ring. The funding of rebel militia in Africa, paid for with so-called “conflict” diamonds has also focused the world’s attention on the cruelty and atrocities inherent in parts of the diamond mining industry; consumers these days are not willing to buy a diamond with “blood” on it, due to their increasing concern with the global community and social justice.
Lab-made diamonds are simply an equally beautiful, affordable, and more ethical choice.
The bottom line is - many couples these days love the look of a diamond, but when facing the dirty realities of earth mined diamonds, and a long list of other expenses related to their wedding and honeymoon, their choice of a lab-created diamond just makes more sense.