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Lab-Grown vs Natural Diamonds (what is the difference?)

Lab-Grown vs Natural Diamonds (what is the difference?)

Lab-Grown vs Natural Diamonds (what is the difference?)

Posted by Sharif Khan on 17th Feb 2022

Lab-Made vs. Mined Diamonds

The trade in lab-grown diamonds is flourishing. While they have similar physical and chemical characteristics as national mined diamonds, these diamonds are grown in a lab within weeks from the seed of a real diamond.

On one side, the miners and traders of natural diamonds are concerned that lab-grown diamonds might take them out of business; on the other hand, enthusiasts of man-made diamonds believe that these stones are ethically sourced and do not negatively impact the environment—a debatable assertion. On top of that, lab diamonds are also significantly cheaper compared to natural diamonds.

The subsequent sections will explore some of the key differences that buyers should consider while deciding between natural and lab-grown diamonds. Check lab-grown diamonds at James Allen and Brilliant Earth, our top-rated retailers for lab diamonds.

What are lab created diamonds

Design a lab diamond ring at James Allen

Price DifferenceLab-made Versus Natural Diamonds:

Lab diamonds have become increasingly popular in recent years, and the price disparity between them and natural diamonds has grown. While lab diamonds are still difficult to grow because the technology and techniques for manufacturing them have improved significantly, the cost of growing lab-made diamonds has decreased. Importantly, since 1960, the prices of natural diamonds have increased by an average of 4.3 percent every year.

It is important to note that reselling a mined or lab diamond for the same price is difficult unless you are willing to wait a decade or two. If value is a key consideration, lab diamonds are probably not a good choice as, relatively speaking, natural diamonds maintain better value. At the same time, lab diamonds can be a great alternative for saving money.

Example of Price Difference:

A 1-carat diamond in a simple platinum solitaire ring with E color and VS1 clarity would roughly cost $8,500 if it were a natural diamond. Still, a lab-grown specimen would come in at around $2,000.

  • 1.01 Carat Round Cut Natural Diamond - Price $8,520 (see example Here)
  • 1.02 Carat Round Lab Diamond - Price $1,960 (see example here)

Every day, buyers will lose roughly 30% when they buy a new diamond, be it natural or lab-grown, especially after adding sales tax. Additionally, a jeweler’s 20–30% markup should also be added to this equation. Moreover, when selling a diamond back to a jeweler, they want to buy it at least 15%–20% off the wholesale market price.

So, if we take the above example into consideration, the loss would be roughly $3,000 for the mined diamond, which is more than the price of the lab-made diamond. With the lab-grown diamond ring, the resale price would be approximately $800-900. While this is a higher percentage loss, the actual loss is much smaller.

Some individuals are fine with sacrificing the carat weight and buying a natural loose diamond. For example, they might go with a 0.5-carat natural diamond instead of a 1-carat lab-made diamond if both are in the price range of $2,000. In this case, selling the natural would result in a loss of $900 compared to around $1,500 for the lab-made one. However, is saving an extra $500 worth a lifetime of having a diamond half the size of what you initially wanted?

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Boom of Lab-Grown Diamonds:

A sense of class comes with owning a diamond. As most people describe it, a diamond is a lump of coal subjected to immense pressure.

Technology has been evolving for thousands of years, and its impact on the diamond industry is undeniable. For the past decade, the diamond industry has seen a boom in the growth of lab-made diamonds.

These diamonds are aesthetically and chemically identical to natural diamonds. The main difference is the growth time of lab-grown diamonds, i.e., they can be produced in a matter of weeks. These diamonds are also considerably cheaper and, theoretically, limitless.

Many lovers of man-made diamonds believe that people no longer need to scour the earth for diamonds since science and technology offer a much more comfortable and less environmentally harmful alternative—diamonds grown in labs.

Miners versus Growers:

With the introduction of lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is being shaken right through to its core, and the issue has led to the eruption of a fierce and severe backlash from the diamond miners. There are significant claims that abound on both sides.

The growers claim that the diamonds from their labs are ethically produced and sustainable. At the same time, the miners believe that the gems coming from the earth can generally be considered far more precious and, most importantly, real.

Natural diamond lovers have their own varied opinions. Indeed, there is a fight over the image of diamonds between the growers and the miners. After all, image is everything when it comes to diamonds (see more insights about the myths of natural diamonds below before making a final decision).

Science and Sparkle: How are Diamonds Grown in a Lab?

Every lab-created diamond is usually grown by placing a diamond ‘seed’ into a special chamber having high pressure and heat. The chamber often mimics the natural process by which the diamonds are formed.

The first process is crystallisation, where the diamond seed matures within about five to ten weeks. The diamond is then cut, polished, and graded by a grading lab.

The creation of gem-grade diamonds requires the use of a set of ultra-pure carbon-rich gases such as methane within a controlled chamber. Initially, methane and a few other gases are heated to the point where they break apart. This lets every carbon atom in the gas separate.

Immediately after, these carbon atoms fall into a diamond substrate. The molecules build a variety of layers that result in a rough diamond crystal. The process typically takes about five to ten weeks, resulting in type II gem-grade diamonds.

In recent years, there have been experiments with different processes. The laboratories are now trying various process modifications with different chemical reactions used during the initiation stage. These variations in processes include:

  • Low-Pressure Chemical Vapor Deposition (LPCVD)
  • Plasma-Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition (PECVD)
  • Ultrahigh Vacuum Chemical Vapor Deposition (UHVCVD)
  • Microwave Plasma Chemical Vapor Deposition (MPCVD)

High-Pressure, High-Temperature (HPHT):

The process involves simulating a diamond’s natural growing environment in the earth’s crust. The machines that carry out the process can build up approximately sixty thousand atmospheres of the right pressure.

The temperature within the devices also builds up to about 2,500 degrees Celsius. The growth cell has everything you need to make a diamond, like a catalyst mix of powders and metals, pure graphite, and the seed's main ingredient.

The laboratory technicians placed the cell at the center of the HPHT chamber. After that, a consistent temperature of about 1,300 degrees Celsius is applied along with about fifty thousand atmospheres of pressure. The catalysts within the cell are the first to react to the added stress and heat, and the solid form transforms into a molten form.

The molten form solution causes the graphite in the cell to dissolve. Once these necessary conditions are fulfilled, the following cooling process begins. The cooling process usually takes a few days, which allows the carbon atoms to build upon the seed.

After that, the growers remove the cell from the HPHT chamber once the appropriate growth cycle is complete. Growers then remove and clean the newly rough diamond so that it can be polished and cut.

The High-Pressure, High-Temperature (HPHT) process needs a highly controlled environment to produce a gem-quality diamond. Any slight change or shift during the growth process could result in the diamond not growing and inclusions that lead to a variety of unusable or rather useless diamonds. With that in mind, each diamond must complete the entire growth process before the growers open the machine.

Once the process is complete and the HPHT chamber is opened, the growers can only get a glimpse of the finished rough diamond, including its clarity, size, and  color. The growers use three specific primary tools to supply the necessary temperature and pressure to produce the lab-grown diamonds within the HPHT process. The machines are the Bar Press, Belt Press, and Cubic Press.

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Comparison Table:

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it has the highest probability of being a duck. The same logic applies to lab-grown diamonds. Putting it another way, if it looks like a diamond and sparkles like a diamond, then there is a high chance it is a diamond—the following comparison between the physical properties of lab-grown and mined natural diamonds proves this point.

PROPERTIES GROWN MINED
Hardness (MOHS) 10 10
Price Affordable Expensive
Hardness Comparable 2.42 2.42
SP3 Carbon Diamond Bonds (%) 100% 100%
Internal Crystal Structure Face-Centered Cubic Face-Centered Cubic

Certification or Grading of Lab-made Diamonds:

A very close similarity in the  certification and grading of mined and lab-grown diamonds exists. After the required processing, the diamonds are sent to a gem lab that grades them.

Most of these labs specializing in the process tend to grade the diamonds using the famous  4Cs: Cut, Color, Carat weight, and Clarity. Some of the most popular labs that specialize in this certification include:

  • Gemological Institute of America
  • Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC)
  • American Gem Society (AGS - learn more about AGS vs GIA)
  • International Gemological Institute (IGI - learn more about IGI vs GIA)
  • Gem Certification & Assurance Lab (GCAL)
  • Gemological Science International (GSI)

From that perspective, the entire diamond grading system is generally similar for every diamond certification lab. Each type of diamond is graded by different gemologists in the labs in a different way.

Gemologists design the tremendous and significant process primarily to provide each type of diamond with an unbiased grade. The impartial grading ensures that clients get an accurate description/grading for their products. The individual grades given by the gemologists are subsequently compiled and analyzed to determine the final grade for the diamond.

However, there is usually a higher probability of a diamond receiving a completely different grade on some rare occasions. The instance not only occurs from different labs but could also arise from the same lab if the diamond gets sent back for a second grading.

Because of this fundamental reason, diamond retailers and customers have differing opinions on which lab is best for the job and which provides the best grading. Many of the above labs are reliable in the case of lab-grown diamonds (with GIA, AWC, and GCAL being the best).

However, it is essential to note that these opinions from different labs, retailers, and customers are generally subjective. Every lab, just like every other aspect of life, has its pros and cons.

If diamond certification and grading are crucial in purchasing these diamonds, one should be open and have a candid conversation with the respective jeweler to get the right diamond. The discussion should generally be based on the specific lab the jeweler uses and why they use it.

Most jewelers want their customers to be confident in their purchases, so buyers should not be afraid to ask questions regarding the best lab-grown diamonds.

Lab Created Diamonds

Rarity – A Critique of Lab Diamonds by Lovers of Natural Diamonds:

While lab-grown diamonds are chemically identical to natural diamonds, what sets them apart is that they are not rare. In contrast, the latter—at least gem-quality above one carat—are.

We will not replace natural diamonds, but we will have a long-term solution for people who does not afford natural diamonds.

When considering lab-grown diamonds, here are some of the myths that lovers of natural diamonds believe should be dispelled (or at least that these myths should not be the reason why one must buy a lab-grown diamond):

Natural diamonds are not rare:

Gem-quality diamonds with the finest color and  clarity grades are rare, and the mined supply has been shrinking for decades. Sizes bigger than one carat are extremely rare, and the larger they go, the rarer they get.

Natural diamonds affect the environment and/or support terrorism:

DeBeers is largely responsible for inventing this myth in the 1960s to resist competition from small-scale artisanal miners in central Africa. The latter were selling and exporting outside of the DeBeers sight-holder system, usually straight to Israeli cutters. Admittedly, diamond mining has aided in the financing of African conflicts, but so has mining of a variety of other resources, many of which are still mined today and employed in goods that people enjoy. Diamond mining has a negligible environmental impact compared to the scale at which we destroy the environment for things like agriculture. Diamond mining is also a big source of income for many African countries, and it gives many people the best chance to get a good job.

Synthetic diamonds are made in labs:

It is rather uncommon to believe that labs are where synthetic diamonds are made, hence the name "lab-made" diamonds, but there is another side. These diamonds are manufactured in factories, the vast majority—70 percent—of which are in China. The phrase "lab" was deliberately fostered to make them appear more acceptable; indeed, the makers worked hard to get the term "synthetic" banned, even though that is precisely what they are. They realized it would sound unappealing to consumers.

Lab-made diamonds are more ethical or environment-friendly:

70% of today's lab diamonds are created in China, and this number is rising. To put it plainly, China, being the world's leading emitter of CO2, does not have an outstanding human rights record. Most of China's power—the power required to produce those diamonds—comes from highly polluting coal-fired power plants. In the few scientifically thorough studies of carbon emissions necessary to generate a carat of gem diamond, mined and synthetic diamonds were found to be on par or extremely close to one another. Of course, this ignores the reality that man-made diamonds still require mining: Every stage of their operation necessitates mining, whether it is coal for China's power plants or raw minerals for the equipment they need to grow them.

Jewelers make more on natural diamonds:

Given that naturally mined diamonds come with heftier price tags than their synthetic counterparts, it is assumed that jewelers prefer to deal in them for greater profits. The truth, however, is quite the opposite. Jewelers' margins on natural diamonds are quite slim, but they can profit handsomely from synthetic diamonds. The wholesale cost of lab diamonds has dropped dramatically in recent years, which is why they can currently be acquired for 90% less than the Rapnet pricing for natural diamonds.

DeBeers has a monopoly on diamonds:

As mentioned before, DeBeers had a role to play in distorting the image of synthetic diamonds, but since the 1980s, this has fortunately not been the case. In fact, in the last 25 years, this has become even less true. Other firms and/or nations manage massive mining operations with no cooperation from DeBeers.

In Conclusion, Why Buy Lab Diamonds?

Competition will always exist. A few reasons could favor lab-created diamonds over mined ones, including cost, ethical sourcing, and environmental friendliness.

One of the advantages of lab-grown diamonds is that they are  less expensive.

The price of lab-grown diamonds is significantly lower than that of mined diamonds. Even though the process of cutting, inspecting, and polishing lab-grown diamonds is like natural diamonds, there are significant differences in how we acquire them.

Mined diamonds usually have a longer supply chain. Getting the mined diamond from its raw form to a shop requires miners, large corporations, dealers, cutters, polishers, and retailers.

On the flip side, lab-grown diamonds have a shorter supply chain since they skip the mining process.

Another reason that might favor lab-grown diamonds over natural ones, although datable, as explained earlier, is that lab diamonds are  ethical to produce.

Mining diamonds has been under scrutiny over the last few decades, with a key concern being that it might fund conflicts between armed groups in fragile states.

So, if avoiding blood or conflict diamonds is a consideration, lab-grown diamonds might be the answer. There are ways to obtain a natural diamond with a certificate of origin and mining.

The last reason that might favor lab-created diamonds is that they are Environmentally Kind; just as with the process of mining any other natural source, the extraction of diamonds causes degradation of the land. Mining diamonds has a negative impact on the environment. While many diamond mining companies have been taking steps to minimize the impact of mining on local ecosystems, it is safe to state that lab-created diamonds are still less detrimental and damaging to the environment. Lab-grown diamonds use less energy during the growth process inside a lab than diamonds dug from the ground.

Finally, advances in technology could result in less energy being used by the labs to grow diamonds, thus increasing the difference in energy consumption between lab-grown and natural diamonds. As this happens, production costs and the prices of lab-grown diamonds will continue to fall.