Lab-Created Diamonds vs. Natural: Key Differences
Lab-Created Diamonds vs. Natural: Key Differences
Posted by Sharif Khan on 25th Jan 2023
Lab-Grown vs. Natural Diamonds
Demand for lab-grown diamonds is growing rapidly. Not only do they have the same physical and chemical characteristics as natural diamonds, but these diamonds are also grown in a lab from the seed of a natural diamond.
On one side, miners and traders of natural diamonds are concerned that lab-grown diamonds might take them out of business; on the other hand, enthusiasts of lab-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.
Our key conclusion is that lab-grown diamonds are now a new product category in the gem and jewelry industry. Similarly, natural diamonds will continue to have a high demand for what they indeed are – unique precious gemstones. Comparing one to the other or thinking of lab-grown diamonds as an alternative to natural diamonds is not the best way to approach this issue. Instead, it might be more helpful to consider each option under your unique circumstances, use case, and needs.
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Lab-Grown Diamonds vs. Natural Highlights
- Natural and lab-grown diamonds are two specimens of crystalized carbon. The mined ones are billions of years old, and the grown ones are from a lab, created within weeks. In short, the key difference between the two is their origin.
- Because natural forces created mined diamonds beneath the earth’s surface, they also often have other substances, such as nitrogen, besides pure carbon. Additionally, natural diamonds often have inclusions of other materials that were trapped inside them as they were forming.
- Lab diamonds also often have inclusions because their seeds are from natural diamonds.
- Although research has been ongoing for decades to grow high-quality lab diamonds – at least since1950s, they recently became available in large quantities.
- Lab diamonds are grown using two primary methods: high pressure, high temperature (HPHT), and chemical vapor deposition (CVD), learn more here about HPHT vs. CVD.
- Traditional methods and detectors are not sufficient to distinguish between lab-grown and natural diamonds. For example, GIA uses a special iD100® screen device to distinguish between lab-grown and natural diamonds.
Price Difference—Lab-Created Versus Natural Diamonds
The price disparity between lab-grown 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 the 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 option for saving money.
Example of Price Difference:
A 1-carat diamond in a simple platinum solitaire ring with E color and VS1 clarity would cost roughly $8,500 if it were a natural diamond. 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)
Buyers will pay a markup on new diamond, be it natural or lab-grown, especially after adding sales tax. This would also include a 20-30% jeweler’s markup. Additionally, when selling a diamond back to a jeweler, they would want to buy it below 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 entire 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 priced at $2,000. In this case, selling the natural would save $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 joy 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 to its core, and the issue has led to 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.
Science and Sparkle: How are Diamonds Grown in a Lab?
Lab-created diamond is usually grown by placing a diamond ‘seed’ into a special chamber with high pressure and heat. The chamber often mimics the natural process by which the diamonds are formed.
The first process is crystallization, 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, resulting in type II gem-grade diamonds.
In recent years, growers have experimented with different methods. They have also tried various process modifications with different chemical during the initiation stage. Among other, 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 pressure.
The temperature within the devices also builds up to about 2,500 degrees Celsius. The growth cell must have all the ingredients for growing a diamond, like a catalyst mix of powders and metals, pure graphite, and the natural diamond's seed.
Growers use three primary tools to supply the necessary temperature and pressure to produce the lab-grown diamonds within the HPHT process. The machines are Bar Press, Belt Press, and Cubic Press.
Laboratory technicians place the cell at the center of the HPHT chamber. Subsequently, a consistent temperature of about 1,300 degrees Celsius and about fifty thousand atmospheric pressure are applied. The catalysts within the cell are the first to react to the added stress and heat, transforming solid ingredients into a molten form.
The molten form solution causes the graphite in the cell to dissolve. Once dissolved, a cooling process begins, allowing the carbon atoms to build upon the seed.
Once the growth cycle is complete, growers remove the cell from the HPHT chamber and prepare the newly rough-grown diamond for cutting and polishing.
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 can result in either the diamond not growing or inclusions that might make the diamond unusable. 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 glimpse the finished rough diamond, including its clarity, size, and color.
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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.
|SP3 Carbon Diamond Bonds (%)||100%||100%|
|Internal Crystal Structure||Face-Centered Cubic||Face-Centered Cubic|
Certification or Grading of Lab-Created Diamonds
A very close similarity exists in the certification and grading of mined and lab-grown diamonds. 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 diamond grading system is generally similar for every diamond certification lab. Different gemologists grade each type of diamond in the labs differently.
Gemologists design a tremendous and significant process 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 occurs from other labs and 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.
Diamond certification and grading are crucial while purchasing these diamonds. Be open with your jewelry and have candid conversations about the specific labs they use and why they use them.
Most jewelers want their customers to be confident in their purchases, so buyers should be bold and ask questions regarding the best lab-grown 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 is at least gem-quality above one carat.
We will not replace natural diamonds, but we will have a long-term solution for people who do 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 larger than one carat are extremely rare; the larger they go, the rarer they get.
Natural diamonds affect the environment and support terrorism.
DeBeers is mainly 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 the DeBeers sight-holder system, usually straight to Israeli cutters. Admittedly, diamond mining has aided in financing African conflicts, but so has the 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 agriculture. Diamond mining is also a significant source of income for many African countries, giving many people the best chance to get a good job.
Synthetic vs. lab diamonds.
It is relatively uncommon for people to know where these synthetic diamonds are grown. They are created in laboratories, the vast majority—70 percent—of which are in China. The phrase "lab" was deliberately fostered to make them appear more acceptable; indeed, the growers 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, the world's leading emitter of CO2, needs 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 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 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 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-Grown 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 cutting, inspecting, and polishing lab-grown diamonds are 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.
Conversely, 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 debatable, 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.
If avoiding blood or conflict diamonds is a consideration, while lab-grown diamonds might be one solution, there are also 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 mining any other natural source, the extraction of diamonds causes land degradation. 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, technological advances 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.
In conclusion, we still believe that in the long term, both lab-grown and naturally mined diamonds will continue to have their unique place within the fine jewelry industry, each complimenting the other and not competing.