Lab-made vs Natural Diamonds

Lab-made vs Natural Diamonds

Lab-made vs Natural Diamonds

Posted by Sharif Khan on 28th May 2019

James Allen

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Summary...

There is a lot of controversy surrounding labmade diamonds and their impact on the mining and jewelry industry. Being similar in appearance to mined diamonds but taking just a few weeks to produce, there are arguments on both sides of the spectrum.

While miners are concerned about lab grown diamonds taking them out of business, some believe they are ethical and do not have any negative impact on families and societies where they are mined.

THE BIG PICTURE...

There is a sense of class that comes with owning a diamond. The diamond is one thing that has the ability to bring out mixed emotions such as love, joy, and tears in people. It may explain why everyone wants to get hold of a diamond. A diamond as most people describe it is a lump of coal that is subjected to immense pressure. However, what kind of stress and the type of conditions in which they are grown is what we are about to find out.

Technology has been evolving for thousands of years, and its impact on the jewelry world is undeniable. Indeed, for the past five or so years, the jewelry industry has seen a boom in the existence of the so-called lab-grown diamonds.

These types of diamonds are aesthetically and chemically identical to natural diamonds. However, the main difference perhaps is that lab-grown diamonds can be produced in a matter of months. In that respect, the younger and ethically conscious generation argues that a lab is actually the perfect method of providing the entire universe with its favorite gem.

BETTER PART OF IT....

Now a couple of billion years ago, when the universe was still young, a variety of treasures were forming deep underground, and these were what we now refer to as natural diamonds. However, after the discovery of these stones, the earth has not been the same. Mining has resulted in vast wastelands being left behind.

The mining industry has been left undisturbed and unquestioned for the longest time, but the land now shows the consequences. With that in mind, many lovers of the precious stone now believe that people no longer need to scour the earth. Science and technology offer a much more comfortable and less environmentally harmful alternative—diamonds grown in labs.

These diamonds and gems may not be synthetic or stimulants substitutes, but they are physically, chemically, and optically similar to the earth-mined diamonds. The lab-grown diamonds are also considerably cheaper, and theoretically, limitless.

COLLISION BETWEEN GROWERS AND MINERS...

With the introduction of the lab-grown diamonds, the jewelry industry is being shaken right through to its very 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 on the one hand claim that the diamonds from the labs are ethically produced and sustainable while on the other hand, the miners claim that the gems coming from the earth can generally be considered far more precious and most importantly, real. That said, some of these assertions seem to be more subjective than objective. Others are merely mediocre, self-reported, and sparse, and in most cases are from industry-backed information.

Lovers of diamonds also have their own varied opinions. Indeed, there is a fight over the image between both the growers and the miners. After all, when it comes to diamonds, image is everything.

As a buyer or a seller, there is a moderate amount of knowledge that one will need while getting the lab-grown diamond. The table below guides one on a method of differentiating between the mined, and those grown in the lab.

Comparison Table Guide

PROPERTIES GROWN MINED
Hardness (MOHS) 10 10
Color Between K and G grades Variety of Grades
Cut Excellent to Ideal Ex poor to Ideal
Price Affordable Expensive
Hardness Comparable 2.42 2.42
SP3 Carbon Diamond Bonds (%) 100% 100%
Internal Crystal Structure Face-Centered Cubic Face-Centered Cubic
Guaranteed to be Free of Conflict Yes No

People say that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck; then there is the highest probability of it being a duck. The same logic applies to lab-grown diamonds.

Putting it another way, if it looks like a diamond, sparkles like a diamond, then there is a high chance it is a diamond. With that in mind, the best thing at this point is to enlighten oneself on how the lab-grown diamonds are created.

SCIENCE AND SPARKLE

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

Crystallization will then start to occur, allowing the diamond seed to mature within a period of about five to ten weeks. The diamond is then cut, polished, and graded by similar yet world-renowned labs responsible for the certification of the earth-mined diamonds.

The process involves the creation of gem-grade diamonds as well as semiconductors. It requires the use of a set of ultra-pure carbon-rich gasses such as methane within a controlled chamber. In such an instance, methane and a couple of other gasses are first heated until the point of breakage, which consequently allows every carbon atom in the gas to separate.

Immediately after the process occurs, these carbon atoms fall into a diamond substrate. From there, 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 type of diamonds.

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

  • Low-Pressure CVD (LPCVD)
  • Plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD)
  • Ultrahigh vacuum CVD (UHVCVD)
  • Microwave Plasma Vapor Deposition (MPCVD)

High-Pressure High-Temperature (HPHT)

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

The temperature within the devices also builds up to about two thousand and five hundred degrees Celsius. The growth cell contains every required element to grow a diamond, including a catalyst mixture that contains powders and metals, highly pure graphite, as well as the main ingredient, the seed.

The laboratory technicians place the cell at the center of the HPHT chamber. After that, consistent temperature of about 1,300 degrees Celsius is applied as well as about fifty thousand atmospheres of pressure. The catalysts within the cell are the first to react to the added stress and heat, and there is a change from solid to molten form.

The molten form solution causes the graphite in the cell to dissolve. Once each of these necessary conditions is fulfilled, the next process which is cooling begins. The cooling process usually takes place for a couple of 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. The growers then extract and clean the newly rough diamond in preparation for the final polishing and cutting.

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

Once the process is complete, and the HPHT chamber is opened, only then can the growers get to see the finished rough diamond including its clarity, size, and color. Now, within the HPHT process, there are three specific as well primary tools that the growers used to supply the necessary temperature and pressure to produce the lab-grown diamonds. The machines are the Bars Press, Belt Press, and Cubic Press.

A QUEST FOR CERTIFICATION AND GRADING

There is a very close similarity in the certification and grading of both the mined diamonds and the lab-grown diamonds. After going through the required process, the diamonds are sent to a gem lab that works to grade diamonds.

A majority of these labs that specialize in the process tend to grade the diamonds using the infamous 4c’s that is, Cut, Color, Carat weight, and Clarity. Some of the most popular labs that specialize in the certification include:

  • Gemological Institute of America
  • Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC)
  • American Gem Society (AGS)
  • International Gemological Institute (IGI)
  • 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 technically graded on a separate and independent level a variety of gemologists that are usually present in the labs.

The individual grades by the entomologists are subsequently compiled and after that analyzed as a way to determine the final grade for the diamond. Entomologists design the tremendous and significant process primarily to provide each type of diamond with an unbiased grade. The impartial grading ensures that the customers get to enjoy quality products that fit the right descriptions.

However, on some rare occasions, there is usually a higher probability of a diamond receiving a completely different grade. 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.

For this fundamental reason, there exists a variety of different opinions that occurs among the diamond retailers and customers on which lab is the best for the task and which gives the best grading.

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

If diamond certification and grading is such a crucial factor during the purchasing of 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 that the jeweler uses and why they choose to use it.

More than anything, every jeweler always wants their customer to be confident in their purchase, and with such kind of information, as a buyer, one should not have any fear when it comes to asking questions to find out about the best lab-grown diamonds for either jewelry or engagement ring.

WHY CHOOSE A LAB-GROWN DIAMOND

Just as people say, the competition will always exist. It is safe to state that a couple of reasons could favor the lab-created diamond more than the earth-mined one. One reason that is advantageous to the lab-grown diamond is that it is less expensive.

The price of a lab-grown diamonds is usually less steep than the mined diamonds. However, the statement does not mean that the lab-grown diamond is cheap. The cost of capital between the mined diamonds and lab-grown diamonds are very similar.

Note that the main reason why the lab-grown diamonds tend to be less expensive is that, even though the cutting, inspection, and polishing of these two types of diamonds are similar, the processes and costs of obtaining the diamonds in the first place differ.

The mined diamonds usually have a longer supply process or chain. To get the mined diamond from its raw form and into a gem shop requires miners, cutters, distributors, jewelry manufacturers, polishers, as well as retailers.

On the flip side, in the case of the lab-grown diamonds, the supply chains are shorter due to the skipping of the mining process.

The other reason why many would favor the lab-grown diamond is the fact that it is ethical to obtain it. Some several years ago, there was a lot of scrutiny on the industry involved with the mining of diamonds.

From the scrutiny, some unethical mining practices became radically exposed. The mined diamonds, which have been called names such as conflict and blood diamonds, have been raising issues on the fact that they found violence and the exploitation of the miners and their respective families. Thanks to the Kimberley Process, such unethical production issues are significantly reducing.

So, if avoiding the blood or conflict diamonds is something one wants to practice, and from a moral standpoint alone, then lab-grown diamonds might be the answer. The lab-created diamonds will provide one with peace of mind that the mined diamonds cannot, and one might as well find assurance upon knowing where the diamonds they own came from.

The last reason in favor of the lab-created diamond is that it is Environmentally Kind just as the process of mining any other natural source, the extraction of the diamonds causes degradation of the land.

Mining of diamonds, as many researchers have shown, has a substantial negative impact on the environment. Many of the diamond mining companies have been taking the appropriate steps to minimize the effects the mining has on the ecosystem.

In that respect, it is safe to state that the lab-created diamonds are less detrimental or damaging to the environment. Lab-grown diamonds use significantly less energy during the growth process inside a lab than it does when digging out a diamond from the ground.

Advance in technology could result in less energy used by the labs to grow the diamonds which will increase the energy difference between lab-grown diamonds and earth-mined diamonds. This ultimately results in more preference to diamonds produced in labs. Production costs will significantly reduce and also subsequently ensures that the growers save money.

However, let’s keep in mind that the real significance of a diamond does not lie in its origin, price, size, or grading. It lies in the amount of emotion and love that it poses to the one receiving or buying it.