It’s becoming more and more common for lab grown diamonds to be chosen as an alternative to natural diamonds. Some people prefer a lab grown diamond for reasons ranging from lower costs to believing they are purchasing a product that is more ethical. However, much of the population still isn’t completely sure what the true differences are between diamond alternatives, lab diamonds, and natural diamonds.
Throughout the years the jewelry industry has seen many trends and diamond alternatives gain and lose popularity.
Once upon a time a CZ (cubic zirconia) was marketed an excellent way to capture the essence of a real diamond in an inexpensive way. It wasn’t long until consumers discovered that a CZ doesn’t necessarily stand up to the test of time, especially if it’s set in an engagement ring meant to be worn every day. The fact that CZ’s are cheap makes them easy to replace when they get scratched up and worn out, but anyone who is familiar with a diamond’s brilliance knows that a CZ pales in comparison.
Shortly after the CZ craze came clarity enhanced diamonds (also known as fracture filled diamonds), which were another perceived threat to the diamond industry. Clarity enhancement is a process that has been around since the 70’s in which an I clarity stone with visible inclusions is laser drilled into and filled with a lead glass to give the appearance of a higher quality stone for a much lower price. A clarity enhanced diamond will have a slight rainbow or “flash-effect” where the crack was filled, indicating that it is in fact a treated stone, which isn’t usually visible to the untrained eye. However, the resale value for a fracture filled diamond is virtually nonexistent compared to an untreated diamond, and extra care must be taken with these diamonds as the filling is sensitive to heat, which can cause complications during professional cleanings and repairs.
Moissanite is another diamond alternative that flooded the industry and became a popular choice as an alternative to natural diamonds. Moissanite was originally discovered in a meteor crater and is a fascinating material in its own right; it has since been replicated in a lab and has become one of the most cost-effective ways to mimic a diamond. Visually there is more “fire” in a moissanite than a diamond, meaning there are almost rainbow-like flashes of color throughout the entire stone. Moissanite is not quite as hard as a diamond (it’s a 9.25/10 on the Mohs scale), but it is still much more durable than a CZ. While there are many who opt to go the moissanite route, there are still some that have a hard time getting on board with the fact that a moissanite still isn’t a diamond. If you decide that you prefer a Moissanite over a natural diamond, we highly recommend making sure your jeweler sources their Moissanite from a reputable company, like Charles & Colvard, who offers incredibly beautiful, colorless moissanite along with a lifetime warranty in the event that the stone ever breaks or cracks. While it’s difficult to damage a Moissanite, it’s certainly not impossible!
Through all the trends and fads, and all these diamond simulants and diamond alternatives, nothing has really spoiled the desire for a quality, natural diamond to a point where it has been detrimental to the diamond industry. That was until lab grown diamonds entered the scene to shake things up a bit. But first, let’s back up and talk about the allure of natural diamonds.
Did you know that a 1.00ct natural diamond can take 1 billion to 3.3 billion years to form under the pressure of 300 tons of earth? When you give someone a diamond you can say that you moved mountains for them! Cheesiness aside, jewelry has been loved and worn for centuries, and the desire to attain these treasures were mainly due to the rarity factor of these precious gems. A diamond’s rarity, along with some excellent marketing by DeBeers, has had people purchasing diamonds as a symbol of everlasting love for years.
Lab diamonds throw a wrench into the whole conventional ways of doing things. Consumers are now thinking outside the box and looking beyond their future marriage vows to figure out how lab grown diamonds, which are in fact classified as diamonds, could potentially be a more beneficial option. Seeing as how 300 tons of earth must be extracted for a single 1.00ct natural diamond, lab created diamonds give the impression that they protect the environment, which may or may not be true (more on that later). Realistically, the true allure of lab grown diamonds is the fact that they give consumers the opportunity to gift an incredibly beautiful piece of jewelry to a loved one for a much lower price. When it comes to love this is an incredibly attractive idea, wouldn’t you say?
What is the Actual Science Behind Natural Diamonds?
We briefly touched on this a bit earlier, but to get a little more in depth on this subject, the formation of a natural diamond begins when carbon succumbs to heavy pressure beneath the Earth’s crust for many years while remaining trapped inside Kimberlite (igneous ore). The diamonds are then forced up through narrow shafts due to volcanic eruptions, where the Kimberlite can then be mined, and then a mechanical process extracts the diamonds in their rough form (octahedron). Once the rough material is revealed it must be cut and carefully polished to become the gem-quality diamonds that you see showcased in many jewelry pieces today.
What Does “Lab Grown Diamond” Even Mean?
To sum it up, a lab grown diamond (or created diamond) shares all the same properties as a natural diamond but is synthesized in a science lab rather extracted from the earth. The science behind a lab grown diamond isn’t exactly new; for years lab diamonds have been produced for industrial purposes. What is new is the fact that the process has been refined to a point where lab grown diamonds can be created in decent enough quality and in a cost-effective manner which allows them to trickle right into the diamond industry’s consumer market. Scientists have found a way to synthesize the diamond formation process in a lab and speed up the process from billions of years to just a mere 4 weeks or so, which is impressive!
The Lab Grown Diamond Process
When it comes to created diamonds, there are 2 different methods that are utilized. The first process is called HPHT and the second is referred to as CVD.
High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) The HPHT method is the oldest method for growing diamonds in a lab. This process requires applying molten flux to a seed crystal in a small capsule. Once this has been done then the small capsule is subjected to high pressure and heat, eventually resulting in diamond formation.
Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) The CVD method is the newest way of synthesizing diamonds. In this process a vacuum chamber filled with gases rich in carbon, like methane, is used and the diamond growth takes place inside. A high-powered microwave beam is shot into the carbon-filled methane gas cloud, which creates a chemical reaction, resulting in diamond seed crystal formation. These diamonds tend to have a brownish color and aren’t usually pretty enough to be set in jewelry. However, the CVD diamonds can also go through the HPHT process for color treatment.
Are There Physical Differences Between Lab Grown Diamonds & Natural Diamonds?
Many curious clients have asked us if there is a way to tell the difference between a natural diamond and a lab grown diamond based on the physical properties. When looking at a natural, earth-mined diamond there is a random pattern of brilliance and flashes of light from the light spectrum. CVD lab diamonds can have almost a “metallic” brilliance to them. Like natural diamonds, lab diamonds may have inclusions in them, but lab diamond inclusions are due to metal impurities trapped within the stone when molten flux is used in the creation process, which can cast a metallic reflection in the stone as well as create metallic inclusions. HPHT lab diamonds result in what looks closest to a natural diamond, which can trick even the most experienced jewelers; no matter how many years they have in the industry, nobody should rely on just their eyes to tell the difference between a natural and lab diamond. Even a standard diamond tester can’t differentiate between the two because on the surface the lab created diamonds still have the same physical properties as natural diamonds.
The only way to really differentiate between a lab and natural diamond is to look at the chemical composition. Most natural diamonds that account for 90% of the ones found in jewelry stores are classified as Type Ia and are mostly made up of carbon atoms and pairs of nitrogen atoms. Most of the lab created diamonds are classified as Type IIb and are mostly made up of carbon atoms and isolated boron atom impurities; in very rare circumstances a natural diamond can share this composition as well.
Many jewelers would have a hard time identifying a lab grown diamond unless they are using a special machine, like the DiaTrue CS, or unless they send the diamond to a lab for testing. Most jewelers don’t have complicated machinery for diamond testing, but at Nelson Estate Jewelers we use the DiaTrue CS to test every piece that comes into our store, whether the client is buying or selling. This ensures your safety in knowing that you are getting what you pay for!
Spot the Difference: Lab Made Diamond vs. Natural Diamond
Can you tell which is which? The diamond on the left is a natural, mined diamond. The diamond on the right is an HPHT lab made diamond. Here’s how they compare in price:
This Natural Diamond = $7900.00
This Lab Made Diamond = $2800.00
A diamond’s price in value is determined by its overall quality (The 4Cs: cut, color, clarity, and carat weight). Diamonds, both natural and lab grown, come in all prices, sizes, and qualities. This particular natural diamond and lab diamond (pictured above) are both similar in size and quality.
Shop our online list of natural diamonds HERE
Contact us to discuss lab made diamond options
*Additional stones, both natural and lab grown are available in-store
What is the Environmental Impact of Lab Grown Diamonds?
You may have heard that lab grown diamonds are a “greener” or “eco-friendly” alternative to natural diamonds. However, the FTC stepped in and warned several companies that they cannot make these claims without evidence that explains the “why” behind these labels. Using words like “environmentally friendly” only in comparison to another product isn’t enough; there must be proof that the item itself is in fact what it claims to be.
Originally, lab diamonds claimed that they were better for the environment because they boasted less energy usage and less damage to the environment itself due to no need for mining. However, the machines that produce lab made diamonds must run 24/7 because constant energy is needed, and it has also been found that some mined metals are used in the lab grown diamond process.
In an article by JCK, industry analyst Paul Zimnisky said that most HPHT diamonds are produced in China, where 55 percent of its power is sourced from coal, and the other 20 percent comes from hydro. Another major producer is India, where 75 percent of grid power comes from coal while 10 percent from hydro. Then there’s Singapore, home of IIA, who uses little renewable energy.
Many argue that natural diamond mining tears up the earth and causes damage to ecosystems. However, it has been found that diamond mining is less damaging than other forms of mining (like coal, iron, and gold). Where very strict environmental controls have been implemented by local government and communities, no chemicals should be used to extract diamonds, and water is treated and recycled. Another thing to consider is that some of the poorest areas of the world rely on the diamond industry. For example, $8 billion a year goes to Africa because of natural, mined diamonds. Some may argue that the economies of poorer countries are also considered fragile ecosystems.
If you’re wondering if lab diamonds are better for the environment than natural diamonds, there really is no straight answer. There are important factors to consider on both sides of the equation. What it really comes down to is what matters the most to you.
Let’s Talk Money: Are Lab Grown Diamonds Worth it?
The answer to this question depends on what the driving force behind your diamond purchase is. If budget is a huge factor, then it wouldn’t hurt to look at lab made diamonds; you can go bigger with a smaller budget! If you’re looking for an investment grade stone, or if you want to purchase something that will always retain some secondary value then natural diamonds are the way to go. The lab diamond market is extremely volatile and there’s no telling what its future will be. The natural diamond market is stable because it is heavily controlled.
The value of diamonds is based on rarity, so the rarer the diamond the higher the value. No two natural diamonds are exactly alike. Lab stones are created through technology and manufacturing, with an attempt at perfection in mind, almost making them too perfect, and therefore not unique or rare at all; if these “perfect” lab diamonds continue to flood the market then that kills off any rarity whatsoever, causing the lab diamond market to potentially plummet.
It’s completely up to you on whether the savings up front is worth taking the leap of faith or if you would rather be sure of your investment.
About the Authors
David Nelson and his wife Aubrey opened Nelson Estate Jewelers with the intention of bringing transparency to the jewelry industry. Their goal is to educate clients before an important purchase is made to ensure that their clients always get exactly what they pay for. Nelson Estate Jewelers is known for their fair pricing and for bringing true value to their clients.
David’s Opinion on Lab Made Diamonds
I think there’s something special about a natural diamond produced by our planet billions of years ago. I like that fact that there’s an innate rarity factor. Your love, your relationship, and your spouse is rare, so I feel that a rare, natural diamond is more appropriate to celebrate that. On the other hand, I think it’s incredible that humanity has reached a point at which they can manufacture something as incredible as a diamond. The quality has come quite a long way and the costs have come down too! At the end of the day, I will always personally like the idea of something that’s natural. Just like lab emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, lab diamonds are pretty, but their natural counterparts have more allure, mystery, and hold more true value. Additionally, the mining industry for all these stones supports communities who, without the diamond industry, would have nothing. There are pros and cons to both, but when you’re dealing with something as special as a diamond that’s used in an engagement ring that may potentially be passed down as an heirloom, I just think that something natural is always better. Like anything manufactured, the prices will continue to go down and the overall value of lab diamonds will continue to decrease.
Aubrey’s Opinion on Lab Made Diamonds
I think lab made diamonds are beautiful! They are a wonderful option if you’re looking to build a big pair of diamond studs without the hefty price tag. However, I think for something as special as an engagement ring it’s always best to go natural. In many cases couples choose to upgrade the center stone of an engagement ring later down the road, usually for a big anniversary. With a natural diamond you have guaranteed trade in value. For example, with our clients we always give 100% of what you paid for your original diamond toward your upgrade. With as risky as the market is for lab diamonds, there’s no telling what the trade in value of a lab diamond may be by the time you’re ready to upgrade. I feel like that’s just too big of a risk to take for something so special. Lab diamonds may have a place in fashionable jewelry, but I would definitely recommend going natural for anything that has true meaning to you, especially if it’s a piece you intend to pass down through generations.