Everything You Need to Know
Just using the term “lab-grown” is enough to raise some eyebrows.
Sounds mysterious. It conjures images of mad scientists in white coats with goggles and lasers and sparks and maybe some lightning in the background.
And to make matters worse, there’s all the questions...
Are lab grown diamonds real diamonds?
How exactly are they made?
How do they compare with natural diamonds?
Are they lower quality?
Are they cheaper?
Should I buy a lab-grown diamond?
The confusion is understandable. Here’s what everyone should know about lab-grown diamonds.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Yes, lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds.
They have the same molecular properties as the diamonds that grow in the earth. The lab grown industry is entirely transparent, ethical, and sustainable.
And we here at Melanie Casey Fine Jewelry aren’t ever going to tell you that one real diamond is “better” than another. We think lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds are both great options. They’re just different. And it depends on your priorities.
We’ll get into the details. But for now, here are the basics.
- The technological advancements in the lab-grown industry are relatively new (as in, within the last decade new). Which is the main reason lab-grown diamonds have grown in popularity in recent years.
- There are two ways to create diamonds in a lab. Both of them use tiny bits of natural diamonds as “seeds” and both of them simulate the conditions that are found in the earth’s crust where natural diamonds form. It’s just fast-forwarded. Instead of taking billions of years, lab-grown diamonds take only weeks to grow.
- Unless you’re a gemologist, you can’t tell the difference between natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds.
That’s a summary of the basics. But there’s a lot more you should know about lab-grown diamonds. Let’s jump in.
What are diamonds anyway?
If diamonds can be grown in a lab, it begs the question... What is a diamond?
Obviously, we all know what they look like – they’re the lovely, sparkly, (nearly) transparent gemstones we see so often on pieces of fine jewelry.
But in scientific terms, diamonds are rare minerals made of carbon atoms that have a tetrahedral arrangement. (“Tetrahedral” means their molecules have one central atom with four other atoms stemming from it.)
In English, please. Sorry. The point is: lab-grown diamonds are atomically identical to mined diamonds. (They’re made from natural “seeds,” remember?) And science says a diamond is defined by its molecular structure and chemical composition.
Diamonds are the only gem composed of a single element (carbon), and they’re the hardest naturally occurring substance on the planet. Natural diamonds are formed underground, about a 100 miles or so into the earth’s mantle. After a long time – a very. Very. Very. Long. Time. More than a billion years long. – they shimmy up nearer to the surface where they’re mined.
Then there’s lab-grown diamonds.
What are lab-grown diamonds?
Put simply, laboratory-grown (or lab-grown) diamonds are created by humans instead of by natural processes underground. Sometimes they’re called man-made, laboratory-created, synthetic, or cultured. But again – in every way, they’re the real thing. Not “simulants,” which are made of some other material that’s supposed to simulate the appearance of a diamond. Moissanite, for example, is a diamond simulant.
Diamond-growing technology has been around for the last several decades, but it wasn’t until 2016 that it really took off. At that point, technological advancements produced greater clarity and larger sizes. Today, in the few years that have passed since those breakthroughs in 2016, the lab-grown diamond industry has exploded into a huge worldwide market.
According to one study, less than 10% of all U.S. consumers were aware of lab-grown diamonds in 2010. But just eight years later, that figure rose to over 50%.
2 Ways to Grow Diamonds In a Lab
There are two ways to grow diamonds. Through a method that’s called “high pressure, high temperature” (HPHT for short). Or through chemical vapor deposition (or CVD). Let’s look at each of those in detail.
High Pressure, High Temperature
HPHT started it all. It uses large metal diamond-shaped devices called cubic presses that simulate the conditions of the earth’s mantle. Inside, a source of carbon is paired with a “seed crystal” (which is a tiny piece of natural diamond). Then things get hot. Really hot. About 50 times hotter than your oven.
Simultaneously, it applies pressure – the pressure of about 80 elephants. As they sit in 25,000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 14,000 degrees Celsius) under such immense pressure, the carbon atoms connect and build upon the molecular structure of the seed crystal. And after just a few days or weeks, the diamond is fully formed.
Chemical Vapor Deposition
CVD is a newer method. It’s basically a cylindrical microwave. Like HPHT, the CVD reactors use pressure and temperature to form the diamonds. And it too uses seed crystals from which the carbon atoms grow into a diamond over the course of just days or weeks.
But it’s very much a different process on a scientific level. The CVD reactors are pressure vacuums. So it uses pressure in the opposite direction as the HPHT cubic presses. The temperatures aren’t nearly as high either – they “only” get up to about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (or 800 degrees Celsius). And the other main difference is that the CVD method uses a chemical reaction with methane and hydrogen to bond the carbon to the seed crystals to replicate the molecular composition of the natural diamond.
No One Can Tell the Difference Between Lab-Grown and Natural Diamonds.
Except gemologists with fancy equipment.
No one can tell the difference between lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds with the naked eye.
What do the experts look for when identifying lab-grown diamonds? The two simplest ways to determine whether a diamond is natural or lab-grown is by 1) looking at the growth structure of its microscopic crystals and 2) looking at the general appearance of the inclusions. In order to inspect these qualities, gemologists must use scientific instruments, such as a UV transparency device or a phosphorescence imaging device. Nothing you’d have laying around in your garage.
Each of the three types of diamonds I’ve mentioned (natural, HPHT, and CVD) all have vastly different shapes of crystals.
Natural diamonds tend to grow as octahedrons. Octa... what? Picture two four-sided pyramids connected long-ways to form a classic diamond shape.
HPHT diamonds tend to grow as cuboctahedrons – a complex figure with 14-sides, eight triangle faces and six square faces.
And CVD diamonds tend to grow as cubes. (Glad we all know what cubes look like.)
Another distinguishing characteristic between the three types of diamonds are the inclusions. Those are the little “feathers and clouds” that occur naturally in all diamonds as they form.
Inclusions in natural diamonds tend to be jagged, black, and metallic-looking. Inclusions in HPHT diamonds tend to be bubble-shaped blobs.
And inclusions in CVD diamonds tend to look like clouds of black pinpoints.
So… Should I buy a lab-grown diamond?
Some jewelers will try to convince you that lab-grown diamonds are “better” or “worse” than natural diamonds. Not us.
Neither the price nor the gemstones you choose determine the worth of your piece. You do. And we specialize in handcrafting meaningful fine jewelry, no matter how the focal stone was formed.
Lab-grown diamonds are an especially good option if...
You're interested in a cost-effective option.
Lab-grown diamonds are much more affordable than natural diamonds. Their price has dropped within the last few years for a variety of reasons. And as you could imagine, it costs a lot more to acquire natural diamonds. Currently, lab-grown diamonds cost anywhere from only half to two-thirds the price of natural diamonds.
And second, lab-grown diamonds are a good option if...
You’re interested in supporting the most eco-friendly sourcing methods.
Unfortunately, diamonds aren’t just sitting in the dirt on the surface of the earth. They have to be mined. And mining requires explosives, drills, pipes, trucks, and crushers. All of that – even if it’s done ethically and respectfully – has an impact on the earth and the environment.
Despite what you might have been led to believe, the process of manufacturing diamonds in a lab also has an impact on the environment. The HPHT and CVD equipment require huge amounts of energy. But the thing is – compared to mining, it definitely appears to be the greener option.
Feeling like maybe lab-grown diamonds are your thing? Great! We’re right there with you.
But hold on.
We’d fail to bring extraordinary customer care if we didn’t invite you to consider a couple important questions before you buy.
2 Things to Consider Before Buying a Lab-Grown Diamond
1. Potential Resale & Heirloom Value
The lab-grown diamond industry is relatively young. It’s been a major player in the wider fine jewelry industry only within the last decades.
And in that short amount of time, prices have fluctuated dramatically. These are the kinds of factors that raise questions about their long-term market value.
Historically, they depreciate with age. While the value of natural diamonds, on the other hand, often increases over time.
We simply don’t know what the value of lab-grown diamonds will be in future.
Just something to consider.
2. Emotional Significance of a Billion-Year-Old Diamond
Many people cherish the unexplainable feeling of having a rare gemstone that the earth formed in its mantle over the course of (virtually) an eternity. It’s as awe-inspiring as anything else in the natural world. Many feel there’s something special about that.
And some argue that, because lab-grown diamonds are mass-produced, they can’t be truly “one of a kind.”
So it’s worth asking – Would anything about the way your diamond formed have any impact on the way you see your diamond or the amount of meaning it holds for you?
To conclude, if you’re trying to decide between lab-grown and natural, it really comes down to what your main priorities are. From our perspective, there’s really no “right” or “wrong” decision you can make here.
Does Melanie Casey work with lab-grown diamonds?
To us, diamonds are diamonds. Our friendly Customer Care Specialists are happy to offer guidance along the way, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide what’s best for you and your piece.
If you don’t see the lab-grown option for the piece you’re interested in, all you have to do is ask.
No matter what, if you’re interested in having a lab-grown diamond or you just want to know more, please contact us. We’d love to talk with you about it.