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What Are the Key Differences Between Lab-Grown and Natural Diamonds?

 

Recently, lab diamonds have been the next big thing in the jewelry market. But what is a lab diamond? Are they the same as naturally occurring diamonds? Are they better for the environment or a knock-off of the real thing? Let's explore the new wave of jewelry: lab diamonds.


three square diamonds close up



Natural Diamonds


Diamonds are formed when the heat and pressure under the earth's crust make carbon crystallize and then the crystals are blown out of the earth's surface by volcanoes and magma. The process of just creating the crystallization takes around three billion (yes billion, with nine zeros) years, let alone the time to find the cooled magma and mine it, polish, and cut the diamonds. This is how diamonds have been made for centuries.

 


round diamond held close to camera


Lab diamonds


Lab diamonds have been around for over 70 years; however, they were first used for industrial purposes. They were first created in 1957 by General Electric but were not jewelry grade until the 1970s.

Lab diamonds can be made in two ways: High-pressure high temperature (HPHT) or Chemical vapor deposition (CVD).

HPHT is done by replicating how Earth makes diamonds but much faster. As the name implies, high amounts of pressure and hot temperatures are forced onto the diamond seeds, and this causes the carbon to crystallize. Then with some shaping and polishing, the iconic diamond is done and three billion years faster!

Then there is CVD, a process that takes about the same amount of time but instead of pressure and heat, it “involves breaking down the molecules of a carbon-rich gas, such as methane, into carbon and hydrogen atoms, which then are deposited on diamond seeds to produce a square-shaped, tabular diamond crystal.” according to GIA. However, the CVD process usually needs additional work to perfect the diamond.

  Because lab diamonds are easier, faster, and less labor-intensive, they are much cheaper than natural diamonds. Some customers may see this as an affordable, eco-friendly way to give a gift of equal beauty and price, but some people favor the rarity and time of natural diamonds.

It should be noted that the resale value of lab diamonds is much less.

 


cut diamond close up



Ethics


Mining for diamonds has always caused scrutiny for its dangers to both the workers and the environment.  While lab diamonds are much better for the environment and are certified “conflict-free” by The Kimberly Process*, the Associated Press points out that “making a diamond requires an enormous amount of energy and many major manufacturers are not transparent about their operations.”

“If we really want to get technical here, the greenest diamond is a repurposed or recycled diamond because that uses no energy,” Paul Zimnisky, a diamond industry expert said in the article.

 


square diamond held close to camera



Jeweler Perspective


Graham Newton, head jeweler of From the Vault, added his perspective on the differences between Lab and Natural diamonds:


“There is a lot of debate within the trade regarding the merits of lab-grown diamonds. As someone who made a conscious choice many years ago (before lab-grown diamonds entered the consciousness of the buying public) to walk away from the philosophy of a jeweler ‘needing’ to always have a deep stock of natural diamonds on hand, I don’t have a dog in this fight.


"For me, it just didn’t make much sense, since many of my clients were coming to me to have rings designed around an existing stone that they had inherited or were gifted by family. When clients do need to look at diamonds, I can usually get stones in hand quickly from one of my contacts, and since I don’t have any money invested in the stone, I can afford to be very competitive price-wise (20% of something is better than 100% of nothing, for example).


"As lab-grown stones have grown in popularity, I have witnessed the effects on the market in real time. When I first started getting calls for lab-grown stones from clients, lab-grown were less than natural diamonds, but I would not have called them ‘cheap.’ But the market had not (and still has not), ‘settled.’ The price of lab-grown diamonds seems to be in a ‘free fall.’ An example, I had priced a lab-grown diamond for a customer, and the price of that stone in 2022 was approx. $2000. The client passed and reached back out early this year (2024) and I repriced the stone (my same pricing structure) and a stone with the same weight, and the same color, clarity, and make, was less than $1000!


  "As the market continues to find its level, we see that this lab-grown market is also affecting the natural market. There is a specific subset of the natural diamond market, lower color, lower clarity stones that has been greatly impacted. It used to be that a client who wanted a larger stone, but had a smaller budget, would look at these types of stones, say a K or L color, with lower clarity, a nice I1, for example. But now, that same client can get a D color, VS, or even VVS quality stone for less money… and that is what people are doing. My more affluent clientele still wants natural diamonds, a nice one, at least G color, at least VS2 clarity (in my experience), and I don’t think this will change. But what I am seeing is younger clients who are instead of buying a half or ¾-carat natural diamond, spending similar or less money to get 2-carat or 3-carat labs.

 

"It is fascinating to watch market forces at work and see it in real-time!

So, how do I feel about lab-grown diamonds? I think there is a great place for lab-grown diamonds in fashion jewelry and travel jewelry. We set up lab-grown diamond studs and tennis bracelets for clients all the time!

 

"Lab-grown diamonds have their place in the diamond discussion. They are an affordable alternative to natural diamonds, and they are great for fashion and travel. Like any jewelry purchase, remember the words of Warren Buffet, ‘If you don't know the Jewelry, know the Jeweler.’”

 


close up view of a round diamond with detailed refractions..

 

In summary


Both types of diamonds have their merits. Lab-grown diamonds offer sustainability and affordability, while natural diamonds provide prestige and potential investment value. Consider your priorities and values when you pick out your next piece.

 





*“Any country that is certified by the Kimberly Process must only trade with other countries certified by the Kimberly Process, which now has over 80 participating countries. Because of the Kimberley Process, 99.8% of diamonds are now certified conflict-free and there is much greater accountability and transparency in the diamond industry.”- Gemsociety.org*

 





 


Ethical diamonds: How to buy a conflict-free diamond in 2023. International Gem Society. (2023, May 16). https://www.gemsociety.org/article/conflict-free-diamond-buying-guide/


How diamonds are formed. Cape Town Diamond Museum. (2016, December 22). https://www.capetowndiamondmuseum.org/about-diamonds/formation-of-diamonds/



Lab-grown diamonds come with sparkling price tags, but many have cloudy sustainability claims. MSN. (n.d.). https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/other/lab-grown-diamonds-come-with-sparkling-price-tags-but-many-have-cloudy-sustainability-claims/ar-BB1idqxk


Shor, R. (2019, May 31). Is there a difference between natural and laboratory-grown diamonds?. Gemological Institute Of America. https://www.gia.edu/gia-news-research/difference-between-natural-laboratory-grown-diamonds



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