A Deep Dive Into Understanding Lab-Grown Diamonds
Natural diamonds are made from carbon and formed due to high temperatures and pressures from the Earth’s mantle. But did you know that laboratories can recreate this process?
A diamond is the hardest known substance that is naturally made. However, state-of-the-art technology and modern innovation now mean that some diamonds are produced in labs.
If you’ve ever seen a laboratory-grown diamond and wondered how it looks so real, we’re here to explain this. This handy guide will help you learn about lab-grown diamonds and their benefits.
Keep reading to learn more about whether you should buy lab-grown diamond jewellery.
What is a lab-grown diamond?
Laboratory-created diamonds are, as the name suggests, made in a lab. They’re expertly created in controlled laboratories, thanks to highly advanced technology.
The processes used to create lab-grown diamonds allow for natural-looking results, just like those mined.
A lab-grown diamond starts as a seed, a small, flat piece of diamond, no thicker than a human hair strand. This seed is put into a machine which turns it into a diamond.
Due to their qualities, lab-grown diamonds are becoming increasingly popular in jewellery.
You may see lab-grown diamonds referred to as cultured diamonds, man-made diamonds, synthetic diamonds or engineered diamonds.
How are lab-grown diamonds made?
Lab-created diamonds are specifically engineered to replicate the conditions under which natural diamonds form in the Earth’s mantle.
Typically, lab-grown diamonds are made one of two ways. Both methods start with the diamond seed and involve extremely high temperatures or large amounts of pressure.
High Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT)
The High Pressure-High Temperature method is the original way of creating lab-grown diamonds. It involves placing a diamond seed inside pure graphite carbon and exposing it to a temperature of 1,500°C and pressure of 1.5 million pounds per square inch.
The melted carbon creates a shape around the seed, forming a diamond once cool.
Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)
Developed in the 1980s, the Chemical Vapor Deposition method of creating diamonds involves a vacuum chamber. It mimics how diamonds form in interstellar gas clouds.
A diamond seed is heated to over 800°C inside a sealed chamber filled with carbon-rich gases. The high temperatures force the gas to turn into plasma, causing the release of carbon pieces.
These carbon pieces stick to the seed, creating the diamond.
What’s the difference between lab-grown and natural diamonds?
If you place a natural diamond next to one grown in a laboratory, the untrained eye will find it difficult to tell them apart. In most cases, specialist equipment is needed to identify whether a diamond has been mined or grown.
Due to the process of creating lab-grown diamonds, they look and act just like natural diamonds, responding to light similarly and being as hard as each other.
Natural and lab-grown diamonds have very similar qualities. What makes them different is their origin and how they are formed.
Are lab-grown diamonds less expensive than natural diamonds?
Natural and lab-grown diamonds vary in price due to flaws and inclusions. However, if you take a like-for-like example, lab diamonds are usually 40%-60% less expensive than natural diamonds.
The time and cost it takes to create a lab-grown diamond are less than mining diamonds naturally. Natural diamonds take billions of years to form, whereas lab-grown diamonds can be created in several weeks, which is why they are less expensive.
Are lab-grown diamonds better for the environment?
It’s reported that young people are looking for alternatives to naturally mined diamonds because of their impact on the environment and humanitarian costs.
Around 250 tonnes of Earth is shifted to produce one carat of diamond, with this mining also linked to water pollution.
It’s said lab-grown diamonds cause less environmental damage than natural diamonds, but is this true? The answer depends on whether or not the manufacturer is using renewable or fossil fuel energy.
If fossil fuel energy is used to power the laboratory’s machinery, carbon dioxide emissions are produced, resulting in a higher carbon footprint. However, studies have suggested that creating diamonds in a lab takes 10x less energy than mining them.
Diamonds grown through renewable energy are more sustainable than those created with fossil fuels, making this better for the environment.
Are lab-grown diamonds real diamonds?
Despite being grown in a laboratory, lab diamonds are still real diamonds.
Diamonds grown in a lab are chemically, physically and optically identical to those mined. Instead of being created because of the mantle’s extreme heat and crushing pressure 100 miles underground, this process is mimicked by a machine.
Previously, The Federal Trade Commission defined diamonds as ‘a natural mineral consisting essentially of pure carbon crystallised in the isometric system’. Updates from the FTC suggest that real diamonds can be grown in a lab or mined due to the word ‘natural’ being removed from the official definition.
Lab diamonds are also certified the same way as mined diamonds, where they are assessed by a gemologist and graded using the 4C’s:
Are lab-grown diamonds valuable?
You may be wondering whether lab diamonds are worth anything in the long run. Lab-grown diamonds are identical to natural diamonds, so they are still valuable gemstones.
You usually get a larger diamond for your money by buying one grown in a lab. They’re authentic and provide the same look but cost less to make, hence the more affordable price tag.
Do lab-grown diamonds last forever?
We all know the James Bond theme song to Diamonds Are Forever by Shirley Bassey but is this true for those grown in a lab?
Like natural diamonds, those grown in a lab are tough, durable and chip resistant. A diamond’s hardness comes from how it is formed, so its longevity is the same whether it is made naturally or in a lab.
Lab-Grown Diamonds vs Diamond Simulants
Lab-grown diamonds look and feel the same as natural diamonds, but diamond simulants are completely different.
Diamond simulants may look like natural diamonds at first glance but are compositionally different. Gemstones such as cubic zirconia or moissanite resemble natural diamonds, though they have different chemical and physical properties and cost much less.
Due to their appearance, diamond simulants are often identified by the naked eye, whereas lab-grown diamonds require a loupe. Moissanites, for example, are double-refractive, whereas natural diamonds are single-refractive, meaning that the light reflected off the material’s surface is visibly different.
Should I buy lab-grown diamond jewellery?
Buying a diamond usually comes down to two things, cost and design.
Lab-grown diamonds are becoming increasingly popular amongst retailers and consumers, meaning the diamond industry has shifted. Over the past year, there has been an 80% increase in online searches for ‘lab diamonds’, with 90% more people searching specifically for ‘lab-grown diamond rings’.
Lab-grown diamonds offer excellent value for money as they are more cost-effective, providing an affordable way to purchase diamond jewellery.