Exposing the Truth About Lab Grown Diamonds:
"Lab grown diamonds are absolutely real diamonds." Seriously? What the FRAK?!?!
I'm veteran diamond buyer Todd Gray and I do not approve that message from Brilliant Earth.
As a matter of fact, I find the idea that lab created diamonds are the same as natural diamonds to be patently offensive. In the first place, there are some distinct differences in the physical and optical properties of created diamonds and their natural counterparts.
Secondly, this is just bad advertising and I suspect that somebody at Brilliant Earth is going to get fried for claiming that lab diamonds are absolutely real. Then again, I suppose that the definition of "What is Real?" is largely a matter of perception. With that in mind, I'll leave it up to you to decide.
(More on why I disagree with this marketing tactic by Brilliant Earth further down the page).
Right now the question gnawing on the base of your brain stem is most likely:
Are Lab Grown Created Diamonds Real?
Right now the question gnawing on the base of your brain stem is most likely whether lab-grown diamonds are real.
Seeing that the internet is on fire with articles on synthetic diamonds, it makes sense that you might consider them. After all, it does seem like more and more people are trying to convince you that synthetic diamonds are the same as natural diamonds.
As a matter of fact, I receive several emails per week from people asking whether lab grown diamonds are real. Which admittedly, is an idea that I find amusing since lab grown diamonds are obviously synthetic. Interestingly enough, very few of my clients buy lab created diamonds after knowing the facts.
Man Made Diamonds Fact vs Fiction:
If you're anything like me, then you probably grew up reading fanciful stories of science fiction and adventure. From that perspective, the idea of being able to grow diamonds in a laboratory is truly exciting. However, that excitement is tempered by my concern over the environmental side-effects of the manufacturing process.
At the same time, I tend to place synthetic diamonds and diamond simulants in the same category as breast implants. In other words, breast implants might look similar to natural breasts from a distance. As a matter of fact, the woman on this cover of Wired Magazine appears to have pretty nice breasts. However, you're never going to convince me that they're real, but perhaps that's of no consequence.
However, anybody who knows anything about breast implants know that they have a shelf-life and breakdown over time.
The Quest to Perfect Lab Grown Diamonds:
On that note, you might be interested to know that as little as ten years ago, the lab grown diamond industry was trying to figure out how to resolve the stability issues they were experiencing.
That's right. While natural diamonds have clearly withstood the test of time, it wasn't that long ago that lab created diamonds were breaking down after only a few short years.
Where to Buy Lab Grown Diamonds:
In our experience, here are the best places to buy lab-grown diamonds online:
Are Lab Grown Diamonds Synthetic Diamonds?
Join fifth-generation diamond cutter Brian Gavin as he talks about the differences between natural and synthetic lab-grown diamonds. As a matter of fact, this is one of the best videos that I've seen on the subject of lab-created diamonds.
Physical Properties of Man Made vs Real Diamonds:
As a matter of fact, there are some distinct differences between man made diamonds and natural diamonds mined from the ground. Not the least of which is that the chemical vapor deposition (CVD) process leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the diamond.
In other words, a cavity is left behind when the diamond seed explodes in the first phase of the growth process. Interestingly enough the gemological laboratories refer to this characteristic as a crystal, but it's really a cavity.
The other method for manufacturing lab-grown diamonds is HPHT that stands for High Pressure High Heat.
The problem with HPHT created diamonds is that they are prone to exhibiting brown undertones that look a lot like sedimentary layers.
As a matter of fact, there is one manufacturer of HPHT lab grown diamonds that has been able to eliminate the brown striations completely. However, their man-made diamonds give off a hint of blue undertones instead.
At the same time, the HPHT process has other drawbacks, such as giving the inclusions a metallic appearance. In addition, after being superheated, the diamond material can retract and pull away from the inclusions or fragments within the diamond during the cooling process.
Needless to say that these characteristics of lab grown diamonds clearly indicate that they are man-made and nothing like real diamonds. That's because these types of clarity characteristics are not found anywhere in natural diamonds.
Are lab-grown created diamonds really the same as natural diamonds? Perhaps Albert Einstein said it best: "Reality is Merely an Illusion, Although a Very Persistent One" #quote #diamonds #niceice
Will Synthetic Diamonds Withstand the Test of Time?
As mentioned previously, it was only about 10 years ago when one of my friend's was trying to figure out how to prevent man made diamonds from deteriorating. In this case, the structure of the lab grown diamonds was becoming unstable after only a few years.
Obviously, eventual deterioration is something that you're not likely to contend with if you buy a natural diamond that has withstood the test of time.
In this case, my friend claims to have solved the stability issues that manufacturers of man made diamonds were facing.
However, it's only been about ten years since he worked on that project. That hardly seems sufficient in comparison to natural diamonds that are billions of years old.
Not only that, but there are multiple companies racing to cash-in on the lab-grown diamond craze. That means that they're all racing against the clock to whip out their production faster and more efficiently.
Of course, we all know that it's the consumers who ultimately bear the cost in that scenario.
Real World Data on Shelf Life:
With this in mind, I don't think that we have enough real-world data to anticipate the longevity of synthetic diamonds. I suppose that that time will tell whether synthetic diamonds survive the test of time. Be that as it may, all we are is dust in the wind and perhaps none of this will matter some day.
At the same time, it goes without saying that the diamond in ring should last a lifetime. In the same fashion, natural diamonds have an intrinsic value that future generations are likely to treasure. Whereas the cost of manufacturing synthetic diamonds becomes less and less with each passing day. Which is why none of the companies that sell lab-grown diamonds seem willing to take them back-in on trade.
Should You Buy A Man Made Diamond?
Buying a diamond engagement ring used to be simple because all you had to think about were the 4Cs of Diamond Grading:
Basically, the only thing you had to think about was diamond shape, carat weight, color, clarity, and how much you were wiling to spend. But now, you have to decide between a natural diamond or risk everything for the sake of being eco-friendly and consider man-made diamonds. That means that you also have to figure out the difference between:
I'll save you a lot of anguish and say that those three terms really describe the exact same thing.
Of course, the basic terminology used to describe lab-grown diamonds is probably the least of your worries. Because you've also got to figure out whether you (and most importantly she and her friends) will be able to see the difference or not. Am I right?
And then there's the fact that "a diamond is forever" and lab-grown/created diamonds may not withstand the test of time. We'll talk more about that in a moment, but be forewarned that a lot of people have mixed feelings about lab-grown/created diamonds.
Should You Propose with a Lab-grown Diamond Ring?
Hardly a day goes by when I don't receive an email from some guy asking whether it's okay to propose with a lab-grown diamond ring. In the first place, women invest heavily in the notion that their engagement ring reflects the timeless commitment of your undying love and affection.
You don't want to inadvertently plant the seed of doubt in her mind by presenting her with a diamond that is not real. That is why I suggest talking about natural versus man made diamonds with your fiancé before presenting her with a lab-grown diamond engagement ring.
After all, you definitely don't want to find yourself in the position of trying to defend your decision to present her with a lab-grown diamond engagement ring while you're down on one knee.
"Diamonds Are Forever" but lab-grown-created diamonds have not withstood the test of time. #diamondsareforever but #labgrowndiamonds ?!?! #timewilltell don't #killthemoment
What Do Women Think About Man Made Diamonds:
As a matter of fact, the subject of lab-grown diamonds came up in conversation at a dinner party. Needless to say that the topic was not my idea, but it's one of those things that is bound to come up these days when people find out what I do. After all, it makes sense that people are going to ask me about lab-created diamonds since they're all over the news.
Interestingly enough, my girlfriend who happens to be one of the most economically-minded, eco-friendly consumers that I've ever met looked right across the table and said "Don't even think about it."
Not surprisingly, not one of the other women offered a counter argument. As a matter of fact, they all followed her right down the diamond studded rabbit hole. The next thing I knew, the women were tossing out all kinds of marketing slogans in support of her position.
Of course, it didn't take long before one of them said: "If you're going to put a ring on it, then the diamond had better be real."
Are Man Made Diamonds Identical to Natural Diamonds?
According to James Allen "Lab-created diamonds offer identical optical and chemical composition" and further down, JA implies they're the real deal.
Advertising and Marketing 101:
Now. If you're anything like me, then you're probably beginning to realize that there are some things about diamonds cooked up in a laboratory that don't make sense.
The advertising used to promote lab-grown diamonds for example. I personally think that it's deceptive and misleading to imply that man made diamonds look the same as natural diamonds because there are distinct differences.
Why then are companies like Brilliant Earth and James Allen suggesting that natural and man made diamonds are identical? Perhaps because “Facts are irrelevant. What matters is what the consumer believes.” – Seth Godin
It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It:
After all, one of the basic truths of advertising is that it's not what you say, it's how you say it.
Arguably, it's fair to say that it's up to you to decide whether to interpret their statements literally, figuratively, or rather loosely.
Needless to say that sometimes the people who write advertising and promotional copy about diamonds don't always have the technical expertise and experience to fully understand the intricacies of man made diamonds.
So, Are Lab Grown Diamonds Real Created Diamonds?
Here are some things to consider before you buy a lab-grown diamond:
Are Lab Created Diamonds the Real Deal?
All right, so it's pretty clear that Brilliant Earth and James Allen want you to believe that lab-grown/created diamonds are real diamonds.
Brilliant Earth boldly makes the claim at the top of their sales page for lab-grown diamonds.
James Allen says that "they're the real deal".
Rtiani says that the only difference between man-made and natural diamonds is the origin:
Suffice to say that before you find yourself down on one knee whining "But honey, they said that lab-created diamonds are the real deal!" you might want to ask your fiancé what she thinks about man-made diamonds.
Here's what the Federal Trade Commission has to say on the subject:
FTC Statement About Lab-grown Diamonds March 2019:
Obviously, I'm not an attorney. However, I interpret this statement to mean that sellers of lab-grown and/or lab-created diamonds should not falsely imply that they have the same chemical, physical, or optical properties as natural diamonds that are mined or which originate from the ground.
At the same time, it also says "unless such product has essentially the same optical, physical, and chemical properties as the stone named."
My friends, the legal advisement above is the kind of Tergiversation that lawmakers are famous for:
And it leaves the door wide open for companies like Brilliant Earth and James Allen to say that lab-grown diamonds are just like real diamonds because they have a chemical and physical composition that is essentially the same as natural diamonds mined from the ground. And hey, I'm not implying that they're doing anything wrong. I'm just trying to make certain that you understand the differences between natural and synthetic diamonds.
Perhaps equally disturbing is that it appears that the FTC sat on their laurels and didn't address the issue of how synthetic diamonds were being marketed until 2019. When in fact the ISO consulted AWDC, CRJ and others to arrive at concrete rules in 2015 according to this blog post by High Performance Diamonds.
Imagine This Diamond Buying Scenario:
You're at the counter in a jewelry store talking with the sales clerk about diamonds.
You explain that you're looking for a one-carat round brilliant ideal cut diamond which is G-color and VS-2 clarity.
The salesperson reaches into the case and pulls out a diamond solitaire and reads the tag. The center stone is a 0.99 carat, H-color, SI-w clarity diamond like this one from Blue Nile that has an overall cut grade of GIA Very Good.
The salesperson follows up by saying: "Isn't this a beautiful diamond? It's essentially what you're looking for..."
Are you going to buy that ring?
Because those two diamonds are essentially the same from the salesperson's perspective.
But those diamonds are also distinctly different, right?
To be more specific, this is how different those diamonds are:
The diamonds are only one, one color grade, two clarity grades, and one cut grade apart from each other. However, they might also be considered to be basically the same depending on how you define things.
Keep reading and I'll show you what that looks like in terms of diamond prices momentarily.
Natural vs Lab-grown Synthetic Diamond Prices:
In the first place, it is important to remember that this is an apples to oranges price comparison. That's because we're comparing the prices of round brilliant cut diamonds from two different weight classifications. As a matter of fact there is a substantial increase in diamond prices that occurs between the 0.99 - 1.00 carat marks.
In addition, the 0.99 carat diamond from Blue Nile does not have proportions within our preferred range. The overall cut quality of a diamond can affect the price by up to sixty percent. As a matter of fact, only the diamond in the middle and the one on the right meet our proportions criteria.
It is also important to remember that we're comparing the prices of natural and lab--grown diamonds. Last but not least, we are comparing diamonds of different color and clarity grades that have been graded by different gemological laboratories. In other words, I wouldn't read too much into this example is intended to drive home the point about how diamonds that seem to essentially be the same can be dramatically different in price.
Chemical, Physical, and Optical Properties of Lab Grown Diamonds:
Given what you've read thus far, you might be wondering whether lab-grown diamonds diamonds have the same chemical, physical, and optical properties as natural diamonds mined from the ground. That's because you've been led to believe that natural and synthetic diamonds are the same thing by the marketing gurus hired by people who sell lab-grown diamonds.
Picture Me Banging My Head on the Wall because it seems obvious to me that this is all a matter of how you spin things. As a matter of fact, most of the marketing I've seen for lag-grown diamonds reminds me of the movie Thank You For Smoking. If you haven't seen the movie, you'll get the general idea by watching the trailer:
The basic premise is that Big Tobacco's chief spokesman, Nick Naylor, uses heavy spin tactics to promote the benefits of smoking cigarettes. As near as I can tell, a lot of the same spin tactics are being used to suggest that lab-created diamonds are the same as natural diamonds. The only difference is that buying a lab-grown diamond probably won't kill you.
Natural vs. Lab Grown Diamond Characteristics:
All right, this is where the rubber meets the road as they say. Generally speaking, it's more or less true that laboratory-grown and natural diamonds are chemically the same. However, that does not mean that they are necessarily physically or optically identical.
It will be helpful to develop a better understanding of how diamonds are created in a laboratory in order to understand the differences. With that in mind, let's get into the nitty gritty characteristics of lab-grown diamonds.
Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD):
One of the most common methods of growing diamonds in a laboratory is Chemical Vapor Deposition or CVD. The easiest way to think about the process is to think of it as releasing carbon from vapor.
The process involves superheating hydrocarbon gas in a vacuum at temperatures between 3000 - 4000 degrees Celsius. According to John Pollard of Crafted by Infinity, that is the point that carbon atoms begin to separate from their molecular bonds.
Those atoms then descend and land on a flat wafer from a synthetic diamond that was grown using the HPHT process that we'll explain below. As the atoms drop down on to the HPHT-grown wafer (left) they continue to stack-up and grow in vertical layers.
The substrate is usually square in shape for applications related to jewelry. However it can vary for synthetic diamonds being grown for other purposes, such as those for industrial applications.
Optical Differences Between CVD and Natural Diamonds:
Despite what the advertising for man made diamonds might suggest, synthetic diamonds produced by Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) are not "physically identical" to naturally grown diamonds.
As explained previously, the CVD process is like carbon-based rain falling down onto a substrate that is growing up in parallel levels. In other words, the by-product of the CVD growing process is layers of stria that create variations in the reflective index.
Ultimately, the difference in the reflective index of synthetic diamonds grown by Chemical Vapor Deposition and natural diamonds is a reduction in the visible fire and brilliance. That explains why many people think that CVD diamonds appear to be less crisp and perform worse than natural diamonds.
As a matter of fact, when CVD diamonds are viewed under jewelry store halogen lights, the effect of the stria might appear to be a polishing problem. However, from a gemological perspective, we know that it is a systemic issue with the material.
High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT):
The other common method for producing lab-grown diamonds is known as HPHT which stands for High Pressure High Temperature. The process is intended to replicate the high-pressure, high-temperature conditions under which natural diamonds are formed in nature. In other words, manufacturers of man made diamonds are trying to replicate the conditions that exist 100+ miles below the surface and accelerate the process by millions of years.
According to Pollard, the manner by which they do this involves placing a diamond seed (the carbon source) and a metallic catalyst into an octahedral cell. The cell is then placed into a massive mechanical press that is heated to about 1500 degrees Celsius and subjected to a staggering amount of pressure.
The melting metal dissolves the carbon and the pressure causes precipitation to the diamond seed and enables them to, grow a larger diamond. According to the GIA Gem Trade Laboratory, the level of pressure from the presses is equivalent to what you’d experience if you tried to balance a jumbo jet on the tip of your finger.
Optical Differences Between HPHT and Natural Diamonds:
One of the tell-tale signs of synthetic diamonds created using the High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) process is the presence of brown undertones. This is especially true of lab-grown diamonds produced using the older HPHT growing process.
As a matter of fact, the presence of HPHT diamonds that exhibit brown undertones is still prominent in the current market. According to Pollard, there is one manufacturer of HPHT diamonds that has been able to offset the brown undertones, but their output exhibits a hint of blue.
In addition, HPHT created diamonds can exhibit internal characteristics that seem peculiar from a gemological perspective. In the first place, many of the clarity characteristics appear to exhibit a metallic appearance. That makes sense because a metal catalyst is used as part of the growing process.
At the same time, after being superheated, it is possible for the diamond material to retract and pull away from an inclusion/fragment during the cooling process. This leaves a void or "cavity" within the body of the diamond that is an indication that the diamond was absolutely man-made.
That's because that particular type of clarity characteristic does not occur anywhere in natural diamonds that were mined from the ground. John Pollard points out that the gemological laboratories missed out on a chance to do something groundbreaking. That was the opportunity to create a new name for such man-made fragments/voids. Instead, the grading laboratories decided to call them crystals and that is confusing since that is a type of natural inclusion.
Are Lab-grown Diamonds Eco-Friendly?
Proponents of man-made diamonds frequently promote the idea that they're more eco-friendly than natural diamonds. As a matter of fact, the Federal Trade Commission guidelines regarding eco-marketing are quite clear:
FTC Guidelines: General benefit claims, such as eco-friendly or sustainable, should not be used.
In spite of this, many people continue to promote the idea that lab-grown diamonds are eco-friendly. In general, the ecological claims build on two pillars of social concern:
- 1Man-made diamonds take less energy to produce.
- 2Less mining reduces environmental impact.
Obviously, trying to align their commercial interests with social concerns regarding climate change is a smart play. In doing so, manufacturers of lab-grown diamonds may position themselves as more ethical than mining companies.
No Support From Environmental Groups:
Up to the present time, not a single conservation group has endorsed lab-grown diamonds as being more eco-friendly. However, several "socially conscious celebrities" have spoken out in favor of lab-grown diamonds, including:
In the first place, the first two celebrities on this list have financial interests in lab-grown diamond companies. While many people might view using their celebrity status as "good marketing" it leads me to question their motives. Especially since it takes an immense amount of electricity to produce a single lab-grown diamond.
In March 2018, the FTC sent out warning letters to eight manufacturers of lab-grown diamonds. As a matter of fact, the FTC set their sights on DiCaprio's lab-grown company, Diamond Foundry. For the record, this Wikipedia article indicates that DiCaprio is one of the original investors in Diamond Foundry.
Cultivating Diamonds From Seeds:
In this article in the Metro, Nikii Reed is quoted as saying "Truthfully, they’re 100 percent diamonds. They’re bio-identical diamonds, and they’re grown from diamond seeds."
In the first place, manufacturers of man-made diamonds created using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) do use a "diamond seed" to start the process. But can you just imagine somebody reading that statement and thinking that somebody is growing diamonds from actual seeds?
As a matter of fact, in the same article, explains how she uses "cultivated diamonds" in her line of jewelry. Apparently, Reed did not get the memo from the Federal Trade Commission that prohibits using the terms like cultured, culturing, cultivated, or cultivating diamonds because it is misleading.
Be that as it may, I'm inclined to give Reed a pass since it's a well-known fact that performers don't always get their lines right. Badda Bing Badda Boom!
How Much Energy Does It Take To Produce a Lab Grown Diamond?
As a matter of fact, it is difficult to quantify exactly how much energy it takes to produce a lab-grown diamond. In the first place, nobody within the lab-grown industry seems to want to talk about it. After all, it's much easier to demonize your competition if nobody else knows very much about your actual operations.
However, experts estimate that the most efficient HPHT multi-stone presses use 500 to 750 kWh to produce a one carat lab-grown diamond. At the same time, some HPHT growers are using converted industrial presses that require over 2,000 kWh per polished carat.
I don't know about you, but that seems like a pretty big difference in terms of energy expenditure.
Be that as it may, the Federal Trade Commission has found fault with many of the marketing claims being made that lab-grown diamonds are eco-friendly and sustainable.
Needless to say that a lot of the eco-friendly claims that you'll see pertaining to lab-grown diamonds are in violation of the FTC Green Marketing Claims Guide.
Especially when you stop to consider that if those estimates are correct, then it's reasonable to say that the $1.9 billion dollars worth of synthetic diamonds sold in 2018 required enough production energy to have powered a sizable city for the entire year.
As a matter of fact, in the most efficient case, that much energy wold power a city the size of Reno, Nevada. That little slice of heaven is home to about 250,000 people. In the worst case scenario, that would have been enough to power a city the size of Atlanta, GA. To put this into perspective, we're talking about a city that is home to half a million people.
How much electricity does an American home use?
If you're anything like me, then you tend to think of electricity in relationship to how much you use at home. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average American household uses 10,399 kWh. That means that the average American home uses an average of 867 kWh of electricity per month.
With this in mind, it may cost as much to produce a one carat lab-grown diamond as it does to power your house for a month. As a matter of fact, Lightbox, the lab-grown diamonds division of De Beers is located right next to a power station. Growing diamonds is obviously an energy-intensive endeavor that involves machines that are likely to run around the clock.
According to an article in JCK Magazine, Classic Grown Diamonds says its “lab-made diamonds don’t harm the environment at all as they’re man-made.” The author of the article is quick to point out that plastic is also man-made.
The screenshot on the left shows a statement that appears on the front page of Classic Grown Diamonds. As you can see, they clearly state that they produce eco-friendly man made diamonds. At the same time, they indicate that "the diamond mining process is extremely energy intensive."
Environmental Impact Concerns:
According to the article in JCK Magazine, a professor of energy and environment at the University of Delaware is investigating the issue. Professor, Saleem Ali, indicates that more data is necessary to determine the eco-impact of lab-grown diamonds.
In addition, he points out that diamond growers use various metals in the production process. Obviously, any kind of commercial venture such as growing diamonds in a laboratory is going to have an environmental impact.
At the same time, veterans of the industry are quick to point out that environmental projections fail to account for rejects. As a matter of fact, many lab-grown diamonds undergo a series of heat treatments at various stages of the process. Not to mention the fact that diamonds are being grown in other countries which do not have renewable energy.
On the other hand, artisanal diamond miners who dig by hand using shovels use very little electricity. Although, we must admit that the traditional method of mining for diamonds affects the landscape in other ways.
Although that may be true Ali's research indicates that the Argyle mine in Australia uses only 7 kWh energy per carat. While the Diavik Mine in Canada averages 66 kWh and De Beers operations use 80.3 kWh per carat.
Would You Buy a Lab-grown Diamond?
So, now that you know the differences between synthetic lab-grown, lab-created, and natural diamonds (mined from the ground) tell me whether you would buy a lab-grown diamond for an engagement ring?
Leave a comment below and tell us what you think about lab-grown/created diamonds.
Would you buy a lab-grown/created diamond for an engagement ring? And if you were presented with a lab-grown/created diamond engagement ring would you say yes? And even if you did, would you prefer a natural diamond and if so, why?
Of course, we're happy to help you search for diamonds whether you prefer ones that are lab-grown or natural and mined from the ground. Take advantage of our Free Diamond Concierge Service by clicking on the blue button below.