"Lab grown diamonds are absolutely real diamonds," according to Brilliant Earth. Seriously? What the FRAK?!?! You've got to be kidding!
I'm veteran diamond buyer Todd Gray, and I disapprove of that message from Brilliant Earth.
That's why I'm going to expose the truth about lab-grown diamonds. Conversely, I find the idea that lab-created diamonds are identical to natural diamonds patently offensive.
First, there are distinct differences in lab-created diamonds' physical and optical properties and their natural counterparts.
Second, that is just bad advertising. I suspect that somebody at Brilliant Earth will get fried for claiming that "lab diamonds are absolutely real."
Then again, I suppose that the definition of "What is Real?" is primarily a matter of perception. In that case, I'll leave it up to you to decide.
Our free Diamond Concierge Service will even help you search for lab-grown diamonds if that's what you want. But, do yourself a favor and read this article all the way through before you buy.
However, the National Advertising Division of the BBB recently spanked Diamond Foundry for similar advertising tactics. For example, their express failure to clearly state that lab-grown diamonds are man-made.
Misleading Advertising by Diamond Foundry:
According to the National Advertising Division (NAD), the following types of statements do not sufficiently communicate that the diamonds are lab-grown:
In that case, it seems clear that lab-grown diamonds are not just like natural diamonds. We'll expand on this and why we disagree with these marketing tactics further down the page.
Are Created Lab Grown Diamonds Real?
Right now, the question gnawing on the base of your brain stem is most likely whether lab-grown diamonds are real.
It makes sense to consider lab-created diamonds seeing that the internet is on fire with articles on synthetic diamonds. After all, it does seem like more and more people are trying to convince you that artificial and natural diamonds are the same.
Consequently, we receive several emails per week from people asking whether lab-grown diamonds are real. Admittedly, this is an idea that is amusing since lab-grown diamonds are synthetic.
Interestingly enough, very few of my clients buy lab-created diamonds after knowing the facts. Like Brian Gavin, most people prefer to keep it real.
Man-made Diamonds Fact vs. Fiction:
If you're anything like me, then you 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 fascinating.
However, my concern over the environmental side-effects of the manufacturing process tempers my excitement. I also consider synthetic diamonds and simulants as being similar to breast implants.
In other words, breast implants might look similar to natural breasts from a distance. The woman on this cover of Wired Magazine appears to have lovely breasts, for example. However, you're never going to convince me that they're real, but perhaps that's of no consequence.
Although, anybody who knows anything about breast implants knows that they have a shelf-life and breakdown over time. Consequently, it wasn't that long ago that manufacturers of lab-grown diamonds were facing similar issues. Perhaps that is why nobody is suggesting that lab-grown diamonds are forever.
The Quest to Grow Perfect Lab Diamonds:
Anybody who knows anything about breast implants knows that they have a shelf-life and breakdown over time. Consequently, it wasn't that long ago that manufacturers of lab-grown diamonds were facing similar issues.
Little more than a decade ago, the lab-grown diamond industry was trying to resolve stability issues. That's right. While natural diamonds have withstood the test of time, lab-grown diamonds might not be stable.
Perhaps that is why nobody is suggesting that lab-grown diamonds are forever. Consequently, if lab-grown and natural diamonds were the same, the laboratories could not tell them apart.
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. Consequently, 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:
Despite the hype, there are some distinct differences between artificial 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, the growing process leaves a cavity behind when the diamond seed explodes. Interestingly enough, the gemological laboratories refer to this characteristic as a crystal, but it's just a cavity.
The other method for manufacturing lab-grown diamonds is HPHT that stands for High-Pressure High Heat. Unfortunately, HPHT-created diamonds are prone to brown undertones in the form of sedimentary layers.
Color Zoning in Lab-Created Diamonds:
One manufacturer of HPHT lab-grown diamonds has been able to eliminate the brown striations. Their created diamonds give off a hint of blue undertones instead because of the post-treatment annealing.
Simultaneously, the HPHT process has other drawbacks, such as giving the inclusions a metallic appearance. After being superheated, the diamond material can also retract and pull away from the inclusions (or fragments) during the cooling process.
Needless to say that these characteristics of lab-grown diamonds indicate that they are human-made and nothing like real diamonds. For one thing, natural diamond crystals don't grow straight-up vertically on a platform. Secondly, these types of clarity characteristics are not found anywhere in natural diamonds.
Will Synthetic Diamonds Withstand the Test of Time?
As mentioned previously, it was only about ten years ago when one of my friends was trying to figure out how to prevent artificial diamonds from deteriorating.
In that case, the structure of the lab-grown diamonds was becoming unstable after only a few years. Physical deterioration is something that you're not likely to contend with if you buy a natural diamond that has withstood the test of time.
Consequently, my friend claims to have solved the stability issues that manufacturers of human-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. At the same time, multiple companies are 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 Perspective on Created Diamonds 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 someday. At the same time, the diamond in the ring should last a lifetime.
In the same fashion, natural diamonds have an intrinsic value that future generations are likely to treasure. In contrast, the cost of manufacturing synthetic diamonds becomes less and less with each passing day.
Perhaps that is why none of the companies that sell lab-grown diamonds seem willing to take them back in on trade. In comparison, all of them allow you to trade in a natural diamond for the original purchase price.
Should You Buy A Man-made Diamond?
Once upon a time, the only thing you had to think about was the basic Diamond 4Cs:
Now, you have to decide between a natural diamond or risk everything for the sake of being eco-friendly and consider human-made diamonds. In that case, you also have to determine the difference between:
I'll save you a lot of anguish and say that those three terms describe the same thing. Of course, the basic terminology used to describe lab-grown diamonds is probably the least of your worries.
YOU also have to figure out whether you (and most importantly, she and her friends) will be able to see the difference or not. Am I right, or am I right?
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 momentarily but be aware that many people have mixed feelings about this issue.
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 meaning of an engagement ring.
That is the notion that their engagement ring reflects the 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.
In that case, I suggest talking about natural versus artificial diamonds with your fiancé before presenting her with a lab-grown diamond engagement ring.
After all, you 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.
What Women Think About Man-made Diamonds:
The subject of lab-grown diamonds came up in conversation at a recent dinner party. Needless to say that the topic of discussion was not my idea.
However, it's bound to come up these days when people find out that I'm a diamond buyer by profession. After all, it makes sense that people will 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 know, looked across the table and said, "Don't even think about it."
Not surprisingly, not one of the other women offered a counterargument. Nope, they also went right down the diamond-studded rabbit hole. Before long, the women were tossing out 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." Further down the page, JA implies "they're the real deal."
Advertising and Marketing Myths 101:
If you’re anything like me, you probably realize that there are things about diamonds cooked up in a laboratory that doesn’t make sense.
The advertising used to promote lab-grown diamonds, for example. It seems deceptive and misleading to imply that human-made diamonds look the same as natural diamonds.
After all, there are distinct differences, not the least of which is that genuine diamond crystals don’t grow vertically. In that case, why are Brilliant Earth, James Allen, and others like them suggesting that natural and synthetic 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:
The reality is that advertising is primarily a matter of semantics. That means that there may be a difference in what Brilliant Earth and James Allen are implying.
After all, one of the fundamental truths of advertising is that it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.
Arguably, it’s up to you 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 understand the intricacies of human-made diamonds fully.
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 a claim at the top of their sales page for lab-grown diamonds.
James Allen says that "they're the real deal."
Ritani 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 artificial diamonds.
Here’s what the Federal Trade Commission has to say on the subject:
FTC Statement About Lab-grown Diamonds March 2019:
I’m not an attorney; however, I interpret that statement as follows: People selling lab-grown-created diamonds should not falsely imply that they are not the same as natural diamonds.
They do not have the same chemical, physical, or optical properties as natural diamonds that are mined or 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.” Consequently, it’s technically impossible for those things to be the same because natural diamonds do not grow vertically on a disk.
That leaves the door wide open for companies like Brilliant Earth and James Allen to imply lab-grown diamonds are like natural diamonds. After all, they have a chemical and physical composition that is:
Equally disturbing is that the FTC sat on their laurels and didn’t address the synthetic diamonds marketing issue until 2019. According to a blog post by High-Performance Diamonds, the ISO consulted AWDC, CRJ, and others to arrive at concrete rules in 2015.
Imagine This Diamond Buying Scenario:
You're standing 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, 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. It also has an overall cut grade of GIA Very Good.
The salesperson follows up by saying: "This beautiful diamond is essentially what you're looking for..."
Now, let me ask you something: 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.
Specifically, here are the differences: The diamonds are of different weight classes, and there is a price increase between the 0.99 - 1.00 carat marks. There is also a difference of one color grade, two clarity grades, and one cut grade.
However, they might also be close enough, depending on how you define things.
Yeah, I just had to throw that in there. Keep reading, and I'll show you these things factor into diamond prices in a moment.
Natural vs Lab-grown Synthetic Diamond Prices:
In the first place, it is essential to remember that this is an apple to oranges price comparison. That's because we're comparing the prices of round brilliant cut diamonds from two different weight classifications.
First, there is a substantial increase in diamond prices between the 0.99 - 1.00 carat marks. Second, the 0.99 carat diamond from Blue Nile does not have proportions within our preferred range.
Only the diamond in the middle and the one on the right meet our proportions criteria. Consequently, the overall cut quality of a diamond can affect the price by up to sixty percent.
It is also important to remember that we're comparing the prices of natural and lab-grown diamonds. Finally, we are comparing diamonds of various colors and clarity grades that other gemological laboratories have graded.
In other words, I wouldn't read too much into this example. The intention is to drive home the point about how diamonds that seem similar 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 have the same chemical, physical, and optical properties as natural diamonds from the ground.
That's because people are trying to convince you that natural and synthetic diamonds are the same thing. Consequently, you should beware of marketing gurus employed by people who sell lab-grown diamonds.
Picture Me Banging My Head on the Wall because it seems evident that it's all a matter of how you spin things. Most of the marketing I've seen for lag-grown diamonds reminds me of the film 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 smoking cigarettes' benefits. It seems like the lab-grown diamond creators use many of the same spin tactics.
That's why they suggest that lab-created diamonds are the same as natural diamonds. Of course, buying a lab-grown diamond probably won't kill you.
Natural vs. Lab Grown Diamond Characteristics:
All right, this is the point where the rubber meets the road. Generally speaking, it's more or less accurate than laboratory-grown, and natural diamonds are chemically the same.
However, that does not mean that they are physically or optically identical. It will help develop a better understanding of how diamonds are created in a laboratory to understand the differences. With that in mind, let's get into the nitty-gritty characteristics.
Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD):
One of the most common diamond growing methods is Chemical Vapor Deposition (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 Diamond Industry Specialist John Pollard, 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 particles drop down onto the HPHT-grown wafer, they continue to stack up and grow in vertical layers.
The substrate is usually square for applications related to jewelry. However, it can vary for synthetic diamonds being grown for industrial applications.
Optical Differences Between CVD and Natural Diamonds:
Despite what the advertising suggests, 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 onto a substrate 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 reduces the visible fire and brilliance.
That explains why CVD diamonds look less crisp and perform worse than natural diamonds. Consequently, when you view CVD diamonds under jewelry store halogen lights, the stria's effect might look like a polishing issue. However, it is a systemic issue with the material that results from the growth process.
High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT):
Another standard method for producing lab-grown diamonds is HPHT, which stands for High-Pressure High Temperature. The process replicates the high-pressure, high-temperature conditions under which natural diamonds form.
In other words, manufacturers of human-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, how they do this involves placing a diamond seed (the carbon source) and a metallic catalyst into an octahedral cell. They put the cell into a massive mechanical press heated to 1500 degrees Celsius and subject it 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 creating synthetic diamonds using the High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) is brown undertones. That is especially true of lab-grown diamonds from older HPHT growing processes.
Conversely, the problem with HPHT lab-grown diamonds with brown undertones is still prominent in the current market. According to Pollard, one manufacturer has offset the brown undertones, but that fix results in blue undertones.
HPHT-created diamonds also exhibit peculiar internal characteristics. First, many of the clarity characteristics appear to look metallic. That makes sense because they use a metal catalyst as part of the growing process.
Effects of Super Heating:
After being superheated, it is also possible for the diamond material to retract and pull away from an inclusion/fragment during the cooling process. That creates a void or “cavity” within the body of the diamond. As such, it is a clear indication that the diamond is human-made.
To begin with, that type of clarity characteristic does not occur in natural diamonds. In that case, Pollard points out that the labs missed out on a chance to do something groundbreaking.
They specifically had the opportunity to create a new name for such artificial fragments and voids. Instead, the grading laboratories call them crystals and further blur the lines between natural and artificial inclusions.
Are Lab-grown Diamonds Eco-Friendly?
Proponents of human-made diamonds promote the idea that they’re more eco-friendly than natural diamonds. However, the Federal Trade Commission guidelines regarding eco-marketing are straightforward:
FTC Guidelines: General benefit claims, such as eco-friendly or sustainable, should not be used.
Despite 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:
- 1Human-made diamonds take less energy to produce.
- 2Less mining reduces environmental impact.
Trying to align their commercial interests with social concerns regarding climate change is a clever ploy. In doing so, manufacturers of lab-grown diamonds may position themselves as more ethical than mining companies. However, it’s also the same thing that got Diamond Foundry in trouble with the Better Business Bureau.
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. It also 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. In this case, 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 says, “Truthfully, they’re 100 percent diamonds. They’re bio-identical diamonds, and they’re grown from diamond seeds.”
Conversely, they do use a seed diamond to start the CVD-growing process. However, HPHT lab-created diamonds are not grown the same way. In that case, talk of seeds is apt to sow more confusion about lab-grown diamonds.
Picture “little Suzy” planting her mom’s engagement ring in the backyard in hopes of growing more Carats. No doubt, after watching a talking head babble on about growing diamonds from seeds.
The same article also explains how Reed uses “cultivated diamonds” in her line of jewelry. Consequently, that statement violates FTC guidelines on not using misleading terms, such as cultured, culturing, cultivated, or cultivating diamonds.
How Much Energy Does It Take To Grow Diamonds?
It isn’t easy to quantify precisely 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.
Simultaneously, 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 energy expenditure.
Be that as it may, the Federal Trade Commission has found fault with many of the marketing claims that lab-grown diamonds are eco-friendly and sustainable.
Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Eco-Friendly?
Needless to say that a lot of the eco-friendly claims that you’ll see about lab-grown diamonds violate 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 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 would 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 town that is home to half a million people.
How much electricity does an American home use?
If you're anything like me, you tend to think of electricity regarding 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. In that case, it may cost as much to produce a one-carat lab-grown diamond as it does to power your house for a month.
Powering Up Lightbox Lab-Created-Diamonds:
Lightbox, the lab-grown diamonds division of De Beers DTC, sits right next to a power station. Growing diamonds is an energy-intensive endeavor that involves machines that run 24/7.
According to JCK Magazine, "lab-made diamonds don't harm the environment at all as they're man-made." However, the author is also quick to point out that plastic is also human-made.
This statement by Classic Grown Diamonds says that they produce eco-friendly man-made diamonds. They also indicate that "the diamond mining process is extremely energy-intensive." Consequently, I think that the FTC is likely to challenge this company's name as being misleading.
Environmental Impact Concerns:
According to the JCK Magazine article, a professor of energy and environment at the University of Delaware investigates the issue. Professor, Saleem Ali, indicates that more data is necessary to determine the eco-impact of lab-grown diamonds.
He also points out that diamond growers use various metals in the production process. However, any commercial venture such as growing diamonds in a laboratory will have an environmental impact.
Veterans of the industry are also quick to point out that environmental projections fail to account for rejects. At the same time, lab-grown diamonds undergo a series of heat treatments at various stages of the process.
Not to mention that human-made diamonds are being grown in third-world countries without renewable energy. In contrast, artisanal diamond miners who dig by hand using shovels use very little electricity.
However, we must admit that the traditional mining method for diamonds affects the landscape in other ways. Despite that fact, Ali's research indicates that Australia's Argyle mine uses only 7 kWh energy per carat. Comparatively, 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?
Now that you know the differences between synthetic lab-grown-created and natural diamonds, 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. Also, let us know if you'd say yes to a lab-grown diamond engagement ring or whether you prefer natural.
Of course, we're happy to help you search for natural and lab-created diamonds, regardless of your preference.
Please take advantage of our Free Diamond Concierge Service by clicking on the blue button below.