The debate over natural and lab-grown diamonds is a hot topic for jewelry enthusiasts, environmentalists, and engagement ring buyers. Lab-grown diamonds, also known as synthetic or lab-created diamonds, are manufactured in a laboratory setting. In comparison, natural diamonds form deep within the Earth's mantle over billions of years.
Proponents of lab-grown diamonds promote their cost-effectiveness, sustainability, and ethical considerations. In contrast, natural diamond lovers focus on unique characteristics, tradition, symbolism, and investment value.
This article aims to distinguish between these two types of diamonds and explore the Pros and Cons of the characteristics and growth processes. Let's dig in.
What are Lab-Grown Diamonds?
As stated, lab-grown diamonds, also known as synthetic or lab-created diamonds, are manufactured in a laboratory setting. In contrast, natural or earth-mined diamonds take billions of years to form deep in the Earth.
The Science Behind Lab-Grown Diamonds
These diamonds are grown using advanced technological processes that replicate the natural conditions under which diamonds form. They grow from a carbon seed placed in a chamber filled with carbon-rich gas and subjected to high temperatures and pressures.
Value and Accessibility of Lab-Grown Diamonds
While lab-grown diamonds share the same physical and chemical properties as natural diamonds, they are more accessible and less scarce, which affects their value.
Types of Lab-Grown Diamonds: HPHT vs. CVD
The industry produces lab-grown diamonds through two primary methods:
- 1High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT).
- 2Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD).
Both processes produce diamonds possessing the same physical and chemical properties as natural diamonds. However, they differ in recreating the natural growth conditions and the crystal structure.
High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT)
HPHT diamonds are grown in a laboratory setting that mimics the natural diamond-growing conditions. This process involves placing a diamond seed into a piece of carbon, along with a catalyst of mixed metals.
Temperatures in the chamber exceed 1400°C and pressures of approximately 5.5 Gigapascals. The high temperatures melt the metal catalyst, and extreme pressure forces the carbon atoms from the melting catalyst to bond with the diamond seed particles, eventually producing a larger crystal.
HPHT lab-grown diamonds sometimes require post-growth treatment for color correction due to the growth process and conditions. During the HPHT process, tiny metal inclusions from the catalyst can become trapped in the diamond.
How inclusions can color your perspective
These inclusions can impact the color of the diamond, sometimes resulting in a yellow or brownish tint. Furthermore, the HPHT process can lead to structural anomalies in the diamond crystal lattice, which can also affect the color. Specifically, nitrogen atoms in the growth environment can become incorporated into the diamond's crystal structure, imparting a yellow hue.
Post-growth treatments, such as high-temperature annealing and irradiation, can correct these color issues and improve the overall appearance of the diamond. Annealing can redistribute trapped nitrogen atoms, reducing their impact on color, while irradiation can alter the diamond's crystal structure, neutralizing color-causing defects.
It's important to note that while such treatments can enhance a lab-grown diamond's color, they do not detract from the fact that it has the same physical and chemical properties as a natural diamond.
Pros of HPHT:
Cons of HPHT:
Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)
CVD diamonds are grown by placing a diamond seed in a chamber filled with carbon-rich gas, such as methane. The chamber temperature must be about 800°C, which is lower than HPHT requires.
The heated chamber breaks down the gas molecules, and the carbon atoms bond with the diamond seed to form a more significant diamond crystal.
Pros of CVD:
Cons of CVD:
In summary, while HPHT and CVD methods can create beautiful, lab-grown diamonds, they each have unique advantages and disadvantages. The choice between the two processes often depends on the specific requirements of the diamond, such as its intended size, color, and clarity. From a practical perspective, the differences between CVD and HPHT lab-grown diamonds are not detectable to the naked eye.
What are Natural Diamonds?
As the name suggests, natural diamonds form deep within the Earth's mantle over billions of years. It takes immense pressure and extreme temperatures for natural diamonds to form. Then they make their way to the surface through volcanic eruptions, encased within kimberlite or lamproite.
Rarity and Value of Natural Diamonds
The allure of natural diamonds stems from their incredible beauty, and each crystal is as unique as a snowflake. Only a tiny fraction of natural diamonds ever reach the Earth's surface, making the rarity of natural diamonds quite significant.
A one-carat diamond weighs about 200 milligrams, roughly the size of a pea. However, it started as a piece of carbon weighing approximately 200 grams, roughly the size of a soda can.
That means less than 0.1% of the original carbon survives the journey from deep in the Earth's mantle to a one-carat diamond in an engagement ring.
Furthermore, only about 20% of earth-mined diamonds are gem-quality, suitable for fine jewelry. The majority are heavily included or poorly colored, significantly reducing the number of gem-quality diamonds.
The remaining 80% have industrial uses, such as drilling, cutting, and grinding tools. Therefore, the value of natural diamonds is not only due to their origin but also the mini
ng and sorting processes.
Comparing Natural and Lab-Grown Diamonds
From a chemical and physical standpoint, natural and lab-grown diamonds are virtually identical. They both possess the same hardness, brilliance and sparkle that make diamonds the most popular choice for engagement rings.
Natural diamonds typically form in an octahedron shape in the Earth's mantle, where high pressure and temperature conditions exist. These diamonds may also manifest in other forms, like dodecahedrons and cubes. The crystal shapes depend on the specific conditions present during their formation, such as temperature, pressure, and the presence of other minerals.
CVD lab-grown diamonds grow vertically from a starter seed on a flat plate. The diamond grows vertically, layer by layer, resulting in a cylindrical or columnar crystal structure.
HPHT lab-grown diamonds form under high pressure and high-temperature conditions that mimic the natural environment usually found deep in the Earth. The diamond seed grows into a more significant crystal, typically adopting a cubic or octahedral form.
Impact on Cutting and Polishing
The growth pattern of each type of diamond influences how they are cut and polished. Natural diamond crystals have geometric shapes that provide a guide for the cutter, whereas the outlines of CVD and HPHT diamonds require more interpretation.
In terms of yield, CVD diamonds may yield slightly less than natural or HPHT diamonds due to their shape. However, this can vary based on the individual crystal characteristics and the cutter's skill.
The crystal growth direction can impact how light travels through the diamond, affecting its appearance. Diamonds possess a high refractive index, bending light significantly and creating their characteristic sparkle.
In natural diamonds, the various faces of the octahedral crystal can each bend light in slightly different ways.
For CVD diamonds, the vertical growth can lead to "striae," or linear growth patterns that potentially affect the light's path through the diamond. However, these differences are generally not visible to the naked eye and do not significantly impact the diamond's appearance or brilliance.
In the case of HPHT diamonds, any inclusions or structural distortions introduced during the growth process could impact light refraction, but this is typically minor and does not significantly affect the overall brilliance of the diamond.
In conclusion, although the growth patterns of natural, CVD, and HPHT diamonds differ, they can all be polished into stunning and sparkling gemstones. Therefore, we primarily focus on specific proportions and higher degrees of optical precision rather than the crystal's origin.
Refer to our diamond buying guides by shape for specific proportions recommendations. We also invite you to use our free Diamond Concierge Service to search for diamonds or review their characteristics.
Mining Impact: One of the key differences between natural and lab-grown diamonds lies in their environmental and social impact. Diamond mining may have significant ecological consequences and displace people in the region.
Labor Issues: Lab-grown diamonds are not subject to the human rights issues that plague the mining industry.
Price Differences: Lab-grown diamonds are more affordable than their natural counterparts due to the difference in rarity and the cost of production.
Do Lab-Grown Diamonds Test as Real Diamonds?
Natural and lab-grown diamonds test positive on a diamond tester due to their crystalized carbon composition. In that case, they respond identically to thermal, electrical tests commonly used for diamond identification purposes. In contrast, diamond simulants, such as cubic zirconia and moissanite, are made from different materials.
Natural and Lab Grown Diamond Differences
Natural and lab-grown diamonds share the same fundamental composition and structure, constructed of carbon atoms arranged in a crystal lattice structure. Lab-created and natural diamonds share similar chemical, physical, and optical properties for all intents and purposes. However, there are some slight differences between their chemical, physical, and optical properties and the processes used to create and polish them.
- Natural Diamonds often contain minute amounts of boron, nitrogen, or other trace elements, resulting in fluorescence or fancy colors.
- Lab-grown Diamonds are typically chemically purer due to being grown in controlled laboratory conditions. However, many producers infuse trace amounts of boron or nitrogen to expedite crystal growth. Unfortunately, the side effect of 'doping' the batch with boron and nitrogen is it creates blue and yellow undertones, hence the need for post-growth treatment.
- Natural Diamonds: Their growth process produces crystals of various shapes that cutters polish in line with the natural crystal plane.
- Lab-grown Diamonds grow vertically on a platform in a uniform square shape, making it more difficult to polish to a higher standard.
- Natural Diamonds exhibit a broad range of optical characteristics due to impurities and irregularities in the crystal lattice. For example, trace amounts of boron produce varying degrees of blue fluorescence in some diamonds.
- Lab-grown Diamonds usually have lower fluorescence levels, but some lab-grown diamonds exhibit strong fluorescence due to the growth conditions.
Trained gemologists identify lab-grown diamonds by examining them under magnification. Lab-grown diamonds may exhibit certain microscopic features related to their growth process, such as columnar growth structures. The inscription on the girdle edge of the diamond should also indicate its lab-grown origin.
Should You Choose Natural or Lab-Grown Diamonds?
Choosing between a natural and lab-grown diamond is a matter of preference. Some people value the natural rarity and unique history that natural diamonds offer. In contrast, others prefer the ethical clarity and affordability of lab-grown diamonds.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer in the natural versus lab-grown diamonds debate. Each type of diamond has advantages and disadvantages that each buyer must weigh individually.
Natural diamonds offer a unique, billion-year history and relative scarcity, while lab-grown diamonds provide an ethically straightforward and cost-effective alternative. Ultimately, choosing natural and lab-grown diamonds should align with your values, aesthetic preferences, and price.
Consequently, natural diamonds can retain their value over time and even appreciate, making them a potential investment. In contrast, the price of lab-grown diamonds regularly decreases as the technology improves and becomes more affordable.
Pros of Buying Lab Grown Diamonds
Most people consider lab-grown diamonds because they are a more affordable than their earth-mined counterparts. However, lab-created diamonds also stand out due to their ethical origins that are 100% conflict free and mind-clean.
Natural and lab-grown diamonds share similar physical, chemical, and aesthetic properties, practically guaranteeing high-quality, brilliance, and durability.
Many consider laboratory-created diamonds a testament to technological advances. They offer consumers a budget-friendly and sustainable way to build their fine jewelry collection while preserving natural resources.
Cons of Buying Lab Grown Diamonds
While many consider synthetic diamonds an affordable and sustainable alternative to natural diamonds, there are certain drawbacks. First, lab-grown diamonds are mass-produced and do not retain their value. Technological advancements in the growing process mean that lab-grown diamond prices decrease daily.
Secondly, the longevity of lab-created diamonds is unknown in contrast with natural diamonds, which are billions of years old. Genuine earth-born crystals exhibit unique clarity characteristics that contribute to their unique personality.
Third, synthetically-produced diamonds may lack the depth and fire of their natural counterparts due to differences in the crystal structure. Additionally, there remains a stigma surrounding the authenticity and appeal of lab-grown diamonds, especially in the high-end luxury market.
Are Lab Grown Diamonds Graded and Certified?
Lab-grown diamonds can be graded and "certified" in the same manner as natural diamonds. Several widely recognized gemological laboratories offer grading services for lab-created diamonds:
The diamond grading process evaluates characteristics known as the Diamond 4Cs:
An experienced grader, AKA Gemologist, evaluates the diamond under controlled laboratory conditions and assigns a grade for each category.
The report should clearly state whether the diamond is natural or laboratory grown. Additionally, the report may indicate the growth method, e.g., Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) or High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT).
Most laboratories laser-inscribe the diamond's girdle with a report number and a statement of its lab-grown origin for verification purposes. Consequently, if your diamond is laser inscribed, you should register it with GEMTRACE™ to improve the chance of recovery in the event of loss.
Where to Buy Lab Grown Diamonds:
In our experience, here are the best places to buy lab-grown diamonds online:
Can You Insure a Lab Grown Diamond Ring?
Given that the average lab-created diamond ring costs over four thousand dollars, it's worth protecting. Currently, there are several ways to obtain lab-grown diamond jewelry insurance:
You can purchase a rider or "floater" as an add-on to an existing homeowner's policy to cover the replacement cost of lab-grown diamond jewelry. Adding a rider is essential because most homeowners' policies have a one-thousand-dollar jewelry limit.
Alternatively, you can purchase a specific jewelry insurance policy from Briteco or Jewelers Mutual. Both companies focus solely on jewelry insurance and offer coverage for damage, loss, theft, and mysterious disappearance. There are distinct advantages to buying a standalone jewelry policy, not the least of which is that a loss won't affect your homeowner's insurance premium.
Need Help Picking a Natural or Lab Grown Diamond?
Are you searching for natural or lab-grown diamonds to create the perfect engagement ring or special gift? The quest to find the best-looking diamonds can be mind-boggling due to the broad range of performance.
Use our free Diamond Concierge Service and experience the ease of finding your perfect diamond. Our focus on diamond light performance sets us apart from the masses who rely on price and platitudes.
We have 35+ years in the super ideal cut diamonds niche and excel at picking diamonds based on performance. We'll help you find diamonds that exhibit extraordinary sparkle, whether lab-grown or natural earth-mined.
Imagine the confidence of knowing that the diamond you choose has been hand-picked by experts in light performance. No more confusion, indecision, or guesswork, just the peace of mind of knowing you're getting a top-tier diamond.
Let's take the first step toward finding your perfect diamond together. Tap into our Diamond Concierge Service today, and we'll help you find a diamond that aligns with your values, suits your taste, and fits your budget.
Lab-grown diamonds are "real diamonds" with similar physical and chemical properties.
Neither type of diamond is objectively better; the choice depends on your preferences and values.
Specialized equipment is needed to differentiate between natural and lab-grown diamonds, as they are identical to the naked eye.
Lab-grown diamonds are more affordable because manufacturing occurs under laboratory conditions, without exploration or mining costs.
While lab-grown diamonds require significant energy to produce, they do not involve the environmental disruption caused by mining.