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.
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.
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.
Where to Buy Lab Grown Diamonds:
In our experience, here are the best places to buy lab-grown diamonds online:
1. Are lab-grown diamonds real diamonds? Lab-grown diamonds are "real diamonds" with similar physical and chemical properties.
2. Are natural diamonds better than lab-grown diamonds? Neither type of diamond is objectively better; the choice depends on your preferences and values.
3. How can I tell if a diamond is natural or lab-grown? Specialized equipment is needed to differentiate between natural and lab-grown diamonds, as they are identical to the naked eye.
4. Why are lab-grown diamonds cheaper? Lab-grown diamonds are more affordable because manufacturing occurs under laboratory conditions, without exploration or mining costs.
5. Are lab-grown diamonds eco-friendly? While lab-grown diamonds require significant energy to produce, they do not involve the environmental disruption caused by mining.