Lab diamonds vs real diamonds – which is best? It’s a topic of hot debate. In this article, we will provide you with all the information you need to make an educated decision when buying our most opulent of gemstones. You’ll discover how lab diamonds are made, how they differ from mined diamonds and whether they’re a good alternative to natural diamonds.
Opening a box to reveal a new piece of diamond jewellery never fails to set the heart racing. Such is our love affair with this precious gemstone, when we pop a diamond ring on our finger or fasten a glistening diamond bracelet around our wrist – we feel special. No other stone evokes quite such strong a reaction, but for the consumer, the reputation of mined diamonds has been tainted by ethical and environmental concerns in recent years.
Today, we can buy lab-grown diamonds, but how do these compare to natural diamonds?
We can’t help but fall under the spell of a beautifully cut diamond. The clarity and the dancing colours all make for a truly magical piece of jewellery when the diamond takes centre stage. The cost of a mined diamond has always reflected the rarity of the stones, the intricacies involved in extracting them from the ground and the time and skill needed to cut and polish them to perfection. The cost of diamonds is prohibitive for many and for some, stories involving the methods and practices of mining these gemstones are cause for concern.
It became apparent that many diamond mining processes were unethical and damaging to the environment. As the “scandals” broke globally, most mining companies worked hard to clean up their act and to promote the sale of conflict-free diamonds.
With the reputation of the diamond industry at the very least tarnished, labs took the opportunity to offer a completely conflict-free alternative to the mined diamond. Over the past decade, there has been a rise in the popularity of lab grown diamonds, especially as the lab creations vary so little from natural diamonds in terms of physical properties.
Chemically, a lab grown diamond is the same as a natural diamond – it is just produced intentionally in a lab rather than by chance within the ground.
Natural diamonds were created up to three billion years ago when carbon was exposed to vast amounts of pressure and immense heat, around 100 miles deep within the earth’s mantle. These forces altered the manner in which carbon atoms in the earth were arranged, creating diamonds. These stones made their way closer to the earth’s surface when underground eruptions jettisoned them up through carrot-shaped volcanic pipes known as kimberlites.
In the lab, two methods can be used to create diamonds from carbon atoms. The first method involves a seed diamond (a very thin sliver of diamond) being put through a High-Pressure, High Temperature (HPHT) system, which mimics the natural processes that occurred billions of years ago. Here, the seed diamond and carbon atoms are placed in a chamber and exposed to temperatures in excess of 1500C and pressures of over 1.5 million pounds per square inch – leading to the creation of a new diamond over several weeks.
The second and now more commonly used method is known as Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD). This involves placing a seed diamond in a chamber into which a carbon-rich gas is pumped before being heated to 800 C. A chemical reaction is facilitated under these conditions whereby the gaseous carbon atoms deposit themselves onto the seed diamond, layering themselves up in a manner similar to a 3D printer. The result is a new diamond, again formed over several weeks.
As labs have fine-tuned their methods for creating artificial diamonds, the cost of production has reduced significantly. In 2008 it cost $4000 per carat to produce a diamond in a lab, but today it can cost as little as $300 per carat using the CVD method.
If you’re curious about lab created diamonds vs natural diamonds, one of the questions you might ask is whether lab grown diamond can be classed as a real diamond. The answer is yes; chemically and physically, a diamond grown in a lab is exactly the same as one formed within the earth’s mantle.
There are numerous standard-bearing institutions that grade natural diamonds and lab diamonds using the same criteria: cut, clarity, colour and carat. They can do so because there is no difference, on a chemical, physical or aesthetic basis, between the two.
Lab grown diamonds can also come with certification, just like a natural diamond; five years ago, the Federal Trade Commission recognised lab diamonds as “real”.
If we were to put a natural diamond and a lab diamond in front of you, just by looking at them you would not be able to tell any difference between them. It takes a much closer look at the structure of these diamonds to start seeing the tell-tale signs of a lab grown diamond vs a real diamond. Even a jeweller needs help to tell the difference between a lab and natural diamond, relying on the laser inscription on lab diamonds.
A real diamond contains nitrogen atoms alongside the carbon atoms, but a lab diamond does not. The presence of nitrogen in a natural diamond does not give it any physical or optical advantage over a lab diamond.
By far the most significant difference between the two types of diamond is the price. Natural diamonds are much more expensive because they are a finite resource. Their extraction process requires people power and a considerable amount of energy. Because of the state that natural diamonds come out of the earth in, it takes time and skill to achieve a high-quality finish with the cut and polishing.
There is no difference between the durability of synthetic diamonds vs natural diamonds. Though the natural diamonds compressed into creation billions of years ago may have encountered more extreme forces, the Mohs hardness scale indicates that lab diamonds still sit at a ten on this scale, making them as durable as natural diamonds and placing them as the hardest material in existence.
A lab-grown diamond’s colour and clarity compare favourably with a natural diamond. Indeed, the clarity may be enhanced in man-made diamonds thanks to the tight control of conditions. That’s not to say that lab grown diamonds don’t sometimes feature the same imperfections and cloudiness as mined diamonds, hence the similar spectrum of gradings between the two.
We know that to the naked eye, a lab diamond can look just as glorious as a naturally mined one, but are there other pros alongside the aesthetic? And what about the cons of each diamond type?
If the pros of lab grown diamonds and the cons of the natural diamond mining trade have left you keen to source a man-made diamond, it’s prudent that you find the highest quality stones available to you.
As you know, because lab grown diamonds are now considered “real”, they should come with certification. To ensure you’re purchasing a real lab grown diamond, you must ask for sight of its International Gemological Institute (IGI) certificate. The diamond may also have been assessed and certified by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
You will be able to ask which method of production was used when making your diamond. Both the HPHT and CVD methods produce good grades of durable diamonds. The information you find about the different production methods may be biased if it released by a lab that uses one process rather than the other. The truth is, both techniques can produce diamonds across all grades – from the wonderfully imperfection-free, flawless stone to a cloudy and almost worthless gem. In other words, it is the grade, defined by the colour, clarity, cut and carat, that determines the quality of the lab diamond you’re purchasing.
However, it may help you to know that the HPHT method, on average, produces higher colours than the CVD method, while CVD produces a higher yield of diamonds of a greater clarity.
As this article has demonstrated, there are pros and cons to lab grown diamonds vs real diamonds, but ultimately there is no difference between the appearance of the two types of diamonds. And because the stones are graded in the same manner, it comes down to personal choice.
If your budget allows it and you can source a conflict-free diamond, you can support the mining communities and own a stone that should at least hold its value by buying a natural diamond. If you’re on a budget or feel strongly about the issues surrounding mining, a lab grown diamond offers you a stunning alternative.
Whether you’ve opted for a natural or a lab grown diamond, TH March can insure your diamond jewellery to give you peace of mind that these special items are protected. Whether it’s your beloved engagement ring or a set of diamond earrings, with over 135 years of experience insuring jewellery, you’re in the safest of hands. Get in touch today if you need advice on insuring your diamonds.