ARE LAB-GROWN DIAMONDS REAL DIAMONDS?
The popularity of lab grown diamonds is increasing year over year. In early 2023, PR Newswire announced that Lab Grown Diamonds Take Over the World and even London jewellers are recognising the importance of offering consumers more sustainable, lab made diamonds. But what are “lab grown diamonds”? Are they any different from “real” diamonds? In this article we will provide a comprehensive comparison. Let’s start by explaining how natural diamonds are formed.
How do Natural Diamonds Form?
Natural diamonds form over millions of years deep within the Earth’s mantle. The process of creating a diamond begins with carbon atoms that have been exposed to extreme heat and pressure under the earth’s surface. As these atoms are subjected to temperatures up to 1,100 degrees Celsius, they begin to bond in a unique crystalline lattice structure that is incredibly strong and durable. This bonding process continues until the diamond is fully formed. Natural diamonds form anywhere from 160 km to up to 1,200 km beneath the earth's crust. In order for a diamond to reach its finished state, it must travel through several different layers of rock before it finally reaches its destination near the Earth's surface. During this journey the diamond is exposed to extreme pressure and high temperatures. The specific conditions of the environment where diamonds are formed determine their quality and characteristics such as colour, clarity, shape, size and weight.
Natural diamonds also require time-, labour- and resource-consuming extraction processes. Ohio State University states that "Diamond mining also has many detrimental impacts on the environment including soil erosion, deforestation, and ecosystem destruction." This begs the question: How “natural” are mined diamonds?
How are Lab Grown Diamonds Created?
A lab grown diamond is a diamond that has been artificially grown in a laboratory. The process used to grow diamonds is referred to as diamond synthesis. Lab grown diamonds can be produced using two processes: High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). HPHT utilises extremely high pressures and temperatures to convert a diamond seed into a full grown gemstone. This process can take less than a day and requires specialised equipment like autoclaves and presses. CVD is another method used to create synthetic stones. It follows several steps which begin with the creation of a diamond “seed” which is then placed inside a chamber containing a gas mixture specifically designed to replicate the growth conditions of mined diamonds. Once inside the chamber, varying levels of pressure and temperature are applied at different stages to cause crystals to form around the seed until it reaches its desired size and shape. This process mimics the conditions that lead to the formation of natural diamonds. At CARAT* LONDON we use both methods to grow our GENTLE DIAMONDS.
Comparing the Physical and Chemical Properties of Mined and Lab Produced Diamonds
Lab made diamonds are physically, chemically, and optically identical to their mined counterparts. They are composed of pure carbon atoms arranged in a three-dimensional crystal lattice structure that gives them their hardness, durability and sparkle.
In terms of hardness and toughness, both types of diamonds have an identical 10/10 rating on the Mohs hardness scale. This means they are both hard enough to cut glass without being scratched and will also resist chipping or shattering when struck by other objects. However, because nature has had longer time periods to form its diamonds it is possible for some mined specimens to have higher densities on average than their laboratory counterparts.
The optical properties of these two types of diamonds also differ slightly but in general when it comes down to shine and sparkle they will appear very similar if not identical once cut into the final gemstone form. Mined diamond crystals often contain tiny imperfections called ‘inclusions’ which can reduce light refraction within the stone. While lab made diamonds also come with imperfections that make every gemstone unique, it is easier to control the composition of the stone and to create stones with a more homogenous structure. This often gives lab produced diamonds superior clarity under magnification or during observation with a jeweller’s loupe or microscope.
Are Lab Made Diamonds Real Diamonds?
Due to their identical physical, chemical and optical properties, lab grown diamonds are just as real as mined diamonds. In 2018 the US Federal Trade Commission has determined that lab grown diamonds as real and also the Gemological Institute of America, (GIA) has started grading laboratory-grown diamonds in 2007. Furthermore, in 2019 GIA discontinued the practice of using the term “synthetic” to describe lab made diamonds in its grading reports. Even professional gemologists require special tools in order to determine whether a diamond is lab made or mined.
Why are More and More Consumers Opting for Lab Grown Diamonds?
The major differences between mined and lab-grown diamonds is their origin. While mined diamonds come from deep within the earth's core where they have formed over millions of years, lab-grown diamonds are created in a matter of weeks under controlled conditions in a laboratory.
Lab-grown diamonds offer ethical benefits over their mined counterparts since their production does not involve any mining activities which can cause significant environmental damage as well as displacement of local communities. Lab made diamonds thus require fewer resources than traditional mined diamonds. This helps reduce their social and environmental footprint. This explains why especially younger consumers often prefer lab grown diamond engagement rings over engagement rings fitted with mined stones. According to CNN, there is even a trend of couples upgrading their existing engagement rings by replacing a mined stone with a larger, lab made diamond. Explore our lab grown diamond engagement ring collection to find the right piece for yourself.
Another reason why lab made diamonds are increasingly popular is their lower price. The process of extracting diamonds from the earth and cutting and polishing them is complex and resource intensive. As a result mined diamonds have a long supply chain and change hands many times before finding their way to the end customer. This and their rarity result in their high costs.
Lab diamonds on the end have a much shorter supply chain and do not need to be extracted from the earth. As a result, at a similar grade, they are up to 50 percent less expensive than their mined counterparts.