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Your complete guide to natural vs lab grown diamonds

QUICK LINKS: Origins | Look | Sustainability | Price | FAQs about natural vs lab grown diamonds |

Are you considering natural or lab-created diamonds for your engagement ring? Here’s all you need to know to make an informed decision.

Lab-grown or manufactured diamonds, as they are commonly known, seem like a great budget and environmentally-friendly option for your next ring investment, but are these synthetic diamonds all they are cracked up to be?

ORIGINS

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What is a natural diamond?

A natural diamond is the world’s most precious gemstone, formed deep in the earth’s depths between 2.5 to 3.6 billion years ago. That’s right, even before dinosaurs or even the atmosphere. They are rare and part of the earth’s history; each diamond is unique. These natural wonders are composed of pure carbon, and with their atomically bonded lattice structure, diamonds are the hardest substance on earth.

From their formation millions of years ago through the natural forces of molten temperatures, immense pressures of the earth’s core, and their long and vast journey through volcanic eruptions, the diamond is and always will be highly prized. Their durability, rarity and scintillation far surpass every other gemstone.

What is a lab-grown diamond?

A lab-grown diamond is a synthetic diamond grown in a laboratory over 2 to 4 weeks. High-pressure and high-temperature techniques (HTHP) for creating synthetic diamonds have been around since the 1950s. The enormous energy costs needed to produce these lab-made diamonds were not commercially viable and far outweighed the price of natural diamonds. The manufactured diamonds were also not of gem quality; they were often filled with inclusions and yellow in colour. Finding nitrogen causes yellow in diamonds; scientists removed it from their chemical creations to produce whiter synthetic diamonds.

Within a few short decades, advancements in HTHP diamonds meant companies could grow bigger and cheaper synthetics, and these diamonds slowly began seeping into the retail market. Even today, the HTHP process is still very complex and expensive.

Most modern lab-grown diamond companies use less costly chemical vapour processes. In this chemical vapour deposition (CVD) process, carbon gases are super heated to extreme temperatures in a chamber to stick to a tiny diamond seed and grow a bigger diamond. Interestingly, scientists discovered the CVD process around the same era as HTHP, though it was still expensive and time-consuming as only one seeded diamond could be grown per chamber.

Advancements in technology over the past few decades have allowed lab-made diamond companies to grow dozens at a time to be commercially viable and ensure that the synthetic diamond industry continues to produce cheaper and higher volumes of lab-grown diamonds every year.

LOOK

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Lab-grown diamonds have the same carbon composition and are classified as diamonds; natural diamonds have a tiny amount of nitrogen, while man-created diamonds do not. 

Natural and lab-made diamonds will have the same refraction, the optical properties of how the light passes through the material. If they are well cut with excellent proportions, both will display scintillation or sparkle.

Lab-created diamonds may receive post-growth enhancement treatments to improve the diamond’s colour. Lab diamonds can have blue, brown, green, grey and yellow hints of colour. Also, synthetic diamonds have “grown remnants” inclusions resembling crystals. Natural diamonds are also found in different colour and clarity grades. Still, the benefit of natural diamonds is selecting the highest grading to ensure it is naturally colourless and internally flawless.

SUSTAINABILITY

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Are lab-grown diamonds more sustainable and ethical than natural diamonds?

Lab-created diamonds are not as “environmentally friendly” as you would imagine. Lab-grown diamonds are made in countries including China, Singapore and the US that rely heavily upon fossil fuels for energy. The lab-grown industry is famously unregulated, and many companies are creating synthetic diamonds with massive carbon output and only caring about the bottom line. The enormous amount of power needed to grow a diamond leads to significant production of carbon pollution if the energy source is dirty. A 2019 Trucost report  found on average, greenhouse gas emissions are around three times greater for lab-grown diamonds than mined ones. On the other hand, the natural diamond mining industry is highly regulated, with 99% of mining companies following principles and creating their own environmental, community and sustainable programs. For instance, the DeBeers carbon capture program “building forever” seeks to create carbon capture technology to neutralise their output entirely by 2030 and capture more. And Rio Tinto has partnered with Carbfix to make the world’s first carbon mineral storage hub. Check out what De Beers has to say about their sustainability and ethics here; Sustainability & Ethics – De Beers Group

PRICE

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Are lab-grown diamonds less expensive than natural diamonds?

Lab-grown diamonds are less expensive than their natural counterparts as they are far less rare. It’s no secret that the price per carat of lab diamonds has been dropping fast. With more global companies capitalising on cheaper manufacturing costs and gaining higher outputs, the ever-increasing supply volumes are causing the price to drop. Over the past 18 months, the cost of lab-grown diamonds has decreased by at least 80%.  

 

Natural diamonds are a valuable commodity as the number of diamonds available is finite. This supply and demand effect in the stock market will increase their intrinsic value rather than decline.

Do lab-grown diamonds lose their value?

Lab-grown diamonds have little to no resale value, no matter the original purchase price. Suppose you are making a significant investment in a diamond. In that case, a natural diamond will continue to increase in value over time, whereas a synthetic diamond will have lost value as soon as you have purchased it.

Although less expensive, the main disadvantage of a lab-grown diamond is that it doesn’t retain its initial investment price. You also can’t resell to a jeweller or second-hand jewellery store, and it is likely to secure a maximum of a few hundred dollars at an auction or on eBay.

FAQ about natural vs lab-grown diamonds:

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Q1. Can a jeweller tell the difference between lab-grown diamonds and real diamonds?

A jeweller can tell the difference between a lab-grown diamond and a natural diamond with the help of machinery. Some UV screeners will indicate a diamond is likely synthetic if the stone holds fluorescence for a more extended period than a mined diamond after exposure. In others, a mined diamond will appear blue, and lab diamonds will appear red.

Q2. Do lab-grown diamonds pass the diamond tester?

Lab-grown diamonds pass the diamond tester as they have the same carbon composition as a natural diamond and therefore have the same thermal conductivity that a diamond tester will test for. Therefore lab-created diamond certification must state it is ‘lab-grown’ and not natural.

Q3. Does GIA offer grading services for lab-grown diamonds?

GIA does offer certificates for lab-grown diamonds. GIA scientists can confirm how a diamond was grown and whether there is evidence of post-growth enhancement treatments. These methods are added to the report. You can read about GIA’s process here:  GIA process for laboratory grown diamond certificates

Q4. What kind of diamond should I choose for an engagement ring?

There is something romantic about choosing a piece of earth’s history to symbolise your relationship and to hand down to your future family by selecting a natural diamond for your engagement ring. A genuine diamond’s rarity ensures its increase in value over time also. 

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