Lab-grown diamonds have gained currency and popularity in recent years. Many price-sensitive jewellery aficionados have opted for them as they are considered less costly than natural diamonds but of the same quality with no visible difference. Here we will explore the comparison between lab-grown diamonds and natural mined diamonds.
What are Lab Diamonds?
By definition, lab-grown diamonds are also real diamonds as they have the same chemical structure and visual looks as the natural mined diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds have the same tenacity and hardness, same colours and clarity, and same shapes and sizes. While the natural diamonds are mined from the earth, the lab-grown diamonds as the name suggests are manufactured in a lab. There are two processes to create lab-grown diamonds, the first one is HPHT (High-Pressure, High-Temperature), which pressurizes and heats the raw materials required for making diamonds mimicking the conditions of Earth’s mantle. The other process is CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition), which starts with a diamond seed, and gas is injected with high heat to let the free carbon accumulate on the seed.
Lab Diamonds-Fake or Real?
Lab diamonds are real diamonds with the same visual and chemical structure as naturally mined ones. The Federal Trade Commission acknowledged and recognized recently in 2018 that lab-grown diamonds are real.
Lab Diamond Vs Cubic Zirconia (CZ) and Moissanite
Cubic Zirconia and Moissanite are not real diamonds. They are instead diamond simulants having a visual appearance and clarity in colour like diamonds but with a different chemical structure than diamonds. Some further differences are explained briefly below.
1. Lab Diamonds Vs Cubic Zirconia (CZ)-Differences
Diamond is way harder than Cubic Zirconia which will get scratched and will break with time. Diamond is the hardest substance on earth with a hardness of 10/10 and virtually scratch-free. Cubic Zirconia is completely man-made and does not have a natural counterpart.
2. Lab Diamonds Vs Moissanite
Moissanite is also found naturally but very rarely. It is also grown in labs and is very hard with a hardness level of 9.25/10 but still softer than diamonds.
What is a Natural Diamond?
Natural diamonds are naturally formed diamonds excavated from diamond mines. Natural diamonds are created over billions of years due to the result of intense pressure and heat from the earth’s core on different forms of carbon.
Natural Diamonds vs Lab Diamonds?
Though the appearance of natural and lab-grown diamonds is the same yet there are some major differences between them in terms of value, cost, sustainability, and rarity. Some of these differences are elaborated on below.
1. The Look
Natural diamonds and Lab grown diamonds of high quality look the same. Both lab and natural diamonds can come in a variety of colours and also be colourless. The sparkle is the same and the shapes are similar too.
Natural mined diamonds are costly compared to lab-grown diamonds for obvious reasons. Lab diamonds of the same colour, cut, clarity, and size as a natural diamond are twenty-five to thirty per cent cheaper than their natural counterpart. Regarding long term value, high quality natural mined diamonds have retained their value while the long-term value of lab-grown diamonds is debatable and dependent on some speculative future trends and factors like the development of lab diamond production technology leading to more efficient and large-scale production of lab diamonds thus decreasing its price or the next generation preferring lab-grown diamonds over natural ones thus increasing the former’s price. The secondary market for natural diamonds is doing very well, whereas the lab grown secondary market is non-existent.
Regarding the sustainability of lab diamonds, though there have been bold claims made regarding their sustainability, yet there is no real data or transparency behind these statements. The following excerpt has been researched from a BBC Future web article regarding the sustainability of lab-grown diamonds. A consultancy firm Trucost researched and compiled a report for the Diamond Producers Association which negated the sustainability of lab-grown diamonds. This report found that while the natural mined diamond industry generated carbon emissions of 160Kg CO2 per polished carat, the lab diamond industry generated carbon emissions at the rate of 510Kg CO2 per polished carat. This points to an immense difference of 350Kg CO2 per carat. In another development, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) of the USA has warned some Lab grown diamond manufacturers regarding their eco-friendly claims without any evidence.
Also, the majority of the lab-grown diamond industry is located in China and utilizes machines and humungous micro-wave heat generators that require constant electricity which is mostly generated from coal which in itself a major environmental pollutant.
Grading and Certification
For natural mined diamonds over 0.30ct and over choose GIA certification and for lab-grown diamonds choose IGI or GCAL certification. All gem certification labs grade natural mined diamonds on the D to Z colour scale and FL-I3 clarity scales with IGI and GCAL also grading lab-grown diamonds on the same colour and clarity grading scales. Those who want strict grading may choose GCAL certification and those desirable of broad recognition should choose IGI certification.
Are Lab Diamonds Flawless?
Lab-grown diamonds also have inclusions or internal marks just as natural mined diamonds have. These clouds pinpoint and feather-shaped inclusions can also be termed birthmarks. Lab diamonds also have small flux-like and metallic inclusions particular only to them. Some lab diamonds are also engraved with a laser for identification and show the unique reflection usually with the letters LG before the black certification number to help trace the diamond
Should you choose Lab-Grown or Natural Diamonds?
Though lab-grown diamonds are cheaper and have the identical chemical composition as natural mined diamonds, you need to consider some more things before making the purchasing decision. Firstly, if you are buying diamond jewellery as an investment as well as a fashion accessory, then it is better to choose natural mined diamonds as they are rare and have an established consistent value. Secondly, if you are concerned about the environmental impact and carbon footprint of the diamonds, lab-grown diamonds have higher carbon emissions and higher energy consumption than naturally mined diamonds. Thirdly, natural mined diamonds have an established secondary market which means retailer buy-backs as well as ready acceptance by pawnshops, where you can sell your diamonds and receive the majority of your money back because of their rarity factor being natural mined. The secondary market for lab-grown diamonds is non-existent since these are being manufactured daily and thus have no rarity factor. The most important thing overall to consider when purchasing natural mined diamonds is the source of the diamonds. Reputable diamond jewellery companies ensure a strict conflict-free diamond policy and adhere to the rules of the Kimberley Process. The concept ‘Real is Rare’ applies to all-natural diamonds.
How to Tell if Diamond is Lab Grown or Natural Mined
It is not possible by looking at a diamond to determine whether a diamond is lab-grown or natural as both have the same hardness and look the same. It is only possible through gem testing labs who will determine the difference by checking the trace amount of Nitrogen present in lab diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds can also be identified as they are inscribed with lasers by the lab producing them and which shows the unique reflection of their inscribed certification number.
Both lab-grown and natural diamonds are unique in their ways and offer different values and benefits relative to the worldview you possess. Buy, enjoy and treasure the diamonds you acquired whether they be lab-grown or natural, as each diamond is precious in its own right, but remember ‘Real is Rare’ .