What exactly is the difference between diamond mined from the ground and diamond manufactured in the laboratory?
You have come to the right place. We shall provide you with information about:
- The comparison between natural and lab created diamonds
- The cost of lab grown diamonds compared to real diamonds
- The visual differences between natural diamond and lab diamond
- And a lot more!
Lab Created vs Natural Diamonds
Terminologies such as “synthetic” or “real” diamond when used to refer to natural diamonds are quite misleading. These terms insinuate that lab diamonds are fake gemstones or that diamonds from the lab are stimulants just like moissanites and cubic zirconia.
The chemical composition of lab diamonds is almost the same as that of natural diamonds. What brings about the difference between the physical properties of the two is that natural diamonds always contain some small quantities of nitrogen.
The major difference between synthetic diamonds and natural diamonds is where they originate from. Synthetic diamonds is artificially made in the lab while natural diamonds are mined from the ground. There is a lot of noise about lab created diamonds and whether they are really worth their prices. How different are real diamonds from lab diamonds?
Let us look at them.
Lab Created Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds: Origins
The major difference between these two types of diamonds is their origin. In lab diamonds it simply means the laboratory process used.
Lab Created Diamonds
Just like plants are grown in the garden, lab diamonds are grown too (in the laboratory) using two distinct methods: chemical vapor deposition (CVD) and high pressure high temperature (HPHT). When HPHT is used, a crystal seed of natural diamond is placed under extreme heat and pressure, similar to that found deep in the earth. This is thereafter put in clean carbon and grown into diamond.
CVD method uses diamond seeds created from HPHT. A single seed is put in a chamber filled with carbon gases (methane mostly). The seed then ionizes into a plasma-like substance. This plasma breaks down all bonded molecules leaving only carbon. The carbon forms around the seed and later crystallizes.
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Unlike lab diamonds which can be ready for use within weeks, natural diamonds take billions of years to form.
According to gemologists, diamond forms through a lengthy process. About 100 miles deep into the mantle of the earth, there is immense heat and pressure which makes graphite to alter its molecular structure. Graphite is the mineral form of carbon which under the pressure and heat forms diamonds. There is no way of proving for sure that this is what happens exactly.
You must be wondering how the diamonds travel from the mantle up to the earth’s crust for extraction. Volcanic pipes are responsible for the travel. Very many years ago, volcanic eruptions took place quite often and were responsible for moving the diamonds up the volcanic pipes known as kimberlite pipes.
Once the diamonds are out of the kimberlite pipes and into the crust, they are left to cool down. They then lay rough ready for mining.
Lab Created Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds: Visual Aspects
The videos below show both lab diamonds and natural diamonds both of 1 carat VS1 G color.
From the above videos, you may not quickly tell the difference in appearance unless you are a trained jeweler. If you are keen enough, the difference is in the minute natural inclusions found in natural diamonds.
Both kinds of diamonds have inclusions. The inclusions found in natural diamonds are in the forms of pinpoints, feathers, clouds and needles. In lab diamonds, the inclusions are usually metallic.
When identifying lab grown diamonds, you will find that their optical properties in terms of the level of shine and sparkle are the same as that of natural diamonds. However, the cost of lab diamonds is cheaper even with same appearances.
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Lab Grown Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds: Cost
When lab diamonds were still new in the market, they were about 20% cheaper than real diamonds. Today, these lab manufactured gemstones are very popular and their prices have gone further lower to 50% that of natural diamonds. The cost of lab created diamonds however keeps changing.
Let’s take these two diamonds that we compared in a video earlier.
Both diamonds have the same grades, but the lab diamond piece goes for $3,760 lower than the real diamond.
IGI is a recognized body for grading diamonds; it gives more appropriate results for lab diamonds than mined diamonds. There can be minor differences in the two pieces of diamond in terms of girdle thickness, fluorescence which may bring about the varying price.
Why Do Lab Diamonds Cost Less Than Mined Diamonds?
All diamonds whether real or synthetic undergo the 4Cs quality assessment technique. The 4Cs were developed by Gemological Institute of America and De Beers to be used by all jewelry stores and jewelers.
The grade used to assess the quality of natural diamonds is the same one used in lab diamonds. It is important to acknowledge that there is no diamond that is free from flaws.
The one reason why the cost of mined diamonds is higher than that of lab diamonds is because of supply.
Lab diamonds are plenty in supply. In other words, laboratory can manufacture unlimited amounts of diamonds. Unfortunately, natural diamonds are only as much as can be found in the mines.
The reports from diamond grading bodies play an important role in their pricing. Mined diamonds are graded and reported by AGS or GIA. Lab created diamonds are graded and reported by IGI. You will find that mined diamonds which carry a grading report from IGI do not hold waters and therefore the price may be compromised.
Lab Created Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds: Value
If you have been shopping for natural diamonds online for some time now, you may have noticed that majority of the jewelry shops have an “upgrade policy”.
With this provision, you have the opportunity to exchange your old diamond jewelry with a new and better one. Every company assesses the diamonds individually to determine the worth. In most cases, the customer has to choose a diamond jewelry that cost double the jewelry they intend to trade in.
Lab diamonds do not benefit from the upgrade policy since their value keeps on dropping. For this reason, many if not all online jewelry stores do not have upgrade policies for lab diamonds. Jewelers and jewelry stores do not want to risk the huge losses that may come with trying to upgrade lab diamonds whose value has depreciated.
On the other hand, natural diamonds retain their value. You may not get the same amount you paid for when buying but you will surely get an upgrade or a buyback option from the store. Blue Nile online jewelry stores has an upgrade policy and resell option through Circa, their partner service.
Most jewelry diamond pieces included do not usually retain their value as expected. Rare gemstones like Paraiba tourmaline can retain their value. Jewelers advise that you should not invest money in lab grown or natural diamonds.
If you must buy jewelry as an investment, then go for natural diamonds because of the resale value. If you are not pro investment, just ignore this point.
Lab Created Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds: Other Factors
Aside from the optical, chemical and physical properties as well as the price, there are other factors which may be important to some customers.
Conflict free diamonds
In some parts of the world (Africa mostly), diamonds are used for the wrong purposes. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia and the Central African Republic, diamonds are mined and sold and the funds used to facilitate wars and terrorism activities. Several customers prefer buying lab diamonds just to be sure they are not buying any diamond that is blood stained. Conflict free diamonds are also known as blood diamonds.
To ensure that diamonds being traded in markets of these countries were conflict free, the Kimberley Process was developed. Although there is so much argument about the effectiveness of the Kimberley Process, it has helped jewelers filter out natural diamonds that come from the war torn areas.
Because of the doubts with how effective the Kimberley Process is Brilliant Earth runs a “Beyond Conflict Free” program that completely traces the routes of diamonds and other gemstones they sell, right from the origin to the distribution routes.
The good news is that with lab diamonds, you know exactly where they are coming from. They are made in the lab and are therefore free of conflict. Thanks to the enormous ethical and environmental activism, lab diamonds have become very popular today.
Lab diamonds are more environmental friendly than natural diamonds. You will find many jewelers advertising synthetic diamonds as sustainable and eco-friendly gemstones. The much environmental awareness in the industry has made sustainability one of the main reasons people prefer lab grown diamonds.
The Federal Trade Commission however warned jewelers and jewelry stores against marketing lab diamonds as environmentally sustainable or eco-friendly. This is because there is no scientific proof that they actually are. Furthermore, the commission argues that such advertisements imply that other gemstones are not conflict free which is not the case.
The diamond mining business is huge in many countries, providing employment and national revenue. The wages of workers in this industry may be high for some countries compared to others. Some customers prefer to buy natural diamonds simply because they are naturally mined.
When you buy mined diamonds, you keep millions of people in employment thereby being able to continue catering for themselves and their families. Do not shy away from buying natural diamonds because they are expensive, buy because you would like to keep the miners in employment.
Diamonds are not just traditional white; there are several other colors of diamonds that you can find in the market. Choosing fancy colored diamonds as they are commonly known can be a daunting task. Colored diamonds exist both for lab created and natural diamonds.
The CVD process used to manufacture diamonds bring out colored diamonds, mostly brown. This can then be treated and turned to white. This is one of the reasons why some people prefer natural diamonds as they are naturally colorless. Lab diamonds can only be treated and passed off as colorless or near colorless gemstones.
Diamonds are the hardest gemstones you can find on earth measuring an impressive 10 on the Moh’s scale: natural or synthetic. Treating colored diamonds in the lab does not affect their level of hardness or durability.
Colorless lab grown diamonds are usually treated using heat in the lab to change them to another color. Online jewelry stores like James Allen and Brilliant Earth have wide selections of fancy colored diamonds that are lab created. To be specific, yellow lab diamonds are popular in James Allen. Fancy colored diamonds allow customers to bring live to their jewelry collection with a unique colored diamond engagement ring, only at a portion of the cost of their natural counterparts.
Colored natural diamonds are so rare to find and very expensive if found (more than $10,000). In order for them to be formed, certain elements have to be present deep in the mantle of the earth. Nitrogen has to be present for yellow diamonds to be formed and boron for blue. The diamond scale for color grading starts from bright yellow to faint yellow, this means yellow diamonds are the most common.
There is next to zero chance that these two will join to form colored diamonds over billions of years, the reason it is rare to find colored diamonds. If found (if nature desires) they are very expensive. If you get a chance to see natural colored diamonds, you will notice that their pigment is less than that of lab colored diamonds.
It is easy to add color to lab diamonds to make their pigments intense. With natural colored diamonds, you will rarely find them in large carat weights. Only smaller carat diamonds can be found with desirable pigments.
See below the difference between a la created pink diamond from Brilliant Earth and a mined pink diamond from James Allen
Conclusion: Lab Created Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds
So, which is preferable?
Will you go for natural diamonds that formed in the earth by chance or settle for affordably priced synthetic diamonds?
Just to list a few of the advantages of lab created diamonds: they have the same chemical, optical and physical properties as real diamonds; they are conflict free and are cheaper than natural diamonds.
On the downside, lab diamonds do not appreciate or retain their value, unless sentimental. They also do not qualify for upgrades. They are not considered to be special or rare and do not hold the magic that comes with natural diamonds.
Natural diamonds are very rare although they seem to be available almost everywhere. It is actually difficult to get good quality diamonds at jewelry stores.
Let’s take a look at how hard it is to find gem-quality diamonds. In approximately 100 tons of diamond rock, you will find not more than 100 carats of rough diamond. In all these, you will find only 20% of it is gem-quality which will be sold in stores. Mines with plenty of diamonds require miners to move 5 tons of diamond ore above 25lbs of rock to get only 1 carat of gem-quality diamond. If this is cut, half of that quantity is lost, leaving you with half a carat to sell.
In short, this means that miners have to extract at minimum 1200 tons of diamond ore to get one carat weight. There is a lot of work that goes on in the mines before you can see diamond sparkling on an engagement ring, this is not even half of it.
I like to buy natural diamonds, not because I have a lot in the bank but because of the fact that I have something that is a result of a natural occurrence. Just imagine how long the story would be if diamonds narrated what they have gone through to reach your finger!
Regardless of your choice of diamonds, make sure you pick the type of diamond that suits you, your value and your preference.