Lab Grown VS. Natural Diamonds

What Is A Lab Grown Diamond?

A lab grown diamond is exactly what the name suggests; a diamond, made up of exactly the same chemical structure of a natural mined diamond, but grown in a lab. If you have been in a jewelry store recently or shopped online, you have probably seen ads for lab grown diamonds in place of naturally mined diamonds. While lab grown diamonds are not “new”, they are gaining in popularity. There is a lot of information out there pertaining to the debate of lab grown or natural. What are the differences? Which is better? In this post, we will discuss what goes into growing a lab grown diamond, how natural diamonds are formed, what the benefits are to each, and how they differ.

How Is A Lab Grown Diamond Made?

Growing a diamond requires just a few short weeks and just a tiny sliver of a diamond. This would be referred to as a diamond “seed”. There are two different methods of growing diamonds. The first, most common, and most cost effective way to grow diamonds is called HPHT which stands for “High Pressure, High Temperature”. This process consists of putting the seed in a cell with another material such as nickel or iron. This extra material is known as the catalyst. A block of carbon is then placed on top of the cell and 870,000 pounds/square inch of pressure is applied. Simultaneously, the cell is being heated to up to 1,600 degrees Celsius. The heat melts the catalyst, allowing the carbon from the top of the cell to travel to the seed to form the familiar structure of a diamond as we know it. Depending on the catalyst used and the temperature control, a lab grown diamond can range in color and clarity. This allows those growing the diamonds to be specific about the characteristics of the stones they are creating. This process takes about four weeks for approximately a one carat stone. 

The second method, which is not used as often, is called Chemical Vapor Deposition or CVD. A diamond seed is still used but this time it is placed into a vacuum chamber filled with carbon containing gas (such as methane). A microwave beam then breaks down the carbon molecules and pushes towards the seed. This method requires a constant stopping and starting in order to cut off any non-diamond carbon pieces. Once they are full grown, heat treatment is then typically applied to remove the brownish color left behind. The time frame is about the same for this method as HPHT. After growing the diamonds in a lab, these diamonds are cut, polished, and graded in the same way a mined diamond would be. 

How Are Mined Diamonds Formed?

Mined diamonds are formed under similar conditions but in this case, those conditions are produced by nature. Immense heat (approximately 2300 degrees Celsius) and pressure are applied to a block of carbon 90-120 miles under the crust of the earth over millions of years. Then, volcanic activity brings the stones to the surface to be mined, cut, and polished into the stones we see glimmering in cases. Of natural diamonds that are mined from the earth, only about thirty percent of those are usable as gems. The rest are used in things like tools and cutting materials. The perfect set of circumstances has to happen in order for a high quality diamond to form, which is what makes higher quality diamonds rare and expensive. 

What's The Difference?

So, if both lab grown stones and mined stones are chemically the same, what is the difference? The most basic answer is rarity. The way they are formed makes one of these more rare than the other. Since mined diamonds take millions of years to form and their clarity characteristics are random, these stones are much more rare than their lab grown counterparts. Supply and demand then steps in and plays its part. If there are only so many high quality natural diamonds, it creates a higher demand, thus raising the prices. Ever since lab diamonds were created, their value has steadily decreased over time. Since lab grown diamonds are easily manufactured to their desired color, size, and clarity, rarity is nonexistent. Something that also needs to be considered when looking at lab grown diamonds is the policy surrounding trading them in. For example, here at Scott & Co. we have a diamond upgrade policy for our natural diamonds. Should you choose a natural diamond for an engagement ring now, you may “trade-up” in the future. We will take back your original diamond for the same price you paid for it and put it towards a larger stone. This factor is important to consider when deciding because lab grown diamond vendors may not allow this as they can just grow diamonds to replace the one you purchase, making it less valuable long term than a natural diamond and much harder to upgrade should you decide to.

We have covered how lab grown diamonds are made, how naturals are formed, and why the price difference. Now, we should tackle the important question of how these stones are differentiated since they look identical. The most basic way to tell them apart is a tiny laser inscription on the diamond itself. If the diamond is lab grown from a reputable source, it should have an inscription on it that is only visible with magnification. Naturals have inscriptions too. That is, if they have been graded by certain labs. GIA and Rare & Forever both use laser inscriptions to identify their stones. Most of these inscriptions will be on the girdle of the stone however, Rare & Forever’s is on the table (see pictures below). Another way to tell lab grown apart from natural is the use of special machinery. When placed in this equipment, the stone will glow different colors based on if they are mined or not. This is because lab grown diamonds and natural diamonds have different fluorescence. These kinds of testers use UV light to show off their fluorescence and help us properly identify if stones are lab grown or natural. 

What Should I Choose?

Now, besides the price point, why would someone want to own a lab grown diamond instead of a natural? If you see advertising for lab grown diamonds, the majority of them will boast about lab grown diamonds being “green” or “environmentally friendly”. This can be a huge selling point for some people, especially the younger generation. We see more and more everyday how many things can have an impact on our planet and the only thing that is going to change things for the better is if everyone is doing their part. That is why lab grown diamonds are so popular with certain groups of people. However, the term “environmentally friendly” is not entirely accurate. While it is true that lab grown requires fewer natural resources and does not disturb the physical earth by means of mining, this is a good example of something called “greenwashing”. This happens when a company makes something seem more environmentally friendly than it actually is. Think about this: when a mined diamond is formed in the earth, it uses temperatures and pressures way beyond what we see everyday. Imagine how much energy it would take to recreate those conditions in a lab on an even faster timeline. This requires the use of large amounts of energy. The question that needs to be considered is not whether lab grown diamonds or mined diamonds are better, but what are these companies using or doing to offset their impact? Are these labs using renewable energy like wind or solar? Are these mines donating time and money to help the communities that surround them live a better quality of life? In both cases we need to not look at the diamond itself but the impact it has on the world around it. 

Mined diamonds also have a reputation leftover from the wars of the past as something that was traded in times of economic upheaval by those that wished to do harm. These were known as something called “blood diamonds”. We still hear of this as a concern even though this is an issue long since passed. Most people do not have this knowledge, however, and assume that things that happened years ago are still a concern. Now, laws are in place to prohibit the buying, selling, and trading of diamonds from countries that do not adhere to strict standards for how the diamonds are mined and the political climate of that specific country. Currently, here in the US and the UN, the purchasing of diamonds from Russia is restricted. This is due to the current political climate in the country. Things like the FTC and the Kimberley Process keep diamond trading in check. Certain labs also offer origin reports for your stones so you know exactly where they are coming from. If you want to learn more about these processes, we will be covering them in future posts or you can check out the sources at the end of this post. 

With all of this being said, which diamond is best for you? That depends on so many different factors that only you can really answer. Are you concerned about the long term value of the diamond? Then you might lean more towards a natural. Are you just looking for the biggest diamond you can afford? Lab might be a good fit. Do you love the idea of something being perfectly unique and only existing due to the will of nature? Natural, all the way. Here at Scott & Co. we can also pinpoint what is important to you and give you the information you need to make this decision.


Sources & Additional Information


Parts of a diamond diagram