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Lab-Made vs Natural Diamonds

Before the invention of freezers, ice was a precious thing. People thirsty for cool drinks in the summer had to rely on ice shipped in from far frigid regions and stored at immense expense. Being able to make ice on demand made this luxury available for everyone.

Today, diamonds are going through the same kind of revolution. It’s no longer necessary to mine diamonds in remote corners of the world at immense expense, both economical and environmental. Instead, scientists have devised innovative technology to make diamonds in the laboratory, making this luxury more available and affordable for all.

Lab grown diamonds, also known as lab-created diamonds, lab diamonds, man-made diamonds and synthetic diamonds are becoming more popular every year, as more consumers choose them for jewelry. When it comes to synthetic diamonds vs natural diamonds, which is right for you?

To help you decide, here are the facts to consider when weighing the similarities and difference between lab created and natural diamonds and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

 

Lab Made Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds: Similarities

Lab diamonds and natural diamonds are both pure crystals of carbon with the same incredible properties. Diamonds are the densest material on earth, with carbon atoms bonded together so closely that you’d have to travel to a neutron star to find atoms more tightly packed. The strong bonds of diamonds are what give them their incredible characteristics. Its enduring hardness and resistance to scratching. Its stunning transparency and brilliance. Diamond slows down light passing through it to 77,000 miles per second, 100,000 miles per second less than in air, bending light into rainbows of dispersion and scintillation. That’s why diamond sparkles like nothing else on earth. Diamond also has remarkable thermal conductivity. With its unrivalled beauty and strength, diamond is an inspiring symbol of love that lasts forever.

Diamonds have adorned kings and queens, celebrities and athletes. They symbolize promises and crown success. In engagement rings and earrings, wrapped around necks and wrists, they transform light into brilliance. Even as simple solitaires, they make a statement. Nothing we wear is a timeless and personal.

Both lab diamonds and natural diamonds share the identical physical, chemical and optical properties that make diamonds the world’s most coveted gemstone. In fact, even experts can’t tell one from another without advanced testing equipment since they share the same gemological properties.

Lab diamonds and natural diamonds are cut and polished exactly the same way, using the same equipment and skilled craftspeople. In fact, some cutting workshops craft both. You can find lab diamonds and natural diamonds in the same selection of cuts and shapes, including fancy shapes. Today, scientists are also producing lab grown fancy colored diamonds too.

Lab diamonds vs natural diamonds are the same when it comes to quality grading too. They are both certified in exactly the same way by the same independent laboratories using the same grading system based on the 4Cs. You can choose the color, clarity, cut and carat weight you want in either natural or lab grown diamonds. Lab grown diamonds will be engraved on the girdle in microscopic text so that jewelers can tell them apart them from natural diamonds.

 

Lab Made Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds: Differences

The main difference between lab diamonds vs natural diamonds is one you can’t see: where the crystals formed. Natural diamonds formed in the earth about a billion years ago. Lab-made diamonds are created in advanced laboratory equipment that reproduces the heat and pressure found deep in the earth.

Natural diamonds formed where the molten roots of the continents crystallized in earth’s crust, cooling slowly under high temperature and pressure. These conditions make the incredible crystals of pure carbon we call diamonds possible. Some of the earth’s diamonds were carried to the surface in rare super-deep volcanic eruptions that took place about 100 million years ago. That’s why diamonds are rare near the surface. Most large diamond mining operations recover diamonds from primary deposits: the volcanic pipes that brought the diamonds to the surface. 

Even in these volcanic deposits, diamonds are very rare. In fact, mines have to move 250 tons of rock to find a single carat. Diamond mines are immense operations, requiring years of investment and millions of dollars. They are often in wilderness areas like the tundra or savannah, far from infrastructure. Mining companies have to build roads, power lines, reservoirs and housing for workers. It’s not surprising that natural diamonds are so expensive.

In contrast, lab grown diamonds are created using high-tech machinery. Scientists worked for decades to try to grow diamond crystals in the laboratory. The first tiny crystals were produced in a General Electric lab in 1954. It took about a half a century more to develop the technology to commercially produce crystals that were large and colorless enough to be cut and polished for jewelry. The first attempts were more expensive than mined diamonds. It’s only in the last decade that lab-grown diamonds have become more widely available.

Laboratories use specialized equipment to create the extreme conditions that enable the carbon atoms to bond into diamond and grow on a diamond seed. Generally, it takes a few weeks for crystals to form. Larger crystals take more time to grow than smaller ones. 

Lab grown diamonds are produced by two methods. The first, HPHT for high-pressure high temperature, is not so different than the original method used by GE. Small diamond seeds are placed in huge presses that reproduce the pressure and temperature found deep in the earth. The crystal grows on the seed.

Today the highest quality lab created diamonds are made with the CVD process: Carbon Vapor Deposition. In this process, diamond seeds are placed in a chamber filled with methane and hydrogen gasses. The gas is heated to become white-hot plasma, which strips the carbon atoms out of the methane. The carbon atoms deposit layer by layer onto the seed, bonding to become diamond. CVD diamonds are Type IIa, the purest type of diamond with very little nitrogen. As a result, they often have very high color and clarity grades. Less than 2% of natural diamonds are Type IIa.

The largest gem-quality polished CVD diamond ever grown so far is 16 carats. The largest HPHT diamond created so far is a rough crystal weighing 150 carats. Both are a lot smaller than the largest natural diamonds: the Cullinan Diamond was 3,106 carats in the rough. The largest Cullinan polished diamond, the Great Star of Africa in the British Crown jewels, is 530 carats. Although today lab-grown diamonds are more rare than natural, accounting for a small percentage of the gem market, they will undoubtedly become more common in the future. 

The different growing conditions in the earth vs the lab leave clues in the growth zones of the crystal structure, the fluorescence and the inclusions that gemologists in labs like the Gemological Institute of America and the International Gemological Institute can use to tell natural and lab grown diamonds apart. 

Lab-made diamonds can have differences in their absorption spectroscopy, microscopic metallic inclusions, and fluorescence and phosphorescence. The Gemological Institute of America sells the iD100 diamond origin testing machine for about $5000, which can identify lab grown diamonds, pass 98% of natural diamonds and refer the other 2% of natural diamonds for advanced testing.

 

The Economic and Environmental Cost of Lab vs Natural Diamonds

Many people also ask about the environmental impact of lab made vs natural diamonds. The answer is that it’s a bit complicated to make generalizations because each mining operation and each growing operation have different impacts based on the equipment used and the source of power used. 

However so far only lab-grown diamond producers have earned the respected Sustainability Rated Producer certification from SCS Global Services, the company that created some of the world’s most prestigious standards, certification programs, and supply chain initiatives across industry sectors, such as the Forest Stewardship Council standard, the Marine Stewardship Council standard, USDA Organic, and Non-GMO. 

Producers of Sustainability Rated Diamonds meet the highest level of ethical and environmental responsibility, fully backed by third-party certification. To become accredited, producers pass a comprehensive SCS audit of origin traceability, ethical stewardship, verified climate neutrality, sustainable production practices, and sustainability investments. Producers achieve 100% Climate Neutrality on current emissions as well offsetting past emissions that are still in the atmosphere, known as “legacy emissions.” That translates to a net zero carbon footprint.

 

At Carbon Atelier, we are proud to source our diamonds exclusively from a Sustainability Rated Producer so you can be assured that our diamonds are 100% climate neutral.

There is one other important difference to consider when comparing lab grown diamonds vs natural diamonds: the cost. Depending on the size and quality grade, you can expect to pay about 40-50% less for lab made diamonds vs natural diamonds. Does that mean they are lower in quality?  Not at all: lab grown diamonds cost less to produce due to the high cost of mining. That means you can afford a bigger higher quality diamond for the same money.

 

Lab Made vs Natural Diamonds: Which is Right for You?

Now that you understand the similarities and differences between lab made and natural diamonds you can make an informed decision on which is right for you. If you care about tradition, history, rarity, and owning something that formed a billion years ago deep in the earth, natural diamonds are the right choice for you.   

But if you prefer a larger, better quality gem that costs less and is 100% climate neutral, a modern sustainably grown lab created diamond is the right choice for you.

The fine quality lab-grown diamond jewelry by Carbon Atelier is as affordable as it is beautiful, bringing the brilliance of diamonds within reach. Shop lab grown diamond stud earrings, lab grown diamond pendants and lab grown diamond engagement rings from Carbon Atelier on Amazon.

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