If you’ve found this article online, then you may be one of the many consumers trying to learn more about lab created diamonds. There’s a ton of hype right now surrounding alternatives to natural or real diamonds. Maybe you’re a self-proclaimed tree hugger, socially conscious or simply feel better about buying a product that raises no ethical concerns. Whatever the reason for your interest, this article has been carefully written to inform you on what the differences are between natural diamonds and man-made diamonds.
I’ve been working in the jewelry industry for 30 years, and in those 3 decades I’ve seen diamond stimulants, synthetic diamonds, diamond alternatives, man-made diamonds or whatever you want to call them come and go. Early in my career, cubic zirconia was touted as an inexpensive alternative, today the thought of that is laughable. We know that a CZ is nothing close to a diamond in brilliance and durability, but strangely it was once a topic of conversation. Soon after, clarity enhanced diamonds became a so-called threat to the natural diamond market, then moissanite entered the scene and yet again jewelers became worried.
What’s interesting is that nothing has ever damaged the allure or mystique of giving a loved one an engagement ring set with a diamond. Whoa hold up! Until the creation of the lab created diamond. Before we get in to the nitty gritty of lab created diamonds and the benefits or drawbacks of owning one, we should be reminded of why we choose a diamond in the first place. Jewelry has been adorned with diamonds for hundreds of years and part of the attraction has been their rarity and elusiveness. Here’s something that you may not know…over 300 tons of earth needs to be extracted to find one 1.00ct carat gem quality diamond. That’s a huge amount of work just to find one diamond.
I suppose the value and rarity of a diamond is why men have pledged their eternal love using a diamond as it’s symbol for so long. Lab created diamonds seem to fly in the face of that convention, but they appeal to a different generation of people. Consumers considering a lab created diamond have interests and concerns beyond professing their love. They yearn for a better planet and hope to help where they can, scientifically created diamonds seem to tell that story. I'm a realist though, and I feel that that’s only part of the story, the underlining story is the almighty dollar. The opportunity to give your loved one gorgeous jewelry for half the price is tantalizing, don’t you think?
Simply put, it’s a synthesized diamond made by man in a science laboratory. I’m going to explain in more detail exactly how a lab created diamond is made, but let’s talk about how natural diamonds are created. I want you to have a point of reference so it’s easier for you to digest all the science behind lab created diamonds. Natural diamonds are created in the Earth’s crust after diamond crystals are subjected to extreme amounts of pressure for millions of years. The diamonds are trapped inside of igneous ore called Kimberlite, then Volcanic eruptions force the diamonds up through narrow shafts. The kimberlite is mined, and the diamonds are extracted through a mechanical process to reveal the rough material known as octahedron. The rough material is then cut, sawn and carefully polished to produce gem-quality diamonds. You’ll have to be patient with me because I’m gonna get my geek on and sometimes that’s boring. Don’t worry we’ll get to the nuts and bolts of why you should or shouldn’t buy a lab grown diamond.
Lab created diamonds and the science behind them isn’t new at all, they’ve been actively produced for nearly 40 years on the industrial level. It’s only been recent though that the process to make them has been cost effective enough to trickle down to the consumer market. Lab created diamonds are made in a way that synthesizes the process while speeding things up from millions of years to 4 weeks. There are 2 methods used to synthesize diamonds in manufacturing, the first being HPHT and the second CVD. HPHT stands for High Press High Heat and in this process molten flux is applied to a seed crystal in a small capsule. Next high pressure and heat is applied to the capsule, eventually the diamond begins to form. Using the HPHT method of growing diamonds is the oldest known method to synthesize diamonds.
CVD otherwise known as Chemical Vapor Deposition is the newest form of diamond synthesizing. Here the diamond growth takes place inside a vacuum chamber filled with gases rich in carbon, usually methane. The methane cloud is riddled with carbon and then shot with a high-powered microwave beam. Once a chemical reaction occurs, the diamond seed crystals begin to form on the plate. It should be stated that most CVD synthesized diamonds are brown in color and not attractive enough for jewelry use. It’s assumed that most CVD diamonds are additionally subjected to the HPHT process while color treating the diamond. Note – diamonds treated with the HPHT process can no longer be called natural in their origin description.
Ok, I'm hoping I haven't lost you and that you're not bored. Don’t worry we’re getting closer, you need to know these things, so you can pull it all together and decide if you should buy a natural diamond or lab created. Clients of mine often ask “Are there physical differences between lab created and natural diamonds?” The short answer is no. The long answer depending on who you ask is, yes there are physical differences between them, but they need clarification. On the surface lab created diamonds have the same physical properties as natural diamonds, most jewelers would have a very difficult time identifying a lab grown diamond. They test positive when using a diamond tester as they should, after all the chemical makeup is nearly identical.
Did you notice that I've used the word “nearly” identical? That's because the chemical composition of most natural diamonds consist of largely carbon atoms and pairs of nitrogen atoms. This type of diamond is called a Type Ia and it accounts for 90% of diamonds you’ll find in a jewelry store. Most lab created diamonds have a chemical makeup of wholly carbon atoms and isolated boron atom impurities. Diamonds of this nature are called Type IIb diamonds. It’s not unheard of for a natural diamond to have the same formula, but it's very rare. I’m an “exception not the rule” guy, so I like to classify things based on how they occur most often - not rarely. Bottom line is, yes lab created diamonds have the same chemical makeup as atypical diamonds. Look at the chart I’ve provided below:
|Natural Diamond||HPHT Synthetic Diamond||CVD Synthetic Diamond|
|Carbon & some nitrogen||Carbon & scattered boron||Carbon & scattered boron|
|Even color distribution||Uneven color distribution||Even color distribution|
|Blue fluorescence||Unusual fluorescence colors||Unusual fluorescence colors|
|No metallic flux inclusions||Metallic flux inclusions||Dark pin point inclusions|
|No phosphorescence||Some phosphorescence||Some phosphorescence|
|No color treatment||No color treatment||Often treated to enhance color|
Enough of the technical stuff! This is the point in time when I give you my opinion then you should decide if I know what the hell I am talking about. If you’re still reading I can only assume that you’re seriously considering the purchase of a lab-grown diamond. So, I understand how important a professional opinion is to you at this moment, I don’t take that lightly! Here’s my opinion based on 30 years in the business while selling $50,000,000 in diamonds…..I can see the difference. Yep I most certainly see a difference! I don’t care what other “experts” say, I can visually see the difference with my naked eye. I’ll explain, most lab created diamonds have what I call a “metallic brilliance to them”. What I see is a monochromatic metal look to the brilliance of a synthetic diamond. Its hard to describe in layman’s terms but its just different to me. When you look at a natural diamond, you’ll see a very random pattern of brilliance that includes random flashes of light from the light spectrum.
Often, lab created diamonds have metallic inclusions; meaning the impurities trapped in the diamond are metal. This is caused by using molten flux in the growing process, the metallic inclusions can cast a metallic reflection in the stone. When you have a lab grown diamond in your hands look for it, search for what looks like a metallic appearance. I think you’ll see what I mean.
You see, randomness is the key to a natural diamond’s beauty and elusiveness. Not knowing when your eye will be caught by a flash of light as you spin your engagement ring diamond around is perfection. Synthetic diamonds are formed in a perfect environment, with equal amounts of pressure and exact intent. The crystals are formed with too much uniformity and I believe this is why they look different. Natural diamonds were formed during volcanic eruptions and as you may know, this is a very random process. Stress striations are formed in the diamond material from the uneven pressure, it then introduces what is known as “strain colors”. The strain colors are mosaic and random patterns of light that interfere with the light waves, this is a good thing. It’s what makes the flashes of light random and unique to each diamond, also why no two diamonds look exactly alike.
Lab created diamonds all look exactly alike to me, almost as if they were stamped out of a press or mold. They’re simply too perfect looking and in my opinion, it destroys the elusiveness of their beauty. Don’t get me wrong, I fully admit that lab created diamonds are by far the best alternative to natural diamonds we’ve seen yet. They have the same chemical make up as diamonds, physically they are the same hardness, and they are as brilliant. However, they aren’t imperfect enough.
Let’s get corny for a second, isn’t the love for your significant other unique? Would you agree with me when I say that no to relationships are the same? Don’t you think half the allure of giving your loved one a diamond is the hunt itself? Trying to make your budget work while finding the perfect diamond to represent how you feel, that’s the challenge of it. Wouldn't you want to claim that you did the work and chose a diamond uniquely hers?
There’s none of that when choosing a lab created diamond, to me the process is just too simple. Remember this is one man’s not so humble opinion lol! There are benefits to buying a lab created diamond, the most important being price of course. Others being the their ethical sourcing and that they're supposed to be gentler on the environment.
Honestly, I can’t comment on how they affect the environment yet, because I don’t have all the facts on what bi-product and waste is created during the process. I will say this though, if you won’t buy a natural diamond because you believe it’s hard on the environment, maybe it’s time you give up your iPhone or tablet?! Do you have any idea how much toxic e-waste we have created with our smart devices? The images are horrifying, a quick search of Google Images will ruin your day. I say, buy your loved one a natural diamond and give up your smart devices. I mean come on, let’s not be hypocritical about it, lol! You'll own one diamond in your lifetime but you'll own dozens of phones.
That’s a yes and no answer, many of my responses in this article seem to have gone that way. If budget is the driving force behind your interest in man-made diamonds, then I say yes they could be. However, I think it depends on how strained your budget is. If the budget is super critical, then I strongly recommend that you take a hard look at synthetic diamonds. Currently, you can buy lab created diamonds for 30%-50% less than a natural diamond of the exact same size, color, and clarity. That’s a pretty good savings don’t you think?
Ultimately, only you can decide whether there’s enough savings to take the leap. Consider this though, the market value behind natural diamonds is strongly controlled and therefore stable. Diamonds are based purely on their rarity, the rarer they are the more they’re worth. Lab created diamonds are created through technology and manufacturing methods. When you manufacture products, you can produce as many as you want. Right now, there aren’t a lot of companies out there manufacturing lab created diamonds, but just how long do you think that will last? Once the Chinese and Indian companies get their hands on the technology, they’ll flood the market with man-made diamonds. This will make the value of lab created diamonds plummet.
Personally, I don’t like the notion of paying $2500 for a lab-created diamond when the natural version is $5000. It seems like too much to me, there’s not enough savings. I feel that a lab created diamond should be 75% less than their natural counterpart. If a 1.00ct round H-SI2 natural diamond sells for $5000, then the lab created version shouldn’t cost more than $1250. That’s not the case right now though, you’ll pay $2500 for that same lab created diamond.
I like to cite the example of flat panel TVs, when they first came out you could pay up to $4000 for one. Now you can buy a nice flat panel TV for $499, this will happen with lab created diamonds. You can bet on it.
Let's examine another example, tungsten wedding rings. When tungsten wedding rings hit the jewelry market, there were only a handful of companies capable of making them. Most tungsten rings were sold in the price range of $500-$900. Today you can buy a tungsten wedding ring for $5, yes you read that correctly $5. How would you feel if you paid $900 for a tungsten ring and months later saw it on Ebay for $5?
So my official opinion on lab created diamonds is that they're overpriced and a risky purchase. When my customers insist on having them I will sell them lab created diamonds. However, I inform them that they're making a risky purchase.
About the Author
My name is Andy Moquin and I'm a diamantaire, engagement ring designer, jeweler, and jewelry store owner. I’ve worked in the jewelry industry for over 30 years. Often, I am asked to speak at industry trade shows and to provide input on industry topics. I founded Andrews Jewelers in 1994, and it has become one of the most successful independent diamond jewelry stores in the Northeast. I have been awarded The Small Business of the Year Award by the Small Business Administration in both 2006 and 2018. I'm always here to help and will answer any question you have about diamonds or engagement rings. Please use the comment box and I'll always respond. You can also call me direct at 716-630-7091 and I would love to speak to you.