A Guide to Lab -Grown Diamonds
The unique beauty of diamonds has made them the world’s most coveted gem. When carbon crystalizes into diamond, its atoms move closer together than in any other material on earth. You’d have to travel to a neutron star to find atoms closer together. That gives diamond some amazing physical properties: brilliance, dispersion, scintillation, and unrivalled hardness.
In nature, diamond can form only deep in the earth’s crust, where heat and pressure can lock carbon atoms into place. But today, diamonds are also created in a laboratory, where scientists have discovered how to coax carbon into these unique crystals using heat and pressure.
Are you curious about lab-grown diamonds? Here’s what you need to know to decide if lab diamonds are right for you.
Yes, Lab Grown Diamonds are Real Diamonds
So what’s a lab-created diamond really? The most common question people ask is “are lab-grown diamonds real diamonds?”
Yes, they are real diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds are crystals of pure carbon, just like diamonds that formed naturally in earth’s mantle billions of years ago.
Often called lab-created, man-made or synthetic diamonds, lab-grown diamonds display the same physical, chemical, and optical characteristics as natural diamonds, and exhibit the same fire, scintillation, and sparkle. The only difference is origin: lab vs mine.
What makes a diamond a diamond isn’t just the chemical recipe of carbon. After all, the graphite in low-tech pencils is carbon (and you are mostly carbon too.)
What’s special about diamond, no matter where it forms, is its structure. Each carbon atom bonds with four others in a tetrahedron. Diamond crystals have amazing strength, with carbon atoms crowded together so closely that diamond is the hardest substance ever discovered in nature.
And these transparent crystals of carbon also handle light like nothing else on earth. Diamonds actually slow down the speed of light passing through them to 77,000 miles per second, 100,000 miles per second less than in air.
That light reflects and refracts inside diamonds like a hall of mirrors, creating brilliance and bending light into rainbows. That’s why diamonds sparkle like nothing else on earth.
Why Lab Grown Diamonds?
Mining Free - Lab-created diamonds are a responsible choice because no mining is required. They are conflict free and ethically and safely produced.
Less Expensive - Lab grown diamonds are more affordable than mined diamonds: you can afford a 35% larger stone without sacrificing quality.
Lasting Quality - Lab grown diamonds have all diamond’s brilliance, beauty and durability because they have identical physical, chemical, and optical characteristics as mined diamonds.
Certified Independently - Lab grown diamonds are graded by an independent laboratory using the same 4Cs grading standards as mined diamonds.
How Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Made?
It isn’t easy to turn raw carbon into diamonds. Carbon atoms usually form weak bonds with each other, weak enough to rub off on paper when you write your name with a pencil.
To get carbon to form the strong bonds of diamonds, you need to apply a lot of energy. In the earth’s mantle, diamonds formed at depths of 150-200 kilometers beneath the crust in the base of the continents, where the pressure and the temperature are extreme.
Scientists worked for decades to reproduce those conditions in a laboratory to grow the first man-made diamonds, using huge presses cranking the heat up to 1300-1600C and squeezing with 5-6 gigapascals, the weight of 80 elephants stepping on your toe for weeks at a time.
That process, called HPHT for “high pressure high temperature” is still used to grow diamonds today. The diamonds grow as cubic crystals on a diamond seed.
Scientists today have also discovered another way to grow lab diamond. This method, carbon vapor deposition or CVD, uses star-like plasma to heat up methane gas in a vacuum until it beaks down and deposits its carbon, atom by atom, onto a diamond seed. CVD diamonds are grown in layers only a few carbon atoms thick until they build up into a diamond cake. CVD diamonds are Type IIa, the purest type of diamonds chemically. Less than 2% of natural diamonds are Type IIa.
Diamonds grown by CVD are sometimes also subjected to high pressure and high temperature to realign the carbon atoms and lighten the color.
At Brilliant Carbon we choose CVD-grown diamonds for our center stones because of their excellent color and clarity. We sometimes use HPHT-grown accent diamonds because this process produces large quantities of small lab-created diamonds.
Can People Tell If a Diamond is Lab Grown?
The second question people often ask about lab-created diamonds is whether or not people will be able to see a difference between lab diamonds and natural diamonds. No one can tell just by looking at a diamond with the naked eye whether it is natural or lab created.
Gemologists who have specifically trained to identify man-made diamonds can tell the difference by using gemological equipment. Because the growth environment is different, lab-grown 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 created diamonds, pass 98% of natural diamonds and refer the other 2% for advanced testing.
But your friends and family won’t know whether or not you chose a lab-grown diamond unless you tell them. Unlike diamond imitations like moissanite or cubic zirconia, lab-grown and mined diamonds appear identical even to a jeweler without gemological testing.
Lab Created Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds
Natural diamonds formed deep in the earth, from 3.4 billion years ago to 650 million years ago. They are like time capsules from the early continents. They are rare and difficult to find. Mining diamonds requires a lot of effort. An average of 250 tons of earth have to be moved and sorted to find one carat of diamond.
Many people are interested in lab-created diamonds because they don’t support the mining of natural diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds are a relatively new option: they’ve only been available in commercial quantities for about a decade.
Lab diamonds don’t require mining tons of earth or creating large infrastructure in remote places. But growing diamonds in a laboratory does use a lot of energy to create the conditions for crystals to form.
The carbon footprint of diamond laboratories depends on the source of that energy. Labs that use solar power or hydropower have a much smaller carbon footprint than labs that use fossil fuels.
At Brilliant Carbon we have pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2022 by requiring the diamond growing laboratories we work with to switch to solar power.
Once the diamond crystals are grown or mined, the rest of the journey to your jewelry is very similar. Lab created diamonds and mined diamonds are polished exactly the same way using the same equipment and skilled diamond cutters.
They are also graded by the same laboratories using the same quality criteria. Like mined diamonds, lab-grown diamonds come in a range of colors, clarities, cuts, carat weights and shapes.
Are Lab Grown Diamonds Cheaper?
Another important reason people choose lab-grown diamonds instead of mined diamonds is cost. Because growing diamonds in a lab doesn’t cost as much as mining in far-flung locales, lab grown diamonds cost less than natural diamonds.
The price difference depends on size and quality but can range from 50% to 35% less than a similar quality and size mined diamond. For the same budget, you can afford a larger lab-grown diamond.
Each diamond, lab-grown or natural is unique, with its own fingerprint of microscopic characteristics. 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.
It’s possible that as technology improves lab grown diamonds will become more affordable and available. There may also be differences in the resale value of lab-grown diamonds and mined diamonds. Because lab-grown diamonds are a relatively new product, the resale market isn't as well-established.
One thing is clear: mining diamonds and producing lab grown diamonds are both expensive thanks to the unique characteristics of diamonds. Diamonds are never worthless. Diamonds are also much more valuable than imitations like cubic zirconia and moissanite.
Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Right for You?
Are lab diamonds better than mined diamonds or vice versa? It depends on what criteria are important to you. Today you have more choice than you’ve ever had before to “vote with your dollars” to support your values.
Mined diamonds are the traditional choice and still the most popular today. They have a legacy stretching back generations.
As a modern invention created relatively recently, lab-grown diamonds don’t have a long history. But some consumers who look forward instead of back appreciate the transparency of the supply chain and the way their buying choices can encourage a more sustainable future.
At Brilliant Carbon we want to encourage you to choose what feels right to you and make a smart choice based on as much information as possible.
Lab Created Diamonds vs Moissanite vs Cubic Zirconia
If you are comparing lab grown diamonds to imitation diamonds or simulated diamonds, the differences are a lot more significant than the differences between mined diamonds and lab-grown diamonds.
That is because simulants aren’t diamond at all: they are other materials that look somewhat similar.
Cubic zirconia, commonly known as CZ, is the most popular imitation because it imitates the sparkle of diamond at a low cost. It is easily detectable because it has different optical and physical characteristics. It is quickly detectable with a diamond tester that checks for diamond’s characteristic thermal conductivity.
Moissanite, which is transparent lab grown silicon carbide, is another material that is similar to diamond. Moissanite is doubly refractive, giving it a different facet pattern than diamond. It has a higher dispersion than diamond, which gives it more rainbow flashes. It also often has a slight greenish tint of body color.
Other materials that are used to imitate diamond are white sapphire, both natural and lab-grown; natural white topaz, lab-grown white spinel, and glass.
Best Lab-Grown Diamond Jewelry
The most popular lab-grown diamond jewelry styles are similar to the most popular mined diamond jewelry styles, often with a larger center diamond.
Trending lab grown diamond engagement ring styles include three stone lab grown diamond rings, lab-grown diamond solitaire engagement rings, and lab grown halo engagement rings.
White gold is still the most popular choice for engagement ring settings, although we are seeing more interest in yellow gold and rose gold.
Popular lab-grown diamond fine jewelry designs include two-carat lab grown diamond stud earrings, one carat lab grown diamond solitaire necklaces and lab-grown diamond tennis bracelets. Adjustable lab-grown diamond solitaire bolo bracelets are also popular.