Over the last few years, popularity & acceptance of lab grown diamonds has surprised the jewelry market. Lab diamonds are chemically, optically, and physically the same as naturally mined diamond. Indistinguishable and certified, lab grown diamonds are available in a range of clarity, color and cut with carat price that’s 30-40% less than the mined counterparts. How’s that possible?
Modern technology and decades of work by scientists has made it possible to grow diamonds in a laboratory. These lab diamonds are harvested without any digging of holes in ground or disrupting biodiversity.
As consumers across the world begin to accept lab grown diamonds, let’s talk about some myths and misconceptions that you’d stumble upon when doing your research on lab created diamonds, or hear from your local jeweler or an old-timer from the diamond industry.
People have been obsessing over diamonds since time immemorial. Popularly regarded as the symbol of eternal love, power, and invincibility, diamonds have not only been an integral part of the jewelry industry but also have close links with many religious and spiritual beliefs. While naturally mined diamonds were the only diamond in market for a long time, today, lab grown diamonds have changed the dynamics of this market.
What’s more, with lab grown diamonds one doesn’t have to compromise on the fire and brilliance or carat size of their diamond. So, let’s understand (and bust) some common misconceptions about lab grown diamonds.
#1: Lab created diamonds real or fake?
Whether you call them lab grown diamonds, lab created diamonds, lab diamonds or man made diamonds, diamonds grown in laboratories are diamonds. 100% carbon, with identical chemical, physical, and optical composition as the diamonds dug out from ground.
The difference in the two diamond types is their place of origin and formation time. Gem grading laboratories like IGI (International Gemological Institute), GIA (Gemological Institute of America), GCAL (Gem Certification and Assurance Lab) and others, grade and certify lab grown diamonds just like mined diamonds. They are graded based on a diamond’s the 4Cs – color, clarity, cut and carat just like mined stones are.
Because natural diamonds and man-made diamonds have some of the same physical and other properties, even a skilled jeweler or trained gemologist cannot distinguish them by sight alone. It takes specialized equipment and trained staff in a gemological laboratory for a conclusive identification. (GIA)
In gemological terms, a diamond is a diamond whether it was mined from the ground or grown in a laboratory. Think of ice-cubes created in a freezer compared with ice found on a glacier; they have the same molecular structure and are basically frozen water.
Do not confuse with cubic zirconia, synthetic moissanite or a diamond simulant which mimic appearance of a diamond but do not share the chemical composition of natural or lab diamonds. These fake facsimiles are, in fact, not even carbon compounds. For instance, cubic zirconia is composed of zirconium oxide whereas moissanite is made up of silicon carbide. Selling diamond stimulants as diamonds is a serious violation of FTC (Federal Trade Commission) diamond guidelines.
#2: So, what do FTC Diamond Guidelines say about lab diamonds?
In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) eliminated the word “natural” from the definition of diamond, as part of its revision of its jewelry guides. These industry guides, although not stand-alone statutes, but are designed to help marketers avoid consumer deception.
The FTC’s previous definition of a diamond stated: “A diamond is a natural mineral consisting essentially of pure carbon crystallized in the isometric system.” This is no longer applicable.
In addition to this fundamental change to the definition of ‘diamond’, the FTC opened the door to a much wider range of descriptors for lab grown diamonds which included ‘cultured diamond’ and dropped misleading terms such as ‘synthetic’ from its approved list of descriptors.
#3: Lab diamonds aren’t durable
No. Lab grown diamonds are 100% carbon, as naturally mined diamonds, making them the hardest material on earth. The hardness of diamond is the highest level of Mohs hardness – at grade 10. This means there is nothing that can scratch a diamond except another diamond.
Lab diamonds can get damaged in the exact same way that mined diamonds would — either by cutting it against another diamond or smashing the stone with extreme force.
Over time, natural diamonds and lab diamonds, may become a bit duller in appearance but that would be due to accumulation of dirt or when the diamond’s setting is dirty or oily. A thorough professional clean and polish will restore both diamonds and the settings to their original shine.
#4 Lab grown diamonds are less shinier than mined diamonds
Again, this is completely false. Growing diamonds in a controlled environment is basically recreating the process of diamond’s growth under the ground. The analogy is similar to that of a test tube baby. Even though conceived with scientific efforts, the baby born is no less than one conceived naturally!
Lab grown diamonds bear the same properties like naturally mined diamonds. The shine of a diamond depends on the refractive index and how it is cut. Both lab grown and earth diamonds have a refractive index of 2.42. Thus, the question of lab grown diamonds being less shiny makes no sense.
#5 Why is it so hard to make diamonds in a lab?
To answer this question, it is imperative to first understand how diamonds are naturally formed. Diamonds are allotropes (different physical forms of the same element) of carbon formed hundreds of miles deep under the earth’s surface under extreme heat (above 2000 degrees fahrenheit) and immense pressure (exceeding 725,000 pounds per square inch). These extreme conditions in the earth’s mantle results in crystalline carbon formation of graphite (another allotrope of carbon).
Replicating this process within the four walls of a lab is not a cakewalk. It is a tedious process depending on three delicate facets: temperature, pressure, and timing. It is important to reach high temperature and simultaneously subject the carbon material to high pressure to transform it to a diamond. For example, you need special equipment (which is costly) that can withstand the high temperature and pressure and trained professionals. Then there is need to maintain energy supply to power equipment while diamonds grow.
Another critical thing is timing that is so essential in this technological process. When carbon material is subjected to high temperature and pressure, timing is everything. Too high temperature for too long can turn the carbon amorphous (lacking proper structure). Too high pressure for a long time can also result in undesirable allotrope of carbon, totally unfit for jewelry.
#6 Cut & Clarity in man made diamond Vs mined diamond
The brilliance and fire is largely dependent on a diamond’s cut (not to be confused with diamond shapes). Akin to mined diamond, lab created diamond too are given specific cuts by the diamond cutter and polishers after assessing the diamond rough.
Just like mined diamonds, we recommend that you stick with higher grades when looking for a man made diamond:
- Cut: Excellent to Good
- Clarity: Flawless to VS1 or VS2
- Color: D to H
Man made diamonds, just like natural diamonds, may have unique ‘inclusions’ like tiny internal flaws. These could be fractures, feathers, clouds or pinpoints anywhere on the diamond.
So, while processing, the cutters will always aim to minimize the appearance of inclusions, cutting the diamond with precise symmetry so that light is reflected brilliantly. Both the diamonds are cut and polished using the same tools and scales.
#7 Lab diamonds are tacky
When the product is exact same, has the same shine, is certified by gem labs for 4Cs, costs 30% less and allows customer to make their own choice, then how can a lab diamond be tacky?
Misrepresented facts and misleading terminologies used for man made diamonds may have created a perception but consumers have continued to embrace diamonds grown in labs. According to the Knot 2019 Jewelry & Engagement Study, 15% of to-be-weds said it’s important to have their center stone be a man made diamond. A report from MVI noted that 80% bridal customers knew about lab-grown diamonds in 2020, compared with less than 10% in 2012.
It is clear that consumers understand that they can get the same brilliance and sparkle at a price that was not possible a few years back. It’s a win-win situation. And when you can get comparable Cut, Color and Clarity for a larger lab grown diamond without going over budget, would you really pick a smaller natural diamond?
#8 Can you tell which diamonds are grown in lab and which are mined by just looking at them?
There’s only one answer to this question – NO! The best way to tell the difference between lab made diamonds and mined diamonds is to look at the grading report.
Lab grown diamonds and mined stones are indistinguishable to the naked eye. In fact your traditional jeweler would be hard pressed to find any difference through a loupe or conventional microscopes. Without gemological equipment which can reliably identify lab grown diamonds from mined diamonds, it is very hard to tell the diamonds apart.
One of the methods used by gem grading labs is Photoluminescence Spectroscopy, a powerful non-destructive, contactless technique of determining the optical and electronic properties of diamond to differentiate. Your traditional jeweler would hardly have such advanced equipment.
#9 How are diamonds made in the lab?
Researchers have been attempting for the last two centuries to cultivate diamonds and it was only in the 1950s that the Swedish company Union Carbide and General Electric attained success. However it took another couple of years to perfect the mechanism to grow quality gemstone that could be labelled as ‘lab diamonds’.
Today, there are primarily two methods of growing diamonds – HPHT (High-Pressure High-Temperature) and CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition).
Let us walk you through both the techniques.
HPHT – It is one of the more popular and comparatively cheaper methods of growing diamonds. This technique involves subjecting a diamond seed inside a specially designed HPHT chamber to extreme heat and pressure. The chamber is heated to 1300-1600 degrees Celsius and a pressure of more than 870,000 pounds per square inch is applied upon a carbon starting material like graphite. The graphite dissolves in a molten metal flux of iron (Fe), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni) which then flows on towards the cooler diamond seed and crystallizes on it to form a diamond crystal.
The entire process takes about 7-10 weeks to form a single gemstone. HPHT is quite a complex process because the presence of even a small amount of nitrogen or boron can result in a colored stone. Although colored diamonds are favored by many, the colorless variant still rules the jewelry market.
CVD – This technique is a recent advancement and allows for a greater control over the entire process and leads to a finer quality. The CVD diamond growth occurs within vacuum plasma chambers with the aid of hydrocarbon gases like methane (CH₄). This process too requires a slice of pure carbon seed which is usually HPHT grown.
The seed is then subjected to a high temperature of about 800-1200 degree Celsius, the ideal temperature for the birth of lab diamonds. This leads to the ionization of the carbon rich gas into plasma using laser, microwaves and other high end technologies. The covalent bonds of the hydrocarbon breakdown and the carbon atoms precipitate onto the seed a layer at a time, leading to the formation of rough lab diamond.
While this process has an edge over HPHT for using relatively less temperature and pressure, it does come at a heavier price and technical complexity.
#10 So, if diamonds are produced in laboratories, how can they still be valuable?
Let’s start with the misconception that lab created diamonds can be produced in bulk because they are man made. Diamond growing remains a complex and a technically challenging process with very specific need for energy and trained professionals. This is a big reason why man made diamond supply for the jewelry industry remains restricted.
Second, diamonds grown in laboratories are diamonds and even though produced in a shorter span of 6-8 weeks, they still need to be processed before they can be used in retail. Just like mined stones, lab made stones also require diamond processing tools and trained cutters to produce a properly cut, beautiful diamond.
Third and most important is the fact that consumers get to exercise their choice. A choice to choose between diamonds based on their origin, without compromising on any 4Cs and budget. In fact, in a CreditDonkey survey, about 47% of women said that they don’t care if the diamond is natural or man-made!
READ MORE: Are Lab Grown Diamonds For Me?
With celebs like Emma Watson, Selma Hayek, Meghan Markle, and Lady Gaga turning up on red carpets dressed in dazzling lab grown diamond jewelry, the consumer perception has slowly shifted and continues to evolve to accept the ‘new diamond choice.’ We hope this article has helped you in debunking the myths surrounding diamonds grown in labs.