Diamonds have come to be nearly synonymous with love and commitment in a relationship, and as an almost universal symbol, they are used in engagement and wedding rings all over the world. Traditionally, these iconic gems have been mined from beneath the earth’s surface and are literally billions of years old in many cases.
In recent years, scientific advances have allowed for the creation of synthetic, or “lab-grown” diamonds, which are simply diamonds that are created under carefully controlled conditions in a laboratory.
While lab grown diamonds haven’t yet taken over the market from their naturally formed counterparts, they are becoming more widely available, and more buyers today are considering the option of lab grown diamonds.
Naturally Formed Diamond Basics
Naturally formed diamonds are born deep beneath the earth’s surface, under extremely high pressure and specific high temperatures. At depths estimated to be between 90 and 120 miles, and under precise heat and pressure, naturally occurring carbon-rich minerals can grow to form diamonds, and most are between one and three billion years old—up to 75% of the age of the earth.
When conditions are perfect, these precious rough diamonds are then brought near the earth’s surface by deep volcanic eruptions whose magma serves as an elevator, bringing the deep-formed crystals upward in igneous rocks known as kimberlites and lamproites.
Diamond is the hardest natural material known, and as such, has many industrial applications, mainly in cutting and polishing. When properly finished by skilled gemcutters, higher grade diamonds are among the most precious gemstones in the world.
Lab Grown Diamond Basics
Lab grown diamonds are produced by scientists in carefully controlled laboratory settings. Originally, it was thought that only high pressure and high temperatures could produce diamonds, and the first commercially available “man-made” diamonds were produced by this HPHT method in 1956.
In the HPHT process, engineers recreate what would naturally occur in the earth’s mantle, placing a carbon-rich combination of minerals under high heat and pressure to create single diamond crystals.
Historically, diamonds made by this process were yellowish and less suitable as gemstones, and today, billions of carats of diamonds are produced in this way, mainly for industrial purposes. In recent years, scientists have improved the process tremendously and are able to produce gem-quality diamonds of considerable size.
Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) is another method of producing a lab made diamond, and it is very different from natural diamond formation. To create gem-quality synthetic diamonds using CVD, scientists place a tiny diamond seed crystal into a mixture of hydrogen and methane gases at a high temperature, and through a complex chemical process, diamond crystals are formed one atom at a time, layer after layer.
Both CVD and HPHT created stones have the same physical, chemical, and optical properties as traditional mined diamonds, but can be created in a matter of days or weeks as opposed to billions of years.
Why Choose a Lab Grown Diamond?
The first thing to remember when considering a lab grown diamond is that it is, in fact, a diamond, and not a simulated diamond like cubic zirconia or moissanite. Lab grown diamonds are chemically identical to their earth grown cousins, and it’s virtually impossible to distinguish the difference between the two. Only a trained gemologist with special equipment can determine if a diamond is lab grown.
Probably the biggest reason people choose lab grown diamonds over traditionally mined ones is the price. Naturally occurring diamonds are rare, and no new, large diamond mine has been discovered in the last decade, indicating future scarcity. And as the growing middle classes in India and China are beginning to demand more diamonds, prices will continue to climb. Lab grown diamonds are inherently less expensive than naturally formed ones, and are often available for 40% less than an equivalent quality earth-mined diamond.
Another benefit of lab grown diamonds is their quality. Because the conditions under which they are formed are carefully controlled, lab grown diamonds are typically of a higher quality than all but the finest naturally occurring stones, with fewer inclusions and other flaws.
Finally, another reason many buyers are choosing lab grown diamonds has to do with the complicated politics, ethics, and environmental impact of traditional diamond mining. Although much has been done to rein in some of the worst negative impacts of diamond mining, lab grown diamonds do not carry any of the ethical or environmental baggage an earth formed diamond might. Lab grown diamonds are guaranteed to be conflict-free, sourced from first world laboratories, and their impact on the environment is negligible when compared with traditional mining.
Why Choose a Traditionally Formed Diamond?
While traditionally formed diamonds are, at some level, just so many properly aligned carbon atoms, there is still a very powerful, romantic appeal inherent in their creation. Just because lab grown diamonds are the chemical equivalents of “real” diamonds doesn’t make them identical to the ones grown deep in the earth.
To some, it may seem “cheap” to settle for a less expensive and supposedly “less authentic” lab grown diamond for an engagement or wedding ring. A gemstone grown in a laboratory over the course of a few days simply cannot carry the emotional and romantic weight of a naturally formed diamond.
Few things can capture the idea of a truly eternal relationship like a stone that took billions of years to form. As engagement and wedding rings symbolize both enduring love and lifelong commitment, settling for the inexpensive alternative to a “real” diamond is simply not an option for many buyers.
Naturally formed diamonds are also rare, and will continue to be, so they are generally guaranteed to retain their value over time. The synthetic diamond industry is still fairly new to the diamond-buying public, and how lab grown diamonds will retain their value over time has yet to be determined. Natural diamonds might function mainly as a symbol of everlasting commitment, but they are also a good long-term investment.
Even though it can be argued that lab grown diamonds are more environmentally and ethically responsible, naturally formed diamonds are not always accompanied with the stigma of “blood diamonds.” There are reputable certifications within the diamond industry that identify “conflict-free” diamonds, and can help the buyer make a conscientious purchase of a naturally formed diamond.