Lab Grown Diamonds
As the name suggests, lab grown diamonds are man made in a laboratory setting emulating the natural process of diamond growth. Lab grown diamonds are 100% real diamonds – they are chemically, physically and visually identical to natural diamonds. They are considered to be more sustainable, ethical and can cost up to 60% less than natural diamonds.
History of laboratory diamonds
The first proven synthetic diamond was created by GE (General Electric) in 1954 under a project code named ‘Project Super pressure’. Although an impressive discovery, the process was too expensive to compete economically with natural diamonds. The first synthetic diamonds were also too small for gem use and instead were used for industrial purposes. Furthermore, the first synthetic diamonds were often yellow and contained many inclusions.
The first gem quality lab grown diamonds were created in 1971. Only recently has the technology improved to be more cost effective, energy efficient and produce higher quality diamonds.
Laboratory Grown vs Natural Diamonds
Laboratory diamonds are 100% real diamond. They are chemically, physically and visually identical to natural diamonds. Laboratory diamonds possess the same qualities as natural diamonds in terms of quality, appearance and hardness. Even expert gemmologists can’t see the difference between a natural and lab grown diamond to the eye or even under magnification. Only a specialist diamond testing machine will show the difference between natural and lab diamonds.
The only real difference between lab grown and natural diamonds is the price and ethicality.
Natural diamonds take billions of years to form within the Earth’s mantle at high temperature and pressure causing the carbon to crystallise. This process is mimicked in a laboratory through CVD and HPHT processes to create diamonds within weeks.
CVD, HPHT and natural diamonds look different in their rough state. Once cut, only specialist equipment can tell the diamonds apart by looking for nitrogen within the stone. Lab grown diamonds do not contain nitrogen whereas natural diamonds contain minute amounts of trace elements as they form.
Why do laboratory diamonds cost less?
The efficiency of lab diamond production means they cost 60% – 80% less than natural diamonds.
The time and cost of producing lab diamonds is less than finding and mining natural diamonds. Natural diamonds take billions of years to form, require extensive land mass to mine and an extensive infrastructure and workforce. Compared to laboratory grown diamonds which require less land, a small (but expert) workforce and only a few weeks to produce. After an initial hefty investment, laboratories can continue producing diamonds consistently where as mines will eventually run out and an investment in new land is required.
However, it must be considered that the mining of natural diamonds helps support the livelihoods of individuals living in mining dependent communities. Natural diamonds are also a rarity of nature – therefore lab diamonds do not devalue natural diamonds as they are priced as a different entity.
The resale value of laboratory grown diamonds is under question though. As with natural diamonds, the resale value of laboratory grown diamonds is less than the price you pay. However, laboratory diamonds have a resale value of 30% – 40% less than what was originally paid. Many jewellers will not buy back laboratory diamonds. The future value of laboratory diamonds is unknown as the market is currently not as powerful and the supply chain is much shorter than natural diamonds – with the increase in ethical awareness the demand will only increase. Although lab grown diamonds are not seen as an economic investment, it is up to the buyer to determine the value as the diamonds are still high quality and are forever, as the saying goes. Some predict that the value of lab grown diamonds will increase to catch up with natural diamonds.
How are laboratory diamonds made?
There are two methods to creating laboratory diamonds – CVD (chemical vapour deposition) and HPHT (high pressure high temperature).
The CVD process involves placing a small piece of diamond in a chamber and exposing it to carbon-rich gas and extreme temperatures. Within weeks, the carbon gas ionises and the particles stick to the original diamond seed before crystallising into a full diamond.
HPHT involves pure carbon being pressed within a metal cube and exposed to extreme heat, pressure and electrical pulses. The carbon eventually breaks down and crystallises into a diamond. Any metal traces picked up within the HPHT process is minuscule and not visible to the eye.
HPHT diamonds are considered higher quality than those created via CVD. As CVD diamonds are fast growing they can contain spotty internal marks and graining. CVD diamonds can also have a brown-ish undertone when produced and must have a post growth treatment to enhance their beauty. Although CVD diamonds are faster, less costly and require less energy to produce, the process can produce lower quality diamonds and the post growth treatment can leave diamonds appearing milky or hazy. A specialist machine can test whether a lab diamond has been made via CVD or HPHT as CVD diamonds contain trace amounts of silicon.
Much like natural diamonds, lab grown diamonds can come in various colours including; yellow, blue, pink, orange, green, red and black. Natural diamonds can pick up trace elements when forming which alters the colour for example, boron in blue diamonds and nitrogen in yellow diamonds. Scientists can include these trace elements in production to create different coloured diamonds.