How Lab Created Diamonds Are Made

Are Lab Grown Diamonds Better Than Natural Ones?


Diamonds are expensive—ask anyone who has ever gone ring shopping, and they’ll tell you that even small diamonds are going to run you a pretty penny. Thanks to their beauty, sparkle, and brilliance, they’re in high demand for all sorts of jewelry.



However, the supply of diamonds is not infinite. In fact, according to experts, global diamond supply is expected to plateau in 2019 as it becomes harder to extract the stones from deeper mines.

Thankfully, there is a solution: man made diamonds.


Diamond-growing technology has been in the experimentation process since the early 1900s, but it’s only been since the early 2000s that the science has been refined and perfected.

Also known as lab created diamonds, grown diamonds, or synthetic diamonds, these diamonds are grown in a laboratory under highly-controlled conditions. The lab basically simulates the process by which high pressure and heat forms diamonds deep beneath the Earth’s surface.

However, instead of growing them in mines, the diamonds are grown in above-ground facilities, where they can be easily collected.

The process is highly complex, but boils down to:

Step 1: Place a “seed” (a small part of a diamond, usually the part with the best growing properties) in a heat and pressure chamber.

Step 2: Apply heat and pressure comparable to what creates diamonds deep underground.

Step 3: Repeat until the diamond crystallizes, usually within six to ten weeks (as opposed to thousands of years for natural diamonds).

Once the diamonds are fully formed, they are collected, cut, and polished to be sent off to the grading labs. They are graded by the same labs that certify natural-grown diamonds.

Diamonds are grown using one of two methods:

Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) – Ultra-pure carbon-rich gases are pumped into a controlled chamber, and the gases are heated until they break apart. As they break, the carbon atoms in the gas separate and fall onto the diamond “seed”, where they accumulate to form the rough diamond crystal. This produces gem-grade Type IIa diamonds within 6 to 10 weeks.


High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) – Machines apply the pressure of up to 60,000 atmospheres and heat as high as 2,5000 degrees C to recreate the natural growing environment deep beneath the Earth’s surface. A catalyst mixture and highly refined graphite are liquefied to form around the diamond, then allowed to cool so the carbon atoms can build up around the seed. This highly-controlled environment can produce a diamond within a fraction of the time the CVD methods would, but there is less control over the diamond’s finished color, clarity, and size.

 

What’s the Difference?

The only difference between a lab grown diamond and a natural diamond is the source: a lab vs. Mother Nature.  If you were to show a gemologist lab created diamond rings and natural diamond rings, they would be hard-pressed to tell the two apart.

In fact, many experts insist that the two types of diamonds are indistinguishable from each other. Lab created diamonds will pass the exact same tests that are used to confirm pure carbon diamonds pulled from a mine.

The carbon atoms in a lab created diamond is identical to the structure of natural diamonds, which means the same color, clarity, brilliance, and durability.

You’ll find that there is also a noticeable price difference between the two types of diamonds. The cost of lab created diamond rings is about 30% lower than natural diamonds of similar quality and size. This has nothing to do with the diamond itself, simply the lower cost of producing the diamond vs. extracting it from a mine.


Lab Grown Diamonds vs. Diamond Simulants

Diamond simulants is the name given to stones like cubic zirconia or moissanite, stones that look like (simulate) diamonds but aren’t real.

These simulants look a lot like diamonds, but they very visibly aren’t real. They don’t have the same true carbon crystal structure as diamonds, nor the same chemical properties. They can be identified by the naked eye and don’t require any gemologist equipment to distinguish from real diamonds. Moissanite, for example, is double refractive, while diamonds are single refractive. This difference in electrical conductivity is one way that gemologists can tell simulants apart from real stones.

Lab grown diamonds are not the same as diamond simulants. While both of them are manufactured in laboratory environments, they have the same carbon crystal structure, the same chemical and physical properties, even the same thermal conductivity properties as natural grown diamonds.


The Ethics of Lab Grown Diamonds

While some people decry the use of lab created diamonds, there are a number of proponents with strong arguments in favor of using these diamonds. The three main arguments are social, environmental, and economical:


Social – Everyone has heard of the “blood diamond trade”, diamonds produced in rebel-controlled areas that opposite internationally recognized governments. These rebels use the diamonds to fund military actions or buy weapons for their battles. Given that the vast majority of diamonds come from Central and South Africa, regions often plagued by conflict, it’s easy to understand how such valuable gemstones can be used for such evils.

With lab grown diamonds, there is no risk of blood diamond trading. The diamonds are all grown in state-of-the-art lab facilities in the US, UK, Europe, Russia, China, and Eastern Europe. Lab-grown diamonds aren’t used to fund violence or military action, so they are far less likely to contribute to bloodshed in war-torn regions.

Environmental – To mine a single 1-carat diamond, more than 1,750 tons of stone and soil have to be moved. Add to that the amount of waste product required to mine the gold to make a diamond ring, and you can see that the environmental impact of even one ring is enormous. Given that hundreds of thousands of diamonds and rings are sold every year, it’s very clear that the diamond mining industry is having a negative impact on the environment.

Lab growing diamonds can also have a negative impact—think of all the energy required to power the lab, the byproducts and waste produced, and so on—but just a fraction of what is generated by the diamond mining industry. There is no devastation of eco-systems (like with the Canadian Victor Mine), and no water or air pollution generated. Lab-growing diamonds is far cleaner and more eco-friendly. 

Economical – Remember how lab grown diamonds were about 30% cheaper than natural diamonds? Some people fear that infusing the market with lab-grown diamonds could diminish the sales of natural diamonds.

However, it turns out that lab grown diamonds simply makes diamonds more accessible to those with limited funds or shopping on a budget. As Michaels, the jewelry retailer, found over the 2018 holiday season, synthetic diamond sales went to either those looking for a larger diamond on a limited budget or those who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford a diamond.

Lab grown diamonds make beautiful stones more accessible, which means more people will be able to afford a special ring for that special someone!


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