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Lab Created Diamonds vs. Real Diamonds — The 3 Key Differences

Lab created diamonds vs. mined diamonds — everyone’s saying how they’re the same — we’re here to tell you how they’re different.

There are a dizzying array of options for sparkly white stones on the market, and it’s understandable that you might be confused. From obscure names to misleading information and mislabeled product offerings, how can you tell what’s what? CZ looks an awful lot like lab-created diamonds, which look completely identical to mined diamonds, which brings us to the topic we’re here to discuss — lab created diamonds vs. real — what’s the difference? Let’s dig in.

The beginning of things

Like you probably learned in elementary school, natural diamonds formed deep within the Earth’s crust many billions of years ago.

The combination of intense heat and pressure caused magna to explode to the earth’s surface forming kimberlite pipes, and carrying with it a stream of sparkly gems.

For centuries miners have panned for, dug up, excavated, and moved mountains in pursuit of these tiny white rocks, while mining companies have built their fortunes stockpiling stones.

While much of the earth’s easier to reach diamond deposits are depleted, research shows that there may still be up to a quadrillion tons of diamonds lurking deep below the earth’s surface, out of the reach of our hands, and our engagement rings. Rare? Sort of. Fascinating? Absolutely.

Then came the labs. In the 1950’s a couple of scientists had the crazy idea to grow diamonds in a lab, and they did. But, when things sound a little too good to be true they usually are.

…so are lab created diamonds real? Like really?

Define real. Lab created diamonds are atomically, optically, and physically identical to natural diamonds. It’s like ice – your freezer makes it, nature makes it, but ice is ice at the end of the day. So are they real? By our definition absolutely.

In fact, “they’re so indistinguishable to the naked eye that the diamond industry is in an arms race to produce machines that can discern lab-grown from natural ones, in order to keep the synthetics from flooding the market.” Popsci.

But — there are a few key differences.

1. Their type

Let’s talk type. Yours or mine? No, we’re not talking about your taste in romantic partners, we’re talking diamond type.

There are five different types of diamonds — Type IA, IIA, IB and IIB and Type IaB. Lab created diamonds are almost always type IIa. This classification just means they’re colorless and lack impurities.

…but to further complicate things, some lab created diamonds are type IIB. These diamonds are usually grown with HPHT, and have boron present in their molecule. Like natural diamonds, boron gas gives lab created diamonds a blue tint. This usually shows in the comment section of the certificate and says something like “blue nuance.”

In nature, type IIA diamonds are extremely rare. We’re talking less than 2% of all mined diamonds. They’re the stuff of celebrities, collectors, and auction houses, but generally, not engagement rings.

An illustration showing how CVD diamonds are grown

2. Their origin

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Lab diamonds are grown in labs. Natural diamonds come from the earth.

Without getting too technical, there are two processes used to grow diamonds in a lab — HPHT, which stands for high-pressure, high temperature, and CVD, short for chemical vapor deposition.

HPHT is an older process that was first invented by an industrious young man at GE.

Like plants, diamonds grown by HPHT begin as small seeds. The seed is a thin piece of diamond exposed to temperatures upwards of 1500 degrees Celcius while pressurized at 1.5 million pounds per square inch. Over the next few weeks, a diamond begins to grow. Once it’s reached maturity, the diamond is cooled and cut. Most of the large, white diamonds on the market are HPHT.

In contrast, CVD diamonds begin as small seeds. The seed is placed in a chamber and heated to 800 degrees Celsius. When the chamber reaches temperature, it’s filled with a blend of gases which is then ionized. The ionization breaks down the bonds in the gas into carbon. The carbon gently falls onto the seed and begins to crystallize. As it accumulates, like falling snow, the diamond grows in height.

Are CVD diamonds as good as HPHT diamonds? You tell us.

3. Lab Created Diamonds’ impact (or lack thereof)

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that diamond mining is intrinsically unsustainable. Diamonds are a finite resource, and well, it’s only a matter of time until we’re out of them. In fact, it’s already started happening. The Argyle diamond mine (home of the pink diamond) closed late last year.

But both lab created diamonds and natural diamonds have an impact on the environment. One, just more so than the other. Let’s dig in.

custom frank darling asscher solitaire rose gold engagement ring
Harper No. 3 set
with a lab created diamond

Energy Consumption

The natural diamond industry loves to critique lab grown diamonds for every consumption, but the reality is mined diamonds use a whopping 500 million joules per carat, whereas lab created diamonds use about half that. Some growers are taking this one step further by using entirely renewable forms of energy such as solar or hydropower.

And while there definitely are coal-powered factories (primarily found in China and India) outputting high volumes of lab created diamonds, there are also US growers building modern, carbon-neutral giga-diamond factories that run on sustainable energy. If you’d like a diamond grown using renewal energy – just ask!

Water usage

One of the biggest differences between lab-created diamonds and mined diamonds is their water usage.

Mined diamonds consume more than 126 gallons of water per carat, whereas lab-created diamonds consume just under 20. Waste water runs into local water supplies, which leads to pollution and downstream effects on plants and wildlife.

Land Use

Land use. While diamond mining today looks much different than it did in the early ’90s, it’s still a dirty and dangerous profession that involves removing large quantities of dirt from the earth, rivers or ocean beds and siphoning or sieving the diamonds from rock, soil or sand. Every carat disrupts nearly 100 square feet, and creates thousands of pounds of mineral waste.

It’s difficult to imagine the environmental impact of diamond mining. From pin mines to ice mines, and deep-sea mining to small-scale cooperatives stripping riverbeds — it touches every part of the ecosystem.

Carbon Footprint

Mined diamonds produce more than 125 pounds of carbon for every single carat, whereas lab created diamonds produce just less than 10 pounds.

Ready to Find the One?

Check out our diamond search where you can view 360-degree images of more than 10,000 GIA and IGI certified lab grown and natural diamonds and don’t forget to zoom out (because size can be deceiving), or book a virtual or offline appointment at our New York salon to view diamonds in person. 

Not finding what you’re looking for? Email us with what you’re looking for at hello@frankdarling.com. We’ll curate a list of 5-7 exclusive stones that are just right for you.