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Lab Created Diamonds vs. Real — The 3 Key Differences

Lab Created Diamonds vs. Real — with everyone 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.

An illustration showing how CVD diamonds are grown

1. 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. While they are the OG of lab diamonds, HPHT stones are usually less large and less white than their newer CVD cousins.

Again, 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. Dig into the details behind the science here.

Natural diamonds formed deep within the Earths crust many billions of years ago.

Geologists generally believe this was the result of carbon dioxide buried beneath the earth surface.

After being exposed to extremely high pressure and temperature, the diamonds were jettisoned to the earth’s surface by way of a volcanic explosion through Kimberlite pipes. According to National Geographic, 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. Diamonds are still rare, but more in a practical sense than a cosmic one.

Since the 1930s, diamond production has increased 100 fold, rocketing from less than 1 million carats per year to 180 million produced annually. The reality is diamonds are more commonplace than ever before.” Diamond Foundry

Their rate of availability is a combination of the speed at which they are mined, and the speed at which they are put into the market. But their beauty remains constant.

2. Their Classification

Lab created diamonds are almost always type IIa. Type IIa diamonds lack impurities and are colorless. Now, this doesn’t mean they’re all the same, lab-created diamonds come in a wide range of color grades similar to mined diamonds. To make things more complicated, 2% of earth mined diamonds are type IIa. Most collectors think of type IIa diamonds as very desirable, and very rare. Click here to learn more about how lab diamonds are grown.

3. Their Environmental Impact

Diamonds are a finite resource, and diamond mining is intrinsically unsustainable. While the mining industry has had a positive economic impact on countries like Botswana, the long list of countries that have suffered as a result of their mineral curse make it difficult to assess whether the world is better off as a result of diamond mining. Furthermore, the environmental implications can’t be overlooked. 

In some ways, diamond mining is so foreign that it’s difficult to imagine what it even looks like, let alone the environmental impact. Large scale industrial mining now happens undersea and above the arctic circle. Small scale cooperatives mine in riverbeds with no formalized business structure, and massive pit mines still produce the majority of diamonds in jewelry stores across the world.

But digging a little deeper, there are four things to consider when looking at the environmental impact of a mined vs. lab created diamond: water, energy, carbon, and land.

Water Use

One of the most significant differences between lab-created diamonds and mined diamonds when it comes to their environmental impact is their water usage.

A mined diamond consumes more than 126 gallons of water per carat, whereas a lab-created diamond consumes just under 20. Waste water runs into local water suplies, which leads to pollution and downstream effects on plants and wildlife.

Energy Consumption

Mined diamonds use about 500 million joules per carat, whereas a lab created diamond uses half that. Even better, certain growers that we work with are taking this one step further by using entirely renewable forms of energy such as solar or hydropower.

These modern giga-diamond factories are very different from the coal-powered factories primarily found in China and India. While they’re already better than natural diamond mining, they still have a long way to go. If you’d like a diamond grown using renewal energy – just ask!

Cabon Production 

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

Diavik diamond mine canada
Diavik Diamond Mine
Canada

Land Use

While diamond mining today looks much different than it did in the early ’90s, it remains 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. Each carat mined results in the disruption of nearly 100 square feet and the creation of thousands of pounds of mineral waste. We don’t need to tell you that lab-created diamonds have little no impact on the land outside of the factory they have created it in.

Lab Created Diamonds vs. Real

So are lab created diamonds different that real mined diamonds? Atomically no. Optically, no. Environmentally, yes. Economically, yes. 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.

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.