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Are Lab Created Diamonds Different Than Real (Mined) Diamonds?

When confronted with a dizzying array of options for sparkly white stones on the market, it’s understandable that you might be confused. From obscure names to misleading information and mislabeled product offerings, how can you tell what’ss 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: are lab-created diamonds different than real (mined) diamonds and if so, how?

Let’s back up a step. What is a diamond, really? Well, it’s a word. And the FTC ruled earlier this year that a diamond is a diamond, regardless of whether it was grown in a lab or mined from the earth. So, lab diamonds are real diamonds — period. But, how is that even possible? 

Your local jeweler will almost certainly tell you to stay away from lab-created diamonds. But, the fact of the matter is there’s a lot to love about these sparkly marvels of modern science. Curious yet? Let’s dig in.

HOW ARE LAB-CREATED DIAMONDS GROWN?

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. To think, if he had known he’d become the father of modern diamond making, the ring his partner would have expected! 

A lab created diamond seed from CVD

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.

While you generally won’t see HPHT or CVD on a diamond certificate for your future engagement ring, it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask for those that are curious. Either method is suitable for creating gem-quality diamonds, and both produce atomically identical results to mined diamonds.

A volcanic explosion demonstrating how natural mined diamonds first came to to the earth surface through kimberlite pipes.

In contrast,  mined 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.

ARE LAB-CREATED DIAMONDS GRADED?

Many people believe lab created diamonds are purchased ungraded, similar to moissanite. This is incorrect. Like mined diamonds, lab created diamonds come in all color grades and clarities and are graded and certified with the same rigor as mined diamonds.

While some mined diamond advocates claim that all lab created diamonds are equal, the truth of the matter is that because lab-created diamonds are grown in the same conditions as in nature, they display similar imperfections and variations in quality. No two lab created diamonds are identical.

All Frank Darling lab created diamonds over .5 carat are graded by either the IGI or GCAL, two reputable grading institutions. All diamonds receive an additional visual inspection by our staff before shipment to verify their quality. The grading certificate is yours to keep with the purchase of a diamond. Curious how diamonds are graded? Read about it here.

ARE LAB-CREATED DIAMONDS MORE ENVIRONMENTAL FRIENDLY THEN MINED DIAMONDS?

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. 

A diamond mine in Africa where diamonds are mined from the earth rather then created in a lab.

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

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.

Even worse fot water supplies, read about the environmental impact of gold mining – there’s a reason we use 100% recycled gold.

ENERGY

A solar field depicting a diamond factory using renewable resources to grown lab created diamonds.

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!

CARBON 

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

LAND

Diavik diamond mine in Canada where diamonds are mined rather than grown.

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.

OK BUT SOMEONE HAS TO BE ABLE TO TELL A LAB CREATED DIAMOND FROM A REAL DIAMOND, RIGHT?

No, not really. They’re atomically and optically identical. If you’re looking to find the differences — here’s how. Just an FYI – this is going to get a bit technical.

Lab created diamonds are referred to as 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.

Because lab-created diamonds are grown above ground in controlled conditions rather than underground, they show distinct growth patterns which can be detected by a machine. It doesn’t affect the optical characteristics of the diamond, nor will you be looking at your diamond under a machine, but it is worth noting.

“Lab created diamonds fluoresce differently then mined diamonds under ultraviolet light. “Type IIa natural diamonds fluoresce blue while lab-grown ones using the CVD technique fluoresce orange.” Popsci 

So if you have a type 2a diamond which fluoresces orange under ultraviolet light, you can be nearly sure it is lab-created. 

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.

Think lab created could be right for you? Check out our selection of stunning lab-created engagement rings designed by Tiffany & Co. alum Elise Coleman.