All You Need to Know About Lab Grown Diamonds
By Stephanie Dore
When it comes to keeping it real, lab grown diamonds are doing the damn thing. Yeah, we said it. As lab grown diamonds become a popular choice for engagement rings and fine jewelry, there’s more and more convo about whether or not lab grown diamonds are really real. And guess what: They are. Chemically, physically, and optically the same as a natural diamond pulled from the Earth, lab grown diamonds sparkle just like a natural diamond, can save you a ton of money, and for many present an ethical and environmentally-conscious diamond option. But what is a lab grown diamond and how are lab grown diamonds made? Read below to find out, along with tips on diamond types, engagement ring settings, and diamond simulants to answer all your questions.
What Are Lab Grown Diamonds?
They say the beginning is a very good place to start, so let’s figure out exactly what a lab grown diamond is—starting with what a natural diamond is. Natural diamonds are made of pure carbon that is subjected to very high temperatures and pressure deep within the Earth’s crust. They are forced out of their resting place by volcanic eruptions, or found in alluvial areas, washed out of rock by bodies of water. Now, lab grown diamonds are also made of pure carbon, only they’ve been subjected to high temperatures and pressure in a laboratory environment. That’s right, scientists have figured out how to replicate natural processes to make the exact same material. Lab grown diamonds have the same chemical, physical, and optical properties of natural diamonds, only no one dug a big mine to find them.
How Are Lab Grown Diamonds Made?
The technology has been around for many years, but is quickly improving to meet the market demand for high quality lab grown diamonds. There are two main processes for creating lab grown diamonds—CVD and HPHT. In both processes, a diamond seed is used to kick off the stone’s growth, passing on its characteristics to the newly formed diamond. But every lab diamond is grown individually, just like diamonds from mother nature, and has its own personality, inclusions, color, everything. No two are exactly alike. And this means you should purchase them just like you would a natural diamond, with attention to the 4Cs, as their prices will still fluctuate based on their unique qualities.
HPHT (which stands for high pressure, high temperature) mimics the natural growth conditions of diamonds within the Earth. A press is used to apply over 1.5 million pounds per square inch of pressure, along with heat above 2,000 degrees Celsius to grow a diamond from a small seed. Known for producing large, white diamonds in the 2-5 carat range with D-F color, the HPHT process is also used to treat both natural and CVD-grown diamonds to make them whiter.
CVD (which stands for chemical vapor deposition) is a newer process, wherein a thin slice of diamond is placed in a sealed chamber and heated to around 800 degrees Celsius. The chamber is then filled with carbon-rich gas (usually methane) along with other gasses. These gasses are then ionized into plasma using microwaves, lasers, or other techniques to break down the molecular bonds and cause the pure carbon to adhere to the diamond seed. This slowly builds up into a larger diamond crystal and voila! CVD diamonds tend to be a bit smaller and warmer toned in the 1-2.5 carat range with G-I color.
Lab Grown Diamonds vs. Diamond Simulants
Now, as we’ve said, lab grown diamonds are, in fact, real diamonds. They are not diamond simulants. A diamond simulant is basically any material that is made or used to replicate the look of a diamond, but is not a diamond. Think: cubic zirconia, moissanite, white sapphires, or even plain old glass. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, none of these stones will ever have the same qualities of a lab grown or natural diamond.
For instance, all diamonds (lab and natural) have the same hardness, making them durable enough for daily wear, unlike many simulants which are softer and easily scratched. Lab grown diamonds (and natural diamonds) also have the same brilliance and sparkle, where diamond simulants just won’t reflect light in the same way. Will simulants save you some more money? Sure. But they can get scratched, dull, or broken and probably won’t last you as long as a lab grown diamond, which means potentially needing to replace your stone instead of being able to enjoy it for a lifetime.
Lab Grown Diamond Ring Settings
Not only can you choose a lab grown diamond center stone for your engagement ring, but today you can find many ring setting styles with lab grown diamond side stone accents. These lab grown diamond ring settings might be anything from a single row of glittering pave diamonds to fancy lab grown diamond halo engagement rings, eternity bands, or fancy shape side stones. Choosing lab grown diamond ring settings can save you some money if you’re shopping on a budget, while giving you the same durability and brilliance of a natural diamond ring setting.
Lab Grown Diamonds vs. Natural Diamonds
So, lab grown and natural diamonds are all carbon, right? Right. But not all carbon is created equal. Here’s where things get a bit more technical. There are five different types of diamonds — type IA, IIA, IB, IIB, and Type IaB. See, during diamond formation, carbon usually interacts with other trace elements like boron and nitrogen for instance.
Those elements can influence a diamond’s color, inclusions, and crystal shape, and dictate a diamond’s “type”. Because lab diamonds are created in a controlled environment, they’re almost always type IIa, which means they’re colorless and lack impurities. But to add even more complexity, some lab grown diamonds (usually HPHT-grown) are type IIB, which have boron present. Like natural diamonds, boron can lend a lab grown diamond a slight blue tint, which would be noted on the diamond’s certificate with something like “blue nuance.”
In addition, sometimes a lab grown diamond will have unique clarity characteristics that help diamond graders and sellers identify them as lab-grown. But by the time they reach you, assuming you’re purchasing from a reputable source, this will all be noted in the diamond’s grading certificate.
Many are concerned about lab grown diamonds not retaining their value. But unless you’re buying museum-worthy gems, no diamond will prove to be much of an investment. Diamond resale value is based on the market, not what you paid for it, and remember that anyone buying a diamond is going to be reselling it, so they’re going to give you a lot less money for it up front. We always recommend purchasing a diamond based on your personal preferences and budget, not resale value.
What Are The Benefits of Lab Grown Diamonds?
All that said, when it comes to budgets, it’s hard to beat a lab grown diamond in the pricing game. Today, they can save you 40-60% when compared to a natural, mined diamond of the same qualities and size. One of the other biggest benefits of lab grown diamonds is their ethical sourcing and lower environmental impact than mined diamonds.
There’s only so many natural diamonds, and mining for them 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.
Diamond production also affects water usage, carbon creation, and energy consumption. Mined diamonds consume more than 126 gallons of water per carat, whereas lab-created diamonds consume just under 20. Mined diamonds also produce more than 125 pounds of carbon for every single carat, whereas lab created diamonds produce just under 10 pounds. And everyone loves to critique lab grown diamonds for energy consumption (all those lasers and whatnot), but the reality is mined diamonds use a whopping 500 million joules per carat, whereas lab created diamonds use about half that. There are also labs using totally renewable energy, so if that’s important to you, just ask!
How Are Lab Grown Diamonds Certified And Graded?
For many years, diamond grading labs wouldn’t grade lab grown diamonds, or would simply list them as “synthetic”, but that has all changed. Today, they can be graded by most reputable diamond grading labs, and will be listed as “lab created” on their certificate. Each lab grown diamond will be graded using the same strict processes as a natural diamond, examined by expert gemologists and the highest tools and technology to determine the diamond’s color, clarity, carat weight, and cut.
There are many diamond grading labs, including GIA, AGS, GCAL, IGI, and EGL. And yes, we understand that’s a lot of acronyms. But hear us out. GIA is the cream of the crop when it comes to diamond grading, but they basically invented the 4Cs, so there’s good reason for that. But other labs like AGS and GCAL especially offer exceptional diamond grading services well. IGI is more global, but a bit less strict in their grading, while EGL is unfortunately the least consistent.
What Are Sustainably Rated Lab Grown Diamonds?
We know that choosing a sustainable diamond engagement ring is very important to many of you, so let’s talk a bit about sustainability ratings. This is a relatively new thing, which sets a comprehensive, multi-stakeholder sustainability standard for diamonds across 5 pillars:
- Verified Origin Traceability: Guaranteeing the origin of each certified diamond through advanced testing, gem identification protocols, surveillance audits and sampling across the supply chain.
- Twelve Principles of Ethical Stewardship: Adhering to comprehensive environmental, social and governance (ESG) requirements.
- Verified Climate Neutrality: Achieving true climate neutrality based on the most stringent climate protocols addressing both current and legacy emissions.
- Sustainable Production Practices: Eliminating or offsetting environmental and human health impacts.
- Sustainability Investments: Creating societal benefits through investments that uplift vulnerable communities, clean the air and water, protect the climate and protect endangered ecosystems.
Each diamond receives an independent assessment conducted by a third-party, SCS Services, providing you with full transparency into your diamond’s sustainability.
Lab Grown Diamond FAQs
- Are lab grown diamonds less expensive than natural diamonds? Yep! You’ll likely pay about half the cost of a comparable-quality natural diamond.
- Do lab diamonds test as real diamonds? Yes! Lab grown diamonds will pass a diamond detector because they’re real diamonds.
- Are lab grown diamonds flawless? They could be. But just like natural diamonds, lab grown diamonds can also have clarity characteristics and will vary in their clarity grades and inclusion types.
- Do lab created diamonds get cloudy? If your lab grown diamond is looking cloudy, there’s a good chance it’s simply dirty with dirt and oils from normal wear. They won’t get cloudy like many diamond simulants do as they get scratched and dull—because, you guessed it, they’re real diamonds.
- Are lab grown diamonds a good investment? No diamond is really a financial investment in terms of returns. They’re a great investment in your love, however, so use that — along with your own realistic budget and personal preferences to determine which diamond you purchase.
- Can you insure lab created diamonds? Yes, and you should! A lab grown diamond is a real diamond, with a real value and a grading report to verify it. A reputable jewelry insurer will base your premium on what it would cost to replace your jewelry, all qualities considered.
- What is phosphorescence in natural and lab diamonds? Phosphorescence in diamonds appears as a slight glow after exposure to light. This is more common in lab grown diamonds than natural diamonds, occurring in a small percentage of HPHT or post-growth treated diamonds where there is more boron gas present.
- Could lab diamonds test as moissanite? Depending on the type of diamond detector being used, an HPHT or post-growth treated lab grown diamond with too much boron in its crystal structure may test as moissanite. This is because boron conducts electricity, which is what some devices use to differentiate gem materials. A natural fancy blue diamond (also blue because of boron) would also fail a similar test.
- What does it mean if my lab diamond is treated? Some diamonds, both natural and lab grown, are treated to improve their color or clarity. Because CVD lab grown diamonds are often lower color grades, many receive HPHT treatments post-growth. These treatments are permanent and don’t otherwise affect the quality or durability of your diamond. They just make it brighter!
That’s Everything You Need to Know About Lab Grown Diamonds
Yep, lab grown diamonds are real diamonds, just like the ones mined straight from the Earth. They have the same physical, chemical, and optical properties, all the same sparkle and durability, and a great price tag to boot. If you’re buying a diamond engagement ring, and especially if you’re shopping on a budget, consider buying a lab grown diamond ring. You will have the same brilliant look for a much more affordable diamond option, and receive the same quality diamond grading certificate too.
Ready to Find Your Lab Grown Diamond?
Check out our diamond search where you can view 360-degree images of more than 10,000 diamonds and don’t forget to zoom out (because size can be deceiving), or book a virtual or offline appointment at our New York or San Francisco studio to view certified lab-grown and natural diamonds in person.