Why Lab-Grown Diamonds Are a Massive Scam! March 11, 2020 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

Over the past few years, lab-grown diamonds have received a lot of hype and notoriety. If you google them, it appears that these artificial gems are fine.

But the Federal Trade Commission had to intervene. And the idea was to protect you from misleading diamond advertising. The story appeared in Forbes and USA Today, offering a painful truth about synthetic diamonds.

The concern is that it’s impossible for the untrained eye to discern lab-grown diamonds from the real deal. And there are more than a few people who were late to figure out they’d made a costly mistake. But you’re not going to be one of them.

The biggest concern associated with lab-grown diamonds is their resell rate. See below.

Short History of Lab-Grown Diamonds

Lab Grown Diamond Earrings

In the late 18th century, scientists discovered that diamonds are pure carbon. This prompted them to start developing methods to grow diamonds under artificial conditions.

This idea was so compelling that it inspired H.G. Wells to write a short story entitled “The Diamond Maker”. A few years before Wells’ story, James Ballantyne Hannay and Frederic Henri Moissan were actively trying to do it.

By today’s standards, Hannay’s and Moissan’s method was crude, to say the least. Within a crucible furnace, they heated charcoal to more than 3,500°F together with iron. Then, they cooled the iron to create the pressure needed for diamond creation.

This first experiment flopped. But it motivated others to try their luck with the process. But it wasn’t until 1926 before there was any real breakthrough. Be that as it may, the process as we know it today was developed in late-1954.

This was when General Electric (GE) issued an announcement that they had the technology. But even this account isn’t without its fair share of ill repute. ASEA, the Swedish utility company, claimed to have developed the process in 1953.

Yet, ASEA kept it a secret until well into the 1980s. At that time, IIjin Diamonds, a Korean competitor of ASEA and GE, came onto the scene. But it turned out that the Korean company abused GE’s trade secret. A former employee stole the technology and shared it with IIjin Diamonds.

However, GE was the first to introduce artificial gem quality. This technology came in 1971 and is still the primary technique to lab-grow diamonds.

How Are Synthetic Diamonds Grown?

Lab Grown Diamond Machine

GE developed the High-Pressure High-Temperature (HPHT) process. It aimed to emulate natural processes and synthesize diamonds. This technique involves using seeds from natural diamonds. And special machines reach temperatures of 4,712°F to mimic the heat that helps diamonds grow.

In general, the machines need to run for about a week to yield a 1-carat diamond. During the early years, the lab-grown diamonds were of poor quality. The gems were yellow and brown. This was because they got contaminated with nitrogen and nickel.

But adding titanium or aluminum allowed the manufacturers to produce pure white diamonds. And if boron gets added, diamond laboratories get blue gemstones.

All the talk about metals and chemical substances alone is enough to put most people off. But, the story doesn’t end there. You need to understand that manufacturers use an enormous amount of energy.

Plus, the manufacturers can manipulate the diamond’s color and increase its price. However, faint hints of the original color are still visible. And it’s not that hard for a professional to spot them. In addition, this de-coloring of diamonds affects their clarity and weight.

The interesting thing is that natural diamond seeds need to be of high-quality. Usually, the manufacturer uses the VVS diamonds. This is because extreme temperature and heat may affect the gemstone. The inclusions may become unstable and make the diamonds explode.

What Does GIA Say About HPHT Diamonds?

GIA D Color Diamond in UV Seal

Over the course of ten years, GIA closely examined HPHT diamonds. In 2017, the organization published one of the most comprehensive studies to date.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell artificial diamonds from natural. According to GIA, the manufacturing process has become quite sophisticated. And companies are now able to produce even fancy-color diamonds of high clarity.

Adding fuel to the fire, Chinese companies have been mass-producing synthetic diamonds. And they’ve managed to get stones larger than 10 carats when cut. If, there is a silver lining.

GIA determined that all lab-grown diamonds have an odd fluorescence pattern. When subjected to imaging instruments, artificial diamonds show odd patterns. These aren’t the same as natural diamonds of the same clarity and color.

Different Types of Lab-Grown Diamonds

Genuine Diamond Ring
This ring features a genuine (non lab-grown) diamond

Not all lab-grown diamonds are equal. And this write-up has already touched upon the HPHT diamonds. Now is the time to take a closer look at this type and other available options.

You need to understand that there are two major categories. They’re stimulant and cultured diamonds. The gemstones that belong to each category have specific properties. Here’s what you need to know.

Cultured Diamonds

Loose VVS Diamond

So far, the article has covered cultured diamonds only. And HPHT artificial gemstones belong to this category. The key thing is that cultured diamonds come with a unique number, to limit potential abuses.

HPHT Diamonds

You already know about the manufacturing process. And the article discussed the perceived clarity of these artificial creations. The article didn’t mention that there are three different presses in the process.

Bar press is usually used for gemstone-quality synthetic diamonds. It contains outer and inner anvils that apply enormous hydraulic pressure. Belt press might also be used for gemstones. But this tool is somewhat inferior and it’s often used for growing industrial diamonds.

The cubic press is there to create a diamond powder for industrial purposes. And the press has six anvils that generate enough pressure to attain the powder.

CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) Diamonds

CVD is an incredibly complex process to generate artificial gemstones, semiconductors, and optics.

This method utilizes super-pure carbon-rich gasses like methane. The gas gets heated in a controlled chamber until it completely breaks apart. This allows the carbon atoms to break away and fall into a diamond substrate.

Over time, the layers of carbon atoms build up and this generates a crude diamond crystal. To put things in perspective, it might take up to two and a half months to grow a gemstone-quality diamond.

In the past decade, the CVD process has been improved and modified. So, there are now four different variations.

  1. LPCVD – Low-Pressure CVD
  2. UHVCVD – Ultra-High Vacuum CVD
  3. PECVD – Plasma-Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition
  4. MPCVD – Microwave Plasma Vapor Deposition

But, none of the CVD variants is superior to other lab-grown diamonds.

Simulant Diamonds

3 Carat I Color Asscher Cut Diamond

As suggested by the name, this category is inferior to the rest. The diamonds aren’t made from the same way as CVD or HPHT. But it’s still tricky to tell these from the real deal.

Anyway, simulant diamonds usually include white sapphires, zircon, and even cut glass. And there are three different sub-categories of simulants.

Cubic Zirconia Simulants

These are the least durable in the bunch and the cheapest as well. They’re made from zirconium oxide. And it might be possible for the untrained eye to spot a zirconia simulant.

Diamond Nexus Simulants

The main element of nexus simulants is carbon. But these artificial gemstones also contain other ingredients. Unlike zirconia, they’re durable and have an outstanding lifetime guarantee. But this doesn’t make them superior to their natural counterparts.

Moissanite Lab-Created Gemstones

Remember Henri Moissan, one of the scientists that started it all? These lab-grown diamonds owe their name to him.

To grow moissanite, manufacturers use silicon carbide. The final product is very strong, hence the high price tag. Moissanites also look different compared to other simulants.

Lab-Grown vs Natural Diamonds – Price Comparison

Old European Cut Diamonds

The main allure of lab-grown diamonds is that they’re up to 40% less expensive. But what are the actual prices?

The price actually depends on the artificial diamond’s 4Cs. The market trends and other external factors also add or subtract from the price. But for the purposes of this article, it’s best to compare natural vs man-made diamonds of the same 4Cs.

Say the cut is excellent and the two gemstones are of color G and VS2 clarity. Assume they’re round and measure about 6.63mm x 6.68mm x 4.14mm. That said, some artificial diamonds might be 0.1% to 0.3% bigger, but that’s irrelevant for the price.

However, the price difference is huge. At the time of writing, the natural diamond of this quality may set you back close to $8,000. And the lab-grown alternative is around $4,000.

But the main question is if the artificial diamonds are worth your money?

Artificial Diamonds – The Resell Value

Reselling Handshake for Lab Diamond

Artificial diamonds’ popularity spiked in the early 2000s. But nobody really wants to buy them anymore. And one of the main reasons is the volatile resell value.

This is one of the most compelling reasons to keep far away from artificial diamonds. Jewelers and dealers don’t want to buy artificial diamonds! Some vendors will agree to buy back the diamonds that they sell, but other than that, no one wants to buy them!

This single fact makes lab-diamonds effectively worthless.

Recently there have been a few companies that claim to “buy lab-diamonds from the public”, but one look at the terms and conditions makes it clear that they are not serious buyers.

In all frankness, experts haven’t settled on the long-term value of these gemstones. But it’s safe to assume that the value is nowhere near that of natural diamonds. To get a better idea, it’s best to draw from USA Today’s 2019 article on the topic.

The article recounts a Manhattan jeweler’s story when he encountered a pair of rubies. A customer who paid upwards of $30,000 for the gemstones came to the shop for a second opinion.

As it turned out, the rubies were synthetic gems and nowhere near the five-figure price. It was obvious that the customer had been conned. But even if she paid the real price, the gems would surely depreciate in value.

This is because top-quality lab diamonds are new in the market. More alarmingly, new manufacturers keep coming to the market and flooding it with their product. Then, there’s the process itself.

It takes up to 3.3 billion years for nature to grow a diamond. The processes in Earth’s crust are very hard to replicate. This is despite all the advances in chemical engineering. So, it doesn’t take an expert to figure out why the price is going to drop even further.

First, the digest manufacturing of up to ten weeks can’t yield the same result as 3.3 billion years of pressure and heat. But it can surely saturate the market, thus decreasing the value.

In a nutshell, the more lab-grown diamonds there are, the less valuable they are.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

The good news is that the abundant supply of artificial gemstones is good for natural diamonds.

As you already know, there’s a limited supply of natural diamonds. And those that are of excellent quality are even rarer. Mix in the steady flow of cheap knock-offs, and natural diamonds will surely be more expensive in the future.

Due to this, it is much wiser to spend your hard-earned cash on the real deal. There are great natural stones for $4,000. And if you’re willing to spend upwards of $20,000, you can get some really stunning bling.

Some would argue that size does matter when it comes to diamonds. And yes, heavier pieces are more expensive, but there’s more to it than just carats.

The rule is, it’s better to settle for a smaller gem, then opt for what’s essentially a big piece of condensed carbon.

Are There Any Pros of Lab-Grown Diamonds?

Lab Grown Princess Cut Diamond

The quick answer is no. There aren’t any pros of the lab-grown diamonds for the jewelry industry. However, they are great for other industrial purposes and should remain in that realm.

The thing that initially lured people to synthetic diamonds is the price. But it was misleading advertising that made them popular. And it’s not hard to find vendors that tout artificial diamonds as of unrivaled quality.

Again, is the stone you get in ten weeks the same as the stone you get in three billion years? Of course not, and most people understand that. But there is a catch.

Diamond manufacturers abuse the increased awareness of blood diamonds. And mining received some bad press because of inhumane conditions. To hook shoppers, they claim the stones are sustainable and conflict-free.

As this is one of the most hotly debated topics, it pays to delve further into it.

The Federal Trade Commission Rulings

USA FTC Building

In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updated the regulations. These dictate the appropriate language to describe diamonds.

Vendors and manufacturers mustn’t label artificial gemstones like diamonds. A diamond’s description must be clear on its origin. In the meantime, GIA has been clear when issuing certificates.

For example, there’s a big HPHT label before the description of the diamond to prevent any abuse. But there is another thing that sparked FTC’s concern. Most manufactures failed to prove that their diamonds are sustainable and conflict-free.

Okay, they don’t come from war zones. But manufacturing has still a long way to go. The industry needs stricter control to meet all the safety standards. On the bright side, there are companies that actively try to improve.

If the processes still involve enormous energy, chemical vapors, and chemical deposition. This might have a devastating impact on the local communities and the eco-system. It’s the primary reason FTC warned against claims like sustainable, eco-friendly, etc.

Peculiar Facts About Lab-Grown Diamonds

Pressure Machine for Lab Diamonds

Most lab-grown diamonds have the same chemical and physical features as natural gemstones. That is, they consist of a carbon crystal structure, but their properties aren’t the same. Remember, GIA found a strange fluorescence pattern.

All top-quality artificial diamonds get type IIa rating. And this is misleading for two reasons. Out of all the natural diamonds, only less than 2% belong to this category. Then, close inspection reveals some alarming differences between the two.

Be that as it may, diamond manufacturing came close to two million carats in 2019. And that number is set to increase more than tenfold by 2026. As a result, the long-term value of artificial gemstones will surely drop.

Some vendors try to capitalize on the fact that the same authorities certify all diamonds. But this doesn’t make them more valuable. Quite the contrary, the certification is there to stress these are artificial.

Can You Identify a Lab-Grown Diamond?

Unfortunately, no you can’t. Artificial diamonds have certain inclusions that are not clear even under a loupe.

Jewelers and gemologists use special equipment to determine a diamond’s origin. But, some lab-grown diamonds have inclusions that may appear under a loupe. If you need a lot of training to discern between the two.

To be exact, the inclusions have different patterns and structures. Plus, light reflection and refraction is different. And it takes an expert eye to spot the culprit.

Natural Diamonds Are Forever!

French Cut Diamond Engagement Ring
A natural French-cut diamond in a platinum mounting

When you think about it, all natural diamonds are unique. The time it takes to yield one such gemstone adds a lot of value to the stone and it’s not likely to go down in the future. But why are lab-grown diamonds a scam?

The answer lies in a combination of factors. First, it’s very hard for you to tell if a diamond is natural or not. Then, pushy vendors have been promoting artificial diamonds as better than real ones. Plus, more than a few people got conned.

In the end, you should never go for a lab-grown diamond, no matter how blingy it appears. And when in doubt, always ask for a GIA certificate or a second opinion.