Why Lab-Grown Diamonds Are a Massive Scam! May 13, 2021 – 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 biggest concern associated with lab-grown diamonds is the resell rate. In summary, be very careful before purchasing a lab-grown or synthetic diamond.

Short History of Lab-Grown Diamonds

Lab Grown Diamond Earrings against black background

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

James Ballantyne Hannay and Frederic Henri Moissan gave it a fair shot, but by today’s standards, their 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.

In 1953, ASEA, the Swedish utility company, claimed to have developed the process in 1953. Yet, they kept it a secret until well into the 1980s.

In 1954, General Electric (GE) issued an announcement that they were the first to have the technology. 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 into the market. This technology came in 1971 and is still the primary technique for cultivating lab-grow diamonds.

How Are Lab Grown Diamonds Made?

Lab Grown Diamonds Machine compression technique

There are two prominent ways to make lab-grown diamonds. The High-Pressure High-Temperature (HPHT) process involves placing a seed into a highly pressurized and heated mold and then dissolving molten metal onto it. The Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) method involves inserting carbon-based gases into a chamber, energizing them, and providing good conditions for the growth of the diamond.

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.

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 (High-Pressure and High Temprature). In 2017, the organization published one of the most comprehensive studies to date.

“With colorless HPHT synthetics, the contrast in fluorescence color between growth sectors is much more subtle and can be difficult for a gemologist to detect even while rotating the sample in the DiamondView.”

GIA

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.

That being said, GIA still determined that it is possible to differentiate between the two because 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.

In conclusion, the GIA are able to determine the difference between genuine natural diamonds and lab-grown artificial diamonds.

Different Types of Lab-Grown Diamonds

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

Not all lab-grown diamonds are equal.

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

Cultured Lab-Grown Diamonds

Cultured diamonds are created using a seed, very much like a natural pearl. There are two main variants, HPHT and CVD.

HPHT Diamonds

Lab-Grown Diamonds HPHT Diamond Engagement Ring

You already know about the synthetic diamond manufacturing process.

Bar presses are 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

Loose VVS lab-grown Diamonds

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

  1. This method utilizes super-pure carbon-rich gasses like methane.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  • LPCVD – Low-Pressure CVD
  • UHVCVD – Ultra-High Vacuum CVD
  • PECVD – Plasma-Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition
  • MPCVD – Microwave Plasma Vapor Deposition

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

Simulant Lab Grown Diamonds

3 Carat I Color Asscher Cut Simulant 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.

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. This is the common diamond-style stone that is used in the cheap diamond rings flouting around the internet for $10 or less.

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.

We wrote a comprehensive article on diamond vs moissanite. Feel free to read it.

Price of Lab-Grown vs Natural Diamonds

The main allure of lab-grown diamonds is that they’re up to 40% less expensive than natural diamonds. 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, the color is G color and clarity is VS2 clarity, and they measure 6.63mm x 6.68mm x 4.14mm. The price difference, however, 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 $3,500.

The price, however, was not always so far apart.

“One of the most alarming issues with lab-grown diamonds is their massive drop in price,” says Benjamin Khordipour GG, Chief Gemologist at Estate Diamond Jewelry. “They’ve lost over 60% value from 2016 to 2021, and that is only one of the massive red flags associated with lab-grown diamonds. My estimate is that it will hit 80% by 2023.”

What’s the Resale Value of Lab Diamonds?

Reselling Handshake for Lab Diamond

The resale value on lab-grown diamonds is either extemely low on non-existent. Plenty of people want to sell it, but no one wants to have it back. They’d rather just print a new diamond for a fraction of the selling cost.

This reason is one of the most compelling reasons to keep far away from artificial diamonds. Jewelers and traders don’t want to buy back artificial diamonds!

There are some vendors who will agree to buy back ONLY the diamonds that they sell, but other than that, no jewelry professionals want to touch them!

This is the biggest reason that lab-diamonds is a failing industry.

“There’s nothing rare or distinct about a lab-grown diamond,” says Benjamin Khordipour GG, Chief Gemologist at Estate Diamond Jewelry. “There is no market cap on how many can be made available, and for that reason, they are almost completely worthless. No one in the jewelry trade wants to buy them.”

Can a Lab-Grown Diamond be Called a “Real Diamond”?

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

In short the FTC started a crack-down on jewelry companies that were representing their lab-grown diamonds as genuine mined diamonds.

According to the FTC, it is illegal to use the term “diamond” for a lab-grown diamond unless you add a descriptor that makes it clear that it is lab-made and not natural.

Are There Any Pros of Lab-Grown Diamonds?

Lab Grown Princess Cut Diamond

There are very few positive elements about lab-grown diamonds, but there are a few.

  • They are much cheaper, and even though their resale value is non existent, at least you don’t have to put down as much money for a larger size. (Of course, I would recommend either, go with a real diamond or just go for the very cheap Cubic-Zirconia diamond.)
  • Lab-diamonds are great for industrial purposes. The Mohs ranking is high and they are great for drilling etc…
  • Lab-grown diamonds are better for the environment than earth-mined diamonds. (I would recommend going for vintage diamonds which are even better.)

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-grown 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 Easily 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.

Final Thoughts and Verdict

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

We understand that, as a seller of natural diamonds, we are not completely objective. That being said, if we believed that lab-grown diamonds were a good idea, we would have incorporate them into our store.

We haven’t sold lab-grown diamonds on our website and we won’t. For the reasons mentioned above, we believe that they have no value at all.

In conclusion, we are strong believers in using what’s already out there, and therefore we our strong proponents of using antique diamonds. Antique diamonds are environmentally conscious, prettier, romantic, and carry their worth better than synthetic diamonds.