October 16, 2023
– Posted in: Jewelry Blog
Nowadays, if you go shopping for a diamond, then you’ll have one more option to consider apart from the cut, clarity, color, and carat: whether to buy a natural or an artificial stone. Lab-grown and natural diamonds have the same chemical composition, therefore they look and feel the same. This might make your choice even more daunting, especially if you consider the price differences. Despite the similarities, natural diamonds cost more than their synthetic counterparts. Read on as we explore how they differ so that you are able to make a well-informed purchase.
- What Is a Lab Grown Diamond?
- What Is a Natural Diamond?
- Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Real?
- Differences between Lab and Natural Diamond
- Price Difference Between Lab Grown and Natural Diamonds
- WARNINGS Concerning Lab Diamonds
- Talk to Jewelry Expert
What Is a Lab Grown Diamond?
Lab-grown or synthetic diamonds are manufactured artificially in a lab under controlled conditions. Yet, their atomic composition is carbon, like their natural counterparts. During processing, carbon atoms go through high heat and pressure to mimic the conditions through which natural diamonds form in the Earth’s crust. They take less time to make because the conditions are induced and controlled.
Surprisingly, lab-grown diamonds have been available since the 90s but have only recently become popular, thanks to the advancement of technology. When used in jewelry, lab-grown diamonds resemble natural diamonds in sparkle and other physical qualities.
What Is a Natural Diamond?
A natural diamond carries the authenticity of being a product of nature, which holds a unique appeal for many people. No human interference occurs during formation, allowing the process to flow at its own pace. As such, these are the pacesetters for synthetic diamonds. They form in the Earth’s mantle when carbon comes into contact with high heat and pressure. It can take over a million years for a diamond to form.
Because natural diamonds take a long time to form, they are rare. When something is scarce, it’s more desirable and will be of a higher value. So, jewelry containing natural diamonds will have a higher value attached to them.
Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Real?
As mentioned above, natural diamonds set the pace and represent what lab-grown diamonds will attempt to mimic. Firstly, its atomic composition consists of carbon in a crystal lattice. This quality makes it durable while giving it the same hardness and brilliance as naturally occurring diamonds. Secondly, a lab-grown diamond has the exact isotropic nature as a natural diamond, exhibiting the same fire from all directions.
Also, gemologists grade the lab-grown diamonds using the four Cs: color, cut, carat, and clarity, as they do for mined diamonds.
Be that as it may, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has found some strange carbon fluorescence patterns in lab-grown diamonds. This hints that they might not be as authentic as the natural diamonds they are trying to imitate. What’s more, the price of lab-grown diamonds is up to 40% lower than natural diamonds, meaning their value is relatively low.
Due to the similarities, some sellers might present lab-grown diamonds as natural diamonds and defraud unsuspecting buyers. For that reason, in order to avoid scams, we recommend you always ask for a grading certificate when buying any jewelry containing natural diamonds.
Differences between Lab and Natural Diamond
|Specification||Lab-Grown Diamond||Natural Diamond|
|Formation||Created in a controlled laboratory environment||Formed naturally deep within the Earth’s mantle|
|Rarity||Relatively common||Very rare|
|Chemical composition||Pure carbon||Pure carbon|
|Color||Produced in different colors||Occurs in different colors|
|Metallic inclusions||Exists because they capture metals during the formation||No metallic inclusions|
|Type IIA test||Most are colorless or pure||Less than 2% are pure|
|Hardness||90 GPA||90 GPA|
|Thermal expansion||0.80 x 10.6 K||0.80 x 10.6 K|
|Transparency||Deep UV to far TR||Deep UV to far TR|
|Environmental impact||Minor environmental impact||More detrimental to the environment|
Although most lab-grown and natural diamond specifications are similar, it’s worth exploring their differences:
When carbon in the Earth’s crust comes into contact with high pressure and temperature, it melts and crystalizes into a diamond. These diamond crystals come to the Earth’s surface through volcanic eruptions in structures called kimberlite or lamproite pipes. As a result, the ground has to be dug to find natural diamonds.
As mentioned, lab-grown diamonds grow in the lab under controlled conditions. But how exactly does this happen to achieve the standards of natural diamonds? It’s through High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) methods.
The HPHT method is the oldest, invented in the 1950s. Professionals who use this method place a tiny diamond seed in a chamber and add carbon–the diamond’s building block. They then expose the chamber to a pressure of above 1.5 million PSI (pounds per square inch) and temperatures of above 2,000?. This causes carbon to melt, forming a diamond over the seed. Diamonds resulting from this method have 14 growth directions and a cuboctahedron shape.
On the other hand, the CVD method was introduced in the 1980s and is the most recent procedure. Unlike the HPHT method, it doesn’t use pressure. Instead, the manufacturers place a tiny diamond seed into a vacuum chamber with a carbon-rich gas like methane and expose it to a temperature above 1500?. The gas ionizes into plasma, depositing pure carbon into the diamond seed. This increases the diamond size. The diamond resulting from this method has one growth direction and a cubic shape.
The HPHT method uses metal catalysts to speed up the transformation of carbon into diamond. The most commonly used metals include nickel, cobalt, and iron. These metals are ideal for this process because they interact with the carbon to facilitate catalysis. During the process, tiny sparks of metal might enter the diamond crystal, thus resulting in metallic inclusions in the resulting diamond. In some cases, the metal may even give the diamond magnetic properties.
This differs significantly from natural diamonds because they don’t capture metals during formation. As a result, they will not have magnetic properties.
Type IIA Test
During the formation of a diamond, the crystal might capture nitrogen impurities. The impurities leave yellow traces in the crystal. Gemologists use the Type IIA test to determine the purity of a diamond. Type IIA diamonds have exceptional optical properties because they don’t have nitrogen impurities common in most diamonds.
Less than 2% of natural diamonds pass the Type IIA test— most have varying levels of nitrogen impurities. So, pure natural diamonds are rare and valuable. On the other hand, since lab-grown diamonds form in a controlled environment, most of them don’t have nitrogen traces. However, this test is not a sure way to distinguish lab-grown and natural diamonds because both types can be either pure or impure.
As technology advances, lab-grown diamonds are becoming more common than natural diamonds. Most labs can create these diamonds in weeks and supply them to the market. Conversely, natural diamonds take extraordinarily long to grow and crystallize. What’s more, tracing and mining them is a lengthy process that takes months.
Diamond deposits are limited even within regions with the right geological conditions for diamond formation. The uneven distribution of natural diamonds worldwide contributes to the low supply in the market.
Finally, the extraction of natural diamonds from rocks isn’t an easy process. Many diamond mines yield low-grade ore, meaning only a small portion contains viable diamonds. These factors reduce the availability of natural diamonds even further.
Price Difference Between Lab Grown and Natural Diamonds
Although lab-grown diamonds might have similar characteristics to natural diamonds, jewelers offer them at a discounted price. They can cost as little as 70%-50% of a natural diamond’s price. For instance, a lab-grown 2.00-carat diamond costs roughly $839-$2,333, while a natural one will cost approximately $14,480-$24,020. Several factors contribute to this disparity in pricing.
First is the cost of production; lab-grown diamonds require low capital and labor investments as compared to natural diamonds. Once you buy the production equipment, you’ll only incur fixed costs to produce as many diamonds as you want. Conversely, natural diamonds require exploration, extraction, and purification costs. Each of these stages will require investment depending on the geographical location.
Second is the rule of demand and supply. It takes six to 10 weeks to produce and distribute lab-grown diamonds to the market. Conversely, natural diamonds take over one million years to form, while their extraction and processing require additional time.
As many labs grow diamonds, the supply of synthetic diamonds in the market is unlimited, making them less special. When there is a higher supply than the demand in the market, the prices go down. On the other hand, since natural diamonds take longer to produce, their supply is lower than the demand. This causes their prices to hike.
Reselling Value of Lab vs. Natural Diamonds
Value retention is one quality that can tell you whether a diamond is real or not. Generally, all diamonds lose value. For natural stones, their value decreases by 50% when re-entering the market. This means if you resell your diamond, you’ll be able to recover half of the initial investment. However, there’s an exception: rare natural diamonds appreciate in value. This can be due to its impressive size or purity or any other factor. Most people would be willing to pay a hefty price to acquire such diamonds.
The resell value for lab-grown diamonds is different, though. Due to their lower initial price, jewelers are unwilling to buy second-hand lab-grown diamonds. This is because they’d have to sell the second-hand lab-grown diamond at a lower price, which might make buyers think the diamond is fake since the initial price was already relatively low. Sadly, the result is that lab-grown diamonds have absolutely no resale value.
If you’re looking for a diamond as an investment, then you should only consider the natural option. The fact that it doesn’t have value retention like a natural diamond tells you that it’s a scam.
Important Warnings About Lab Grown Diamonds
Most people are turning to synthetic diamonds because of their low prices compared to mined stones. Additionally, they have the perception that lab diamonds are ethically sustainable because their production doesn’t involve extracting earth. Before you believe the hype, here are some disclaimers about lab-grown diamonds:
- There’s no resell market for lab-grown diamonds: Most people think buying a synthetic diamond is an investment that can return some of their money in the future. However, this is not the case because jewelers don’t buy used lab diamonds. Once you purchase a lab-grown diamond, its value decreases to zero. This contrasts with their natural counterparts, which have a large resell market and value retention of around 50%.
- Jewelry insurers don’t like insuring lab diamonds: Although some jewelry insurers offer cover for lab diamonds, they do so at unreasonable premiums. Most insurers don’t cover them because their original value keeps fluctuating. This can make it more challenging for insurance companies to accurately determine the stone’s worth when a claim arises. If an industry is reluctant to insure a product, then you would be wise to question its inherent value.
- Lab diamonds can’t match natural diamonds: Despite jewelers using the word ‘real’ for lab diamonds, they’ll never be equal to natural ones, even if their chemical and physical characteristics are the same. Natural diamonds have an inimitable aesthetic value that contributes to their cultural and emotional significance.
- Lab-grown diamonds are not eco-friendly: Don’t let anyone lure you into buying synthetic diamonds based on eco-friendliness. Although their production might not leave the land upturned, it certainly releases energy and harmful gases such as methane, contributing to global warming. The fact is there are environmental implications regardless of the type of diamond.
Talk to a Diamond Expert
Deciding whether to buy a natural or a lab-grown diamond is a choice that requires careful analysis. If you don’t know which the best choice is, then allow our experts to guide you. We’ve been in the industry for over 40 years, and we’ll help you make the right choice. Simply fill out the contact form below to book your consultation appointment today.