Diamonds, for centuries, have been a symbol of love, commitment, and luxury. But where they come from often sparks debate. On the one hand, we have natural diamonds, a gift of Earth's profound geological processes. On the other, lab-created diamonds are from human innovation.
As potential diamond buyers who care about ethics and sustainability, you face a dilemma. This article dives into the complexities of both lab-created and natural diamonds. Our goal? To help you make an informed choice that aligns with your values. So read on as we help simplify this complex topic and strive for ethical purchases that fit your budget.
Comparing lab-grown and natural diamonds is more than a question of origin. Their compositions, visual appearances, prices, and perceived value all come into play.
We all want to make the right decisions when it comes to purchasing diamonds, so understanding the composition and origin of natural and lab-created stones is key. Lab-created diamonds undergo a unique process. They're made in a highly controlled environment using advanced technology. Despite this, they share the same chemical structure as naturally mined diamonds. Natural diamond formation begins deep within the Earth's crust and can take billions of years.
This means that both options have all the sparkle, clarity, strength, and beauty we look for to adorn our loved ones. However, we often prize a mined diamond for its rarity and naturally occurring creation process.
The naked eye often cannot distinguish between a natural diamond and a lab-grown diamond of the same carat weight, cut, and clarity grade. Under a microscope or magnifying glass, however, you may notice some subtle differences.
A study shows that lab-made CVD diamonds have distinct features compared to natural ones. They display unique light-bending properties and glow in different colors under UV light. These synthetic gems also show layered growth, contrasting with the irregular patterns in natural diamonds1.
When you look at natural diamonds and CVD synthetic diamonds under a microscope, they have the same refractive index, density, and appearance. Synthetic diamonds pass all the visual requirements and meet the International Gemological Institute (IGI) standards.
Regarding price and value, lab-grown diamonds are generally more affordable than naturally mined diamonds. This is due to the differences in production costs between the two types of stones.
Lab diamonds are usually cheaper because they can be made in a controlled environment, whereas we need to mine a natural diamond from the earth. This makes them more expensive as their mining costs are higher than those associated with lab-grown diamonds.
A lab-grown diamond is an affordable option for a buyer who wants natural-looking pieces at significantly lower prices. They won't have to bear the cost of beautiful jewelry featuring a real diamond.
Both lab-created diamonds and mined diamonds can have a significant impact on the environment.
A study shows how diamond mining in Sierra Leone negatively affects the local environment2. It ruins farmland, pollutes groundwater, and dries up wells. Noise pollution and house damage are other adverse impacts. Meanwhile, using traditional methods, producing a single carat of polished, lab-grown diamond can release up to 511kg of greenhouse gases, a report says.
The difference is that it is more possible to source a sustainable lab-grown diamond than a mined one. Several companies are using sustainable methods to create lab-grown diamonds. One example is Diamond Foundry; their diamonds are grown in a lab powered by solar energy. According to the Gemological Institute, SCS Global offers a sustainability certificate for producers in the diamond market.
Whether you go for a small or larger stone, making an ethical choice in diamond jewelry has never been easier with lab-grown diamonds. Choosing a lab-grown diamond has distinct advantages. These diamonds are produced entirely in controlled environments. This eliminates harm associated with unregulated mining systems. In this way, they are a more sustainable choice.
Not only do consumers gain peace of mind knowing their lab-grown diamond was ethically sourced, but it also increases transparency in the diamond industry.
Consistency in color and clarity is highly sought after when purchasing a diamond. This is where lab-grown diamonds shine - literally. Lab-grown diamonds are made using precise processes, enabling the gem’s colors and clarity rating to be more predictable when compared to its natural counterpart.
Creating lab-grown diamonds starts with an important first step - setting up a capsule containing the required carbon starting materials. They include a diamond seed and some metals. The seed can come from natural diamonds or those previously grown.
The environment in the growth capsule is adjustable. It allows the manipulation of temperature and other factors for precise control. High Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) are the leading technologies used to create diamonds. These methods make the exact chemical composition that forms a diamond. This lab-created diamond is indistinguishable from a natural diamond, even under a jeweler's magnification.
This level of control provides growers with a significant advantage. It allows them to promise their clients uniformity in color, stretching from nearly colorless grades D through L. The spectrum includes intense blues, pinks, yellows, and more. Furthermore, they can ensure consistent Clarity ratings from I1 upwards based on the methods employed.
Monetarily, lab-created diamonds are worth much less than natural stones. This is because they don’t require extensive mining and other traditional diamond industry costs.
From start to finish, lab-grown diamonds can take weeks instead of billions of years like the traditional ones. The shorter production timeline and lack of a need to mine them is a benefit. This reduction in cost and labor allows consumers to buy them more affordably. In fact, they're a fraction of the price of natural diamonds.
Most lab-grown diamonds still offer all the same quality and sparkle, but you'll be able to buy bigger carat sizes for your budget and get better clarity grades. Plus, you won't have to pay any premiums associated with rarity or exclusivity either, meaning you can get even more bang for your buck when purchasing lab-created diamond jewelry.
Ethical and conflict-free considerations are becoming increasingly important for many consumers when choosing diamonds. Some natural stones can be sourced from conflict zones where money is used to fuel violence or human rights abuses.
One study shows that Sierra Leone's conflict diamonds trade has sparked a decade-long rebel war3. Lab-created diamonds offer an alternative solution with no harmful consequences on the lands that served as home to the diamonds for eons.
The rarity of natural diamonds is part of what makes them so alluring and sought-after. They take billions of years to form, so there’s a limited supply.
On the other hand, a synthetic diamond grown in a lab can be made in mere weeks or months using specialized equipment. This gives natural diamonds a characteristic that cannot be replicated through lab-grown diamonds.
Longstanding traditions also contribute to this emotional worth. A natural diamond is often associated with engagement rings and special moments like anniversaries.
Many with the means use natural diamonds as an investment option. But while natural diamonds hold a potential for increasing in value with age, they also require a thorough appraisal to guarantee their value. A professional gemologist should conduct this appraisal to ascertain the monetary value of the natural diamond.
When it comes to beauty, both real diamonds and lab-grown diamonds have plenty to offer. Real diamonds are lauded for their sparkle, clarity, and unique appeal of a rare stone formed in the earth’s crust.
While synthetic diamonds do not hold this uniqueness or rarity factor, they typically shine just as brightly as the former.
Lab-grown diamonds are formed in a controlled environment in a lab using two main methods. They are the Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) Method and the High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) Method.
Both involve subjecting tiny diamond seeds to a lot of heat and pressure, replicating the natural conditions that create natural diamonds.
Chemical Vapor Deposition, or CVD, is a process used to create lab-grown diamonds from diamond seeds. It uses large machines that simulate the conditions in which naturally mined diamonds grow. In this two-step process, firstly, carbon atoms are vaporized by breaking down organic gas into its basic elements. These atoms are then deposited on a diamond seed crystal submerged in an oxygen-free environment.
Over time, the atoms attract each other, forming additional layers of diamond crystals until they grow big enough to be cut into jewelry pieces without losing their durability and clarity. And with that, you have a brilliant lab-created diamond.
The High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) method is used to create lab-grown diamonds. It involves simulating the conditions under which natural diamonds are formed; intense pressure and heat. This method starts with an existing diamond, typically called a seed crystal or diamond template, which is the starting point for growing the new stone.
The tiny diamond seed will be in an environment of extreme heat and concentrated pressure close to what is occurring in nature. This forces atoms located on the surface of the original diamond to rearrange themselves into lattice-like structures. They will be similar to how natural diamonds form underground over time, giving you a lab-created diamond identical to mined diamonds.
When considering between a lab-grown diamond and a natural diamond, personal preferences as to why you would choose a certain type of stone plays an important role. It is ultimately about finding what works best for you. Although there are many factors to consider when choosing between natural vs. lab-created diamonds, such as price and value, sustainability objectives, or investment concerns - it may come down to personal preferences and individual values.
For example, a couple wanting a diamond engagement ring that reflects their commitment to environmental causes may opt for a sustainably lab-grown diamond.
Another individual might place more importance on lasting sentimental value. So they select a natural diamond, knowing that their "forever" ring will symbolize something more permanent than lab-grown fashion trends.
The budget can be an essential factor when buying a diamond. Lab-created diamonds cost significantly less than their natural counterparts.
Opting for lab-created diamonds might be the best solution for shoppers looking for ethically sourced gems without straying too far from their budget constraints. These lab-grown stones offer fantastic quality at more affordable prices than real diamonds. And the savings achieved by buying a lab-grown diamond can often go towards something special, such as a passion project or fine dining experiences as newlyweds after choosing an affordable diamond engagement ring.
A lab-grown and naturally mined diamond will be subject to different environmental and ethical standards. Mining diamonds can significantly impact the environment, from water pollution to the destruction of large tracts of land by heavy machinery.
Additionally, many worry about reports of conflict or illegal trading of "blood" diamonds to fund warfare or other criminal activities. Lab-grown diamonds offer a more sustainable option; these stones require fewer resources when created sustainably and no destruction of natural habitats.
They’re also ethically sound as they don’t involve links with criminal activity or unscrupulous sourcing practices like those used in traditional diamond mining supply chains.
Related Read: Sustainable Jewelry Brands
We hope this article helped make the distinction between lab-created diamonds vs. natural diamonds clear. Lab-created diamonds and mined diamonds offer the same brilliance and are both stunning stones to the naked eye.
Laboratory-grown diamonds also tend to be more affordable, conflict-free, and sustainable. This makes a lab-grown diamond a strongly recommended option among ethical buyers seeking value for money in their engagement rings or other jewelry investments.
However, some people prefer to have the rarity factor associated with a natural diamond, viewing them as an investment due to historical resale value or sentimental attachment attached after purchase. So while a lab diamond can be optically identical to natural diamonds, they might not satisfy the need.
Ultimately, when choosing between lab-grown vs. mined diamonds, it’s important to weigh the factors most important to you and make the right choice for you.
Lu, Q., Gong, H., Guo, Q., Huang, X., & Cai, J. (2021). Gemological Characteristic Difference between Colorless CVD Synthetic Diamonds and Natural Diamonds. Materials (Basel, Switzerland), 14(20), 6225.
Kallon, H. D. (2019). The Impact of Diamond Mining on the Environment. Research & Reviews: Journal of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, 7(1), 4–8.
Rodgers, E. J. (2006). Conflict diamonds. Journal of Financial Crime, 13(3), 267–276.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.