December 15, 2022

Lab grown diamonds are diamonds manufactured in technological facilities, as opposed to forming naturally underground. Also called cultured diamonds, they have the same physical, chemical and optical attributes as mined diamonds.

As man-made alternatives, lab diamonds offer cost savings, ethical sourcing, and environmentally friendly production. This guide covers everything about lab grown diamonds - how they are created, how they compare to natural diamonds, common questions and misconceptions, and the future outlook for lab diamond acceptance among consumers.

How Lab Grown Diamonds Are Made

Lab diamonds are produced using advanced technological processes that aim to simulate diamond formation below the earth’s surface.

There are two main methods for growing diamonds in a controlled laboratory environment:

HPHT - High Pressure High Temperature

The HPHT process utilizes specialized presses to recreate the high pressure and high temperature conditions that exist naturally deep below the earth’s crust where diamonds form.

lab diamond equiptment

To start the HPHT process, a small diamond seed crystal is placed in the growth chamber of the press, along with a metal catalyst solvent. The machine applies intense heat - up to 2500°C - which melts the metallic solvent.

Next, under controlled high pressure, the melted metal solvent dissolves carbon within it. The pressurized high temperature environment causes the dissolved carbon atoms to crystallize onto the diamond seed.

This initiates the diamond’s growth as the seed slowly accumulates more carbon layers under carefully regulated conditions inside the HPHT machine. Over weeks, the consistent buildup of carbon on the seed eventually results in the formation of a complete diamond crystal.

CVD - Chemical Vapor Deposition

The other method for producing lab grown diamonds is CVD - chemical vapor deposition. This approach also begins with a tiny diamond seed crystal. However, instead of high pressure, the CVD process utilizes a vacuum chamber and plasma to deposit carbon.

The diamond seed is placed inside the vacuum chamber, which is then filled with hydrogen and hydrocarbon gases like methane. The gases are activated into plasma using electromagnetic energy - breaking down the molecules into positively charged carbon ions and negatively charged electrons.

As the free-floating carbon atoms propagate throughout the chamber, they attach to the diamond seed, slowly adding more carbon layers. This mimics the way diamonds naturally crystallize underground through carbon buildup.

Over several weeks, the continual plasma reaction causes the diamond seed to accumulate layer after layer of carbon until ultimately forming a complete lab grown diamond crystal.

Cutting and Polishing Lab Diamonds

Once the rough diamond is extracted from the production machine, trained diamond cutters and polishers carefully work the rough crystal into the final faceted shape.

Just like with mined diamonds, this is a skilled craft requiring precision and artistry to maximize the optical performance. The goal is achieving a quality cut that enables the lab diamond to exhibit exceptional brilliance, fire and sparkle.

Lab diamonds are cut into the same conventional and fancy shapes as natural diamonds, including:

There are even more unique cuts being crafted with lab grown diamonds, since manufacturing removes the size constraints and potential waste involved with cutting rare large rough crystals.

Once cut and polished, the finished lab diamonds are evaluated and graded using the same 4Cs quality analysis as mined diamonds:

  • Cut grade
  • Clarity grade
  • Color grade
  • Carat weight

Well-cut lab diamonds receive the same cut grades of Excellent and Very Good assigned to natural diamonds with ideal proportions, symmetry and polish. They exhibit similarly captivating light performance.

Visual Appearance of Lab Grown Diamonds

The process of growing diamonds in laboratories enables the creation of diamonds visually identical to earth-mined diamonds. Lab diamonds share essentially the same:

  • Chemical composition - Pure crystalline carbon structures
  • Physical properties - Exceptional hardness, conductivity and dispersion
  • Optical properties - Refractive index and brilliance

Visually to the naked eye, a polished lab diamond is indistinguishable from a mined diamond to anyone except a trained gemologist carefully analyzing minor spectroscopic differences at the atomic level.

Lab diamonds and natural diamonds look the same face-up, displaying equally dazzling brilliance, scintillation and fire. When set in jewelry, even a professional jeweler generally cannot determine the origin of the diamond without viewing its certification.

This makes lab diamonds ideal for use in fine jewelry like diamond rings, earning them the nickname “social diamonds” since only the wearer needs to know the lab origins. Friends will just see a gorgeous, sparkling diamond!

Cost of Lab Grown Diamonds

One of the most appealing factors about lab grown diamonds is their pricing advantage compared to natural diamonds. Producing diamonds above ground through technological processes is far less expensive than mining for rare diamonds below ground.

Lab diamonds enter the market at wholesale prices 25-40% below comparable natural diamonds. This pricing advantage translates into excellent value savings for consumers.

For example, a 1 carat lab diamond with Very Good cut, G color and VS2 clarity might retail around $3,000. A similar earth-mined diamond would be priced closer to $5,000 at traditional jewelers.

Part of this significant savings comes from more efficient manufacturing. But lab diamonds also have the advantage of unlimited supply - they can be produced on demand in whatever quantity and size is desired. Mined diamond supply is finite and limited by what can be extracted from the earth.

As lab diamond production technology keeps advancing, costs are expected to decrease further. This makes them an appealing option for budget-conscious shoppers seeking beautiful, eco-friendly diamonds.

Environmental and Ethical Considerations

An area where lab diamonds have a significant advantage over natural diamonds is their environmentally friendly and conflict-free pedigree.

Environmental Impact

The mining process for obtaining natural diamonds has environmental concerns, including:

  • Pollution of groundwater and local water sources
  • Displacement of indigenous communities
  • Destruction of ecosystems, forests and landscapes
  • Use of harsh chemicals for mineral extraction

In contrast, producing diamonds in a highly controlled lab uses minimal water, creates no mining waste, and has negligible environmental disruption. Lab diamond manufacturers use renewable energy sources and follow sustainable production practices.

For consumers wanting a “green” diamond option, lab created diamonds have significantly less environmental impact. They are rated carbon neutral or even carbon negative (absorbing emissions during manufacturing).

Human Rights

Some earth-mined diamonds have controversies attached to them regarding their sourcing. Blood or conflict diamonds refer to diamonds mined in war-torn regions and traded illicitly to fund armed conflict.

While diamond mining as a whole has made efforts to eliminate unethically sourced stones, concerns remain about violence, mistreatment of workers, child labor, and subpar working conditions in certain mining regions. There are also transparency issues around country of origin for mined diamonds.

Lab diamonds sidestep these ethical considerations associated with mining. They are manufactured in monitored facilities adhering to labor, workplace safety, and human rights standards. Lab diamond supply chains have full transparency. This gives consumers confidence that lab diamonds are conflict-free and humanely produced.

Certification of Lab Grown Diamonds

Reputable lab diamond manufacturers comply with the same diamond certification process as mined diamonds. Independent gemological labs grade their diamonds for 4Cs quality characteristics and laser inscribe them with report numbers for identification.

Lab diamond certificates come from the same respected grading labs as natural diamonds, such as:

  • GIA – Gemological Institute of America
  • IGI – International Gemological Institute
  • EGL – European Gemological Laboratory
  • GCAL – Gem Certification and Assurance Lab

Notably, GIA now issues lab diamond reports with an addition on the title that they are “laboratory-grown” for full clarity. Some labs use the term “cultured” to denote man-made origin.

Consumers should verify that any lab diamond they purchase comes with an accredited independent grading report to validate its specs and quality claims. An authentic grading report proves the diamond is genuine.

Lab diamond plot diagrams look identical to natural diamond certificates, with clarity characteristics and mapping of inclusions clearly marked. As with any diamond purchase, reviewing the certificate is recommended.

Lab vs. Mined Diamond Quality

In discussions around lab grown diamonds, the question often arises: are lab diamonds inferior quality or “fake” compared to real diamonds from the earth?

The fact is, chemically and structurally, lab diamonds have the same exceptional hardness, brilliance and dispersion as natural diamonds. They test positive as diamond, not imitation substitutes. In terms of carbon purity and crystal structure, lab diamonds and mined diamonds are essentially identical.

However, current production methods do result in some minor differences:

  • Inclusions – Lab diamonds tend to have fewer inclusions and blemishes than natural diamonds, resulting in potentially higher clarity.
  • Colors – Most lab diamonds achieve near colorless grades. Naturally occurring fancy colors are still extremely rare in lab production.
  • Sizes – The majority of lab diamonds are under 2 carats. Growing large diamonds requires further technological advances.
  • Resale value – Lab diamonds currently have lower resale value compared to natural diamonds. Their primary benefit is upfront price savings.

While exceptions exist, on the whole, lab diamonds will exhibit somewhat better clarity and color. But they lag behind in achieving large sizes or fancy colors. Overall, lab diamonds boast exceptional quality - especially considering their newness as a manufactured product.

Lab Diamond Misconceptions

As consumer awareness of lab grown diamonds increases, some misunderstandings persist. Here are the facts behind some common lab diamond myths:

Myth: Lab diamonds are fake or not “real” diamonds.

Truth: Lab diamonds have the same physical, chemical, and optical properties as mined diamonds, making them completely “real” from a scientific standpoint. They are not imitation products. The distinction is their manufactured origin in a lab rather than natural formation underground.

Myth: Lab diamonds are inferior quality to natural diamonds.

Truth: While mined diamonds exhibit a wider array of colors and larger sizes, lab diamond quality is on par based on cut, clarity and color. Their quality keeps rising as production technology improves.

Myth: Lab diamonds don’t appreciate in value.

Truth: Like any consumer product, lab diamonds are not an investment asset. While mined diamonds have better resale value and price appreciation, both lab and natural diamonds are primarily purchased for their beauty, not investment potential.

Myth: Lab diamonds are unethical or use child labor.

Truth: Lab diamonds are produced ethically in regulated conditions. Their manufacturing chain has more transparency, oversight and safeguards compared to diamond mining.

Myth: Lab diamonds are cheaper because they are imperfect.

Truth: The price difference is due to more efficient manufacturing, not quality deficiencies. Lab diamond's quality competes with natural diamonds while bypassing the high costs and risks of exploration and mining.

Myth: Lab diamonds are too perfect, with no inclusions.

Truth: Like mined diamonds, lab diamonds contain inclusions and blemishes that develop during the growth process or while cutting. No diamond is 100% perfectly flawless. Labs do not “enhance” diamonds after manufacturing.

Understanding the objective truths about lab grown diamonds enables informed decisions and clears up misinformation. If other questions arise, always consult established experts.

The Future of Lab Diamonds

Since the first lab diamond technology debuted in the 1950s, methods have rapidly improved, costs have decreased dramatically, and production capacity has surged.

 lab diamonds getting sorted by size

In 2023, lab diamonds accounted for an estimated 5-7% of the global diamond jewelry market. That share is climbing annually as quality rises and prices become more competitive with mined diamonds. By 2030, experts predict lab diamonds may reach 20% market penetration.

Driving this lab diamond market growth is a convergence of factors:

  • Increased consumer acceptance
  • Improved manufacturing technologies
  • Expanded production capabilities
  • Competitive pricing
  • Desire for ethical and eco-friendly diamonds

While mined diamonds were initially resistant and dismissive of lab-made “competition,” even the mining industry is starting to accept lab diamonds as part of the jewelry landscape. The market is shifting to give consumers choices between both origins.

As lab diamond quality continues improving, they are likely to become a disruptive force providing a compelling ethical and cost-effective alternative to traditionally mined diamonds. This bodes well for budget-minded diamond shoppers who prioritize conscience over prestige.

Yet natural diamonds sourced responsibly will remain desired by many consumers who value natural origins and finite precious resources. Lab diamonds expand options, but likely will not fully supplant mined diamonds anytime soon. Ultimately the market will determine to what extent lab diamonds complement and co-exist with natural diamonds.

Lab Grown Diamond FAQs

Can you tell the difference between lab diamonds and natural diamonds?

Only with lab equipment. To the unaided eye, a polished lab diamond visually appears identical to a mined diamond when set in jewelry. Each possess equally exceptional sparkle. Without scientific analysis, even jewelers cannot distinguish lab diamonds from mined when graded diamonds are swapped.

Do lab diamonds ever receive poor cut grades?

Yes. Just like with mined diamonds, lab diamonds can be cut too shallow or deep. Improperly cut lab diamonds also receive lower GIA cut grades. Diamond cutters do sometimes waste lab grown rough through subpar workmanship. Stick with Ideal/Excellent cuts from ethical brands.

Should I buy GIA or IGI graded lab diamonds?

GIA grading is most trusted, but costs more. IGI has a good reputation for lab diamonds. Review the certificate details carefully rather than relying only on the name. Avoid obscure labs with questionable consistency.

What’s better - HPHT or CVD lab diamonds?

There is no significant quality difference between HPHT and CVD diamonds. Each growth method results in real diamonds. Focus less on the production technique and more on the 4Cs and ethical sourcing assurances.

Do lab diamonds ever receive fancy color grades?

Not yet. Occasionally orange or pink hues serendipitously occur, but pure vivid fancy colors remain elusive. Mined diamonds still account for all blue, pink and red lab diamond supply. Advanced fabrication methods aim to someday replicate these colors.

How can I be sure a lab diamond is conflict free?

Reputable lab diamond companies provide robust supply chain documentation validating ethical mining, manufacturing and labor practices. Review the seller’s background and transparency diligently before purchasing.

Which is a better value: high clarity or ideal cut?

Cut quality is most important for maximizing brilliance. Once cut is ideal, then optimize clarity and color for the budget. Lab diamonds tend to have fewer inclusions, so an SI1 or VS2 clarity with Excellent cut offers the best overall value.

Will a jeweler be able to size a ring with a lab diamond?

Absolutely. From a jeweler's perspective, lab diamonds are identical to mined diamonds. Highly skilled jewelers work extensively with lab diamonds for ring repairs, resizing, resetting and other fabrication. Any quality jeweler can service rings with lab diamonds.

What’s the resale value of lab diamonds?

Like new cars, lab diamonds lose a significant portion of their value once purchased. Expect to recover only 30-60% of the original price if reselling. Mined diamonds have better value retention and appreciation over time. Buy a lab diamond for enjoyment, not investment.

Lab grown diamonds offer an exciting new option combining environmental conservation with affordable luxury. We hope this guide provides helpful knowledge to understand their advantages and make the best selection for your individual needs.

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