The diamond industry is a sordid business, one built on backbreaking child labor, bloody civil wars, and earth-warming greenhouse gasses. Given those thorny ethical issues, you’d think that lab-grown diamonds — visually and chemically identical to mined diamonds — would have overtaken their “natural” counterparts when scientists discovered how to make them in the 1950s. And yet, the $98 billion diamond business continues to grow. We're here to put a stop to that — at least in some small part. Here's everything you need to know about lab-grown diamonds, including why they're superior to natural gemstones.
What Are Lab-Grown Diamonds?
Whether they’re born in a lab or deep underground, all diamonds require the same two ingredients: heat and carbon. The difference is that jewelers make synthetic diamonds using a seed, a small piece of an existing diamond. But once they’ve been formed, lab-grown and natural diamonds are indistinguishable, the only difference being their price and social cachet.
How Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Made?
Diamond makers either place this seed in a High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) system or in a sealed chamber with carbon gas.
The HPHT method resembles the earth’s own process for making diamonds. Carbon is super-heated and pressurized to create a gemstone. In Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD), a more modern process, carbon gasses stick to the diamond seed, gradually forming a gemstone.
How Expensive Are Lab-Grown Diamonds?
Although prices vary, lab-grown diamonds cost around 50% to 70% less than natural diamonds. To give you a precise example: A 1-carat diamond from VRAI, a high-quality diamond producer, costs $1,455; an equivalent mined diamond would sell for around $6,500.
Consumers should know that lab-grown and natural diamonds are also priced using the same criteria: carat, cut, clarity, and color — or the 4Cs.
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Lab-Grown Diamonds: Pros and Cons
There are only two reasons why you might want to purchase a natural diamond. Since natural diamonds are scarcer, they’re seen as a luxury good — like an expensive car or a designer suit. Natural diamonds also have a higher resale value. Other than those two advantages — both of which are pretty flimsy justifications for a more expensive, unethical product — lab-grown diamonds are superior in almost every way.
More environmentally friendly
More bang for your buck
More variety (rare colors)
Lower resale value
What Do Consumers Think?
Although the natural diamond market dwarfs its lab-grown competitor, more consumers are turning to artificial diamonds. In February and March of last year, sales for lab-grown diamond engagement rings were up while demand for natural diamonds faltered, according to Edahn Golan, an independent diamond industry analyst.
That trend is borne out on Reddit, where most users say they’d be perfectly fine with a lab-grown ring.
“Lab diamonds are the future,” one commenter shared in a recent thread. “Don't buy blood diamonds from a vile industry.”
“You can get much bigger, clearer lab diamonds than natural diamonds for a fraction of the price,” another adds.
The Bottom Line: Buy Lab-Grown Diamonds
There are few reasons to buy natural diamonds. Not only are they terrible for the planet, but they’re also part of one of the most contemptible supply chains in the world. You’re far better off saving the cash and buying a lab-grown diamond.
Remember: A synthetic diamond is indistinguishable from a natural diamond in almost every way.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are lab-grown diamonds real?
Yes. Lab-created diamonds are visually and chemically indistinguishable from conventional diamonds. The only way to tell the difference is to look at the synthetic diamond under a magnifier, which will reveal a laser inscription of the gem’s origin.
What is a lab-grown diamond?
Unlike a natural diamond, which forms over billions of years deep within the earth’s crust, synthetic diamonds are grown in a lab.
How are lab-grown diamonds made?
There are two ways to make lab-grown diamonds: High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). Both processes start with a seed, which is a small sliver of diamond. In HPHT, technicians heat graphite carbon and the seed to nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit while also pressurizing the chamber to 1.5 million pounds per square inch in a chamber. With CVD, on the other hand, the chamber reaches a temperature of around 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit and carbon-rich gasses begin to stick to the seed.