Looking for an engagement ring can be a daunting task in today’s world. With so many different stones, shapes, and styles to select from, deciding on a design is complicated. But just when you think it cannot get more challenging, there is now another level to consider for those interested in the conventional diamond: whether you want a natural (or mined) diamond or a lab-grown one.
The good news is that lab-grown and natural diamonds are not marked with more differences than one can conveniently understand. “Chemically, optically, and gemologically, lab-grown and mined diamonds are the same,” says Clean Origin’s Brandon Cook. However, the main differences between the two are the process of their makeup and the ethical and environmental implications they have on the world.
Price, durability, color, and clarity are the key measures to examine to better understand the differences and variations between lab-grown and natural diamonds.
Lab-Grown vs. Natural Diamonds
The majority of today’s naturally-occurring diamonds were produced deep beneath Earth’s surface in the planet’s mantle layer. The element carbon rearranged on an atomic level over billions of years of high heat and pressure, resulting in the solid form of a diamond. Deep-source volcanic eruptions brought diamonds closer to the surface via kimberlite pipes in certain parts of the world where the circumstances and temperatures were ideal for their formation. These precious stones are then mined from these gigantic, deep-reaching craters.
On the other hand, diamonds grown in a lab are precisely that: diamonds that have been developed in a lab. Chemical vapor deposition is the most prevalent application method; it is nearly like printing a diamond in three dimensions. The diamond will be ready to be cut and polished, just like a natural diamond, once it has been ‘grown’ in a lab chamber through the process as mentioned above. A diamond made in a lab is chemically identical to a natural diamond since it is still pure carbon.
Cook believes that “many of the same grading agencies, namely the Gemological Institute of America and the International Gemological Institute, grade lab-created diamonds using the same methods and standards used for natural diamonds.”
This is significant mainly because if these standard-bearing institutions use the same scales to evaluate both lab-grown and natural diamonds, there must be no easily detectable variances in the 4Cs—cut, clarity, color, and carat—between the two.
Given that lab-grown diamonds are grown rather than cut, they will pick up imperfections or “flaws” that impact their brightness and purity. Understandably, the more inclusions a stone has, the cloudier it becomes, and the lower will be its clarity grade.
Clarity ratings for lab-grown diamonds range from Flawless (F1) to Included (I2), just like real diamonds.
When it comes to color, a high-quality lab-grown diamond will be graded on the same scale as a genuine diamond. Due to the lack of visible differences between a lab-grown and a natural diamond, customers primarily look for stones graded between G and J, which are near-colorless in both forms. True colorless diamonds, graded D through F, are scarce and, therefore, precious.
Carbon, the same material that makes up natural diamonds, is used to make lab-grown diamonds. They are still the hardest substance on the planet—with a Mohs hardness of ten, making them as tough to chip, lose their shape, and let their quality be compromised as genuine diamonds.
Natural diamonds are extremely rare, which contributes to their high cost. It is assumed that only a finite amount of these stones are available on this planet, and since the natural circumstances under which they are generated are different, the attributes that each is evaluated on will be different as well.
The effort and energy that goes into mining and polishing the stones, as well as the strategic and somewhat dubious origins, control, and advertising behind the diamond market itself, all add to their cost.
Be that as it may, because the same supply chains do not regulate them as genuine diamonds, lab diamonds will be less expensive—up to 50% cheaper than a natural stone of equivalent grade. “Advances in technology also allow for more efficiency in crafting lab-created diamonds,” adds Cook.
Lab-grown diamonds’ technology is still improving, which could potentially lead to price fluctuations. If they become easier to create and less expensive to produce, their price will fall, lowering their worth. Furthermore, if future generations continue to disregard the diamond as a symbol of love and marriage, the value of both lab and natural diamonds may decline as demand for them decreases.
Value of Lab-Grown Diamonds
The market determines a stone’s monetary “worth” and what a buyer is willing to pay for it. A lab-grown diamond will be valued lower than a natural diamond of similar gradation if it is documented and known to be lab-grown.
Buying a diamond engagement ring is significant not because it can be used to make money but because it symbolizes love and dedication to your relationship. However, an appraiser will not deduct money from your stone’s worth because it was created in a lab; instead, they will assign a separate value scale to it.
The ethical and environmental implications of bringing natural diamonds to market are perhaps the most compelling and logical reasons for buying them. Moreover, as Millennials and Gen Z’s consumer values grow, they are more concerned than prior generations with ensuring that their funds support companies that share their ideas and spend their time and resources. Notably, a carbon footprint is associated with the production of lab-grown diamonds, though it is said to have been significantly reduced.
It simply takes a quick Google image search of the Orapa diamond mine to see how much environmental degradation and downright pollution diamond mining can cause. This aligns with—and explains—the diamond mining industry’s shady ethics in the past.
While the diamond industry has made strides in cleaning up its act, the only way to know that your diamond is genuinely conflict-free is to inspect it. This leaves you with only one ethical and feasible option: to buy a lab-created diamond.
According to a 2018 revision of the Federal Trade Commission’s jewelry marketing guidelines that removed the word “natural” from the definition of a diamond, the term synthetic cannot be applied to lab-grown diamonds because they are made of pure carbon—the same material that natural diamonds consist of.
Their identical chemical makeup implies that they should be considered diamonds of equal worth and sturdiness. Most jewelers cannot differentiate under a diamond loupe whether the diamond has a tiny laser inscription on the girdle that could identify it as lab-created.
Above all, lab-made diamonds are less expensive and have the same durability as natural diamonds. Furthermore, high-quality lab-grown diamonds have the same color as their natural counterparts and reflect a natural hue that a layperson cannot associate with them. The 4Cs—cut, clarity, color, and carat—for both also give similar results, indicating that the differences are either nonexistent or too negligible for an untrained eye to see.