At nearly half the price with identical physical and optical properties, lab grown diamonds are a great alternative to mined diamonds.
Choosing the right engagement ring is hard enough. But the introduction of lab grown diamonds – with all that shiny goodness at a lower price point – has made it even tougher for shoppers to weigh their options.
Gem-quality lab grown diamonds have existed since the 1970s, but they hit the market in earnest in the last five years. Virtually indistinguishable from mined diamonds, their arrival has sparked debate about the definition of a diamond, mining practices of the natural diamond industry, and the environmental implications of both approaches.
What Is a Lab Grown Diamond?
Lab grown diamonds – also known as synthetic diamonds, man-made diamonds, engineered diamonds, or cultured diamonds – are (you guessed it) made in a lab. Since diamonds consist of carbon atoms arranged in a crystal formation, scientists can create these diamonds by isolating carbon and layering it onto itself.
They do this one of two ways. There’s the High Pressure High Heat (HPHT) method, which mimics the conditions that create diamonds deep beneath the earth’s surface. There’s also Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD), which uses high heat to break carbon atoms free from their molecules, letting them settle like snow onto a flat surface until a diamond forms. A lab grown diamond (left) and a mined diamond (right) can appear identical to the naked eye. Can you tell the difference? Image courtesy of GIA.
Lab grown diamonds have the same physical, chemical and optical properties as mined diamonds. In fact, even industry experts can’t tell the difference without special equipment that scans for crystal patterns and impurities. For example, if the diamond contains nitrogen, it likely came from the earth.
Lab Grown Diamonds vs. Diamond Simulants?
While the term “simulants” gets thrown around in discussions of lab growns, lab grown diamonds are not diamond simulants.
While the atomic makeup of lab grown diamonds is the same as that of natural diamonds, diamond simulants are not carbon based. These stones are manufactured to look like diamonds, but are made from materials like cubic zirconia or moissanite.
Cubic zirconia is produced from zirconium dioxide. It’s very inexpensive, so it’s often used in inexpensive rings and costume jewelry. Unfortunately, cubic zirconia discolors and scratches easily, so it’s not a great diamond alternative.
Moissanite is produced from silicon carbide. It’s a durable stone (second hardest compared to diamonds) at only a tenth of the price of a natural diamond, so it’s a better choice for a diamond substitute.
Pros and Cons of Lab Grown Diamonds
If lab grown diamonds are not simulants, that raises the question: Is there really a difference between buying a lab grown diamond and paying more for a natural one?
The answer is yes. Here are few benefits and drawbacks of lab grown diamonds, compared to their mined counterparts.
- Lab grown diamonds do not require mining, which degrades the environment and often puts workers in dangerous or unsanitary conditions. While a certification like the Kimberly Process helps determine a diamond’s origin, it does not account for human rights factors. Despite strong industry efforts in the last decade, violence and child labor still plague some mining operations.
- A lab grown diamonds will cost 30 to 40 percent less than a natural diamond of similar size, color and clarity. Since these diamonds are identical in makeup, lab grown diamonds have enjoyed skyrocketing popularity in the last five years, with even natural diamond behemoths like DeBeers getting in on the lab grown game.
- Natural diamonds are becoming more difficult and expensive to mine, which means prices continue to appreciate. On the other hand, lab grown diamonds have no supply constraints. While this may sound good for the lab grown industry, it could create a problem in the long term: Lab grown diamonds will continue to depreciate in price, which would impact resale value and make it more costly for you to upgrade in the future.
- When you buy a natural diamond, your money supports people who depend on mining for income. Diamond Producers Association, a trade organization for large diamond mining companies, reported that diamond mining creates about $4 billion in revenue for employees and $6.8 billion through the economic ripple effect in their communities. Conversely, diamond labs are run by well-funded corporations in developed countries. The Diamond Development Initiative, an organization dedicated to improving working conditions for miners in developing countries, encouraged Western consumers to skip the lab grown diamonds and fund natural diamonds if they’re concerned about the wellbeing of workers.
- While lab grown diamonds circumvent environmental issues with mining, they create sustainability problems of their own. The heat and pressure needed to create a lab grown diamond is equal to that of a volcanic eruption, which demands huge amounts of energy. The HPHT method uses up to 700 kWh per carat, and CVD can use up to 1,000 kWh per carat (which is enough energy to power a house for a month). At this rate, many diamond mines actually have lower CO2 emissions than diamond labs. Industry regulators currently are experimenting with certifications that allow lab grown diamond producers to label their businesses as “sustainable” or “eco-friendly,” but the Federal Trade Commission has warned these producers to stay away from those terms until they can prove their products fit the bill.
Choosing the Right Diamond for You
At Gage Diamonds, we know the choice between a lab grown and natural diamond can be a little confusing. That’s why we offer our customers a variety of lab grown and natural diamonds, along with education about the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Since lab grown diamonds are nearly half the cost of mined diamonds with the same physical and optical properties, they are a great alternative to purchasing their more expensive mined breheren. Paired with our zero interest, no credit needed, and no fee financing you can purchase that dream engagement ring on very affordable monthly payments.
For more information or to apply, visit our financing page.