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Lab Grown Diamonds 101

Learn everything you need to know about lab grown diamonds and different characterstics that makes them so attractive as a natural center-stone alternative.

WHAT ARE LAB GROWN DIAMONDS ?

Lab-grown diamonds (also referred to as man-made, lab-created, or synthetic diamonds) are a popular alternative to natural, earth-mined diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds possess the same chemical and optical properties as their natural counterparts with the only difference being their origin and how they are created. Lab-grown diamonds are, in fact, “real” diamonds and, to quote the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), “The difference between lab-grown and natural diamonds could be compared to the difference between ice that formed outside on a winter’s day versus ice that formed inside your refrigerator."

Creation:

Before we explain how lab-grown diamonds are created, it might be helpful to understand how natural diamonds are formed. While the processes are quite similar, only one takes place naturally in the Earth while the other is produced in a laboratory.

Millions, even billions, of years ago, natural diamonds started as tiny carbon atoms that existed deep down in the Earth’s crust (approx. 100 miles beneath the Earth’s surface). These atoms were exposed to extreme heat and pressure which caused them to crystalize and form diamonds. Simultaneously, magma was forming close to the planet's surface expanding at rapid rates. This expansion caused the magma to ‘erupt’, forcing the crystalized carbon atoms, now diamonds, to the Earth’s surface where the diamonds can be mined.

In contrast, there are two methods for creating lab-grown diamonds: High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). The method used to create a lab-grown diamond is stated on the grading report. There is no conclusive evidence as to one approach being superior to the other as the finished products will look identical to the naked eye.

  • The HPHT Method

    is most similar to how natural diamonds are grown in that an environment is created where extreme heat (up to 2200°F) and extreme pressure (1.5 million pounds per square inch) are applied to a carbon seed.  After a careful cooling process, pure carbon forms around the original seed which is then used as the rough diamond. In total, this process can take several days to weeks depending on the size of the diamond being created

  • Chemical Vapor Deposition(CVD)

    diamonds are made under less intense conditions and in a slower developing process taking around 6 to 12 weeks. A small diamond seed is placed inside a sealed chamber and subjected to intense heat, sometimes reaching 1500°F. Hydrogen and methane are introduced to the chamber and then ionized to break down molecular bonds thus causing a pure carbon atom to attach itself to the seed. As the carbon builds, it forms atomic bonds with the diamond seed creating one, larger diamond.

 

Durability & Appearance:

Because lab-created diamonds have the same chemical and visual characteristics as natural diamonds, they also possess all the same attributes that make natural diamonds highly sought after for both jewelry and industrial use. The hardness of a lab-grown diamond ranks 10 on the Mohs scale making it the most durable gemstone while also having a high refractive index giving it a beautiful sparkle—exactly like a natural diamond. Lab-grown diamonds can be cut in every same shape that natural diamonds can; from round and oval down to heart and marquise. For these reasons, lab-grown diamonds make beautiful options as the center-stone for engagement rings.

 

The 4 C’s of Lab Grown Diamonds:

Lab-grown diamonds are graded on the same scale as their natural counterparts and have a similar spectrum of colors, inclusions, cuts, and sizes.

    • Color:

      During the growth process, color can be introduced to the lab-grown diamond which will give it a tint of yellow or brown and will negatively impact its color grade. The more colorless the diamond the more desirable it is and those in the D-H color range are most popular for lab-grown diamonds. With natural diamonds, there is more willingness to explore lower color ranges due to the higher costs associated with natural stones.

    • Clarity:

      Inclusions are imperfections that form within a diamond during its growth process; the same occurs for both lab-grown and natural diamonds. These inclusions can vary in synthetic diamonds based on the method used to grow them and can also help differentiate between the types of formation (natural or lab-grown). For both HPHT and CVD diamonds, there are outside elements used as catalysts to help grow the diamond. During this process, any of the catalysts can become trapped within the diamond's structure and become inclusions. For the most part, GIA identifies all inclusions within lab-grown diamonds as “Growth Remnants” regardless of the inclusion’s shape or size. As with natural diamonds, lab-grown can also have feathers which are surface-reaching inclusions that occur during the cutting process.

    • Cut:

      Identical to natural diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are cut and polished to maximize sparkle and brilliance. A cut grade is only assessed for round brilliant finishes as it can be quantified based on its angles, proportions, and measurements. Fancy shapes (non-rounds) are based on their visual appearance and a wider range of factors.  Parallel to natural diamonds, there are premium cut cushions and radiants that have sharper facets on the pavilion and less hidden weight underneath to give them a brilliant appearance. There can also be variations in length-to-width ratios for all shapes so selecting the right one for you is based solely on preference.

    • Carat:

      Diamonds are measured in carats which is simply how much the stone weighs once placed on a scale. The carat weight of a diamond is only an indication of how large it will look. The cut of the stone and its depth/proportions will also impact its face-up appearance.

 

Grading:

Lab-grown diamonds come with individual independent grading reports from reputable laboratories such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the International Gemological Institute (IGI). Each diamond has a unique report number which, in many cases, is laser inscribed on the girdle of the stone. Both gemological labs use the same grading system as natural diamonds—with a color range of D to Z and a clarity range of “Flawless” to “Included.”  They will also provide cut, polish, and symmetry grades with an inclusion plot pinpointing the location of any inclusions found within the stone.

 

 

Identifying Lab Grown Diamonds:

Because lab-grown and natural diamonds possess the same physical and optical properties, it is nearly impossible for the untrained eye to see any difference between the two. While specially trained gemologists may be able to use a magnifying tool to indicate growth patterns or the presence of elements that would help distinguish one from the other, the most trusted method is to use a testing machine. These expensive tools are usually reserved for laboratories and jewelers and can help identify certain characteristics that would be conclusive of the diamond’s growth origin. A trusted jeweler should always disclose the origin of the diamond and provide a grading report from an independent third party such as the GIA or IGI.
 

Price & Value:

This is perhaps the most questioned aspect of lab-grown diamonds since they are a relatively new phenomenon in the jewelry industry. While demand for these man-made gems has been increasing, the technology for creating them has been evolving at a faster pace to make them more efficiently, which has caused an increase in the supply versus the demand. As with any surplus of goods, this has caused the price to steadily decline over the past few years.

Compared to natural diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are generally priced at discounts of 50-70%, depending on the size of the stone. At the time of this article, the gap between the two is widening as natural diamond prices are on the rise while lab-grown diamonds, which are showing signs of steadying, have been edging lower. Similarities between the two types of diamonds include exponential pricing (the price-per-carat increasing as carat weight increases) and premium pricing for higher quality stones (colorless and VS clarity as well as cut stones) As an example a 2 carat colorless/VS clarity natural diamond could be $20,000 while a lab-grown diamond with the same specifications can be around $8,000

WHY CHOOSE A LAB GROWN DIAMOND?

There are many reasons why someone may choose a lab-grown diamond as the center stone for their custom engagement ring. First of all, it is important to reiterate what has been mentioned above: they possess the same beauty and durability as natural diamonds. Many who choose lab-grown diamonds point to the fact that they are ethically sourced and eco-friendly as being a factor in why they selected this center-stone over a natural diamond. Finally, the price point; having something that looks identical to a natural diamond at a fraction of the cost is very enticing. This allows the consumer to save the difference or allocate more of their engagement ring budget towards a beautiful custom design setting.
At Lauren B, we offer our clients both natural and lab-grown diamonds as center stone options for their engagement rings. Each diamond we sell has been thoroughly inspected to ensure not only its origin but the quality and visual beauty of the stone.

You can browse our entire loose diamond inventory here

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