Technology has changed the world in incredible ways and at exponential rates - and the diamond world is no exception. What was once only found deep within the Earth can now be grown in a laboratory with sped-up processes, eliminating many of the concerns that are often involved with diamond mining. Not only do these processes create flawless stones in a fraction of the time with less impact on the Earth, but also provide a more budget-friendly option while maintaining the durability and classic look of a natural diamond.
What are Lab-Grown Diamonds?
A lab-grown diamond, also called man-made, artisan-created, or cultured diamond is simply a diamond that is produced in a lab under a controlled technological process. Lab-grown diamonds are composed of the same material as naturally formed diamonds – pure carbon crystallized in anisotropic 3D form – and share identical chemical and physical properties. The result is a man-made diamond that is chemically, physically, and optically the same as those grown beneath the Earth’s surface.
Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Fake?
The answer is a very simple: NO.
Lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds, the only thing that makes them different from natural diamonds is their origin:
Geologists believe that natural diamonds formed deep within the Earth between one billion to three billion years ago. While they don’t know exactly how those diamonds came to be, they believe the process starts with carbon dioxide exposed to heat and put under extreme pressure of roughly 727,000 pounds per square inch. Diamonds are unique to other gemstones in that their formation occurs deep within the Earth's mantle rather than the crust. The formed diamonds are then transported to Earth's surface through volcanic explosions.
There are two processes labs use to grow diamonds - High Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD):
- HPHT diamonds are made using extremely high pressure and temperature conducive to diamond growth. There are three manufacturing processes that use this method: a belt press, the cubic press, and the split-sphere (BARS) press.
- An HPHT diamond begins as a small diamond seed that is placed into carbon, the seed is exposed to temperatures of about 1500 degrees Celsius and pressurized to approximately 1.5 million pounds per square inch.
- The pure carbon melts and starts to form a diamond around the starter seed. It is then carefully cooled to form a pure carbon diamond.
- A CVD diamond begins as a thin slice of diamond seed, which is often an HPHT-produced diamond. The diamond seed is placed in a sealed chamber and heated to around 800 degrees Celsius.
- The chamber is filled with a carbon-rich gas. The gasses are ionized into plasma using technology similar to that of microwaves or lasers. The ionization breaks the molecular bonds in the gasses, and the pure carbon adheres to the diamond seed and slowly crystallizes.
Lab-Grown Vs. Natural Diamonds
Lab-created diamonds cannot be differentiated from natural diamonds just by the naked eye. Only the use of specialized equipment from a gemological laboratory can differentiate the two. However, it is the industry standard that every lab-grown diamond is inscribed with the letters “LG” on the girdle as well as a serial number. The he serial numbers can only be seen under high magnification. The photo below shows the serial number inscription on the girdle of a lab-grown diamond.
Traditional diamonds, regardless of origin, are evaluated using the 4C's - cut, clarity, color, and carat. What this means is that a diamond is judged based on how well it has been cut down from its raw form into a jewel, how flawless and clear it is, how colorless it is, and its size. Especially important in the comparison of natural and lab-grown diamonds, we will further explore the clarity and color differences between the two diamond types:Clarity
One important difference between lab-grown and natural diamonds is the presence of inclusions. Natural diamonds almost always have some degree of inclusions - typically minerals or elements that were present during the formation of the diamond. The presence of inclusions can cause cloudiness and reduction in sparkle, creating a "seasoned" look - as is the case in salt and pepper diamonds. While some may prefer the look of inclusions, traditional diamond culture calls for high clarity and minimal inclusions. It is extremely rare to find diamonds that are flawless, and the price of diamonds increase with higher clarity. On the other hand, lab-grown diamonds typically have higher clarity and fewer inclusions because they are created in a controlled setting. The lab-grown diamonds we use are available in VS (very slightly included) and SI (slightly included) clarities.
In regards to color, traditional diamonds should be as close to colorless as possible, but can have slight yellow or brown coloration. Truly colorless natural diamonds are rare, and therefore more expensive. The coloring of a diamond is graded on a scale from D to Z, with D being colorless and Z indicating slight yellow or brown color.
Both natural and lab-grown diamonds are available in "fancy" colors, or colors other than the traditional colorless. We are able to source a variety of colors in natural diamonds, and in lab-grown diamonds we are able to source colors such as pink, blue, and yellow. Salt and pepper diamonds are currently only available as natural diamonds.
This photo shows a lab-grown diamond (top) compared to a natural diamond (middle) and moissanite (bottom).
Both lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds are comprised of carbon. They are the hardest material on earth—a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale—and thus both are difficult to scratch. Therefore, when it comes to durability, you don’t need to worry about whether to go with natural versus lab-created diamonds - both are excellent choices for everyday wear and can last lifetimes with proper care! However, even diamonds are not 100% resistant to damage. Diamonds' incredible hardness means that it is also brittle and can chip or fracture from hard blows. Be sure to follow our Care Guidelines regardless of the stone(s) you choose for your ring!
Sustainability & Sourcing
Natural diamond mining has had a history plagued with humanitarian, sustainability, and ethical concerns. Take, for example, "blood diamonds" - diamonds mined under unethical conditions while the profits fueled conflict in war-ridden countries. The mining of these diamonds funded violence and the exploitation of miners and their families. Processes have been put in place today to increase transparency and fair diamond mining, and at Staghead Designs we only use ethically-sourced diamonds. Still, for many customers a lab-grown stone provides extra peace-of-mind and knowing the exact origin of their diamond can be reassuring.
The mining of natural diamonds is responsible for the distribution of land and creates a huge impact on the environment. For every carat of diamond that is mined, nearly 100 square feet of land is disturbed and almost 6000 pounds of mineral waste are created. Many mining companies have taken steps to offset their impact, but there is no way to avoid it completely while mining natural stones. Meanwhile, lab-grown diamonds are significantly less detrimental to the environment as it takes less energy to grow a diamond in a lab than it does to mine it out of the ground.
Lab-grown diamonds are far more affordable than natural diamonds. This is due to the shorter supply chain that lab-created diamonds require. Lab-grown stones skip the mining process entirely, which means they touch fewer hands. This ultimately makes them less expensive - sometimes up to fifty percent less than a natural stone of similar grade because they aren’t controlled by the same supply chains or natural circumstances. However, this does not mean that a lab-created diamond is “cheap.” In fact, the capital costs for lab-grown and mined diamonds are pretty similar. One difference to keep in mind is how the value of the diamond changes over time. Natural diamonds will always remain more rare than lab-grown diamonds, as they are one of a kind and from the Earth. For this reason, they may increase in value over time where lab-grown diamonds will stay within fair market value.
Diamonds can receive grading reports from independent laboratories that provide an overview of the 4C's of a particular stone. The biggest laboratories that provide diamond grading are the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the International Gemological Institute (IGI). While both institutions offer grading of both natural and lab-grown diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are typically sent to the IGI for grading. There are several reasons for this:
- It is more expensive and time-consuming to get a grading report back from GIA
- GIA grading reports for lab-grown diamonds are only available as a digital copy rather than as a physical report
- GIA grading reports of lab-grown diamonds do not include a cut grade, and therefore aren't as precise
- IGI reports of lab-grown diamonds are typically graded more generously than GIA
Designing a Ring With a Lab-Grown Diamond
Lab-grown diamonds are on the rise as customers and jewelers learn about their better sustainability, more affordable price, and ethical sourcing. As lab-grown diamonds continue to grow in popularity, so are many varieties, shapes, cuts, and colors for the consumer to choose from. Whether you decide to go with a natural diamond or a lab-grown stone, the real significant value should be the love that it represents, and the unity it creates between you and your significant other.
We are very happy to offer lab-grown diamonds as both a center stone option and for accent stones in our custom ring designs. Each lab-grown diamond center stone in a ring from us comes with an IGI certification booklet with the grading information of the stone. Choose from our collections of custom ring designs, or start from scratch and work with our designers to create your own!