September 23, 2021 6 min read
One of the most important changes that has hit the the jewelry industry in quite some time is the arrival of the modern lab-grown diamond. We have been selling lab-grown diamonds for over a year now here at Garcia & Co. Jewelers, and we've noticed there is still some confusion and misinformation surrounding these.
So this article is going to be a big one. We'll go through everything you could possibly want to know when weighing the pros and cons of "Mined vs Lab-Grown Diamonds".
The most common question we get when we show people lab-grown diamonds for the first time is: "Are they real?"
Sometimes people say that more like a statement: "Those are pretty. But if they're lab-grown that means they're not real... right?"
So the first thing you need to know is:
Lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds.
Mined diamonds are formed deep in the earth under immense pressure and heat, then brought to the surface by lava flow through tubes in the earth's crust called kimberlite pipes.
The diamonds we find this way are millions or billions of years old and are the results of natural processes.
Modern lab-grown diamonds are created through process called chemical vapor deposition (CVD). CVD diamonds are formed by placing a natural diamond "seed" crystal inside of a chamber. A carbon-containing gas is pumped into the chamber and heated into a plasma state. The carbon atoms then separate from the gas and deposit onto the diamond seed, arranging themselves into the diamond crystal structure.
As more and more carbon atoms deposit on the diamond "seed," the diamond literally grows inside the chamber.
But whether a rough diamond comes out of the earth or a rough diamond comes out of a laboratory chamber, the process of how it handled after after that for jewelry purposes is very much the same.
They are both carbon atoms arranged into a crystal structure.
They have the same properties of hardness and light performance (sparkle).
They are both cut and evaluated for jewelry purposes in the same way.
And when buying a lab-grown diamond, you use the same "4 Cs" quality criteria when selecting the right diamond for you.
Both mined and lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds. They simply come from different sources.
Having said that, where your diamond comes from does matter for other reasons (which we'll get into later), but for now the important thing to know is that lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds.
We have established that lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds.
So the next question is:
Are there any significant differences between naturally-formed and lab-grown diamonds?
The broad answer is no.
The differences are not significant, especially not for the average jewelry shopper.
But if you want the full gemological nerd answer:
The only difference on a chemical level is that lab-grown diamonds are "Type IIa" diamonds, which are incredibly rare in nature.
In scientific terms, diamonds can be organized into subcategories of Type Ia, Type Ib, Type IIa, and Type IIb.
Speaking broadly, diamonds are "pure carbon" in crystal form.
But when things form in nature, they are rarely completely pure. So most naturally-formed diamonds have tiny trace amounts of other elements inside of them. The most common trace element is nitrogen, which is what gives diamonds a yellow color.
95% of natural diamonds are Type Ia diamonds.
They contain nitrogen in such a way that it creates the range of "near colorless" to "light yellow" diamonds with which most people are familiar.
Type Ib diamonds also contain nitrogen atoms, but they are arranged differently inside of the diamond's crystal structure which leads to more intense yellow colors. These are the extremely rare "canary" fancy yellow diamonds.
Type IIb diamonds contain boron, conduct electricity, and are as rare as Type Ib diamonds (less than 0.1% of diamonds are Type IIb). The famous Hope Diamond is a Type IIb diamond. Diamonds that are a bluish or greyish blue color contain boron and are typically Type IIb.
And that brings us to Type IIa.
Type IIa diamonds contain no nitrogen or boron impurities and they are the most chemically pure diamonds on earth.
These are extremely rare in nature; less than 2% of naturally-formed diamonds are Type IIa.
But because lab-grown diamonds are formed under controlled conditions, every colorless lab-grown diamond is a Type IIa diamond.
Next, let's address the language around lab-grown diamonds.
You may hear them called a number of things including lab-grown, lab-created, cultured, or simply "lab diamonds".
These are used interchangeably and are all generally acceptable as they all disclose the origin of the diamond's creation.
And disclosure of origin is a big deal.
When you're shopping for a diamond, it is the responsibility of the jeweler or retailer to disclose if a diamond was formed naturally or created in a lab.
First, because it's simply good practice. Every consumer should know exactly what they're buying and where it came from. Full disclosure, always. But secondly:
While naturally-formed and lab-created diamonds are chemically the same, they command very different prices.
We'll get into that more in the next section.
But before we move on, let's talk about the term "cultured".
If you're a jewelry enthusiast, you may be familiar with the term cultured pearls. And if you start reading about cultured pearls, you'll notice that the explanation of "cultured pears vs natural pearls" sounds an awful lot like the conversation we're having today about diamonds.
Cultured pearls are real pearls. But rather than going out of finding the pearls randomly in nature, the process is initiated and managed by humans.
And the resulting gemstone is the same material as a naturally formed pearl.
So, "cultured" is, in my opinion, one of the best terms to use when describing lab-grown diamonds. It's a gemstone that is chemically identical to its natural counterpart, but the process is started and guided by human hands.
But the most commonly used phrase is lab-grown.
Once you realize that lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds, and that there are no significant chemical-level differences, the next natural question is:
Are lab-grown diamonds less expensive?
And the answer is: Yes. Big time.
Lab-grown diamonds cost anywhere from 30-60% less than a naturally-formed diamonds of similar or identical quality.
And this is the main draw of lab-grown diamonds. You can get a much larger, nicer, more impressive diamond for your budget.
Without question, your money goes further with lab-grown diamonds.
Reading this far, you might conclude:
1. Lab-grown diamonds are chemically identical to naturally-formed diamonds.
2. Not only are they chemically identical to naturally-formed diamonds, but they are the most chemically pure type of diamond.
3. They cost as much as 60% less than naturally-formed diamonds
"Why would I buy anything but a lab-grown diamond?"
And the answer for many people is: You wouldn't.
For many people, they want the hardness, durability of diamond for everyday wear. They want the sparkle and beauty that only diamond gives. And they want the biggest diamond they can afford.
If that's you, lab-grown diamonds are the way to go.
But for many people, they still love the formed-by-nature uniqueness and variation that comes with natural Type Ia diamonds.
Put simply, they have more character.
While it's true that not all lab-grown diamonds are identical, the fingerprint-like uniqueness that naturally-formed diamonds have is not as prominent in lab-grown diamonds.
And then there's the issue of long-term value.
Not only are lab-grown diamonds significantly less expensive, but the prices continue to fall.
This is good news for anyone who just wants a big diamond for the cheapest price.
And many have speculated that the popularity of lab-grown diamonds will eventually wipe out the natural diamond industry. And while that's theoretically possible, it's unlikely because natural diamonds have a quality that lab-grown diamonds will never possess:
As the speed and quality with which manufacturers can make lab-grown diamonds increases, more and more lab-grown diamonds will enter the market and it will continue to drive prices down.
Meanwhile, the number of natural diamonds on earth is fixed. And demand for natural diamonds is still incredibly strong. Many people still buy diamonds because they want "real and rare" to symbolize their love, or simply as a status symbol.
And the pattern we're seeing now is: lab-grown prices continue to fall and naturally-grown diamond values continue to hold steady or even increase in some circumstances.
So, while lab-grown diamonds are a great way to get a big, beautiful diamond for an unbelievable price, there are a few caveats.
As a general rule, retailers and jewelers do not offer trade or buy back programs on lab-grown diamonds. Due to the falling prices of lab-grown diamonds, jewelers will not commit to offering any specific value on something that may be worth significantly less in the very near future. In this way, the inexpensive nature of lab-grown diamonds works against you if you ever want to sell or trade in your diamond.
If you are only concerned with getting a big, beautiful diamond for the cheapest possible price, then lab-grown diamonds are for you.
Rest assured that you are buying a real diamond and you'll want to follow all of the diamond buying advice you can find in 4 Cs diamond buying guides like this one:
If you are at all concerned about long-term value, resell value, or trade-in value, then think twice before purchasing a lab-grown diamond. The lab-grown diamond you buy today will likely be worth less tomorrow as the technology producing them continues to improve.
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