Understanding Laboratory-grown Diamonds

By: Shmukler Design

If you’re in the market for a diamond — often the case at this time of year what with love and engagements are in the air — you’ve likely come across laboratory-grown diamonds and may still have questions about, well, everything having to do with lab-grown diamonds (aka, synthetic diamonds).

The first laboratory-grown diamond was created more than 60 years ago when a Swedish industrial firm successfully developed a high-pressure, high-temperature process that mirrored the same chemical, physical and optical properties as traditional diamonds mined from the earth.

Side by side comparison lab-grown and mined diamonds

And while lab-grown diamonds have been around since the Eisenhower administration, their popularity didn’t really take off until recently, when commercialization of the technology put it on the same footing as “real” diamonds — those sparkling minerals created deep in the dirt over billions of years.

It was within the past decade that a new technology — known as chemical vapor deposition (CVD) — made it possible to rapidly produce high-quality diamonds in a laboratory setting at prices between $300 and $500 per carat instead of the $4,000 per carat price tag for such lab-grown gems before 2008.

When the cost of producing lab-grown diamonds began to decline, so did retail prices for these gemstones. As a result, lab-grown diamonds are now 25 percent to 30 percent less expensive than mined diamonds. Indeed, prices are expected to fall even more as production efficiencies increase, new competitors enter the market and the segment commoditizes.

And make no mistake about it: Laboratory-grown diamonds are real diamonds. That determination was made just last year when the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) amended its jewelry guides, asserting that “a diamond is a diamond,” no matter its origin. The FTC determined that lab-created diamonds share the same or similar chemical and physical properties as a natural diamond produced by geological processes.

To this day, there is much confusion about lab-grown diamonds, including the claim that they are fake, imitations or simulants, but this is just not true. While lab-grown diamonds display several features that enable them to be geologically distinguished from natural diamonds, that’s a far cry from cubic zirconia and moissanite, both of which have drastically different chemical and physical properties and are indeed “simulant” diamonds.

Because of all the confusion, what we offer below is a primer of sorts — a Q&A that we believe explains some of the truths and fables about lab-grown diamonds. Let’s start off with some simple definitions:

What is a Mined Diamond?

First off, a diamond is a precious stone consisting of a colorless and clear crystalline form of pure carbon, which is believed to be the hardest naturally occurring substance. Technically speaking, this carbon is crystallized in the isometric system with a hardness of 10, a gravity of 3.52 and a refractive index of 2.42. (And by precious we mean a very attractive and expensive piece of mineral or rock.)

What is a Lab-grown Diamond?

Lab-grown diamonds on the other hand, are diamonds that are grown in a controlled environment and contain the same chemical, physical and optical properties as mined diamonds. To summarize: Even though lab-grown diamonds have the same characteristics as mined diamonds, these gems are considered an individual type of gem species within the gemstone marketplace, not a substitute or simulant to a naturally produced and mined diamond.

What Technologies are Involved in the Development of Lab-grown Diamonds?

The original high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) process first used to create synthetic diamonds mimics conditions deep within the earth, where mined diamonds are developed over billions of years under pressure and heat. More recently, scientists developed a chemical vapor deposition (CVD) process wherein a sliver of diamond substrate is subjected to super-heated carbon-based gases that rain carbon atoms down on the “diamond seed,” where it settles in layers as a crystal, growing at only a few micrometers per hour.

How Long Does It Take for a Lab-grown Diamond to Emerge?

A one-carat laboratory diamond takes between seven and 10 days to grown and a full month to become a three-carat gem. Growing such lab-produced diamonds at a more rapid pace can result in weakened or fractured gemstones.

Can a Casual Observation Determine Whether a Diamond is Mined or Lab-grown?

Those diamonds created in a laboratory mirror the exact same crystal structure and physical and chemical characteristics as those diamonds unearthed from a diamond mine. Truth is, even the most experienced diamond expert can’t tell the difference — even when armed with a microscope. The only way to determine which is which is by using high-tech machinery that is available in many gemology laboratories.

If Lab-grown Diamonds are Real Diamonds, what is a Cubic Zirconia?

Whether lab-grown or mined from the earth, diamonds are comprised of carbon. Cubic zirconia, on the other hand, contains no carbon whatsoever. These artificial gemstones are more fragile than mined or lab-grown diamonds, display a completely different light pattern, and are easily distinguished from the real thing by any jeweler with normal eyesight.

Can I Get a Lab Diamond Appraised and Insured?

Yes. Laboratory-grown diamonds are easily appraised and insured, just like mined diamonds. And — this is important — lab-grown diamonds should always be laser inscribed and come with a laboratory report from either the International Gemological Institute or the Gemological Institute of America identifying the gem as lab-grown.

Is it True that Lab-grown Diamonds Have Little Resale Value?

First off, we need to dispel the notion that the jewelry and gems you purchase are considered an investment. They are not. Look to the stock or bond market if it’s an investment you seek. The purpose of buying jewelry — diamonds included — is to be presented as a gift to a loved one. Jewelry signifies love, happiness, and compassion. However, when jewelry is created, the craftsman must be paid. There is also the cost of doing business, overhead and transactional expenses. As a result, it doesn’t make sense for a jeweler to buy a used stone or jewelry from a customer when s/he can buy the same gem from a wholesaler for the same or lower price. And to answer the question above, yes, lab-grown diamonds depreciate just as much as natural diamonds, which is reflected by the market edict of supply and demand.

Want to know more about lab-grown diamonds? Here at Shmukler Design, we only sell diamonds (lab-grown and mined) containing one of the lab reports referenced in the second to last answer above. Give us a call at (949) 870-9915 and ask for Boris. Anything you need to know about lab-grown or mined diamonds, we can tell you or find out for you!

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Comments (2)

  1. […] is man-made. In an article posted on here on the Custom Jewelry Blog last month (please see: Understanding Lab-grown Diamonds), we reported the FTC’s finding that lab-created diamonds share the same or similar chemical and […]

  2. […] The history of the diamond started more than a billion years ago, when most diamonds were first formed, deep within the Earth’s mantle. Composed of carbon and the hardest substance on earth, a diamond can only be born in high temperature and pressure conditions that exist at least 100 miles below the Earth’s surface, or by mimicking that environment in a laboratory. (For more on laboratory-grown diamonds, read our post from March of this year, Understanding Laboratory-grown Diamonds.) […]

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