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Differences Between Lab-Grown & Natural Diamonds

When it comes to lab grown vs. natural diamonds, here are the important things to understand so you’re making the most informed purchase.

Differences Between Lab-Grown & Natural DiamondsRough and polished diamonds
Rough and polished diamonds

If you’re purchasing a diamond today, you’re likely to face an important choice when it comes to picking the stone that’s right for you. That choice can sometimes be between natural diamonds, which originate in the earth, and lab-grown diamonds, a man-made product which are sometimes called “laboratory-grown”, “cultured”, “cultivated”, “man-made”, “synthetic”, “simulated”, or “lab created” diamonds. Since the decision has implications on the up-front cost and long term value of the stone you choose, it’s important to understand the difference between a natural diamond and lab-grown diamond before you make a purchase.

What is a natural diamond?

A diamond* is a mineral created by nature composed mostly of the element carbon with its atoms arranged in a crystal structure – they are the hardest naturally occurring substance on Earth. Natural diamonds were formed on average around 100 miles below the Earth’s surface from 1 to 3 billion years ago, they are older than life on Earth. They form under rare conditions of extreme heat and pressure inside the Earth that causes the carbon atoms to crystalize. Many millions of years ago, ancient volcanoes deep in the Earth blasted toward the surface, trapping diamonds in their lava and bringing them close enough to the surface for us to find. Every natural diamond is unique, just like a snowflake or fingerprint, no two are alike. Read more detailed information on this precious gemstone. *Note: A diamond is by definition natural.  When not qualified, a diamond means a natural diamond, from the Earth.

What is a lab-grown diamond?

A lab-grown diamond is a man-made product that shares the chemical and optical properties of natural diamonds, but whose origin and value differ greatly. Lab-grown diamonds are produced in factories in approximately 2-3 weeks using one of two methods originally developed in the 1960s for industrial purposes – HPHT and CVD. These methods artificially replicate natural conditions found in the Earth, forcing carbon atoms into a crystal structure. In more recent years, technology improvements have allowed factories to produce lab-grown diamonds in qualities that allow for uses beyond industrial.

Are lab-grown diamonds real?

Although their chemical structure is the same as a natural diamond, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) a lab-created diamond cannot be called “real” because it does not come from the Earth and it is not a gemstone. A video explaining the FTC guidelines on advertising lab-grown diamonds can be found here.

Is there a difference with lab grown vs. natural diamonds?

While they may look similar to the untrained eye, lab-grown diamonds are not identical to natural diamonds and can be easily distinguished with the proper tool. The rapid manufacturing process of lab-created diamonds always leaves telltale marks within the stone that can be identified by experts.   

Are diamonds rare? 

Natural diamonds are finite and rare. The number of recovered natural diamonds peaked in 2005 and has been decreasing ever since. Diamonds are becoming rarer every day because no new significant deposits have been discovered in about 30 years. To put their rarity in perspective, the total amount of 1 carat natural diamonds recovered annually could fit inside only one exercise ball. However, lab-grown diamonds can be manufactured in potentially unlimited quantities similar to any manufactured product, thus they are not finite and cannot be considered rare. 

Does the price of lab grown diamonds vs. natural diamonds differ?

Natural diamonds obtain their value from their scarcity as a natural, billion-year-old precious gem  and have shown over decades to grow in value as they become more rare. Lab-grown diamonds are a manufactured product and thus their value is tied strictly to the cost of production. Similar to other tech products, as technology improves and the cost of production declines, so does the value. This is why the price of lab-grown diamonds have continued to decline year over year. A similar pattern has been seen in the case of synthetic sapphires or rubies

How do natural diamonds affect the environment and how do lab-grown diamonds affect the environment? 

Third-party research by S&P Global company TruCost reveals that natural diamonds produce 3X fewer carbon emissions per carat than lab-grown diamonds. The carbon emissions to recover a 1 carat natural diamond is equal only to the carbon emissions required to produce 3 iPhones. Leading diamond producers recycle on average 83% of the water used in diamond recovery. Conversely, manufacturing lab-grown diamonds requires an immense amount of energy to replicate a billion-year-old natural process in just a few weeks, as well as significant water consumption to cool the reactors.*

Are lab-grown diamonds more ethical than natural diamonds?

The natural diamond industry supports the livelihood of 10 million people worldwide and leading diamond producers create $16 billion of benefit annually for employees, communities, and the environment—and 80% of these benefits are retained by local communities. The wealth generated by laboratory-created diamond companies largely benefits only a select few venture capitalists and investors who have yet to demonstrate similar socioeconomic contributions. The natural diamond industry has worked hard to transform itself over the last 20 years. Today, conflict diamonds, as depicted in the movie Blood Diamond (set in the 90s), are virtually eliminated from the market. Through the UN-mandated Kimberley Process. The diamond industry also goes above and beyond the Kimberley Process to encompass people, planet, and business ethics. The industry abides by numerous international human rights frameworks and labor regulations, alongside country-specific rules to ensure it does business in the most responsible and sustainable way.

How are natural diamonds formed?

Natural diamonds are true miracles of nature and older than even life on this planet. They are between one and three billion years old and were created under rare conditions of intense temperature and pressure 100 miles below earth’s surface. Only a small quantity of natural diamonds were propelled to the surface of the earth by volcanic eruptions 300-400 million years ago.

Gaining their name from the Ancient Greek word ‘adamas,’ meaning “unbreakable,” diamonds have symbolized enduring strength for thousands of years. In the first century AD., the Roman naturalist philosopher Pliny noted admiringly: “Diamond is the most valuable, not only of precious stones, but of all things in this world.” With their exceptional rarity and physical qualities, ancient diamonds were reserved for royalty and worn to signify status and power.

How are lab-grown diamonds made?

Lab-grown diamonds are synthesized in a matter of weeks as opposed to the billions of years that it takes for a natural diamond to develop.

Natural diamonds are true miracles of nature and older than even life on this planet. They are between one and three billion years old and were created under rare conditions of intense temperature and pressure 100 miles below earth’s surface. Only a small quantity of natural diamonds were propelled to the surface of the earth by volcanic eruptions 300-400 million years ago.

Read more on the official definition of a diamond here, then see what some of the most respected voices in the fine jewelry industry have to say about the differences between natural and lab-grown diamonds.

*analysis conducted by Trucost, part of S&P Global, based on 2016/2017 data.