Think you know 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 a man-made product called “laboratory-grown”, “synthetic”, “laboratory-created” or “[manufacturer name] 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 and come prepared 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 laboratory-grown diamond is a man-made product that shares the chemical and optical properties of natural diamonds, but whose origin differs 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. Do note, that according to legislation, “cultured”, “cultivated”, “man-made”, and “above-ground” are not acceptable modifiers when used alone. Also, marketing of laboratory-grown diamonds cannot use the words “natural”, “real”, “genuine” or “precious” to describe them. When used alone, the word “diamond” always refers to a natural diamond produced in the Earth. A video explaining the 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. It’s a common myth that they are identical, but the rapid manufacturing process of lab-created diamonds always leaves telltale marks within the stone that can be identified by experts with 100% certainty.
Are diamonds rare?
Natural diamonds are finite, rare and genuinely unique. The number of recovered natural diamonds peaked in 2005 and has decreased ever since. To put their rarity in perspective, the total amount of one carat natural diamonds recovered annually could fit inside one exercise ball. Crafted by nature over millions of years, natural diamonds are inherently valuable, rare and precious.
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, this debunks a common natural diamond misconception that they don’t retain value. In fact, their value retention has made them a store of wealth for centuries. The truth is, 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.
Think You Know Diamonds?
83% of the water used in diamond recovery is recycled,
safeguarding thousands of tons of water for local communities.
Misconceptions about natural diamonds and environmental stewardship:
The modern natural diamond industry has been transformed over the last few decades and now makes valuable contributions to the people, environments, and communities in which they do businessThe members of the Natural Diamond Council preserve the biodiversity of the areas where diamonds are recovered. For every acre of land used, NDC members set aside three for conservation, protecting over 1,000 square miles of land, wildlife and endangered species in Australia, Botswana, Canada, Russia, South Africa and Tanzania. The diamond industry is making strong strides in CO2 reduction in order to achieve carbon neutrality, utilizing renewable energy sources such as wind farms and hydro power, as well as pioneering carbon capture technology with kimberlite rock (source of diamonds) naturally absorbing and storing CO2. Leading natural diamond companies recycle on average 83% of water used in diamond recovery and 99% of waste produced is rock. There are no toxic chemical bi-products, because once they are removed from the ground, diamonds are easily extracted from the host rock. To ensure that the environmental impact is properly managed, the decision to build a mine is preceded by environment and biodiversity studies, together with the consultation of Indigenous communities, and regional governments.
Misconceptions about laboratory-grown diamonds and the environment:
In order to produce synthetic diamonds, manufacturers have to use an incredible amount of electricity in order to recreate Earth’s conditions and generate temperatures between around 1,500 degrees Celsius, or 2,700 Fahrenheit and pressure 1.5 million pounds per square inch. They also need very large amounts of water to cool down the reactors where they produce the lab-grown diamonds. 55% of LGDs are manufactured in China (42.5%) and India (12.5%), which rely heavily on coal. There are also production facilities that have managed to use hydropower to replace fossil fuel but that is still a limited option for most of the laboratory-created diamond market.
Often marketed as laboratory-grown, cultured, created, cultivated, synthetic, simulated, or man-made, it's important to understand the difference between a diamond and a synthetic diamond before you make a purchase.Read More
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 truth is, the modern 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.
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.