Posted on April 01 2019
Diamonds are the symbols of unbreakable and enduring love. From the Queen of England's jewels to the breathtakingly blue Hope diamond, these gems have been the accessory of choice for many years. Timeless and elegant additions to any collection, diamonds are the most popular choice for engagement rings, making it likely you have a beautiful diamond somewhere in your family history.
However, the world's clamor for diamonds has resulted in some tragic and unethical practices. While fair-trade diamonds are growing in popularity, they are also increasing in price, leaving some consumers unable to afford them.
The new technology of lab-grown diamonds is changing the industry. Lab-grown diamonds are identical to mined diamonds in physical, chemical and optical composition. Their only differences are their origin and their price tag.
What Are Lab-Grown Diamonds?
Lab-grown diamonds, also called cultured or engineered diamonds, are real diamonds grown in a highly controlled laboratory environment. These labs use advanced technology to duplicate the natural conditions that produce diamonds as they appear in the mantle, the layer of rock beneath the Earth's crust.
Using state-of-the-art technology, diamond labs use carbon atoms to grow their jewels — the same elements that compose mined diamonds. Since lab-grown diamonds contain the same materials as mined diamonds, they display the same chemical, physical, optical and thermal properties of mined diamonds.
Because they have the same properties and appearance as mined diamonds, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has classified lab-grown diamonds as true diamonds — the only difference between the two types of jewels is their origin.
One benefit of growing diamonds in a controlled environment is the ability to positively influence their appearance. For example, cultured diamonds are available in timeless colorless tones or opulent colored hues. In nature, many types of colored diamonds are exceedingly rare. However, in laboratory settings, technicians can strategically introduce different elements and minerals at critical points in a diamond's growth to influence its color and intensity.
Just because a diamond is lab-grown doesn't mean it is abnormal. A diamond is a type of crystallized carbon, and each one forms in a unique way. Every diamond, whether mined or lab-created, has uniquely individual growth patterns. Lab-grown diamonds aren't mass-produced in symmetry. Instead, lab technicians carefully grow them from a diamond "seed," and each one has a distinctive shape, color and inclusions.
How Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Made?
For many consumers, the idea of lab-created diamonds seems impossible. How can a laboratory simulate the natural process under which diamonds form, a process some estimates suggest can take anywhere from weeks to millions of years?
New technologies have made growing diamonds a feasible and fast endeavor. Lab technicians create diamonds through one of two very different methods — high pressure/high temperature (HPHT) or chemical vapor deposition (CVD).
1. High Pressure/High Temperature
Scientists developed the HPHT method during the 1950s to fix and heal flawed diamonds. Using this technology, companies could transform less desirable mined diamonds into beautifully colored gems.
HPHT attempts to recreate the natural factors that occur deep in the Earth. The process subjects a carbon source such as diamond powder or graphite to temperatures as high as 2,600 degrees Celsius to imitate the immense heat near the Earth's core. Pressure increases along with the heat until the final product — a lovely diamond — emerges.
Diamonds made through the HPHT method go through one of three different manufacturing processes — a split-sphere press, a cubic press or a belt press. Each type of press exerts extreme pressure onto the diamond seed, helping transform it into a gem.
Once the pure carbon melts and begins to form into a diamond around the seed, lab technicians monitor it carefully at every stage of its development until completion. Once it cools, it becomes a pure, carbon diamond.
2. Chemical Vapor Deposition
CVD is a relatively new process of creating diamonds. In this method, technicians place a thinly sliced piece of diamond seed into a heat chamber. The temperature inside the chamber is about 800 degrees Celsius, and techs add a hydrocarbon gas mixture to contribute new carbon atoms to the growing diamond.
Ultimately, an ionization process works in concert with CVD to grow new diamonds — the process breaks down the molecular bonds between the different gases, and the resulting carbon atoms attach to the diamond seed.
The CVD process involves six general steps.
- First, techs place a disc containing several slender diamond seeds inside the heat chamber. The exact number of diamonds grown in a single batch varies depending on the lab, but anywhere between 15 and 30 seeds are typical.
- After the seeds have been secured, the heat chamber creates a plasma ball of superheated gases. This immense surge of heat begins the diamond growth process.
- Next, the technicians further increase the heat in the chamber. The final temperature setting will vary depending on the desired characteristics of the gemstone, but generally, the heat chamber is set between 900 and 1,200 degrees Celsius.
- In this superheated environment, hydrogen and methane gases break off from the plasma ball and attach to the diamond seed. This process continues for three to four weeks as the diamond grows atom by atom.
- During this period, laboratory technicians monitor the seeds, adding additional gases if desired to create different tones and colors. At the perfect moment, the techs remove the fully grown diamonds the chamber.
- The grown diamonds are roughly cubic-shaped. Technicians carefully remove the gems from the attached diamond seed and send the diamonds to professional gemologists for cutting, polishing and grading. The diamond seeds then get reused to begin a new batch of jewels.
Across the diamond industry, CVD is becoming the preferred way to produce lab-created diamonds. Less costly than HPHT, the CVD method works at relatively low pressures and temperatures, requiring less expensive and smaller pieces of equipment. Colorless diamonds are easy to grow using CVD, but it's also possible to manipulate the process to produce fancy colored gems.
Benefits of Lab Diamonds
Lab-grown diamonds are essentially the same as mined diamonds, just like ice from a freezer is the same as ice on a lake. Ice is ice, and a diamond is a diamond, regardless of its origin.
However, lab diamonds have a few advantages over traditionally mined gems. When comparing lab-grown diamonds vs. mined diamonds, the primary benefits of lab created diamonds include their eco-friendliness, high quality and incredible value.
The international diamond trade historically does not have a reputation for its environmentally conscious bent.
Typically, diamond mining is less harmful to the planet than other forms of mining, such as gold or coal mining. However, that does not mean it has helped the environment, either — we can trace many ecological problems back to poor diamond mining, including deforestation, soil erosion and the destruction of entire ecosystems.
While many companies are taking steps to upgrade their methods and technologies to be more eco-friendly, new changes will not undo decades of poor practices overnight. It is also challenging to monitor the entire pipeline of the diamond industry, as there are six distinct steps a rough diamond goes through before reaching a jeweler. At each step, different industries and businesses work on a separate aspect of diamond production, making it difficult to monitor the environmental impact of every stage of the supply chain.
Additionally, some consider diamond mining to be unsustainable at its current pace — at the rate diamonds get mined and purchased, the Earth's supply is quickly running out.
Alternately, lab-created diamonds are sustainable gemstones with a minimal environmental impact. By growing them above-ground in a controlled environment, it's possible to produce laboratory diamonds without demanding vast amounts of energy or manpower. Lab-grown diamonds don't require the destruction of hills or forests, and lab techs can reuse the same diamond seed source infinite times.
Some labs use solar technology as a sustainable source of energy, and evolving technologies aim to make more and more of the energy used in growing diamonds renewable. All these elements give lab-created diamonds an eco-friendly edge over their underground counterparts.
When many people hear about lab-created diamonds, they assume these gems must have a lower quality than mined gems. However, nothing could be further than the truth — lab-grown diamonds have the same optical, chemical and physical properties as traditionally mined stones, and in some cases, an even greater quality.
The quality of grown diamonds is so identical to that of mined ones that it is nearly impossible to differentiate between them. Lab-grown diamonds have the same clarity, color and brilliance of mined stones, providing all a diamond's characteristic beauty without the ecological footprint or high price tag.
Lab diamonds get certified and graded under the guidelines and processes as mined diamonds. Once produced, lab-grown diamonds go to a gemstone laboratory that grades gems, including prestigious centers like the Gemological Institute of America, the International Gemological Institute and the American Gem Society.
Each cultured diamond is unique, with specific characteristics. Once professionally cut and polished, the best lab-created diamonds are identical to the highest-quality mined diamonds.
One of the most powerful appeals of lab-grown diamonds is their price value.
On average, lab-created diamonds cost approximately 30 to 40 percent less than their mined counterparts. However, while lab-grown diamonds are less expensive than mined diamonds, that doesn't make them cheap — they are still diamonds, luxury gemstones in high demand.
Part of the reason for the reduced price is the shorter supply chain. Mined diamonds have an elaborate and extensive pipeline, going through multiple industries and businesses to get from a mine to a jeweler. Laboratory diamonds eliminate the need for a long supply chain, cutting out middleman costs. Although not inexpensive, lab-grown diamonds offer a less costly alternative to traditionally mined gemstones. Consumers can purchase the same product — a stunning diamond — for a reduced price.
Mined Diamonds vs. Lab-Created Diamonds
Mined diamonds and lab-grown diamonds are the same. They are both carbon-based gemstones with a brilliant sheen and a timeless significance. However, some differences do exist between the two types of diamonds, so let's explore them in a little more detail.
1. Mined Diamonds
Mined diamonds come straight from the Earth's mantle and crust, and people have valued them for centuries for their elegant and luxurious appearance.
- Clarity: The clarity of mined diamonds is variable, ranging from VS to SI.
- Carat cost: For natural stones, the average price is roughly $5,000.
- Chemical composition: Below ground stones are composed of pure carbon.
- Crystalline structure: Mined diamonds have a face-centered cubic and singly refractive structure.
- Refractive index: In mined gems, the refractive index is 2.42.
- Light dispersion: The light dispersion, or "fire," of mined diamonds is 0.044.
- Mohs hardness rating: Mined diamonds are notoriously hard — on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, their rating is 10, which is the highest you can get.
- Electron density: The electron density of mined diamonds is 3.52.
- Polish: Mined diamonds get polished with natural diamond powder.
- Production: Traditionally minded diamonds come from underground mines and open-pit strip mines.
Traditionally mined diamonds are beautiful and hard-won gems, requiring open-pit and underground mining to unearth the best stones.
2. Lab-Created Diamonds
Lab-grown diamonds grow in a controlled laboratory environment using advanced technology to replicate the natural conditions under which a diamond forms. Other than their origin, cultured diamonds possess the same properties as mined diamonds.
- Clarity: The clarity of cultured diamonds ranges from VS to SI.
- Carat cost: The average carat cost of a lab-grown diamond is $3,500.
- Chemical composition: In a lab-grown diamond, the chemical composition is pure carbon.
- Crystalline structure: The crystalline structure of cultured diamonds is face-centered cubic and singly refractive.
- Refractive index: Lab-grown diamonds have a 2.42 refractive index.
- Light dispersion: The light dispersion of cultured diamonds is 0.044.
- Mohs hardness rating: Lab-created diamonds are just as hard as mined gems — a 10 on the Mohs scale.
- Electron density: The electron density of cultured diamonds is 3.52.
- Polish: Lab-grown diamonds get polished using natural diamond powder.
- Production: Lab-grown diamonds grow in a controlled laboratory environment, producing no harmful or toxic by-products.
Lab-grown diamonds have the same chemical composition, crystalline structure, refractive index, light dispersion, Mohs hardness rating, electron density and polish as their mined counterparts. They have equal light dispersion, scintillation and brilliance, and they bend light in the same way. The only real differences between them come down to their environmental impact, average price and their origin.
Shop for Premier Diamonds at Little Switzerland Today
Both traditionally mined and lab-made diamonds are gorgeous stones and a worthwhile investment. Ultimately, which stone you choose depends on your personal preference — do you love the age and history of a natural stone, or do you prefer the futuristic and eco-friendly flair of lab-grown diamond jewelry?
At Little Switzerland, we offer a wide range of premier diamonds, and we are the Caribbean's first and only provider of lab-grown diamonds. Our broad selection includes brands such as Nuri & Ash, which provides wearable and trendy pieces made with lab-grown diamonds. Their mission is to create eco-friendly and conflict-free pieces you'll be proud to show off.
Engrace Diamonds by Little Switzerland features the diamonds of the future in the timeless and traditional styles you love. From engagement rings to stud earrings, these pieces combine excellent value with gorgeous design.
Browse our online selection of pieces, or if you're planning a trip to the sunny Caribbean, make sure to stop by one of our locations. Our personal shopping team is here to help you take full advantage of our gorgeous collection and duty-free pricing today!