Looking for an in-depth comparison between lab created diamonds and natural earth created diamonds?
Perfect, you're in the right place! In this Learning Jewelry guide, you'll learn:
- How does a lab grown diamond compare to a natural diamond?
- What're the important differences in appearance between a lab diamond and natural diamond?
- Are lab grown diamonds cheaper than natural diamonds?
- And much more!
What is a "Real" Diamond?
The term "real diamond" is an unfair one when referring to lab created diamonds. Many people have the misconception that a lab created diamond is a fake diamond, or a diamond simulant like cubic zirconia or moissanite. And also being referred to as synthetic diamonds doesn't help.
A lab created diamond has the almost the exact same chemical composition as a mined diamond that came out of the ground. The only difference between the physical properties is that natural diamonds can contain bits of nitrogen, while lab created diamonds don't.
The main difference between a mined diamond and a synthetic diamond is where they come from. Still, there's a lot of buzz in the jewelry industry on lab created diamonds and if they're truly worth buying. How different are lab diamonds vs real diamonds? Let's find out.
Lab Diamond vs Natural Diamonds: Origin
The main difference between lab diamonds and natural diamonds is where they come from. Or in a synthetic diamond's case, how it is made.
Lab diamonds are grown, similar to a plant. They are grown using two methods: high pressure high temperature (HPHT) and chemical vapor deposition (CVD). In HPHT methods, a diamond seed, or tiny fraction of a diamond is taken and put under extreme pressure and heat. That diamond seed is then placed into pure carbon and grown into a diamond.
In CVD methods, they take a diamond seed (usually done by HPHT methods) and put it into a chamber that's filled with carbon gases, like methane. It ionizes into a substance like plasma. That plasma breaks down molecules that had been bonded together, leaving nothing but carbon left. That carbon forms around the diamond seed and crystalizes.
Mined "Natural" Diamonds
Their natural counterparts, go through a process a lot different, and lengthier. Lab made diamonds can be grown in as little as two weeks, where as a natural mined diamond takes billions of years.
Diamonds are formed around 100 miles below the earth's surface, into the mantle. The heat and pressure at those depths cause graphite (the mineral form of carbon) to change its molecular structure. At least, that's what gemologist think happens. We actually have no way of knowing for sure, because there isn't a way to drill through the mantle.
So, how do these diamond crystals travel up to the earth's crust for us to mine? Diamond pipes. Volcanic pipes. It is believed that billions of years back, volcanoes went deeper and erupted more violently than they do today. The diamonds were taken up kimberlite pipes.
Once the eruption has brought the already-formed diamonds to the earth's crust, the diamonds in the kimberlite volcanic material are cooled, and diamonds lay in the rough, ready to be mined.
Lab Diamond vs Natural Diamonds: Appearance
Below, we have a lab created 1 carat VS1 lab grown diamond with G color and a mined diamond with the same grades.
As you can see, there is no visible difference between a mined diamond and a lab created diamond. Only highly trained jewelers and gemologists can tell the difference, and it's usually by the tiny natural inclusions.
While both types of diamonds have them, the inclusions in a lab diamond are metallic inclusions, where as the inclusions in a mined diamond is made of crystals in different forms like feathers, pinpoints, needles, and clouds.
As for the optical properties of lab and mined diamonds, they are the same. Lab diamonds have the same sparkle and shine, but at a much cheaper cost.
Lab Diamond vs Natural Diamonds: Price
The cost of lab diamonds are ever changing. When they first became popular a few years back, they were around 20% cheaper than natural mined diamonds. These days, you can find more and more lab diamonds being up to 50% cheaper now.
Take the two diamonds we compared in the previous section.
These diamonds have almost the exact same diamond grades, but the lab diamond is $3,760 cheaper than the mined diamond.
Of course keep in mind, these diamonds may have minor differences, such as diamond fluorescence or girdle thickness, but that's not even near accountable for the price difference, as well as the difference in grading reports. IGI is appropriate for lab diamonds, but not mined diamonds.
Why are lab diamonds cheaper than mined diamonds?
After all, they both are governed by the 4Cs of diamond quality, set forth by the Gemological Institute of America. Both the GIA and De Beers worked together to make the 4Cs a universal term to all jewelers and jewelry stores.
Lab diamond grades are not any different than natural diamonds, but flawless lab diamonds are very rare.
Well, the main reason why mined diamonds cost more than lab diamonds is because of supply.
We have almost unlimited resources to create lab diamonds, but we only have as many mined diamonds as the mines contain.
Another reason why the pricing of lab diamonds is lower can be due to grading reports. You should only ever purchased a mined diamond with a grading report from either the GIA or AGS (American Gem Society). But for lab created diamonds, an IGI certificate will do fine. IGI certificates in mined diamonds don't hold as much value as a GIA or AGS grading report.
Lab Diamond vs Natural Diamonds: Value
If you've ever been shopping online for natural diamonds, you'll notice that many jewelry stores have an "upgrade policy".
This usually allows you to be able to trade in your own diamond for an even better one. Often times the customer has to pick a diamond or engagement ring that is double the value of the original. Value is determined based on each company's personal assessment.
If the website sells lab created diamonds, you'll find that they'll mention that they are not part of that policy. Lab diamonds don't have an upgrade policy because the value of lab diamonds is dropping and shows no signs of stopping. With lab diamonds fluctuating so much, jewelry retailers don't want to risk taking a major loss.
Natural diamonds, keep their value. While reselling diamond jewelry probably won't get you exactly what you paid for, jewelers will still take it back for an upgrade or even a buyback option. Blue Nile offers both an upgrade policy and a way to sell your own diamonds through their partner service, Circa.
Honestly, you shouldn't purchase natural or lab grown diamonds for investment purposes. Jewelry doesn't usually retain its value well, unless it is a very rare gemstone, like a high quality paraiba tourmaline.
So, if you're purchasing diamonds as an investment, you'll want to buy natural diamond over a lab diamond for resale value. But if not, then this point may not be influential in your choice.
Lab Diamond vs Natural Diamonds: Other Factors
There are other reasons why someone might choose a lab created diamond over a natural diamond that doesn't have to do with value, physical or chemical properties. For some, the price isn't even a factor.
One of the biggest reasons why people buy lab diamonds vs natural diamonds is to ensure you're purchasing a real diamond that is conflict-free. If you're not familiar with conflict free diamonds, they are also referred to as blood diamonds. These diamonds are used in certain areas of the world, mainly in Africa. Some of these countries include Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In an effort to stop trade with these conflict-diamonds, members of the diamond industry in that side of world came up with the Kimberley Process. There's much debate to the Kimberley Process effectiveness, but it has definitely helped filter out many diamonds coming from this area.
Brilliant Earth, an online lab and natural diamond retailer, recognizes that there are flaws within the Kimberley Process, such as completely traceable routes or other gemstones coming from conflict areas. They are known for their "Beyond Conflict Free" campaign. All of the diamonds coming from Brilliant Earth have known origin and trade routes.
But with lab created diamonds, you don't have to worry about buying a conflict diamond. We know exactly where they came from, and that's a laboratory. This is one of the reasons why lab diamonds are so popular today, especially with the more environmental and ethical activism we see in the generations rising up today.
Speaking of environmental awareness, sustainability is also why lab diamonds are gaining popularity. Lab diamonds claim to be better for the environment than natural diamonds. Many jewelers have used terms like "eco-friendly and "sustainability" to advertise lab grown diamonds.
In fact, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) had to send out an official warning to jewelers against using these terms in their marketing campaigns. This is because there are no substantiated claims that lab diamonds are environmentally-friendly or eco-conscious. Some places also imply that all other mined diamonds come from conflict-areas.
A reason why you might consider buying a mined diamond over a lab created diamond might be because of the fact that they are being mined. Diamond mining is a huge industry in many countries where we get our gemstones from. For many countries, the pay isn't nearly what it might be in other countries.
Buying mined diamonds keeps miners in business. They are able to sustain their own lives, and the lives of their families. If we continue to buy only lab diamonds because of how cheap they are, many miners all over the world will lose their livelihoods.
Fancy Colored Diamonds
If you're not look for traditional white diamonds, you have the option of getting colored diamonds, also referred to as fancy colored diamonds. There are a lot of ins and outs to picking out colored diamonds, but they are available both naturally and lab-created.
Actually, a lot of lab created diamonds receive color treatment to begin with. Many CVD diamonds come out brown, so they treat them to become white diamonds. This a reason why some prefer natural diamonds, because a lab created diamond can be altered to pass off as a colorless or near colorless diamond when it didn't start that way.
But, color treatment doesn't decrease durability or anything. Both lab created and mined diamonds reach a 10 on the mineral scale of hardness, making it the hardest known mineral.
Lab created fancy colored diamonds are just colorless lab created diamonds that have been heat-treated to turn a color. James Allen has many yellow lab-created diamonds and Brilliant Earth has a large selection of lab created fancy colored diamonds. Colored lab diamonds allow people to have a unique diamond engagement ring at a fraction of the cost of a natural fancy colored diamonds.
Natural fancy colored diamonds are rare, so they fetch prices well over 10,000 for some colors. In order for a natural colored diamond to happen, there has to be certain element present while the diamond is forming. For blue diamonds, it's boron. For yellow diamonds, it's nitrogen. Yellow diamonds are the most common, since our diamond color grade scale goes down into faint yellow.
The likelihood of these two joining while the diamond is forming is what makes natural colored diamonds rare and expensive. It is simply up to Mother Nature. Mined colored diamonds also have less pigment than lab-created diamonds.
Lab created diamonds can be forced to become more intense in color, while natural ones that are gem-quality with pigment through the diamond are very hard to find in larger carat weights. It's much easier to find small diamonds with the right pigmentation. Check out the color difference between this natural pink diamond from James Allen and a lab-created pink diamond from Brilliant Earth.
Bottom Line: Lab Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds
So, which is better?
Is it the price saving lab created diamond, or the rare natural diamond that happened by chance? That all depends on you and what you're looking for in your diamonds.
Lab created diamonds have many positives. They are cheaper and cheaper than natural diamonds. They are conflict-free. They have the same chemical and physical properties as a natural diamond and only a jeweler could tell them apart from a natural by appearance.
But then again, lab created diamond aren't often eligible for upgrade policies with retailers, and don't hold any value, except sentimental. Lab diamonds kind of take away the bit of magic that you see in natural diamonds. They are not considered rare or special.
A natural diamond on the other hand, is considered rare. It may not seem so since diamonds seem to be everywhere, but they are actually difficult to find gem-quality diamonds fit to be sold at retailers.
In about 100 tons of diamond ore (rock), you can find between 10-100 carats of rough diamond. Only about 20% is gem-quality and will be sold in stores. Even in the most abundant mines, they still have to move around 5 tons of ore on top of 25 pounds of rock to produce around 1 carat of gem quality diamonds. Then, when they're subjected to cutting, over half of that is lost, leaving just a half carat yield.
So, for every carat point of weight in a diamond, it takes at least 1200 tons of ore and rock to be excavated. There is so much that goes into diamond mining, what I've told you isn't even the half of it. Diamonds go through so much hard work between ending up in the center of diamond rings.
Personally, I always recommend natural diamonds. Not because I want you to spend more money, but because I like the idea of the existence of my diamond happening because of an event in nature. If the diamond could speak, it could tell us so many stories of its travels to us.
No matter which you choose, you should always choose the type of diamond that's best for you and what you value.