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Lab Grown Diamonds Vs. Natural Diamond
What Are Lab Grown Diamonds?
Lab grown diamonds (LGD), or synthetic diamonds, are diamonds that are grown in a laboratory or factory. Natural diamonds are grown in mother nature. Both have the same chemical composition and crystal structure. Both are diamonds, but they have a different origin.
LGDs and synthetic diamonds are the same thing. However, the Federal Trade Commission felt that it was probably less confusing to the ultimate consumer to label them as lab grown versus synthetic. In GIA terms, lab grown gemstones are all described as synthetic.
LGD Methods of Manufacture
LGDs are grown with two methods- HPHT, or High Pressure High Temperature, and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). The HPHT method is an older method that uses a press that is pressurized at over 870,000 pounds per square inch and heated to 1300* to 1600*.
CVD grown diamonds are created by filling a vacuum chamber with carbon-containing gas that crystallizes on a synthetic diamond seed.
Sorting Naturals from Lab Grown
"It takes $180,000 worth of equipment and the equivalent of a Harvard degree in running these machines to accurately sort LGDs from natural diamonds." - Guy Borenstein, lead gemologist at Stuller, Inc.
Diamonds that grown in the earth grow over billions of years at depths up to 500 miles into the earths mantle. They're pressured from various changing angles, heated, cooled, etched by acids, and all of this abused is repeated thousands of times before being unearthed by a miner. The result of these environmental changes is a crystallography that is irregular. That is, the way that the atoms are aligned in the crystal is not perfect- it's randomized (or rather, natural).
LGDs are grown in a controlled environment where there aren't randomized environmental conditions to randomize these stone's crystallography.
With the ability to view the crystallography of a diamond, we gain insights into it's origin. However, this is easier said than done. A few methods that are utilized are photoluminescence, UV light identification, and magnification.
An even more troubling diamond to identify is a stone that has LGD growth on natural diamonds. With the CVD method, some factories are growing CVD growth onto the surface of natural stones. This could raise the weight of a 2.99 carat diamond to 3.00 carats. This would create a jump in value while only having 0.01 carat of LGD to have to view and identify. All of this on the side of a stone that might have natural inclusions and is colorless and transparent.
A recent study showed that, depending on the method of manufacture, lab grown diamonds can take more or less energy to produce than natural diamonds.
It's also important to note that the environmental impact of these methods hasn't been fully studied. Natural diamonds, for example, leave massive holes in the earth that aren't typically filled, even after mining ends.
When LGDs were first available on the market around 2016, they were retailing at around 70% of the cost of natural stones. Today, in late 2023, some stones are being sold at 10% of the cost of natural diamonds. It's expected that the downward trend in pricing is going to continue. Most likely, there will be a bottom point of cost of production and distribution that pricing won't go below. No company can survive selling at less than the cost of production.
The first synthetic sapphire was produced in 1873. When they became more commercially available, in the 1920s, they were seen as more valuable than natural stones. Many hand made platinum and diamond Art Deco jewelry pieces are set with synthetic sapphire. Today, synthetic sapphire is a fraction of the cost of a natural stone. However, distinguishing between natural and synthetic sapphire typically takes a trained gemologist and magnification. This is substantially less difficult than distinguishing between LGDs and natural diamonds. Many professionals in the jewelry industry are betting on lab grown diamond following the same path as synthetic sapphire- popular for a while, then being seen as less than a replacement for natural diamond. With DeBeers losing
The rarity factor of diamonds is one of it's strongest selling points. A wearer feels important and special while wearing something that is rare. With the endless ability to produce lab grown diamonds, with technology that is only getting better, there will be an extraordinary amount of LGDs available in the marketplace. When high school folks are walking around with 2 carats of LGDs in each ear, it will most likely feel less rare to have a pair of natural 4.00 ctw stones. This becomes especially noteworthy when we know that there's not a person alive that could tell the difference between the two pairs.
LGDs have other huge benefits in the tech industry. They can hold extraordinary amounts of data. They're an excellent superconductor, heat sink, and very hard. In theory, you could have a cell phone that has an ultra-durable diamond screen, that stores huge amounts of data in it, that's also used as a heat sink and superconductor. With these incredible traits, the tech industry will undoubtedly progress the manufacturing of LGDs.