What Are Lab-Grown Diamonds?
Last Updated on November 1, 2022 by Rolf Hartmann
In our introduction to lab-grown diamonds, we’ll explain what are lab-grown diamonds, how they are created, how they are both the same and different from mined diamonds, and not least the benefits of lab-created diamonds.
What Are Lab-Grown Diamonds?
Lab-grown diamonds are physically, chemically, and optically 100% identical to mined diamonds. The difference is solely in how they were created. In short, lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds, just like their mined equivalents. They were only made in a lab instead of being pulled out of a mine.
- What Are Lab-Grown Diamonds?
- What is the difference between mined and lab-grown diamonds?
- How are mined diamonds created?
- How are lab-grown diamonds created?
- Is growing diamonds in laboratories a recent invention?
- Are lab-created diamonds cheaper than mined diamonds?
- Are lab-created diamonds really better for the planet?
- Are lab-created diamonds really better for people?
- How is the diamonds industry reacting to the rise of lab-grown diamonds?
- How to buy lab-grown diamonds?
- Where to buy lab-grown diamonds?
- How to save on lab-grown diamonds and jewelry?
What is the difference between mined and lab-grown diamonds?
When it comes to cutting and polishing a lab-grown diamond, the processes are identical to mined diamonds. Likewise, the inspection and grading processes are the same and carried out by the same laboratories. As a result, they are indistinguishable from one another – on both the aesthetic and molecular levels.
The only difference between mined and lab-grown diamonds is that while mined diamonds were created billions of years ago and require extensive mining operations to be extracted from the Earth, a lab-created diamond can be made above ground in a controlled process which lowers cost, and energy consumption, and eliminates the negative impact on the local environment and society.
To explain why the production process makes lab-grown diamonds cheaper and better for the environment and society, we’ll dig deeper into how mined diamonds are extracted and exactly how diamonds are produced in the laboratory.
How are mined diamonds created?
Mined diamonds are extracted from Earth, where they were created by Earth’s massive pressure and heat making their way up to the surface through volcanic activity through billions of years. They are extracted from the depth of Earth through the process of mining (digging huge holes in the ground). This process involves significant costs and drawbacks compared to creating diamonds in the laboratory.
These disadvantages include but are not limited to:
- For every carat of a mined diamond, an estimated 250 tons of earth is shifted
- Diamond mining waste 7 times as much water
- Lab-created diamonds produce 6,000% less mineral waste
- The energy needed to produce 1 carat is 25 times higher than what is needed in the lab
- There are no damaging effects on the local environment, animals, or people
How are lab-grown diamonds created?
Lab-grown diamonds, also referred to as lab-created, man-made, synthetic, cultured, or engineered diamonds, are created in a laboratory that relies on the same process as Mother Earth using advanced technology to shorten production time dramatically.
There are two main methods for growing diamonds in a laboratory, and both methods create stunning diamonds as stunning as any mined diamond could ever be.
High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT)
The most common way to create diamonds in the lab is to mimic the same process that Earth relies on. That is, high pressure and high temperature, and the method is thus aptly named “High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT).” Grossly simplified, heat and immense pressure squeeze pure carbon atoms together to form a diamond. This was the method that was first used to create diamonds in a laboratory.
Less simplified, a diamond seed, which is a thin slice of an existing diamond, is placed among pure graphite carbon and exposed to the extreme heat of more than 2700 degrees Fahrenheit (1,500 degrees Celsius) and the crushing pressure of 1.5 million pounds per square inch (105,000 kg/cm²). The pure carbon surrounding the seed then melts. Finally, it’s cooled and forms a diamond around the starter seed.
Chemical Vapor Deposition
While the first method imitates how diamonds are formed deep under the Earth’s crust, the second method imitates how they are shaped deep in space in interstellar gas clouds. The Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) process relies on carbon-rich gasses that form around a seed. Unlike the HPHT approach, it requires less pressure, lower temperature, and less space.
First, a seed is put in a sealed chamber, which is then filled with a carbon-rich gas such as methane or hydrogen gas. When heated to around 800 degrees celsius (1500 Fahrenheit) and ionized, the gas turns into plasma, breaks apart, and the carbon atoms start to form around the seed. Carbon sort of “rains” on the seed, and atom upon atom are layered on top of each other. They stick to the seed one by one (a bit similar to 3D printing). Slowly (but much quicker than how mined diamonds are formed), the lab-grown diamond grows.
Recent technological improvements have made the CVD process more advantageous, gaining on the HPHT methodology. Both methods offer the same benefits over mined diamonds: lower cost, lower environmental, and lower negative societal footprint.
Is growing diamonds in laboratories a recent invention?
Growing diamonds in a laboratory is not a recent invention. Diamonds have been created in laboratories for more than 60 years, first successfully grown by researchers at General Electric (GE) in 1954. In the beginning, lab-created diamonds were not of gemstone quality and were solely made for industrial applications. The first gem-quality diamonds were produced in the early 70s in a lab. But it was not until recently that the production cost made them viable for mass consumption. In the past years, advances in technology further reduced the cost of producing gem-quality diamonds even below mined diamonds.
Are lab-created diamonds cheaper than mined diamonds?
Due to recent technological advancements, diamonds produced in the laboratory are now cheaper to make and buy than diamonds excavated from the ground. Moreover, they are not only more affordable but come with several added benefits, which we will go into below.
Are lab-created diamonds really better for the planet?
Yes, lab-created diamonds have clear and documented environmental benefits over mined. The main benefits are:
- Up to 25 times less energy use
- Up to 7 times less water use
- Up to 6,000% less mineral waste
- 100% less earth shifted (on average 250 tons of earth is moved for just 1 carat of diamond)
- 100% less disruption of animal habitats
- No holes in the ground have to be dug (other than for the building foundation of the lab)
Learn more about the environmental benefits of lab-grown diamonds in our in-depth article here.
Are lab-created diamonds really better for people?
Yes, lab-grown diamonds do not involve the potential adverse effects that mined diamonds do. However, diamond mining has historically and continues to have severe negative effects on mining countries and their people. Some of these include:
- Funding conflict and leading to corruption
- Human and workers’ rights violations
- Injuries and health-related issues
- Keeping developing countries dependent on resource extraction and harming industrial development
Learn more about the human and societal benefits of lab-grown diamonds in our in-depth article here.
How is the diamonds industry reacting to the rise of lab-grown diamonds?
Legacy diamond mining companies are spending a lot of effort trying to build up a story around mined diamonds being “natural” and that those lab-grown diamonds are different from mined diamonds (which, of course, is not true). They spend billions on advertising, and as lab-grown diamonds continue to disrupt the industry and diamonds’ affordability, they’ll continue to undermine (pun intended) diamonds that are not extracted from the Earth. Much like they did when they convinced us that we need to spend 2 months’ salary on an engagement ring and that it must be adorned by a diamond (all are something De Beers made up in their advertising campaigns).
While the diamond industry of yesteryear, on the one hand, is trying to convince us that mined diamonds are better than lab-grown, they are themselves investing in lab-diamond production. To avoid inflating their existing brands (and fat profits), they create separate lab-grown diamond brands that typically target a younger, less-affluent audience (read our review of the LightBox Jewelry brand here).
In our analysis, you can learn more about how the incumbent industry is reacting to the advent of lab-created diamonds in our guide to the future of lab-grown diamonds.
How to buy lab-grown diamonds?
Having learned what are lab-grown diamonds, the next step is to learn the art of buying lab-grown diamonds. It can be a complicated process and there is much to learn, but luckily we made a step-by-step guide to finding the perfect lab-grown diamond. In it, you’ll find concrete tips for saving money and getting a much better diamond for your budget.
Where to buy lab-grown diamonds?
If you already feel confident in your diamond-buying abilities, the next step is to find out where to buy lab-grown diamonds. Start by either reading our in-depth reviews of the best lab-grown jewelers or jump straight to our recommended best places to buy lab-grown diamonds.
How to save on lab-grown diamonds and jewelry?
Not only are lab-created diamonds 30-40% cheaper than the equivalent mined diamonds, but you can also save even more during sales on lab-grown diamonds.