One of the biggest trends in jewelry these days is lab created diamonds. With origins in the 1950s, this product was only used for industrial purposes up until the last decade. Then, as now, you needed a natural diamond seed to grow something larger. Now, you can get high quality specimens in larger sizes for jewelry. With that in mind, how do lab created diamonds compare with their similar natural counterparts? Do lab diamonds deliver in terms of environmental or social responsibility? Are they a great investment? Let’s take a look.
Origins of Lab Diamonds
It is well known by geologists that natural diamonds are the result of carbon getting compressed at high temperatures and pressure in Earth’s crust. For scientists to make an artificial version, they need to replicate the natural formation process closely enough that the resulting product has the same basic properties as diamonds. That means that it must be essentially pure carbon crystal with a hardness of 10. This has been achieved in two different ways: High Temperature, High Pressure (HTHP) manufacturing, and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) manufacturing.
HTHP is the older method, and it has been in use since the 1950’s. Here, carbon atoms are pressed into crystals under high temperature conditions. Over time, the carbon crystallizes around a tiny seed of natural diamond. When the desired size is reached, technicians remove the crystals and let them cool down.
More recently, the CVD method has allowed for the manufacture of larger diamonds that can be used in jewelry. With Chemical Vapor Deposition, a high carbon gas like methane is super-heated to form plasma. This releases the carbon, which then crystallizes around a tiny diamond seed that gets removed later. Over a few weeks to months, the diamond grows large enough to cut for jewelry.
Moissanite is Silicon Carbide which occurs in nature as extremely rare mineral. Dr. Moissan first discovered it in Arizona and mistakenly thought it to be a diamond, eleven years later in 1904 he discovered that it was Silicon Carbide which is found in Meteorites and in extremely rare rocks on the planet mostly from the upper mantle of the crust of the earth or in diamonds and are actually inclusions in those rocks. Because they are so rare, it is necessary to create them in a lab in order to reproduce them.
Its hardiness is almost as hard as a diamond 9.5 on the Mohs scale, while a diamond is 10. It’s the only comparable carbon base, lab grown gem that has many of the necessary qualities needed to pass as a natural diamond. Due to its conductivity it allows light to flow through it to give it the brilliance a diamond has. Unfortunately, it’s used often for scams and sold as a diamond since often even the diamond testers mistakenly read it as a diamonds. In comparison to a lab grown diamond, Moissanite only costs in the hundreds of dollars and is a great alternative for price conscious consumers.
Origins of Natural Diamonds
As their name suggests, natural diamonds are something formed by Mother Nature. Millions of years ago, when the earth was still young, there was a lot of carbon trapped in Earth’s crust. Some of this was exposed to high amounts of heat and pressure, which resulted in crystals forming. Over time, the natural diamonds were sent to the earth’s surface by erupting volcanoes, trapped in a mineral called Kimberlite. This expulsion of diamonds from the earth’s core is similar to the human body expelling glass over time. To obtain natural diamonds, we must mine them.
Lab Grown Diamond Advantages, debunked
Besides the “cool factor” that lab diamonds enjoy, why do people consider buying them? Let’s take a look at the reasons given for buying lab diamonds.
There’s no denying that the upfront purchase price of lab diamonds is lower than their natural diamond counterparts by about 30%-40%. Budget conscious young people will find this tempting. After all, why not spend the same amount of money and get a larger diamond? In fact, lab diamonds aren’t the bargain that they’re purported to be. For one thing, that 30% savings you see now is a significant change from a couple years ago, when lab diamonds were more expensive for comparable quality. As the supply of lab diamonds increased, the price has been in a sharp decline that’s expected to continue.
As a result, you can expect lab created diamonds, and the jewelry made from them, to decrease in value over time. Even now, jewelers will not buy a lab created diamond secondhand because of the risk they’ll lose money. By contrast, natural diamonds have a secondary market. While you’ll likely lose money if you sell a natural diamond soon after it’s been purchased, as diamond prices rise this depreciation may reverse. Minimally, you will get a large percentage of your money back, or depending on how well you purchased or how long later, you can make a profit. Natural diamonds are a commodity and Lab grown will never be.
Proponents of lab diamonds often market their product as more environmentally friendly than mined natural diamonds because making diamonds in a lab consumes less carbon than mining them. However, this is a misconception. For one thing, mining is a much cleaner operation than it used to be. Mining companies are socially responsible, keeping energy use to a minimum and often reclaiming land after mine closures.
By contrast, making lab diamonds takes a lot of energy. The kilns and presses must be heated to an extremely high temperature, and this energy must come from somewhere. A few manufacturers use sustainable practices, but most burn huge amounts of fossil fuels. Industry estimates state that diamond mining releases less carbon into the atmosphere than diamond manufacturing.
Finally, lab created diamonds are often marketed as superior to natural diamonds in terms of social responsibility. In particular, there is concern that natural diamonds can fund wars and human rights abuses in source countries. Lab diamonds, in contrast, are claimed to not have this problem.
Fortunately, we have an answer for this too. Back in 2003, the United Nations and member states developed a certification program called the Kimberley Process. This requires that for rough (uncut) diamonds to be exported or imported from participating countries, they must have a special certificate. These certificates verify that the diamonds were mined from legal sources that are free from conflict. In addition, some source countries such as Canada and Australia are conflict-free by definition.
Lab diamonds don’t have an advantage over natural diamonds in either environmental impact or social responsibility. Furthermore, price shouldn’t be the reason you buy a lab diamond, either. When purchasing a diamond, it is important to consider its value over time. Sometimes it’s necessary to sell the diamond, or you might choose to upgrade an old ring. In both cases, with a lab diamond ring you would only recover the scrap value of your setting, while natural diamond rings retain much of their value. Hold the natural diamond ring long enough, and you might even make money. If you want to save money, it’s better to trust your jeweler to help you pick the natural diamond that gets the most overall value. In time, you’ll be glad you did.