A natural diamond is a precious stone used to create beautiful, and often meaningful, jewelry. But what about lab-made diamonds, the newest player in the diamond industry? As the availability of lab-made diamonds increases each year, it's important to know what they are and how they compare to natural diamonds.
How Are Natural Diamonds Created?
What makes a diamond so special is how it forms and how long it takes to do so. The process begins deep in the earth where conditions are exactly right. Pure carbon undergoes extreme pressure at a very high temperature for billions of years to become a diamond. It takes anywhere from one to three billion years for natural diamonds to form. Volcanic eruptions bring diamonds to the surface inside of rocky formations. Then, miners extract these precious stones for processing and sale.
How Are Lab-Made Diamonds Created?
Scientists grow lab-made diamonds using one of two different processes. These methods take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months to create a diamond. The first method mimics conditions needed on Earth to form natural diamonds. This high-pressure, high-temperature process creates HPHT diamonds. They grow in 14 directions and have a distinctive shape.
Chemical vapor deposition is the second method used to create lab-made diamonds known as CVD diamonds. This process begins with a diamond seed and a carbon-rich gas, such as methane. Gas molecules are broken down into carbon and hydrogen atoms. These atoms are then deposited on a diamond seed in order to create a square-shaped diamond. Most CVD diamonds undergo further treatment to enhance or change their color.
Why Were Lab-Made Diamonds Created?
Lab-made diamonds were created as a more affordable option to natural diamonds. It's also a much more sustainable way to access diamonds when compared to mining them from the Earth. Scientists use common elements to create lab diamonds over a very short period of time, making diamonds more widely accessible.
Are Lab-Made Diamonds Real Diamonds?
Yes, lab-made diamonds are real diamonds. Their chemical make-up is identical to natural diamonds. They offer the same hardness, look, and sparkle. Lab-made diamonds come in the same shapes and sizes, too. The only way for someone to know that your diamond wasn't naturally grown was if you told them. Lab-made diamonds are also graded for their color and clarity, though on a different scale than the natural diamond grading system so as not to cause any confusion between the two.
How Can I Tell the Difference Between Natural and Lab-Made Diamonds?
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is the leading authority on diamond certifications. The GIA identifies and grades gemstones in laboratories around the world. They also provide the latest education and technology to certified gemologists so that they can tell the difference between natural and lab-made diamonds for you.
Professional gemological laboratories and sophisticated devices are the only reliable ways to distinguish differences between natural, lab-made, and simulant (fake) diamonds. Gem Certification & Assurance Lab (GCAL) and International Gemological Institute (IGI) are two other reliable sources for lab-made diamond certifications of authenticity and grading.
What Is the Cost Difference Between Natural and Lab-Made Diamonds?
One of the advantages of purchasing lab-made diamonds is their price. Lab-made diamonds make diamond jewelry ownership more affordable and accessible for more buyers. These diamonds usually cost 30 to 50 percent less than natural diamonds of the same size and quality. Less work and natural resources go into the creation of a lab-made diamond, so that's why you see such a significant reduction in price.
What Is the Difference in Value Between Natural and Lab-Made Diamonds?
Another reason lab-made diamonds cost less is that they aren't valued as highly as natural diamonds. Lab diamonds are a new addition to the market. Changes in technology and increased availability have led to unsteady long-term market values. The resale value on a lab diamond is much lower than a natural diamond. Natural diamonds have been a tradition for more than a century. They're prized for their history, mystique, and rarity, so they typically retain their value even years after purchasing.
Do Lab-Made Diamonds Have Flaws?
Yes, most diamonds, whether natural or lab-made, have flaws known as inclusions. These flaws occur when the diamond is being made in the lab or in the Earth. Think of them as a diamond's birthmarks. Most often trace amounts of nitrogen become trapped in the pure carbon, which leads to variations of color. The clearer and less yellow a lab-made or natural diamond is, the higher its clarity grade and its value. Feathers, clouds, and pinpoints may also be visible in diamonds.
Is a Lab-Made Diamond a Diamond Alternative?
No, a lab-made diamond is a real diamond with the only difference being its origin. Cubic zirconia and moissanite are not diamonds. They both mimic the look of real diamonds but are a diamond alternative or simulant. They sell for much less than lab or natural diamonds and are not as hard as diamonds either.
Cubic zirconia is a synthetic mineral that is colorless and flawless. It shows scratches over time since it isn't as hard as diamond. Moissanite is incredibly rare in nature, so it's also created in a lab. It's made from silicon carbide and can be colorless or near-colorless. It's harder than cubic zirconia and sparkles more too.
How Do I Choose the Right Diamond?
Choosing the right diamond for yourself or a loved one is a big decision with many factors. Our buying tips and on-site jewelry experts can provide you with more information about purchasing diamonds. We're happy to answer any further questions you may have about diamonds, including how to care for them so they stay beautiful for years to come.
Are you celebrating an important milestone soon? Reach out to us today so we can help you find the best diamond jewelry for your engagement, wedding, or anniversary. Our collection is sure to make your special occasion feel even more magical.
Disclaimer: Martin Busch Jewelers only carries natural diamonds. This article is for educational purposes only.
Image via Flickr by James St. John