Meghan Markle rocks them, jewelry giant Pandora doesn’t sell any other kind and millennials are snapping them up as a more PC version of bling. And yet, when it comes to lab grown diamonds, you may still be asking yourself if these man-made beauties are forever.
If you’re not aware of all the reasons why laboratory-grown diamonds have acquired dazzling popularity in recent years, we’re here to fill you in on their advantages, how they’re made and their long-term value. Plus, we’ll let you know about some of the best places to buy one.
But first, let’s start with a very important question.
Are Lab Grown Diamonds Faux or For Real?
The first burning question that most people have when it comes to these symbols of modern love is, “Are lab-grown diamonds real diamonds?”
To cut directly to the chase, yes!
Although not grown inside the earth’s crust for millions of years, lab-created diamonds are made from carbon and have the same physical, chemical and optical properties as natural diamonds. Which means they’re just as hard, just as durable and (most importantly for some) just as sparkly.
In fact, even a certified gemologist can’t tell the difference between a natural diamond and a lab-grown one without specialized equipment.
So What About Cubic Zirconia?
That being said, you may still have some lingering questions about diamond simulants like cubic zirconia and moissanite, which are indeed fake.
Unlike lab-grown diamonds, the chemical composition of these two man-made substitutes is completely different from a natural carbon diamond. Cubic zirconia is a crystal that does not occur in nature but is made from powdered zirconium and zirconium dioxide that are melted together to form a stone.
While it may look like a diamond, it has neither the color nor the hardness and will dull over time. The same can be said of another popular imitation diamond, moissanite. Although it began as a naturally occurring mineral, the supplies weren’t large enough to make even small pieces of jewelry.
Eventually, scientists were able to replicate it in a lab in order to make it commercially available. However, just like cubic zirconia, moissanite is not made from carbon and has neither the lasting shine, durability or hardness of a natural or lab-grown diamond.
The Mined Diamond Dilemma
Although synonymous with love and marriage today, diamonds didn’t really become popular as the centerpieces of engagement rings until a clever marketing campaign by De Beers proclaimed that “diamonds are forever” and thus positioned them as a must-have item for brides to be.
According to De Beers, when the campaign was launched in 1947, diamond engagement rings only comprised about 20% of the market. By 1990, however, that number had climbed to a whopping 80%.
Obviously, this was great news for De Beers and the diamond trade in general. But as the lust for a shiny ring finger grew, a dark side to the business began to emerge. What came to be known as “blood diamonds” were not only used to fund violence, but their unethical production severely exploited both miners and their families.
Fortunately, thanks to a protocol known as the “Kimberley Process” instituted in 2003, these harmful practices have been significantly reduced. But even today, it can be difficult to trace diamonds back to the exact mine they came from, leaving a murky area for buyers with humanitarian concerns.
Miha Rolc, owner of Capucinne chimes in on the issue:
The act of mining for diamonds and other gemstones has its own pros and cons: the environmental impact can be devastating, and rarely are the miners employed under fair working conditions. However, there are operations that use ethical farming, and these villages depend on this work.
Mined diamonds offer a narrative of how something ordinary can naturally become rare and beautiful under pressure. As the Little Prince tells us, “It’s the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important.” But for those of us looking to reinvent tradition and move towards environmentally safe sustainable jewelry, lab-grown diamonds are an exceptional alternative with just as much sparkle.
The Advantages of Lab-Grown Diamonds
In addition to ethical concerns, lab-grown diamonds also have other advantages that appear to be fueling their growing appeal.
Lab-Grown Diamonds Are Less Expensive
The production of lab-created diamonds isn’t exactly cheap. In fact, when it comes to cutting, polishing and inspection, the costs are exactly the same as mined diamonds. The difference in price has mostly to do with a shorter supply chain.
Whereas a naturally occurring diamond first has to be mined, a lab-grown diamond skips over this part of the process. Essentially, because they touch fewer hands, lab-created diamonds usually cost anywhere from 20 to 30% less than mined diamonds (depending on the dealer).
And those are savings that could help you pay for a honeymoon or up the bling factor by being able to afford a bigger piece of jewelry.
Lab-Grown Diamonds Are Easier on the Environment
For a single natural diamond carat to be extracted from the earth, an estimated 250 tonnes of earth have to be moved. In fact, some diamond mines are now so huge that they can be seen from outer space with Nasa’s Terra satellite.
The upheaval that diamond mining produces has been associated with water pollution due to acid drainage, and it puts more pressure on already endangered species, such as India’s dwindling tiger population.
However, when it comes to the emission of greenhouse gases, the difference between mined and lab-created diamonds is less clear cut. A 2014 report from consulting firm Frost & Sullivan claimed that if lab-created diamonds are produced with renewable energy, only a few grams of carbon are released in the process.
However, another study by the firm Trucost estimated that a single polished lab-grown diamond produces 510kg of CO2 while a mined diamond only produces 160kg. But, it must be noted that this study was commissioned by the Diamond Producers Association, which includes some of the world’s largest diamond miners like De Beers, Alrosa and Rio Tinto.
Obviously, carbon emissions are still a grey area when it comes to mined versus lab-created diamonds. But there’s no denying that mining diamonds does take a major toll on the earth and its inhabitants. If you’re considering buying a lab-grown diamond for environmental reasons, you may want to verify that the company that produced it uses renewable energy and is certified carbon neutral by a third party.
How Lab-Grown Diamonds Are Made
Naturally occurring diamonds are definitely one of the most alluring and mysterious wonders mother nature has to offer. Many geologists believe that the gems we mine today were formed 1 to 3 billion years ago when carbon was exposed to intense amounts of heat and pressure far below the earth’s surface.
Although not formed over billions of years, lab-grown diamonds are also produced with extreme amounts of heat and pressure. There are two different processes with which a lab-created diamond can be produced.
The first process is known as High Pressure High Temperature. In HPHT as it is known, a small diamond fragment is placed into carbon where it is then exposed to temperatures of 1500 degrees Celsius and pressurized (by a belt, cubic or split-sphere press) to 1.5 million pounds per square inch.
The carbon then melts and begins to form a diamond around the starter seed.
In a different manufacturing process called Chemical Vapor Deposition or CVD, a diamond seed is placed in a sealed chamber with carbon-rich gases and heated to 800 degrees Celsius. Using microwave technology, the gases are then broken down through ionization. As the carbon is freed from these gases, it adheres to the diamond seed and begins to form a gem.
Although the processes for making lab-grown diamonds may not be quite as mysterious as naturally formed gemstones, you have to admit that the technology is pretty mind boggling!
Not All Lab-Grown Diamonds Are Alike (The 4Cs Still Apply)
Although they may have been created in a lab, not all man-made diamonds are alike. Whether they are mined or lab-grown, all diamonds have to be cut and polished. They are then sent to a gem lab to be graded and certified according to the 4Cs – cut, clarity, color and carat.
In brief, this refers to how well a diamond was cut down from its raw form, how flawless and clear it is and how big it is. All of these qualities will determine how much you pay for the stone in the end. A few of the most well-known gem labs include:
Gemological Institute of America (GIA)
Antwerp World Diamond Center (AWDC)
American Gem Society (AGS)
International Gemological Institute (IGI)
Gemological Science International (GSI)
It’s important to keep in mind that this process is also somewhat subjective. So if you want to ensure the quality of your lab-grown diamond, you may want to talk to your jeweler about which lab they use and why.
A Diamond’s Price Is Not Forever
While there are many good reasons for buying a lab-grown diamond, an investment may not be one of them. Yes, a natural diamond’s price drops about 50% once you walk out the door with it. But as diamond prices continue to rise over the years, it will hold its value better than a man-made stone.
Why? Good old supply and demand. As the manufacturing process for lab-created diamonds becomes more streamlined and more are produced, their value begins to drop.
Although it may not be important to everyone, it’s worth mentioning that the lab-grown diamond you buy today may cost a lot less a few years (or even months) from now.
The Best Places to Buy a Lab-Grown Diamond
Despite the investment factor, there are plenty of good reasons why many people opt for lab-grown diamonds. If you’re in the market for a man-made diamond, here are a few of our favorite companies to consider:
Backed by Hollywood A-lister and friend to the environment Leonardo Dicaprio, VRAI sells diamonds grown in their American (certified) zero-emissions, hydro-powered lab.
This means that their jewelry is not only environmentally friendly, but that they cut out middlemen and their costs altogether. You’ll find classic styles like diamond stud earrings and tennis bracelets, as well as engagement rings. You also have the option to create your own ring if you like.
Brilliant Earth sells both lab-grown and natural diamonds with a focus on responsible sourcing and sustainability. Their lab-grown diamond jewelry features a variety of rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. They also offer lab-created colored diamonds.
Another nice thing about this company is that most of their jewelry is made from recycled precious metals and comes in sustainable packaging.
You can also have the option to create your own lab diamond ring or earrings on their site.
Clean Origin is another company that offers only lab-grown diamonds. If your biggest concern is price, this may be the company for you. Their large selection of jewelry, loose diamonds and engagement rings offers some of the most reasonable prices in the market, and all of their gems are IGI or GCAL certified to ensure quality.
They also give you the option to create your own ring if you like.
If it’s variety you’re looking for, James Allen has one of the largest catalogs of loose lab-grown diamonds in all shapes and sizes (all of which are certified by IGI). This well-respected retailer is also known for great customer service and offers a lifetime warranty that includes wear and tear and routine maintenance.
What started out as an Etsy store has since become a top-rated jeweler that serves customers all over the world. While you can always go for a classic diamond, Capucinne also offers high end gemstones and the ability to customize your own piece.
But no matter what you decide, you can be sure that you are making an ethical purchase from a conscious company.
If you ethically sourced, made in the US is your thing, then you should know about Âme. Each diamond is made in a New York laboratory that utilizes the most sustainable and ethical practices. In fact, Âme matches global Sustainable Development Goals and is part of the Responsible Jewellery Council.
Each piece is inspired by architectural geometry and organic shapes found in nature. Look familiar? You may have noticed this brand on Gal Gadot and Zendaya.
Not only will you be getting quality jewelry, but you will also be sure you’re getting New York’s latest trends—it’s a win win!
A Brilliant Ending
Along with their price and more ethical and environmentally friendlier origins, lab-grown diamonds are making a wave in the diamond industry and starting to create a vast appeal among buyers. And though manufactured in a laboratory, these gems really are genuine, high quality diamonds that share all the same physical, optical and chemical properties of stones mined from the earth.
If you’re looking for more socially conscious bling that’s also easier on your wallet, a lab-grown diamond may be the brilliant answer you’re looking for. No, they may not have the same mystique or hold their value like a natural diamond. But they do hold lasting value for the future of the earth. And what’s more important than that?
And for those concerned about your rep: nobody can tell the difference! In the end, the choice is up to you. But considering their more humane origins, lab-grown diamonds may just be the ultimate tribute to modern love.
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Best Places to Get Lab Grown Diamonds: