The pros and cons of lab-created diamonds

The first thing to know about laboratory-created diamonds (also known as synthetic or cultured diamonds) is that they are actually diamonds. It sounds obvious, but they need to be distinguished from diamond ‘substitutes’ such as moissanite and cubic zirconia (CZ). Unlike moissanite and CZ, lab-grown diamonds have exactly the same chemical, physical and optical properties as natural (mined) diamonds.

Synthetic diamonds of various colours grown by the high-pressure high-temperature technique 

There are two main methods for the production of lab-grown diamonds, HPHT (high pressure, high temperature) and CVD (chemical vapour deposition). HPHT stones are made by subjecting carbon in the form of graphite to extreme heat and pressure by means of a mechanical press and electrical current; CVD diamonds are ‘grown’ at much lower pressures by building up layers on a base surface from a surrounding carbon plasma cloud.

Synthetic diamond grown by chemical vapour deposition

Technology has been developed that allows gemological laboratories to distinguish between lab-grown diamonds and stones that grew naturally beneath the earth’s crust. However, from the perspective of a jeweller viewing a gemstone with a 10x magnification loupe, the two are indistinguishable. Since there is no practical difference between mined diamonds and lab-grown stones, a consumer faced with a choice between the two will base their decision on price, ethics, tradition and availability.

One advantage of lab-grown diamonds is that they tend to trade at a discount relative to mined diamonds of similar quality. How much of a discount can depend on the size of the stone, its quality and its shape, but can easily amount to 20%. This is a reflection of the fact that most consumers are still attracted to the traditional idea of a mined diamond, with the romantic notion of the stone having been formed millions of years ago miles beneath the earth’s surface. Synthetic diamonds currently only represent about 2% of the gem-quality market. One disadvantage faced by buyers of lab-grown diamonds can be lack of choice. The majority of synthetic stones are coloured, due to impurities in the manufacturing process. However most consumers are looking for white diamonds, and will tend to find that they can’t be as picky as they could be if they were choosing a mined stone.

A second advantage enjoyed by synthetic diamonds is that they are free of many of ethical problems that blight the wider diamond industry: they are produced in laboratories where employees enjoy proper health and safety standards, and fair wages. They don’t come from conflict zones, and aren’t sold to fund military activity. Against this, it can’t be claimed that they are entirely free of any environmental footprint. There is no information in the public domain to demonstrate how much energy is consumed in the production of a lab-grown diamond, but it can’t be insignificant. Moreover, there are other ways to source diamonds which are demonstrably conflict-free, safely produced, and fairly paid for – synthetic stones are not the only option.

Another ethical issue highlighted by lab-grown diamonds is one of disclosure. In practice, outside of a laboratory it’s impossible to tell the difference between a lab-grown diamond and a mined stone, but assuming equal quality  the mined stone will trade at a significantly higher price. For a while diamond dealers have been concerned that unethical colleagues will be tempted to pass off lab-grown stones as mined ones. So far, there is no evidence that this has happened to any significant degree, but it’s impossible to guarantee this couldn’t occur in future. There is certainly nothing wrong with the decision to buy a lab-grown diamond, but it should always be a conscious decision, and so lab-grown diamonds should always be disclosed as such.

You can view our selection of lab grown diamonds online if you wish to choose one for your engagement ring, or you can choose one of our conflict-free and traceable Canadian diamonds. We also offer a range of lab grown diamond jewellery including earrings, necklaces and cufflinks, all made with 100% recycled gold.

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