Demand for lab grown diamonds has increased dramatically in recent years. They look identical to natural diamonds, from their colour, to how they're cut, and how they sparkle. This article will help you choose between lab grown vs natural diamonds, as we look into what lab grown diamonds are, their properties, and how they're created, and answer the question of how they compare to natural diamonds.
What are lab grown diamonds?
Lab grown diamonds are exactly as the name suggests, real diamonds grown in a laboratory.
Both lab grown and mined diamonds are made of the same element (carbon) arranged in an identical molecular structure, but a lab grown diamond is grown in a lab, whereas mined diamonds were created billions of years ago, deep beneath the earth's crust.
Previously lab grown diamonds were known as 'synthetic diamonds', but in 2007, this term was dropped as the GIA (The Gemological Institute of America) recognised lab grown diamonds as genuine, authentic diamonds. That is to say, a lab grown diamond is a real diamond, just like a mined diamond. They are also sometimes referred to as lab-created diamonds or cultured diamonds.
Key similarities and differences
Physically, chemically and visually, lab grown and natural diamonds are identical, with exactly the same hardness, scintillation and fire. The key differences are how they're created and their price.
When you look at a lab grown and natural diamond side by side, even a professional jeweller is not able to tell the difference. The two can only be distinguished with the use of sophisticated laboratory equipment.
Because of this, it is important when you purchase a diamond that it comes with a certificate or gemological report from a reputable authority such as the GIA since this will tell you whether or not the diamond is a natural diamond or a lab grown diamond.
How lab grown diamonds are made
Lab grown diamonds are made of carbon, just like natural diamonds, and go through a similar growth process to produce a rough diamond crystal.
Two methods are currently used to create lab grown diamonds: High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD).
Both processes require a 'seed' diamond to be placed into a sealed chamber before intense heat is applied. The HPHT method, as the name suggests also requires very high pressures, whereas the CVD method works at low pressures. In both cases, a carbon source (graphite in HPHT, carbon diamond and methane in CVD) is also in the chamber and provides the carbon atoms which crystallise on the diamond seed to grow the rough diamond over a period of about two to six weeks.
Colour & Clarity
As with natural diamonds, a lab grown diamond's value is determined by the 4Cs; carat, colour, clarity, and cut.
Where carat is a measure of a diamond's weight, and therefore its size, colour, clarity and cut are all measures of quality.
Like natural diamonds, lab grown diamonds vary in colour and go through the same colour grading process. D colour is completely colourless, and therefore the highest colour grade a diamond can get. The colour grades go down to Z, where the diamond will is very noticeably tinted, usually a faint yellow.
Diamond clarity refers to the presence of imperfections known as blemishes and inclusions with the crystal. The more prominent any flaws, the lower the clarity grade. A diamond with no flaws visible at x10 magnification is graded as flawless (FL). Like with natural diamonds, lab grown diamonds come in the full range of clarity grades, from flawless (FL) to heavily included (I2).
The important point is that lab grown diamonds are graded to exactly the same standards as natural diamonds so that a lab grown diamond of any particular colour or clarity grade is the same colour or clarity as a natural one of the same grade.
Brilliance & Fire
The term 'brilliance' is used a lot when talking about diamonds. The brilliance refers to how much white light reflects off the diamond, creating the sparkle and shine that we have come to associate with them. In cases where the light has a rainbow colour effect, caused by the dispersion or refraction of light, this is known as 'fire'. The cut of a diamond determines its level of brilliance and fire and is graded in exactly the same way for both lab grown and natural diamonds. Diamonds with the best cut are graded Excellent by the GIA and Ideal by IGI. If you examine a lab grown and natural diamond together with the same cut grade, they would have the same level of brilliance and fire.
There are a finite number of natural diamonds in the world, which means supply is constrained, and this creates a significant price premium. In contrast, the supply of lab grown diamonds is much less constrained, and as a result, they are much less expensive than mined diamonds.
This means that for any given budget, you will be able to get a larger and/or higher quality lab grown diamond for your money than you would a mined diamond. And although the prices of lab grown diamonds do increase in line with the 4Cs, prices increase much less dramatically if you opt for a larger or higher quality stone.
Certification and grading
Lab grown diamonds go through the same grading and certification process as natural diamonds.
There are more than twenty gemological labs worldwide that can certify and grade diamonds, but four of the most well-known names are:
- Gemological Institute of America (GIA)
- The International Gemological Institute (IGI)
- The Diamond High Council (HRD)
- American Gemological Society (AGS)
At each lab, diamonds are assessed according to the 4Cs by several experts in order to determine each grade. The GIA is perhaps the best-known and most prestigious of all the gemological laboratories, and at Ingle & Rhode, all of our natural CanadaMark diamonds come with GIA certificates. The GIA also certifies lab grown diamonds, though the vast majority of lab grown diamonds are certified by IGI.
The benefits of lab grown diamonds
When it comes to lab grown diamonds, there are several benefits to be had compared to buying a natural one.
- Conflict-free - lab grown diamonds are not produced in conflict zones, but unfortunately the same cannot be said of mined diamonds. So-called "blood diamonds" funded wars in Sierra Leone and Angola, and now, Russia produces one in three mined diamonds, which are helping to fund its invasion of Ukraine. Very few natural diamonds come with certificates of origin (our CanadaMark diamonds being a rare exception) so it is usually impossible to know if a mined diamond came from Russia or not, for example.
- Sustainability - mining for diamonds inevitably has an impact on the local flora and fauna around the mine site and makes irreversible changes to the local landscape. Lab grown diamonds have a much lower environmental impact, although it is important to recognise it takes a lot of energy to grow diamonds in a lab. For lab grown diamonds to be truly sustainable it is important that production be powered by sustainable energy sources.
- Affordability - the supply of lab grown diamonds is much less constrained than that of mined diamonds, and as a result, there is much less of a price premium. For any given budget you can purchase a bigger and higher quality lab grown diamond than you can a mined diamond.
The disadvantages of lab grown diamonds
As lab grown diamonds are physically and visually the same as natural diamonds, there aren't any practical downsides to purchasing one. However, for some people, a lab grown diamond may not have the same romantic appeal as a natural diamond, so you'll need to consider whether your partner might have a preference one way or another if you're purchasing a diamond engagement ring, for example.
Also, since there is not yet an established market for secondhand lab grown diamonds, there is a degree of uncertainty around their resale value. That said, purchasing a diamond is usually a romantic gesture rather than an investment, and even natural diamonds are rarely a good short-term financial investment.
Should you buy a lab diamond or a natural diamond?
Everyone will have their views and preferences when choosing between a lab grown diamond and a natural diamond. However, if you're solely going by appearance, there is no difference between the two, and there are many good reasons to buy a lab grown diamond over a natural one.
Are lab grown diamonds worth anything?
Yes! While lab grown diamonds are more affordable than mined diamonds, they can still be worth many thousands of pounds, depending on their size and quality.
Are lab grown diamonds real?
Yes! Lab grown diamonds are just as real as mined diamonds, both being composed of carbon atoms arranged in the same crystal structure. The only difference between the two is that one is grown in a lab, while the other was created beneath the earth's crust billions of years ago.
Are lab grown diamonds GIA certified?
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA), which is one of the most well-known gemological authorities in the world, does indeed certify lab grown diamonds. However, most lab grown diamonds are certified by the International Gemological Institute (IGI).
Can you tell if a diamond is lab grown?
By eye, it is impossible to identify whether a diamond is lab grown. This is one of the reasons it is wise to only purchase a diamond with a gemological report or certificate from a reputable authority since this will confirm whether your diamond is lab grown or natural.
The demand for lab grown diamonds has increased dramatically in recent years, driven primarily by their ethical credentials and lower price. That said, lab grown diamonds are not necessarily genuinely sustainable unless they are produced using sustainable energy.
If you're keen to learn more, read our Guide To Lab Grown Diamonds.