August 4, 2021

Lab Created Diamonds vs Natural

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With lab diamonds just a fraction of the price of natural diamonds, is it right for your engagement ring? Read this guide first to understand the differences.

Lab diamonds have gotten huge in recent years. In 2020, 6 to 7 million carats of lab-grown diamonds were produced.[1]

But there are still some misunderstandings about lab diamonds. Because they're also known as synthetic diamonds, some question their authenticity.

Here is an in-depth look at lab-created diamonds vs natural diamonds, so you can make the right decision.

Are lab created diamonds worth anything? If you want to buy a lab created diamond for ethical reasons or to save money, then they're absolutely worth buying. Otherwise, it all comes down to personal preference and resale value (if that's a factor you prioritize).

Lab vs Natural Diamonds Comparison

Natural diamonds and lab-created diamonds have the same physical and chemical properties, so they are every bit the same gemstone. The main difference is in how it's made. Because of this, lab diamonds are much cheaper.

First, here's a quick overview of how natural and lab diamonds differ (and are the same), and their pros and cons.

Natural Mined DiamondsLab-Created Diamonds
CreationFormed over billions of years deep under the earth's crustMass produced in labs over just weeks
PropertiesMade of carbon atomsMade of carbon atoms
Quality Comes in a range of sizes and color and clarity gradesComes in a range of sizes and color and clarity grades, but lab technology can produce higher-quality diamonds
PricingMore expensive; $5,000 - $6,000 for a good value 1-carat diamond 50%-60% (or even more) less than price of natural diamonds
Hardness10 on the Mohs scale10 on the Mohs scale
Fancy ColorNaturally colored diamonds are rare and expensive Lab technology can make colored diamonds for much cheaper
CertificationGraded based on 4CsGraded based on 4Cs

Are lab diamonds the same as diamond simulants?
Lab diamonds, or synthetic diamonds, are NOT diamond stimulants. Diamond simulants are things that look like diamonds (such as CZ and moissanite), but do not have the same physical properties. Lab diamonds and natural diamonds have identical properties.

Pros and Cons of Lab Diamonds

Pros:

  • More than 60% cheaper than natural diamonds
  • Can buy a larger diamond for same budget
  • Colored lab diamonds are much more affordable
  • No destructive mining
  • Made in labs with fair wages

Cons:

  • Not rare or special
  • Low resell value (if at all)
  • Lab growing is still energy intensive

Pros and Cons of Natural Diamonds

Pros:

  • Each diamond is one-of-a-kind
  • Seen as a luxury product
  • More resell value
  • Many jewelers have buy-back or trade-up programs

Cons:

  • Much more expensive
  • Environmental and ethical concerns about the mining industry

Now that we're covered the overview, let's get into the deeper discussion.

How Natural and Lab Diamonds are Made

Natural diamonds are made deep under the earth's crust. Over billions of years, extreme heat and pressure crystallized carbon atoms into diamonds. They're then rapidly brought to the earth's surface by deep volcanic eruptions. From there, they're mined, cut, and polished to become sparkling gems.

Lab diamonds are grown by replicating the conditions in a lab using machines. A diamond seed is placed into a chamber where heat, pressure, and gases make the diamond grow. This process happens in just a few weeks.

Once grown, you get a diamond with the exact same carbon structure and chemical properties as those formed in the earth.

There are two methods for creating lab diamonds (HPHT and CVD). For a more in-depth discussion of how those work, jump down to this section.

Do Lab Diamond and Natural Diamonds Look Different?

Since lab diamonds have the same properties as earth-mined diamonds, there is no visual difference. You (or any other observer) will not be able to tell that a diamond is lab created.

Lab-created diamonds reflect light in the same way. They have the same brilliance, fire, and scintillation as natural diamonds.

Even gemologists can't tell the difference just by looking. They would need to use specialized machines to tell them apart. GIA has a screening device that can distinguish between natural diamonds, lab diamonds, and diamond stimulants.

For example, with the special machines, a skilled gemologist may be able to spot the layers of diamond growth, which is a sign that it's a CVD lab diamond.

Since it's impossible to tell them apart without advanced equipment, vendors are required to label lab-created diamonds so that buyers know exactly what they're getting.

Lab Diamond vs Natural Diamond Pricing

The retail price for lab diamonds has gone down significantly. When they were first sold in large jewelry retailers, lab diamonds were about 25% cheaper than natural diamonds. Now, you can find them at just half the price or even less.

Let's look at some current pricing*. We're using real examples from James Allen, as it sells both natural and lab diamonds at competitive prices.

Natural DiamondLab Diamond
0.7 carat, round$2,280$820
1 carat, round$5,430$1,620
1 carat, princess$3,800$1,580
1.5 carat, round$11,290$2,860
2 carat, princess$14,640$4,620
3 carat, round$34,880$11,560

*Pricing information from in-stock diamonds as of 7/5/21. As a benchmark, all diamonds above are H color, VS2 clarity, and Ideal cut. These are our recommended specs for best value.

As you can see, lab-created diamonds are now 60%-70% cheaper than natural diamonds. For the same gemstones with the same properties, lab diamonds are the clear winner if you want to maximize budget.

Why Are Lab Diamonds so Cheap?

Natural diamonds have a limited supply. Diamond mines have a life span - they can't just produce an unlimited number of diamonds.

Plus, most diamonds found in mines are not gem quality. So it's rare to find diamonds large enough and in good enough quality for engagement rings.

On the other hand, labs can make unlimited quantities of diamonds. As lab technology gets better and better, they can produce larger and better quality lab diamonds for cheaper.

According to a report commissioned by Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), it costs $300 to $500 per carat to produce a CVD lab-grown diamond today. In comparison, the cost was $4,000 per carat in 2008. [2]

Lab vs Natural Diamond Certification

Lab diamonds and natural diamonds are both graded the same way based on the 4Cs - carat, color, clarity, and cut.

The difference is that most lab diamonds are not certified by GIA and AGS. Usually, for natural diamonds, we recommend these two labs, as they have the highest grading standards and consistency. These lab certifications are more expensive, so lab diamonds are usually not sent to these labs.

Instead, you'll find that most lab diamonds are graded by IGI, GCAL, and HRD. In this case, IGI (International Gemological Institute) is probably the most reliable lab certification for lab diamonds.

Are Lab Diamonds Forever?

We've all heard that a diamond is forever, but what about lab diamonds?

Since lab diamonds have the same physical and chemical properties as natural diamonds, they are just as durable. Both rate 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, which is the hardest gemstone available.

This means you don't have to worry about your lab diamond getting scratched and cloudy. However, just like natural diamonds, they can still chip from a hard impact if hit just right.

Like with any precious jewelry, it's still important to be careful. With proper care and protection, your lab diamond should last forever.

Resale Value

This is one downside to lab-created diamonds. Since they are mass-produced in labs, the resale value is weak. There's no historical or rareness value.

In general, though, diamonds do not have much resale value, but lab diamonds are even worse.

With a natural diamond, you may be able to get 50% of the value back. Some diamond retailers have a buyback or trade-up program for natural diamonds, but it's usually not applicable to lab diamonds.

In general, you shouldn't expect to make a profit selling an unwanted diamond. Unless you have a very rare colored diamond, or an exceptionally large and high-quality stone, diamonds are not good investment pieces.

Environmental and Social Concerns

We all know that the diamond industry has had a dark past. While blood diamonds are no longer an issue, there are still eco and human rights concerns about the diamond mining industry.

According to a report by Diamond Foundry (producer of lab diamonds), a single diamond carat requires 200-250 tons of earth to be mined.

Diamond mining has huge impacts on the environment, such as deforestation and soil erosion. Plus, a lot of mines still have problems like child labor, poor wages, and unsafe working conditions.

In comparison, lab diamonds are created in safe lab environments with fair wages. So in that sense, lab diamonds are the more ethical choice.

But an in-depth article by JCK points out that both mining and lab growing are energy-intensive. In fact, both processes use about the same amount of energy. We still need more data to see if lab diamonds are truly more sustainable.

Also, this debate may not be as clear-cut as you think. The diamond mining industry provides jobs to millions. Many poorer regions rely on diamond mining to survive. If everyone shifted to lab diamonds, that's also taking away their economies and livelihood.

How Lab-Created Diamonds are Made

There are two methods to made lab diamonds. Both start with a carbon seed, just like a natural diamond.

  1. High Pressure/High Temperature (HPHT)
    HPHT is an old method that started in the 1950s. This method imitates the natural environment where diamonds are created.

    Small diamond seeds are placed into a press that generates very high pressure and high temperature (over 2000°C). This grows the seeds into larger diamonds, like a sped-up version of what happens beneath the Earth's surface.

  2. Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)
    This is a newer technology that started in the 1980s. CVD doesn't require extreme conditions, so it's more efficient. It can produce bigger and higher-quality diamonds more quickly.

    A small diamond "seed" is placed into a sealed chamber, which is filled with a carbon-rich gas mixture and heated to 800°C. The carbon is activated and attaches to the diamond seed, atom by atom, until they grow into diamonds large enough for cutting.

    These days, most lab diamonds for jewelry are made with the CVD method.

    You can read more in-depth about these 2 methods and the differences from GIA.

Bottom Line: Which One Should You Buy?

Hopefully, this guide has provided you with a fair comparison of lab and natural diamonds. We're not saying one is better than the other. Certainly both have their pros and cons.

In the end, lab diamonds and natural diamonds are the same stones with the same properties. The decision may come down to your budget.

If you're looking to get the most bling for your buck, a lab diamond is the best choice, as prices are up to 70% cheaper. You can buy a larger and better quality stone for the same money.

If you're a purist, a natural diamond from the earth may give you that more special feeling - as long as you're willing to pay for it.

References

  1. ^ Washington Post, Pandora ditching mined diamonds for lab-grown ones, Retrieved 7/5/2021
  2. ^ Bain & Company, The Global Diamond Industry 2018, Retrieved7/5/2021

Anna G is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a diamond jeweler comparison and reviews website. Write to Anna G at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

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