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Are lab-grown diamonds the same as natural diamonds?

Updated: Mar 21

Stephen Alan's Jewellers - The Jewellery Blog


Lab-grown diamonds are definitely NOT the same as natural diamonds.

In fact, to go one step further...

A lab-grown diamond is about as close to a real diamond as a real diamond is to a nut and bolt (sort of - and we do contradict this a little further down, so keep reading).

And now we’ve got that off our chest…

In this short article, we delve into the key differences between lab-grown and natural diamonds, including:

What is a natural diamond?


To put it simply, a natural diamond, like the type you might have in your diamond wedding ring, or your diamond engagement ring, is essentially a piece of coal (carbon) that’s been deep (120km +) below the earths surface, under intense heat (900°C +) and pressure (45 k bar), for anything from 1 – 3 billion years or more.

Known as the hardest natural substance on earth, due to it’s unique atomic makeup, a natural diamond can only be cut or scratched by another natural diamond. A natural diamond also has an impressive melting point of 3548°C, and is one of the best natural thermal conductors around, making it ideal when used in electrical and electronic components, where heat needs to be redirected.

What is a lab-grown diamond?


Confession time…


As promised, in contradiction to our comment about lab-grown diamonds being like ‘a nut and bolt’ in relation to a natural diamond, a lab-grown diamond is a bit like a natural diamond, in the fact that it’s chemically, physically, and optically identical, but that’s where the similarities end.


Unlike a natural diamond, which forms over billions of years, a lab-grown diamond is produced synthetically, using various different methods, including:

  • The HPHT System – The HPHT (High Pressure High Temperature) system, begins with a slither of another diamond, otherwise known as a ‘seed’, which is put into a chamber with pure graphite, and placed under high temperatures (1,500°C) and extreme pressure (approx. 1.5 million pounds per square inch).


  • The CVD system – The CVD (Chemical Vapour Deposition) is where the diamond ‘seed’ is placed into a chamber with carbon-rich gas, and heated to 800°C, causing the gas to ‘stick’ to the seed, until a diamond eventually emerges.

So, does that mean natural and lab-grown diamonds are pretty much the same, just made differently?


It depends how you look at it…

If you’re looking for something that looks pretty, sparkles, and resembles a natural diamond, but has no more history than a piece of newly-moulded plastic or glass, and is produced in large quantities, at a relatively low-cost, a lab-grown diamond might be what you’re looking for.

But… (prepare for the soliloquy)


If your idea of a diamond is a stunning gemstone that started life as mountains were still forming, as the first lifeforms appeared on Earth… Through the dawn and decline of the dinosaurs, the emergence of the earliest mammals, the rise and fall of empires, through uprisings and revolutions, world-changing discoveries and inventions, the evolution of the arts, and the emergence of modernity, then a natural diamond is what you want.


But, diamonds aren’t cheap…


We agree, but think of the value of a natural diamond not in what it is, its chemical or atomic structure, but how it came to be, the stories it could tell, its rarity, the geological miracle that gave it colour, and the human intervention, as a master craftsperson took a relatively unimpressive-looking, semi-transparent stone, and used skills passed down through centuries, to form it into the shimmering centrepiece of that precious piece of jewellery that now symbolizes your eternal love, or that simply looks blooming gorgeous, with that little black dress.

Which is more sustainable – natural diamonds or lab-grown diamonds?


Like so many questions of this type, it depends who you ask. For example, a report on the sustainability from the Diamond Foundry, a US based synthetic diamond producer, heavily backed by the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, states that:


…it takes an entire factor more energy to extract an underground diamond from Earth than it takes to create one aboveground in a foundry.’

And in a report commissioned by the Natural Diamond Council (then The Diamond Producers Association):

'the greenhouse gas emissions produced mining natural diamonds is three times less than those created when growing diamonds in a lab.'


So, as you can see, the answer to which is more sustainable (environmentally), natural diamonds or lab-grown diamonds, is complex, and clouded in conflict between the two producers, but...

As jewellers specialising in bespoke, new and preowned jewellery, containing nothing but natural diamonds, here at Stephen Alan’s Jewellers, we keep a close eye on the natural diamond industry, including its practices regarding sustainability, and here are just some of the positives we’ve discovered:

  • Diamond mining benefits local communities

You might have heard strong arguments against this statement, but, according to the Natural Diamond Council, ‘80% of the value created by diamond mining, is retained by the local communities’.

  • Diamond companies give back

Modern, responsible and environmentally aware diamond mining companies, work closely with local governments, and invest in projects designed to help boost healthcare, housing, and mobility in communities in and around the mined area.

  • Diamond companies protect the land

Major diamond producing companies set up long-term, biodiversity conservation programs, designed to help keep the land safe for people and wildlife, long after mining is complete.

That’s all great, but what about conflict diamonds?

Ok, there is a darker side to the natural diamond industry, namely the market in conflict diamonds, otherwise known as blood diamonds – you may have seen the film Blood Diamond.

What is a conflict (blood) diamond?




Conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, are diamonds that have entered the market, usually from war-torn areas, and are linked to slavery, smuggling, and other brutal and barbaric tactics and exploitation, and have directly or indirectly funded wars.

What is the Kimberley Process?

Formed in 2003, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), named after Kimberley, the Northern Cape province in South Africa, is a multinational trade agreement set up by the United Nations to stem the trade in conflict diamonds.

This is done by insisting that any country that wants to participate in the diamond market, must guarantee that any diamond coming from their country has at no point funded wars against governments.


Does the Kimberley Process work?


Yes, the Kimberley Process works 'most of the time’, and has been a powerful combatant in helping to greatly reduce the number of conflict diamonds entering the natural diamond market around the world.


Although…


Critics of the Kimberley Process, claim that it only concentrates on preventing diamonds from funding wars, and not on preventing the forms of exploitation that still exist within the industry, a fact that would be vehemently disputed by Kimberley Process proponents.

Should I buy a lab-grown diamond as an ethical choice?

You could, as the production of lab-grown diamonds doesn’t appear to have any ethical implications, apart from when they enter the market, and certain, unscrupulous sellers, pass them off as natural diamonds.


But, the good news is, ethical natural diamonds, whose origins can be traced, are widely available. It just means choosing your jeweller carefully, and asking the right questions, namely the 4 Cs - Cut, Clarity, Carat and Certification.


Thanks for reading this article from the Stephen Alan's Jewellers Jewellery Blog, and if you enjoyed it, we'd love it if you gave it share to let others find out more about all things jewellery.

Sources:

www.naturaldiamonds.com

www.diamondfoundry.com

www.bbc.com

www.yourbirthstones.com


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