What is a Lab-Grown Diamond?
If you’re in the market for a diamond engagement ring, chances are at some point you’ll be asked to choose between a mined diamond or a lab-grown diamond for your ring’s center (primary) stone. Jewelers are increasingly offering both diamond types in stores and are eager to educate shoppers on the attributes of each.
While lab-grown diamonds have been available for decades, they’re still relatively new in the jewelry market. And you’d be excused for being confused about the difference between the two, and asking the question: What is a lab-grown diamond? To answer that, we need to start with the original diamond. You know, the one that we dig out of the ground.
Most people know what a mined (also called “natural”) diamond is, but just to review: a diamond is a precious gemstone consisting of a clear and colorless crystalline form of carbon, which is the hardest naturally occurring substance on earth.
Natural diamonds form deep underground in Earth’s mantle—we’re talking miles—formed by intense pressure and extreme temperatures, among other factors. And diamonds don’t grow overnight, or even over centuries. The formation process takes between 1 billion and 3.3 billion years (approximately 25% to 75% of our earth’s age), according to the Gemological Institute of America. So, diamonds close enough to the earth’s surface to be mined today are literally billions of years old.
Lab-grown diamonds have the same chemical properties as the ones mined from the earth; they possess carbon atoms arranged in the high-sparkle diamond crystal structure. Lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds. For real. The only difference between the two are their origins. Lab-grown diamonds were grown in a factory that copies (as best it can) the controlled conditions under which diamonds naturally develop, over a short period of time.
Lab-grown diamonds are made using two methods: high pressure, high temperature (HPHT) and chemical vapor deposition. How long does it take to make a lab-grown diamond? Approximately six to 10 weeks. Compared to a billion years, that’s some lightning-fast diamond production.
Which Is More Ethical—Lab-Grown or Mined Diamonds?
It depends on whom you ask. The gemstone industry has a long-standing disagreement about which diamonds type—natural or lab-grown—is the more ethical and sustainable one.
Both present a mixed bag on this front. Growing diamonds in factories requires large outputs of power amount of power. In 2018, JCK magazine polled lab-grown diamond growers on just how much energy is expended to create one carat of polished diamond, and estimates given by lab-grown diamond producers ranged from 77 kilowatt hours to 1,700 kilowatt hours. Digging mines to unearth diamonds also requires significant energy use, though certainly less.
But on the lab-grown side, there are no “conflict” lab-grown diamonds. Every land-grown gem is intentionally created by highly skilled experts—the supply chain (the steps of a diamond being nurtured into existence and then sold) is transparent and “clean” with lab-grown diamonds, every time. Conversely, diamond mining companies are legally required to follow a set of mandates, called the Kimberly Process, designed to keep mining a safe, environmentally responsible, and ethically sound industry, but it’s not an air-tight system.
The world’s top diamond miners, including De Beers, also do a lot of good. They give back to the communities they work in in a multitude of ways, from providing fair-wage jobs that bolster human opportunity and local economies, to building schools and establishing charitable funds for projects that better the lives of miners, their families, and communities.
How Much Do Lab-Grown Diamonds Cost?
Like mined diamonds, lab-grown diamonds have a range of prices dependent on the 4Cs: carat, cut, clarity, and color. But, generally speaking, lab-grown diamond prices tend to be 20% to 40% lower carat-for-carat than mined diamonds.
When they’re all real diamonds, why is there a price difference between the two? Factors that have kept lab-grown diamond prices lower include public acceptance (lots of people are curious about them, but not everyone is sold on them) and the lab-grown industry’s desire to compete with mined diamonds—growers are purposely setting the price a bit low to sweeten their product’s value proposition.
Whether you choose a mined diamond or lab-grown diamond, you’re still getting a 100% real diamond. Follow your heart and mind and choose what you love!
Insuring Lab-Grown Diamonds
If you do opt for a lab-grown diamond engagement ring, know that Jewelers Mutual does insure lab-grown diamonds.