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Whether you are in search of the perfect diamond engagement ring or an anniversary gift, understanding your diamond options is important.
The diamond jewellery market was previously dominated by earth-mined diamonds. In recent years, laboratory-grown diamonds have become widely accessible. These diamonds are celebrated as a sustainable, ethical, and affordable choice for jewellery.
In this blog, we explain what is a lab grown diamond and highlight whether you should buy one for your diamond jewellery.
Lab-grown diamonds, also called engineered or man-made diamonds, are created in a controlled laboratory environment. High-tech processes mimic the conditions under which diamonds form in the Earth. Despite their man-made origin, these diamonds have the same physical, chemical, and visual properties as mined diamonds.
These are the two primary methods of growing engineered diamonds:
The Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) process involves a small piece of diamond and a chemical process to grow a diamond.
The process starts with placing a tiny piece of diamond, called a ‘seed’, in a CVD chamber. This chamber is then filled with hydrogen and methane, a carbon-containing gas. The ratio of these gases will impact the diamond's final qualities.
The CVD chamber is then heated to high temperatures, around 800 degrees Celsius. This extreme heat triggers the gas to form a plasma ball. Once the plasma ball forms, the carbon atoms from the gas begin to stick to the diamond seed.
The carbon atoms align themselves in a unique pattern that replicates the crystal structure of the diamond. This growth process, which occurs layer by layer, takes 5 -7 days or a few weeks to produce the final diamond.
High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) is another technique, developed in the 1950s, to produce lab-grown diamonds. This process mirrors the natural conditions that create diamonds deep beneath the Earth's surface.
A diamond seed is placed inside the HPHT chamber along with a carbon source, such as graphite, and a metallic catalyst. The chamber is then heated to 1300 – 1600 degrees Celsius with high pressures. The molten metal then dissolves the carbon source.
This molten carbon is then cooled, allowing the carbon atoms to start crystallising and forming a diamond. This process takes between 5 -7 days to a few weeks, depending on the size of the diamond.
As the name suggests, these diamonds are formed in laboratories. These labs use either the CVD or the HPHT process to produce stunning diamonds. The United States and China produce most of the engineered diamonds.
A common query in the lab-grown diamonds vs earth-grown diamonds debate is whether there is a difference in appearance. Lab-grown diamonds are 100% real diamonds. This means that there is no visual difference to the naked eye between a lab-grown and mined diamond.
After the rough diamonds have been formed through the CVD or HPHT method, they undergo a thorough examination. After the inspection, these diamonds are shaped and polished by skilled artisans. This results in a finished product that is indistinguishable in appearance from a mined diamond.
Diamond quality is determined according to the four Cs : cut, colour, carat, and quality. This standard was set by Robert M. Shipley, founder of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Like mined diamonds, the quality of lab-grown diamonds will vary.
We explore the quality of engineered diamonds according to the four Cs:
The cut of a diamond is a key factor that determines its sparkle and brilliance. The cut refers to the precision, symmetry, and polish of the diamond's facets. The cut is graded according to Ideal, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor.
A lab-grown diamond starts as a rough stone and is then shaped and faceted by a master diamond cutter. The standard of the cut will then impact the quality and brilliance of the lab-grown diamond.
Colour is another fundamental aspect when grading the quality of lab-grown diamonds. The diamond colour scale runs from D to Z. Colourless diamonds have a D grade, while diamonds with light yellow or brown hues have a Z grade.
Lab-grown diamonds can exhibit a range of colours. Factors such as the composition and concentration of gases can influence the resultant hue of the lab-grown diamond. This means the quality of these diamonds can vary.
Carat is the standard unit of weight for diamonds. It is an essential measure that impacts the size and the value of an engineered diamond.
Lab-grown diamonds can be produced in an extensive range of carat weights. The different carats will have different values and quality ratings. This diversity ensures that there is a lab-grown diamond suited to different preferences and budgets.
Clarity refers to the presence of inclusions and blemishes in the diamond. Inclusions are internal flaws such as feathers, clouds, or crystals. Blemishes are surface defects like scratches or chips. These characteristics can influence the appearance and value of a diamond.
Engineered diamonds can exhibit a range of clarity characteristics. Even with the regulated conditions of lab growth, inclusions and blemishes can occur during the formation process. This contributes to a spectrum of clarity gradings in these diamonds.
Reputable sellers will provide lab-grown diamonds with a quality certificate, such as the International Gemological Institute (IGI) certificate or the Hoge Raad Voor Diamant (HRD) certificate.
Why must you ask your jeweller for a certified diamond? The certificate is a verification that the diamond is lab-created and not a mined diamond or a different type of gemstone, such as a moissanite.
A certificate will provide a detailed report of the diamond's characteristics. It objectively assesses and documents the four Cs of the diamond. This offers reassurance about the quality and value of your purchase.
Certificates can also assure the ethical production of the diamond. It guarantees that your diamond has been created in a lab, avoiding the potential human and environmental issues associated with diamond mining. This makes a certificate essential for consumers seeking ethical and sustainable jewellery purchases.
Earth-mined diamonds come at a substantial cost due to the extensive process of diamond mining. This process involves significant manpower, heavy machinery, and high operational costs to extract precious gems from the earth. The mined diamonds are then sorted, cut, and polished, adding to the total cost.
Engineered diamonds can be 40% - 60% more affordable than mined diamonds. This is a result of the efficient HPHT or CDV processes used to grow these diamonds. Laboratories can create diamonds with fewer resources in a faster time, bringing down the total costs of these diamonds.
The controlled conditions of a lab also allow for more predictable diamonds to be produced. This reduces the costs related to wastage and quality control. As technological efficiencies continue to improve, the production costs of these diamonds are expected to decrease over time.
If you are looking for sustainable and ethically-sourced jewellery, lab-grown diamonds are a great choice.
The main problem with diamond mining is the lasting environmental impacts. Extensive mining operations cause soil erosion, deforestation, and disrupt local ecosystems. These operations can also lead to considerable water pollution and depletion.
In certain cases, the diamond mining industry has been linked to various social issues. These include child labour and exploitation of workers.
Lab-grown diamonds provide an ethical alternative as their production avoids these social issues, such as poor working conditions. From an environmental standpoint, these diamonds leave a much smaller footprint since they do not require disruptive mining practices.
Lab-grown diamonds are not entirely without environmental impact. The process of creating diamonds in a lab demands a considerable amount of energy. The sustainability of this energy usage depends on whether the lab utilises renewable or non-renewable energy sources.
Choosing to buy a lab-grown diamond depends on your values and budget. If ethical sourcing, environmental sustainability, and cost-effectiveness are important to you, then lab-grown diamonds may be a fitting choice. They offer the beauty and durability of a mined diamond but at a lower cost and with fewer ethical concerns.