If you’ve been spending some time in jewelry stores doing your pre-splurge reconnaissance (which you should), you may have come across the term synthetic diamonds. Also called lab diamonds, lab grown diamonds, or man-made diamonds, these glittering gems are often a source of confusion among jewelry shoppers.
Buying a lab created diamond can be a great choice for the eco-conscious, budget-conscious consumer. They’re ethical, sustainable, affordable, and they don’t tear up poor Mama Earth in the mining process.
However, navigating the landscape of this new player on the diamond market can be overwhelming. Let’s look at some of the considerations when shopping for man-made diamonds.
What Are Lab Created Diamonds?
Laboratory grown diamonds are very real diamonds that have been grown in a controlled laboratory environment, rather than in the wilds of the earth’s upper mantle. Like natural diamonds, they are made of heated, highly pressurized carbon and exhibit the same qualities of light reflection and refraction (ie. sparkle). In short, man-made diamonds and naturally formed diamonds are geologically identical.
Synthetic diamonds (not the same as simulants) tend to be about 30% cheaper than natural diamonds of the same quality and carat weight. In addition, the prices of natural diamonds are rising faster than the prices of lab diamonds, so this price gap will only grow wider.
How Are Lab Created Diamonds Made?
Lab diamonds form when gemologists try to replicate the process of nature. This can be done with one of two methods: HPHT, which stands for “High Pressure High Temperature”, and CVD, which stands for “Chemical Vapour Deposition”.
HPHT is a process similar to what happens under the earth’s surface: a minuscule diamond “seed” is inserted into a piece of raw carbon and exposed to intense heat and pressure — up to 2000 degrees celsius, and 870,000 pounds per square inch (!). After a few weeks, this laboratory process matures into something that would take billions of years to form naturally.
A more recently developed method, CVD exposes that same diamond seed to gases rich in carbon like methane and hydrogen. The gas is then ionized and heated so that the carbon atoms cling to the diamond at their center. After a few weeks, the carbon atoms build layer upon layer into a whole rough diamond.
Although they share the same geological properties as natural diamonds, each of these methods produces a diamond shape in a slightly different way. By examining the patterns of growth within the diamond, gemologists can determine whether or not the diamond was man-made and, if so, which method was used.
Top Tips When Buying a Lab Created Diamond
Contrary to popular belief, not all laboratory grown diamonds are flawlessly identical. They can have inclusions and color variations just like natural diamonds.
When choosing a man-made diamond, the best value tends to be in the near colorless G, H, and I color range, and VVS1-SI1 clarity. The type of inclusions found in lab grown diamonds are a little different than those found in natural diamonds, but they’re considered and graded the same way. You want a diamond that’s “eye clean”, or free of detracting inclusions and blemishes visible to the naked eye.
As with natural diamonds, the only cut grade you should ever spend your money on is Ideal, Excellent, or Very Good. Diamond cut is the single biggest contributing factor to a diamond’s beauty, more so than any other grading consideration.
The last grading criteria is carat. Because lab diamonds are so much cheaper than natural ones, most people can afford to splurge on a diamond with a higher carat weight. Buying a man-made diamond is a great way to get a big rock on your finger for a lower price.
Do Lab Created Diamonds Hold Their Value?
But I have to tell you that when it comes to investing in a commodity’s resale value, laboratory-grown diamonds are one of the worst.
While the price of natural diamond jewelry is steadily rising every year, the value of man-made diamonds is plummeting. This is largely because as our laboratory technology grows more advanced, production costs decline and this becomes reflected in the value of the diamonds that are produced.
If you see a lab-grown diamond being sold for 15% less than an identical natural counterpart, you might think it’s a fantastic deal — until you see the same diamond the following year being sold for 30% less than you paid for it.
When trying to resell a pre-owned diamond, you can expect to get anywhere from 20-60% of its original value. With a lab grown diamond, you’d be lucky to get a fraction of that amount.
A man-made diamond may be stunning and everything you hoped a diamond would be, but the only long-term value it will have is the memories you put into it. It is not a good choice for someone looking for a financial investment.
Pros and Cons of Buying Lab Created Diamonds
Pro: they’re affordable.
Buying a man-made diamond means you can get a larger gem of higher quality than you would if you were shopping for a natural diamond. Lab diamonds can be up to 30% lower than their natural-born cousins, and that gap keeps getting bigger.
Insider secret: if a jeweler has a lab diamond item that’s been in the shop for a while, there will probably be some flexibility on the price — they’ll want to sell it before the prices sink any lower.
Pro: they’re more environmentally friendly.
Although the synthetic diamond production process isn’t flawless, it’s undeniable that they have less of a negative impact on the earth and the people in it. The production of man-made diamonds requires a great deal of electricity, but lab diamonds don’t tear giant holes in the land, disrupt the balanced ecosystems there, or cause rifts in the lives of the people who occupy those lands.
Plus, they’re completely renewable — there may be a day in the future where all of our diamonds are grown synthetically, and you’ll be known as a forward-thinking trendsetter.
Pro: they have verified origins.
With so much contention and political strife surrounding the locations of major diamond deposits, some consumers are wary about trusting natural diamonds at all. While these issues have been heavily reduced thanks to movements like the Kimberly Process, there are still some uncontrolled diamonds on the jewelry market and the unease persists.
Con: they have no intrinsic value.
By this same reasoning, lab grown diamonds aren’t worth very much after their initial purchase. While jewelry is never really a get-rich-quick scheme, synthetic diamonds in particular hold almost no value at all.
This may bother you if your ring quickly becomes worth less than you or your partner paid for it, and it’s certainly a problem if you hope to resell it further down the road.
Con: they’re not one of a kind.
Part of the beauty of natural diamonds is their unique geological fingerprint — the pattern of internal inclusions and growth patterns that make your gem identifiable as yours and yours alone.
Since lab grown diamonds are grown in large batches one after the other, they lose the individual quality of natural stones.
Con: they have no tradition.
While many modern women may not have a problem breaking the mold, there’s certainly something to be said for taking your place in a long lineage of natural diamond lovers.
When you wear a natural diamond, you have the personal satisfaction of knowing that the most precious of all precious gems has become a part of your story. This is an unquantifiable luxury that no lab grown gemstone can match.
Lab Diamonds FAQ
Yes! Laboratory grown diamonds have identical geological and optical properties as natural diamonds. The only difference is that these man-made diamonds have been formed over a much shorter period of time in a regulated lab environment through modern technology.
Man-made diamonds start at around $800 per carat and go to around $5000 per carat for stones of very exceptional quality. In general, synthetic diamonds cost around 30% less than natural ones, though sometimes this gap can be even bigger.
Lab diamonds aren’t completely free of an environmental footprint – their production requires a very high energy output, which isn’t great for the earth. However, their impact on the land and its ecosystems is far less than that of natural diamonds. In addition, lab diamonds have transparent, verified origins and are certifiably conflict-free.
Afraid not. While treating any jewelry as an investment is a bit of a gamble at the best of times, lab diamonds in particular don’t hold their value very well. The important thing is that they sparkle in a way that makes you happy. Just know that if you think you may want to try to resell it sometime in the future, you’re likely to be disappointed.
It’s uncommon, but not unheard of. Fluorescence in diamonds is a rare property that causes some diamonds to flow under ultraviolet light. Fluorescence is seen more often in synthetic diamonds that have been color-treated, and the ultraviolet glow can be blue, yellow, or green.
Will there be a Lab Diamond in Your Future?
In the end, choosing and wearing a lab diamond is a very personal decision. You may decide that a clean, transparent, eco-conscious lab diamond engagement ring is the right gem for your personal lifestyle, or you may be drawn to the long, luxurious history of natural diamonds instead.
If budget is a factor, you may want a lab grown diamond because you can get so much more for so much less, but it might also grate on you later knowing your stone has no monetary resale value.
Whatever you choose, the most important thing is that the stone encapsulates all your happy memories and even happier possibilities of the future.
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