With Valentine’s Day only a few weeks away, loved-up couples everywhere are beginning their search for the perfect diamond engagement ring, whether that’s a natural or lab-grown diamond. If you’re in the market for a diamond ring this month, you may be wondering which of these is the right diamond for you. Here’s a brief guide to lab-grown v. natural diamonds to help you decide!
It may surprise you to learn that lab-grown diamonds (also known as ‘created diamonds’) are just as much real diamonds as those formed billions of years ago under the earth’s surface. They should not be confused with diamond simulants like cubic zirconia or Moissanite, which look like diamond but are not. Essentially, lab-grown and natural diamonds are chemically and optically identical—even an expert gemmologist cannot tell them apart without specialist equipment.
Natural diamonds occur when carbon is exposed to extreme pressure and high temperatures in the earth’s mantle, and are brought to the surface by volcanic eruptions. Though the mineral classed as diamond is pure carbon, most natural diamonds contain trace amounts of other elements, usually nitrogen or boron. These elements give a natural diamond colour, whether it’s a mere hint or something more intense. A natural diamond will usually also contain inclusions—tiny foreign objects that you may have heard called ‘flaws’. The more heavily included the diamond, the lower its price.
Lab-grown diamonds have been around since the 1950s, though it wasn’t until the late 1980s that they became commercially available. In the decades since then, lab-grown diamonds have increased in quality and size. A lab-grown diamond takes a matter of weeks to grow as opposed to billions of years!
Some, like their natural counterparts, are subjected to extreme pressure and high temperatures in carefully controlled lab conditions, during a process called HPHT, which stands for—you guessed it—High Pressure High Temperature. The carbon is heated and pressed between two pieces of metal, through which an intense electrical pulse is passed. Because of the presence of metal, diamonds created using HPHT do contain inclusions, though usually fewer than similarly priced natural diamonds.
HPHT isn’t the only way to create a diamond, though. CVD (Chemical Vapour Deposition) breaks down a carbon-rich gas and deposits the carbon atoms on a diamond ‘seed’. This method tends to produce purer diamonds. Other methods of diamond manufacture exist, but are not yet able to create gem quality stones.
So, which one should you choose?
A lab-grown diamond is ideal if you:
- Want more gemstone for your money—lab-grown diamonds can cost up to 40% less than natural diamonds.
- Want a diamond with greater clarity and a better colour than you could afford from a natural diamond.
- Want to make sure there’s zero chance of accidentally buying a conflict/blood diamond. According to the BBC, 70% of millennials would choose a lab-grown over a mined diamond. Meghan Markle wears lab-grown diamonds, so you’ll be in good company!
A natural diamond is ideal if you:
- Feel that the origin and age of your diamond really matters to you. The romance and old-school glamour of a natural diamond can’t be surpassed. Many people are won over by the symbolism and thrill of owning a gemstone that has been around for billions of years.
- Are willing to ensure your diamond is ethical by doing your research.
- Want to support the livelihoods of ethical miners in developing countries.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t let anyone pressure you into buying either a lab-grown or natural diamond. Buying a diamond is a big decision—and one that must come from the heart!
I hope that helps.
Kim Rix GG GIA