Lab Grown Diamonds – Demystified
As technology transforms the fabric of our society, traditions are altered and redefined. In the jewellery industry, lab grown diamonds represent the beginning of a new generation. As with any new technology, it is not without controversy.
Traditionally, the jewellery industry is known for its secrecy and opaqueness. The recent embrace of lab grown gemstones leaves the consumer with many questions: are lab grown diamonds natural diamonds? Are they fake? Do lab grown diamonds have smaller carbon footprints? At Taylor & Hart, transparency is one of our core values, so we created a simple Q & A to give insight behind this new technology.
To create a truly informative piece, we also spoke to Ashley Moy, Senior Gemologist at the De Beers Group. Moy is an industry expert who started out as a lapidary and metal caster. Moy attended the GIA in 2015 and completed the GG program, and completed the FGA program in 2018.
What are the differences between a lab grown and a mined diamond?
Lab grown diamonds are made in laboratories using one of two methods. These laboratories either replicate the high pressure and high temperature (HPHT) found in the Earth’s mantle where mined diamonds are formed, or they use superheated gas (CVD) to grow the diamond crystal.
Sometimes, these diamonds are described as synthetic diamonds. This term isn’t technically correct, as these “synthetic diamonds” hold the same chemical and physical properties as mined diamonds.
Mined diamonds come from the Earth using large scale mining techniques; alluvial mining from riverbeds; and marine mining deep beneath the seabed.
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How are lab grown diamonds created?
An HPHT diamond (High Pressure High Temperature) is created by establishing what is essentially the same conditions in a lab, as in nature for mined diamonds. Mined diamonds in the earth are created miles underneath the earth’s surface, under extremely high pressure, and scorching temperatures of over 2000 degrees celsius. There are three basic manufacturing processes to create HPHT diamonds: the belt press, the cubic press, and the split beer (BARS) press. With each process the presses create an environment of high pressure and temperature, and using a small diamond seed placed in carbon, they form a diamond.
A CVD diamond (Chemical Vapour Deposition) is a recently invented technique, in which diamonds are grown from a hydrocarbon gas mixture. A thin slice of diamond seed is placed in a sealed chamber and heated to around 800 degrees celsius, and then the chamber is filled with other carbon rich gases such as methane. The gases are ionised into plasma using microwaves, lasers and other techniques. The ionisation breaks down the gases and allows the carbon to merge with the diamond seed, growing the diamond up layer by layer.
What are the advantages of a lab grown diamond?
The biggest benefits will be around environmental impact and access. Lab grown diamonds have some positive effects on the environment as they do not require large scale mining which does have an ecological impact. However, lab grown diamonds require an immense amount of energy to be produced, so the carbon footprint must be offset by other methods like renewable energy in order to be sustainable.
Due to their manufacturing process, lab grown diamonds are more cost effective than their mined counterparts, thereby allowing more people to own a diamond. Larger lab grown stones are available at more accessible price points, allowing customers to have more choices when designing or purchasing a piece of jewellery. To the millennial, the promise of an ethical, more accessible diamond is very attractive.
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What are the advantages of mined diamonds?
While mined diamonds are perceived to be socially and environmentally challenging, this could be a generalisation and a product of misinformation.
Mined diamonds can support communities in impoverished countries and is an incredibly important industry to countries across the globe. Growing diamonds in a lab is a remarkable new technology, but one possible downside is that it has the potential to threaten traditional industries and the livelihoods of the people who rely on them. The mined diamond industry often supports entire communities, towns and countries: The de Beers mines in Botswana are 50% owned by the government who relies on this industry to provide essential services to its citizens.
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Taylor & Hart supports the use of ethically sourced gemstones, our policy can be read about here.
What would you say to people who are concerned that a lab grown diamond will look inferior to a mined diamond?
Lab grown diamond quality has evolved considerably over the past 5-10 years. With this increased quality has come more attention being paid to the finishing (cut, polish, symmetry) of these diamonds. Like with mined diamonds, it depends on the cut for a diamond to achieve its maximum shine and brilliance. A lab grown or mined diamond of the same quality should be indistinguishable from each other, if both have been cut to the same level of precision.
Why does Taylor & Hart offer lab grown diamonds?
Lab grown diamonds have been cultivated for quite some time now but only recently got to a level of quality that attracted the mass market. We specialise in bespoke and as such, we want to offer our customers a wide range of options to help them craft the jewellery piece(s) of their dreams. Moreover, our company supports innovation and technological advancement–lab grown diamonds certainly exemplify both.
What are the challenges of selling lab grown diamonds?
The biggest challenges are around perception and value. A mined diamond takes millions of years to form in the Earth’s mantle, undergoing extreme temperature and pressure on its journey to the surface. The fact that a mined diamond survives this journey is a feat in itself. For this fact alone, no one can dispute that a mined diamond is incredibly special and rare.
A lab grown diamond is just that–a diamond produced by scientists in a laboratory. There is no metamorphic journey to the surface, there is no symbolism in this diamond because it hasn’t endured the test of time, in essence, there is no romance.
Regarding value, mined diamonds have historically increased in value every year. Lab grown diamonds are still fairly new to the mass market and we don’t have enough data yet on how they will maintain or even increase in value in the future.
Mined diamonds and lab grown diamonds have their advantages and disadvantages. At Taylor & Hart, we believe the best way to approach this topic is through research and complete transparency.
Both mined diamonds and lab grown diamonds have convoluted narratives around them, and we believe it is best for the customer to be aware of the misconceptions surrounding both, in order to make a well-informed decision. It is up to the individual to discover the best option for their jewellery, while never compromising on quality.