Natural vs Lab Grown Diamonds
Lab grown diamonds and naturally mined diamonds. Technically, chemically, and optically, they’re both diamonds, but they differ in their origins and how they’re produced. Known for their unmatched brilliance and iconic sentiment, let’s explore the differences between the two so you’re empowered to make a choice based on what’s most important to you. We have an extensive database of both diamond types which you can browse on our natural diamond search or our lab grown diamond search.
Natural vs Lab: Compared
Swipe to see the comparisons if you’re using a mobile device.
|Natural Diamonds||Lab Grown Diamonds
|Optical Appearance||Will look identical to a lab grown diamond when polished||Will look identical to a natural diamond when polished|
|Physical Structure||Will display a different physical internal structure to a lab grown diamond (this is how grading laboratories can tell them apart!)||Will display a different physical internal structure to a natural diamond (this is how grading laboratories can tell them apart!)|
|Sustainability||It depends||It depends|
|1ct Round Price|
(of equal quality grades)
|Store of Value||Increasing||Decreasing|
|Our position||Sentimental and rare, natural diamonds come at a premium price point but will one day be a heirloom you can pass down as it retains value over time.||A larger diamond for less, but without the certainty it will remain valuable in the long-term like a natural diamond.|
How are natural diamonds formed?
Natural diamonds are famously the only gemstone made of a single element, carbon. They’re formed under high temperature and pressure conditions for billions of years hundreds of miles beneath the earth’s surface.
In areas of the globe where the conditions and temperatures have been ripe to produce diamonds, volcanic eruptions deep in the earth eject the stones towards the earth’s surface via kimberlite pipes, to then be unearthed by miners.
The crystal structure of a diamond is isometric, which means that the carbon atoms are bonded in the same way in all directions making the diamond not just one of the hardest natural substances, but also so visually extraordinary.
How are lab grown diamonds created?
As their name suggests, lab grown diamonds are just that–diamonds that have been created in a laboratory using advanced technology, such as Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) or High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) methods, which mimic the natural process of diamond formation.
The most common way is CVD, where you begin with a ‘slice’ of a diamond where the crystalline structure has already formed. This is usually called the diamond ‘seed’ and it’s then placed in a vacuum where the carbon molecules assimilate to the diamond seed to grow, just like a natural diamond. If you want to get even more technical, you can learn more about the lab grown diamond growing techniques here.
General Electric created the first batch of lab grown diamonds back in the 1950s under a programme called Project Superpressure, but they’ve only very recently become commercially available as they’ve become more affordable and their quality has improved in the last ten years.
What’s the difference between natural and lab grown diamonds?
There are no gemological differences. Both natural and lab grown diamonds are pure carbon, so technically and chemically speaking, they’re the exact same. To the untrained, naked eye, you’d never know the difference.
The quality and durability of these stones are the exact same. Lab grown diamonds are created in controlled conditions and treated to ensure their internal characteristics are the same as natural diamonds.
Can you tell the difference between lab grown diamonds and natural diamonds?
Not with the naked eye, but you can via testing, which is how grading laboratories determine what is a natural or lab grown diamond. The appearance of the two diamond types is the same given the fact that they share the exact same structure and properties, but physically a lab grown diamond will display differences in the structure of the diamond. That’s how grading laboratories are able to test and tell them apart.
Are lab grown diamonds real?
Lab grown diamonds are real and should not be considered a diamond simulant. Diamond simulants are gemstones engineered to mimic diamonds, without actually being diamonds such as moissanite and cubic zirconia. These stones have an entirely different chemical makeup to diamonds, whereas lab grown diamonds and natural diamonds share the exact same structure and properties.
Diamond simulants actually look very different to diamonds. The biggest telltale sign will always be the way the light reacts with the stone’s facets, better known as “sparkle”. The facets in a moissanite or cubic zirconia often won’t be as bright, crisp or as lustrous as a diamond–lab grown or natural.
Is it accurate to call a lab grown diamond a ‘synthetic’ diamond?
No. In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission revised their jewellery marketing guidelines, which achieved a few important changes to help consumers understand the differences between natural and lab grown diamonds. They stated that the term “synthetic” cannot be applied to lab grown diamonds because they are made from pure carbon, just as mined, earth-grown diamonds are. At the same time they insisted that the words “laboratory grown” are always used before the word “diamond”, when promoting lab diamonds to ensure customers know the difference. For natural diamonds, retailers do not need to state “natural”. If a retailer sells a natural diamond it is sufficient to just describe it as a “diamond”.
How are natural diamonds graded?
Due to their iconic and exceptional reputation, we only use Gemological Institute of America graded centre natural diamonds. The GIA is an international non-profit organisation dedicated to producing consistent, accurate and unbiased grading reports. Each stone is graded twice, by different graders, to ensure they arrive at the same grading report.
How are lab grown diamonds graded?
There are three certification bodies that we use for lab grown diamonds.
Since 2007, The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has graded the colour, clarity and cut standards of lab grown diamonds–with additional information as to whether the diamond was created via CVD or HPHT growing technique. However, instead of using the terms like VS2 to grade clarity or ‘D’ to define colour, GIA chooses to identify colour and clarity with descriptive terms. Because of this, some people prefer International Gemological Institute-graded lab diamonds. Known as the IGI, this certification body uses the global standard for grading colour and clarity. The third certification body is the Gem Certification & Assurance Lab, known as GCAL.
GIA, IGI and GCAL all laser inscribe a unique number on the girdle of the diamond that can be viewed under 50x magnification, which corroborates the unique number of its certification, where you’ll find the stone’s grading details. IGI adds the words ‘lab grown’ alongside this laser inscription.
While sharing the same internal structure and properties, lab grown and natural diamonds do not share the same journey before being cut and polished ready to be sold, which is hardly surprising as one comes from miles beneath the earth’s surface and the other is born in a laboratory.
CVD-grown diamonds, HPHT-grown diamonds and natural diamonds all look different in their rough state. Once cut, only specialist equipment can be used to tell lab grown diamonds and natural diamonds apart, which identifies the presence of nitrogen within the stone. Lab grown diamonds contain no nitrogen, whereas natural diamonds pick up tiny trace elements as they form in the earth.
(CVD left, HPHT centre, natural right) Photo by GIA education
How sustainable are lab grown diamonds?
Both natural and lab grown diamonds impact the environment–let’s explore how each of them do.
The CVD process involved placing the diamond ‘seed’ in a carbon gas chamber where the temperature is between 1500 and 2800 degrees celsius.
The HPHT process refers to ‘high pressure and high temperature’. The diamond ‘seed’ is placed into a carbon gas chamber at around 3000-4000 degrees celsius with high levels of carbon gas.
Typically, all lab grown diamonds go through HPHT treatment. Even if a diamond is grown via CVD, it will undergo the HPHT process in order to give them the best finish possible. While lab grown diamonds do increase the transparency of the supply chain, they also require an energy-intensive process to create.
Are lab grown diamonds more ethical?
Stating that lab grown diamonds are ‘sustainable’ is an ongoing source of contention. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned a number of jewellers who were in violation of the FTC Act as they were making unsubstantiated claims of their jewellery being sustainable or eco-friendly. It has been suggested that a lab grown diamond requires 250kWh to produce. For comparison, the average UK home will use 7-15 kWh of energy per day.
How sustainable are natural diamonds?
In contrast, a report from the Diamond Producers Association claims that natural diamonds are better for the environment than lab grown diamonds, due to the carbon-intensive process of producing lab diamonds, but there’s no denying that natural diamonds have an environmental impact on the earth. Up until now we’ve focused on working with only the best suppliers in the world that share our sustainable and ethical standards.
Our ideal scenario is that we continue to aim for better quality third party auditing processes to ensure our diamond supply chain is truly ethical or sustainable. Everledger is one such solution given that it relies on blockchain-based records throughout the supply chain as opposed to a physical paper trail which is far less reliable. At present, blockchain diamonds are something we can offer in a limited capacity given their current rarity. We encourage customers with a specific interest to enquire directly requesting a blockchain diamond and our expert team will do what they can to source options for you where available. As our suppliers begin to adopt this as industry-wide best practice, so too our offering will expand.
Considering all points, there’s not yet a consensus on whether lab grown diamonds are actually a more sustainable option, but we do anticipate that more manufacturers will be looking at ways to offset their emissions in the coming years.
So if lab grown diamonds are real, why do they cost less than natural diamonds?
The answer lies in the efficiency of their creation. The time and cost of producing a lab grown diamond are a lot less than that of finding and mining a natural diamond and that’s excluding the billions of years they take to form. The natural diamond mining industry requires extensive amounts of land, established infrastructure and workforce in order to mine.
In contrast, it takes just one laboratory with a small, but highly specialist, workforce just a couple of weeks to create a lab diamond. After an initial high investment into the hardware and technology required, this one laboratory can continue to produce lab diamonds at scale – whereas a natural diamond mine will eventually exhaust its resources and run out of diamonds, at which point, the miner or mining company will need to acquire more land to explore.
Because diamond mining is nowhere near as cost efficient as lab grown diamond production, lab grown diamonds see a lower, more affordable price point–often between 60-80% less than natural diamonds.
It’s also important to note that many livelihoods are dependent on the ethically-established diamond mining industry and are often the primary source of income in mining-dependent communities.
The CanadamarkTM hallmark programme is an initiative of the Dominion Diamond Corporation to assure the integrity of the supply chain of Canadian diamonds from mine to retailer. The programme supports local communities by investing in infrastructure, education, healthcare, and training for their employees. Each stone’s origin and authenticity can be verified using a unique code that is provided in the certification document.
In addition, because of the diamond mining industry, Botswana shifted from being one of the poorest countries in Africa to one of the most successful medium-sized economies with more than 80% of diamond profits staying within the country. Much of this income benefits the citizens through access to free education and healthcare, an expansion of career opportunities in the diamond industry, and a plan for a more diverse economic future.
All being said, the cost of a natural diamond is absolutely worth it when you consider them as a rare, natural marvel–it’s taken a great deal of investment, exploration, time and effort to source and mine. Therefore, lab grown diamonds do not devalue natural diamonds which are priced as an entirely different entity due to their journey to market.
Will a lab grown diamond hold its value?
The price of lab-grown diamonds is falling at a significant rate, and shows no signs of stopping or reversing. It’s important to take this into account when considering your purchase–the same lab diamond bought for $1,000 today may be priced at a fraction of that amount in just one or two years.
Your intention probably won’t be to sell your lab grown diamond jewellery, but in the event you’d like to at some point in the future, it’s unlikely you’d get what you paid for it. It’s widely anticipated that lab grown diamond production will continue to boom in coming years and with an increased level of supply, prices will continue to fall.
Following historical and existing trends, it’s highly likely that the value of lab grown diamond jewellery will continue to decrease in value for years to come.
Why does Taylor & Hart sell both natural and lab grown diamonds?
Our ethos is all about designing and crafting extraordinary engagement rings and making the custom experience accessible to everyone. We’ve made love our life’s work after all.
We don’t own or have relationships with individual diamond mines or diamond manufacturers. In fact, one of the key benefits of our business model is that we mostly don’t own or hold any diamond stock. We have live access to all the world’s diamonds and only once a customer has told us what they’re looking for, do we go into the diamond market and purchase a diamond for them – so we have no good reason to push either natural or lab grown diamonds. We literally search the earth to find a diamond that meets your requirements.
Our decision to start selling lab grown diamonds came following a few considerations:
- Customers became increasingly aware of the product in a short period of time and as awareness grew, so did requests for us to sell them.
- For many customers, achieving the ring aesthetic they’re dreaming of requires a larger diamond. We want to respect customers’ price points and lab grown diamonds enable customers to have a larger diamond should they wish.
- The quality of lab grown diamonds has vastly improved over the last few years. Previously only lower colours and clarities were achieved such that they fell outside our quality guidelines. Now lab grown diamonds are being sold in higher colours (D-H) and higher clarities (IF-VS) that fit within our stringent quality standards.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of lab grown and natural diamonds and which one should I choose?
We encourage our customers who are making a decision between the two diamond types to spend a moment to consider if a lab grown diamond is for them.
Don’t be influenced by one-sided claims by companies that exclusively sell natural diamonds or lab grown diamonds, as such extreme views will likely be one-sided.
Our CEO, Nikolay Piriankov, has this to say:
In many ways a lab grown diamond and a natural one are exactly the same – in particular their gemological properties, as well as their brilliance and sparkle. Most people, even professionals, can’t tell the difference without conducting a test.
There is a debate on whether one is more ethical than the other. Natural diamonds have been a force for good, in countries like Botswana, and have also had their share in the sad history of financing conflict. A customer can ask for the provenance of their natural diamond to shop with confidence, knowing that the mine or country where their diamond comes from follows best practices and gives back to their communities. Lab grown diamonds are using an enormous amount of energy to create a product that is otherwise available, so you could argue that unless the energy used is renewable, a lab grown diamond is unnecessarily increasing our carbon footprint. While we could debate the ethics between both natural and lab grown diamonds, this distracts from what I believe is the key difference between the two.
A customer who buys a lab grown diamond will be able to get the size of diamond they had hoped for and for many this means a lot. For the wearer of an engagement ring, admiring it every day or proudly showing off their ring to friends and family is often very important. A lab grown diamond’s lower price point gives customers access to larger diamonds, for less. But the customer should know that their lab grown diamond will not keep its intrinsic monetary value into the future. This is the most important statement I could make in comparing the two. The ring may one day be passed on as an heirloom, but the diamond set in it will not have held its value and may be worth very little. In comparison, a natural diamond has in the past and likely will continue to increase or at least hold its value into the future. This is because lab grown diamonds could be available in near-endless quantities, while natural diamonds, forged by the intense and never to be repeated conditions on Earth three billion years ago, are inherently scarce.
If the feeling of having a piece of jewellery that is valuable matters to you as much or more than simply having a larger diamond, then a natural diamond is a better option. If you think of your ring or jewellery piece as a fashion accessory, something that looks great but has little long-term monetary value, then perhaps a lab grown diamond is the right option for you.
Lastly, many people buy a ring or jewellery piece as a gift and make a decision on what to buy without their partner’s full involvement. What is really important to us, is that both the customer and the wearer (if not the same person) are proud of their Taylor & Hart piece. Before buying, just as you will think carefully about the design to make sure your partner loves the look of their ring, please consider how your partner will feel when they learn about the source of the diamond in their ring or jewellery piece. If you’re not sure, my suggestion is to go with a natural diamond. There is a romance and magic around gifting something so rare that was formed billions of years ago, especially as this gift is a symbol of your everlasting love and commitment.
Nikolay Piriankov, CEO
Ultimately, the value of a diamond is entirely subjective. With most things in life, absorb the facts and apply them to what your personal preferences and priorities are. Some may place a higher priority on the history and rarity of a natural diamond while others may prioritise affordability and traceability.
As a responsible consumer, it’s important to consider all of the factors before making your decision.