Lab Created vs. Real Diamonds -
What's The Difference?
When most of us hear the words “science lab”, we think of a place full of test tubes, complicated arrays of buttons and dials, white jacketed scientists, and a white jacketed doctor with wild hair and a white and clean setting.
We think of a place where new innovations are discovered and old ones improved upon. But how many of us think of a science lab as a place where diamonds are created?
If you’re wondering why scientists are creating diamonds, don’t worry, the earth has not yet run out of them. We still have a steady supply of natural diamonds and they are still available in many jewelry shops, however, now we have lab created diamonds as well.
In this article, we will discuss:
- What is a Lab Diamond?
- What is a Real Diamond?
- Main Differences Between a Lab Diamond and a Real Diamond
- Difference in Durability
- Difference in Clarity
- Difference in Color
- Difference in Sparkle/Fire
- Verdict: Lab Diamond or a Real Diamond?
What is a Lab Diamond?
When we talk about natural diamonds, we are thinking about the diamonds we wear for jewelry and fashion; the ones we use to propose marriage with, the ones that turn up in royal collections and on red carpets.
When we talk about lab made diamonds, we are talking about the diamond’s more practical uses. Although lab grown diamonds are becoming more and more popular in the gem and jewelry industry, scientists and engineers are more interested in their medicinal and industrial applications.
The unique characteristic of lab grown diamonds, such as their thermal conductivity, hardness, transparency, and electrical conductivity make them superior to natural diamonds in older industries.
In the HPHT process, one of three types of presses are used: the belt press, the cubic press, and the split-sphere (BARS) press. All involve placing a diamond seed in carbon at high pressure and high temperature conditions to cultivate the diamond. In the case of the belt press, upper and lower anvils are used to generate over 1.5 million pounds of pressure per square inch at a temperature of 2000 degrees Celsius. Eventually, the carbon melts, and begins to form into a diamond around the seed.
In the CVD process, a thin slice of diamond seed is placed in a sealed chamber which is heated to about 800 degrees Celsius. The chamber is filled with a carbon-rich gas, usually methane, and other gases that are ionized into a plasma using beams from a laser or microwave. This ionization process breaks the molecular bonds in the gases so that the carbon sticks to the diamond seed. Eventually the layers of carbon accumulate to form a crystal.
While the HPHT process is closer to the one Mother Nature herself uses, the CVD has the advantages of allowing scientists greater control over the diamond as it is forming, letting them fine tune it to suit its intended purpose.
If you're interested, you can learn all about how lab created diamonds are made by clicking here.
What Is A Real (Natural) Diamond?
According to Google, a diamond is a “precious stone consisting of a clear or nearly colorless crystalline form of pure carbon.” By this definition, both lab made and naturally occurring diamonds are “real diamonds.” However, naturally occurring diamonds are made in the earth.
Most often, a natural diamond is formed from carbon in the earth’s mantle about 100 miles below the earth’s surface. The massive amounts of heat and pressure down there create the ideal conditions for a diamond to form.
Volcanic eruptions occur to bring the diamond containing volcanic material to the upper mantle of the earth. Once they reach the surface, they are cooled to form kimberlite pipes. The rapid temperature change from high to low locks the carbon atoms into place to form the diamond structure. The kimberlite is the source of most of the earth’s mined diamonds.
From there, a company will do some drilling to extract the diamonds and then clean them up and sell them.
So, what’s wrong with these natural diamonds?
Technically, nothing as long as you have 1 to 3.5 BILLION years to wait. That’s how long it takes for carbon atoms to go through all the necessary steps it takes to form a diamond.
In addition, nature isn’t perfect, and neither are many of its diamonds. Even the diamonds that do make it through the rigorous process are often lacking in clarity or have the undesirable “yellow tint” that makes diamonds less valuable.
Main Differences Between a Lab Diamond and a Real Diamond
When it comes to the difference in chemical composition between the lab grown diamond and the real one, there is none. Both consist of actual carbon atoms arranged in the classic diamond like crystal structure and exhibit the same optical and chemical properties, so when it comes to chemical makeup, survey says, “Identical.”
This is why when companies make man-made diamonds, they have to make a very tiny inscription on them indicating who the creator was. This isn’t visible to the naked eye, but a jeweler with the right tools is able to see it.
What is different about lab grown and natural diamonds is the way they are made. While natural diamonds have to wait on nature to create the ideal conditions they need to form, with lab grown diamonds, the conditions can be produced without relying on nature.
That means that scientists don’t have to wait billions of years for a diamond to form, they are actually there during the growth process and can control it. So, scientists can adjust the conditions to get the results they desire.
Lab diamonds can be manufactured so that they are free of impurities and imperfections, they can be treated so that they are completely colorless, and their physical properties can be manipulated to suit a host of industrial applications.
Natural diamonds are unpredictable and are often too weak for use in any tools and building materials. Whereas natural diamonds are made by a series of rare circumstances, lab grown diamonds can be made on demand.
Another big difference between lab grown and natural diamonds is price. Although it’s virtually impossible to distinguish one from another, lab grown diamonds are roughly 30% cheaper than natural ones, simply because they are more widely available and can be created quickly.
Difference in Durability
In terms of hardness or durability, there is nothing harder than a natural diamond. On the Moh’s hardness scale, the diamond receives a 10, the highest grade on the scale. No other material can rival the diamond in terms of resistance to scratches, breakage, and crumbling.
Although the diamond is the hardest material known, it does contain plains of weakness. While these planes may be useful for diamond cutters who use them to cleave the facets that give the diamond its brilliance, it is not so useful for non-ornamental uses. Which is why scientists have created the amorphous diamond.
The amorphous diamond may not surpass the natural diamond on the Moh’s scale, but it does give it a run for the money. Clocking in at a respectable 9.8, the amorphous diamond is superior to the natural diamond in many other ways.
An amorphous diamond is composed of millions of tiny diamonds morphed together, creating a uniform hardness that can be used in cutting tools and wear resistance parts of transportation equipment.
And in terms of wearing the diamond, the amorphous diamond is as beautiful as it is practical. While its durability may stun scientists, it will also make for a stunning and long-lasting piece of jewelry.
Difference in Clarity
Because of the way diamonds are formed in the earth, many of them are flawed. These flaws, or “birthmarks” are small imperfections inside or on the surface of the diamond which often effect their brilliance/clarity because they interfere with the way the light passes through the diamond and reflects off its surfaces.
In jeweler’s terms, these “birthmarks” are known as “inclusions.”
In diamonds, clarity refers to the degree of these inclusions; how big they are, how visible they are, how many of them there are, and their position on or within the diamond. The GIA clarity scale for diamonds ranges from flawless (FL), indicating a diamond free of imperfections (which is very rare and very expensive), to included (I), meaning the diamond has imperfections that are visible to the naked eye.
While both organic and lab created diamonds have flaws, they are subject to a slightly different clarity assessment process. Because lab grown diamonds are grown in a molten metal solution, they have metallic inclusions, which can only be detected with a 10x magnification loupe and are not visible to the naked eye.
Earth-grown diamonds have feather, pinpoint or crystal inclusions which result from the earth’s elements and violent volcanic eruptions that occur as the diamonds emerge from the earth. Only the rarest of diamonds survive this process in perfect condition.
Difference in Color
When asked what color a diamond is, most of us would say that a diamond has no color; it’s clear, it’s transparent, how could it have color?
The truth is diamonds come in a variety of colors, and some of them are highly prized. While the pink, blue, and even yellow diamonds are becoming the object of obsession for many, it is the white diamond’s color that is the basis for color grading. The presence of a yellow tint in a white diamond will lower the diamond’s value, and the more color it can reflect, the higher the color price will be.
The GIA grades diamonds on a color scale of D-Z, with D representing the white diamonds, and Z representing the lightly colored ones.
Lab grown diamonds are generally found in the K-Z color range and can be grown in white, pink, blue, yellow, and green. Some types of lab diamonds are color treated. Many CVD diamonds come out in a brownish hue and are then treated to make them colorless or near colorless.
Natural grown diamonds, on the other hand, can be produced in a range of colors. The colors in diamonds come from impurities, such as nitrogen molecules that become trapped within the diamond’s lattice as it grows. Trace chemicals in the carbon can cause organic diamond colors to vary. The most common organic diamonds are the classic white, with yellow, pink, and blue diamonds.
Difference in Sparkle/Fire
The sparkle or, in jeweler’s terms, “fire” are what bring the bling to a diamond, and if you know how important the bling factor is, then you know how important it is to have fire and sparkle in the diamond.
The fire in a diamond refers to the colored light you see reflected from the stone, the sparkle is the colorless light. If the diamond is cut to ideal proportions, the stone will bend in a way that maximizes its sparkle and fire.
Although generally, the organic and lab grown diamonds are very similar in sparkle and fire, the lab grown amorphous diamond has a clear advantage over them both.
When a diamond cutter cleaves a diamond in order to create maximum sparkle, he also needs to a maintain optimum weight. This means that the finished product will be a sort of compromise; he is aiming to make the fieriest diamond, but he must spare some expense in order to make sure he ends up with a good-sized diamond.
Amorphous diamonds, in contrast, are constructed for durability, so a gem cutter does not have to worry about maintaining the size of the diamond, so when it comes to fire and sparkle, amorphous diamonds are the best at bringing out the bling.
Lab Diamond or a Natural Diamond: Which is Better?
Lab diamonds may have been constructed in order to meet practical applications, but they’re just so darn good looking that it would be a shame not to use them for jewelry as well.
They are indistinguishable from organic diamonds in terms of clarity and color and composition, and practically identical in terms of durability.
In addition, we don’t have to wait for them to be created. We’re able to create them ourselves which means less of an impact on the environment. Plus, we can make these so easily, we can afford to sell them at 30% less!
A cheaper, more useful, and more eye-catching diamond that puts less of a strain on the earth…seems like a no-brainer to us.
We’re sure that even the purest of purists would have a hard time finding reasons not to buy these beauties. Diamonds are forever, organic or lab grown, but they’re a whole lot more economical when they’re lab grown.
The more people are hearing about lab grown diamonds, the more people are liking what their hearing and we’re here to help people become better educated on the topic.
So, what type of diamond would you choose? Do you think lab created diamonds will eventually ne the norm?