Shopping for Diamonds? Should You Choose Lab-Grown or Natural?
October 1, 2023
People buying diamonds today, either new or from a Cincinnati jewelry consignment shop like Legacies Upscale Resale, must decide whether they want a lab-grown or natural, mined diamond.
Luckily, there is actually very little difference between the two (except price—see below), at least to the average consumer or jeweler’s eye, according to a late-2022 article in Brides.
What Makes the Difference?
Most natural diamonds were formed in the Earth’s mantle layer. Intense heat and pressure, continuing for billions of years, caused carbon to take on solid form.
Deep volcanic eruptions sent these diamonds close to the surface via kimberlite pipes. They were shattered into small pieces in the process. These massive, deep craters were then mined for the stones.
Lab-grown gems, on the other hand, are created through chemical vapor deposition. You start with a “seed” slice of diamond, where the crystalline structure is already formed.
The seed is placed in a vacuum where carbon molecules attach to it. It’s similar to 3-D printing; once the diamond is ‘grown’ in this chamber, it is ready to be cut and polished. A diamond created in a lab is still pure carbon: chemically speaking, it is exactly the same as a natural diamond.
Diamonds were first grown in labs in the 1950s, but it took decades to produce gem-quality diamonds, according to Brandon Cook, Director of Marketing for Clean Origin, a 100% lab-grown diamond company, quoted in the Brides article.
Price and Value
Mined diamonds are expensive, in part, because of their rarity. They require complex, expensive excavation with no guarantees of what will be found.
Other aspects that add to their cost are the labor and energy that goes into mining and polishing the stones, not to mention, the origins of, control of and advertising behind the diamond trade itself. (Learn more from Blood Diamonds, a made-for-TV documentary series, that explored the diamond-trade-funding of rebellions and wars in African nations.)
A lab diamond can be up to 50 percent less expensive than a natural stone of the same grade—because the supply chains are so different. Technological advances have also allowed for more efficiency in creating diamonds in the lab.
Because “value” is in the eye of the beholder, natural diamonds are sometimes perceived to be of greater value than lab-grown ones.
All diamonds are comprised of the same material. Lab diamonds are as difficult to chip as natural ones.
The Gemological Institute of America and the International Gemological Institute use the same methods and standards for grading both types of diamonds. When it comes to cut, clarity, color and carat, the differences between natural and lab-created diamonds are imperceptible.
Ethics and the Environment
“It only takes one Google image search of the Orapa diamond mine to understand the amount of ecological destruction and outright pollution that can stem from diamond mining,” says Cook.
“This goes hand-in-hand with the murky ethics of diamond mining. While the industry has made progress, the only way to know with certainty that your diamond is 100 percent conflict-free is by purchasing a lab-created diamond.”
Which Should You Choose?
Maria Doulton, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Jewellry Editor, also quoted in the Brides article, advises “…lab-grown for a design-led ring where the stone is not the major source of value…and a mined diamond if an investment-grade solitaire is your dream ring.”
At Legacies, we suggest choosing diamond jewelry that appeals to your taste, since you are already doing the right thing ethically and environmentally by buying a used piece at a vintage jewelry store in Cincinnati.