March 14, 2019
Lab Created Diamonds: Know the Difference
Diamonds naturally occur in the Earth’s surface. It has been customary for them to be mined out of the earth and processed into the gemstones we value today.
But a way to create these stones has also become popular. The process has raised many questions among consumers and retailers alike. We’re here to shine some light on how these diamonds are made and their value.
What are Lab Created Diamonds?
Any diamonds created in a laboratory are considered man made or lab grown. Simply put, these stones are developed in simulated environments.
Labs recreate the natural formation process using different methods. Technically speaking, these gems are the real deal.
They are not synthetic like cubic zirconia. A real stone is made in these labs using technical processes.
People have been growing diamonds as late as the 1940’s. They became commercially available in the 1980’s and have come into popularity in this century.
Some reasons include their inexpensive costs and guarantee that they aren’t blood or conflict diamonds. Yet, the Kimberley Process of 2007 has reduced the occurrence blood diamonds 99.9%
Lab created diamonds have gained a valuable foothold with the recent Federal Trade Commission’s updates to the diamond industry standards.
In short, the FTC says that a diamond doesn’t have to be “natural” to be considered a diamond. Read more about the FTC’s guidelines at Jewelers of America.
Their Value and Resale Value
For all intents and purposes, grown diamonds do not have a higher value than their mined c0unterparts. They are made using the same process. They are the same chemically, physically, and optically.
The naked eye would have a hard time spotting the difference. Since they are made the same way, lab created diamonds can have the same flaws. Learn more about diamond flaws here.
However, it’s the nature of these flaws that decrease the value of the laboratory products. Natural flaws occur due to a much slower process and aren’t as frequent as flaws in a lab.
The flaws created in the lab are caused by a faster process that can damage the diamond. The natural stone’s flaws tend to contain trace elements of other substances. It’s these flaws that make identifying a mined product much easier.
Given that these diamonds can be easily manufactured, they are not inherently as valuable. This is simply because a mined diamond will always be a rare item.
Color treatment also decreases the value. Diamonds from the earth have natural color. More often than not, lab grown stones come out brown.
They need to be treated with chemicals to change this color. Alternately, they have to be treated to make other colors like blue or pink. These shades naturally occur in earth-made stones.
As for resale value, the two types have about the same amount of resale value. As it stands today, it is hard to sell a natural diamond for the same or higher price that you paid.
The same goes for lab created diamonds. In fact, some stores may not buy what they consider “synthetic” creations.
Since they share so many similarities, they can also be insured and appraised. Most jewelry insurers will insure man made diamonds since they have similar value to mined stones.
Appraisers will give an appraisal on them as well. Some may be less stringent with their lab grown counterparts, however, so be sure you have a clear idea of what they appraise when you go in.
Cost of Lab Created Diamonds
Many retailers say that gems created in a lab are cheaper than natural stones. While this is technically true, there is really only one reason for it.
The capital costs of manufacturing lab grown diamonds is similar to the costs of mining. The price difference comes primarily from supply chain expenses.
The supply chain of lab creations are far shorter than mined diamonds. Because of this, manufacturers can reduce the retail price.
While most retailers do offer cheaper, manufactured products, Elite Jewelry and Loan offers natural diamonds at wholesale prices.
Their prices are less expensive than other mined diamonds and lab created diamonds alike. You get the quality and value of a natural jewerly piece at wholesale prices.
Each diamond is already GIA certified! Check their ever-changing inventory and find the diamond of your dreams.
What About Certification?
Lab created diamonds can be certified by gemological grading organizations. They are graded on the same scale using the 4C’s (which you can read more about on our Diamond Page). Examples of gemologists organizations include:
It’s important to note that the GIA does not grade lab grown diamonds as strictly as mined diamonds. An article from National Jeweler goes into more detail on the reasons.
Essentially, GIA does not view these diamonds as having the same color range as the natural ones. Therefore, they don’t believe that they can be graded on the same scale. They will still grade the diamonds, but not on the same level as mined ones.
How They Are Grown
To better understand the value of these diamonds, we need to first understand how they are made. Labs use two different methods when reproducing the natural growth cycle.
Both methods use a small sliver of real diamond in their processes. This piece is called a seed. Chemistry and Physics play a major part in the growth of these man made diamonds.
High Pressure High Temperature
One method is High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT). It uses extreme pressure and heat to form the diamond. The seed is placed into a patch of carbon.
The pressure and heat from the manufacturing process melts the carbon. The melted carbon then crystallizes around the seed to form the diamond.
The three manufacturing processes of HPHT are:
- Belt Press: two anvils put pressure on the diamond; the largest, most common machine
- Cubic Press: six anvils add pressure to the seed
- Split-Sphere (BARS) Press: applies hydraulic pressure from an inner and outer anvil
Chemical Vapor Deposition
The second method involves more chemistry than physics. The same seed is used in this method. However, it is exposed to gasses which contain a high amounts of carbon. Methane is the most common gas used.
The seed and gas are heated in a chamber. The heat causes the ions in the carbon to break from the methane gas. These ions adhere to the seed in layers.
After a time, the stone starts crystalizing into a diamond. CVD is also used to create optic lenses and semiconductors.
The process takes about 6 to 10 weeks to form a one carat diamond. Recent technological developments have made CVD the preferred method among growers.
Seeing the Difference
As noted, lab created diamonds have similar chemistry, build, and look to mined gems. The naked eye may not tell the difference.
By using standard gem testing equipment, a jeweler may be able to tell the difference between the two. In some cases, advanced treatments may be required.
It boils down to knowing the types of diamonds. Over the years, scientists and jewelers have refined these types. Diamonds are classified into types based on their chemical composition.
All diamonds contain carbon atoms. But sometimes, other elements can get inside. The main two elements found in natural diamonds are nitrogen and boron.
There are four types of diamonds:
- Type Ia (near-colorless): can be subdivided into Type IaA and Type IaB
- Type IIa (colorless)
- Type Ib (yellow)
- Type IIb (blue)
Most diamonds are Type Ia, meaning they have nitrogen in pairs within the carbon cluster. Type Ib also contain nitrogen but in isolated, scattered atoms. Type IIb and Ib are arranged the same way except with boron atoms.
Only naturally made diamonds can be Type Ia. This is because lab created diamonds are not exposed to enough nitrogen to create pairs of the atom. They can, however, be Types Ib, IIa, and IIb.
Finding these differences is only achievable with the right scientific equipment. Standard jeweler’s equipment may not be able to tell the difference. The diamond will likely be sent off to a facility like GIA for testing.
Learn more about GIA’s identification of lab created gems in their extensive article on the subject.