Other than the discovery of a new source or the introduction of a new cut design, the diamond industry is one industry that hasn't really seen any seismic shifts during its lifetime. That is, until innovation and advanced technology introduced laboratory-grown diamonds. Since their first appearance, for various reasons including improved technology and environmental/sustainability concerns, there has been a major increase in the availability of lab-grown diamonds.

Another very important reason for the proliferation in supply is that carat-per-carat a lab diamond is significantly cheaper than a natural stone.

It is totally understandable to be skeptical about laboratory-grown diamonds versus real diamonds, but they truly do share all of the same chemical properties, physical properties and optical properties as one another. The only difference between natural diamonds and lab diamonds is the conditions in which they are created and the time it takes. Let's be clear from the start, laboratory-grown diamonds are not diamond simulants or faux diamonds like cubic zirconia, moissanite or rhinestones. Diamonds created in a lab are absolutely real diamonds. 

For a better insight into the world of man-made diamonds, also known as synthetic diamonds and cultured diamonds, let's start with a brief history.  

A Brief History Of Lab Grown Diamonds 

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  •  1954: This is the year that the concept of lab grown diamonds was first initiated by General Electric scientists. It was suggested that using high pressure and high temperatures could recreate the natural diamond growing process in much faster conditions.
  • 1955: General Electric manages to produce the very first synthetic diamond using the HPHT method.
  • 1970s - 1980s: Lab-created diamonds start to be used for industrial purposes, such as for cutting tools thanks to their incredible hardness.
  • 1990s: Massive advancements begin to be made in the diamond growing technology, leading to improved quality in production and larger sizes of stones. This leads to a wider interest within the jewelry industry.
  • Late 1990s: Companies like Apollo Diamond and Gemesis start to produce gem-quality diamonds that are specially designed for the jewelry market.
  • Early 2000s: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updates the definition of diamond to include lab-created stones, which classifies that they are in fact genuine diamonds that have just been created in a different setting.
  • 2010s: Consumers start to become more aware of laboratory-grown diamonds due to a growing consciousness of ethical and environmental issues. The demand for lab-created diamonds starts to increase.
  • 2015: De Beers, the world's biggest diamond mining company, announces that they are moving into the lab-grown sector with their brand Lightbox Jewelry. This signaled a huge change of direction for the traditional names in the industry.
  • 2018: The Diamond Producers Association (DPA) launches a marketing campaign that helps to promote acceptance of lab-grown diamonds over earth-mined diamonds.
  • Present Day: The market share of laboratory-grown diamonds increases as their appeal to those who seek sustainable, larger diamonds that are conflict-free grows. Thanks to technological advancements, people are able to explore a much wider range of sizes, color of diamonds and quality options in lower price ranges.

How Are Laboratory-Grown Diamonds Made? 

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There are two methods of producing synthetic diamonds:

  • CVD - Chemical vapor deposition
  • HPHT - the high pressure, high temperature method.

While both methods are effective in creating gem-quality diamonds equal to those found in nature, they manage to produce such excellent results using slightly different techniques and with slightly different stages.

 Chemical Vapour Deposition

According to the International Gem Society, this is the most popular method for the production of laboratory-grown diamonds, particularly for gem-quality stones for use by the jewelry industry.  

The process involves creating clear and colored diamonds by depositing carbon atoms onto a substrate in a very controlled environment.

The method begins with having a small diamond seed crystal placed inside a vacuum chamber. This chamber is flooded with a combination of carbon-rich gasses like hydrogen and methane and is subjected to extreme heat temperatures in the region of 800 to 1200 degrees Celsius.

As the gases begin to decompose within the chamber, the carbon atoms separate and settle on the diamond seed, layer by layer. This gradually starts to grow into a real diamond. The process is slow and can take many weeks or sometimes even months, but this obviously a fraction of the time it would take in a diamond mine.

CVD boasts plenty of advantages over natural diamond forms. Laboratory conditions enable really precise control over the conditions of the diamond growth, which results in high quality and perfect crystal structure every single time. It can be used to produce both colored and colorless diamonds.  (Different elements are introduced into the chamber to produce different colors.) 

High Pressure High Temperature 

High Pressure High Temperature is the second common technique used for the production of diamonds in a lab. This method works to mimic the natural conditions that a 'real' diamond forms deep within the mantle of the Earth.

During HPHT, a small diamond seed gets placed in a press that can apply a significant amount of extreme pressure - somewhere in the region of 5 to 6 gigapascals. That is equivalent to between 725,000 and 870,000 pounds per square inch! The diamond seed is also subjected to extremely high temperatures, as much as 1300 to 1600 degrees Celsius.

During the HPHT process, a metal catalyst like nickel or iron is often used along with a carbon source like graphite. They are introduced to the diamond seed and the intense levels of pressure and temperature cause the catalyst to dissolve the carbon source. These carbon atoms then deposit themselves onto the diamond seed, which gradually results in the growth of a diamond.

HPHT is celebrated for being able to produce diamonds in a really quick time, sometimes even within a matter of days depending on the desired size. Of course, the growth condition needs to be perfect and precisely controlled in order for this to happen. HPHT is the preferred method for industrial applications like diamonds for cutting tools, but it can also be used to create stones used for jewelry.

 Benefits Of Laboratory-Created Diamonds  

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Ethical Sourcing

As laboratory-grown diamonds are produced in an environment that is controlled and scientific, there is a guarantee that the supply chain is ethically sound and conflict-free. It eliminates any potential concerns about human rights abuses and mysteries behind financing conflicts, two things that have long been a legacy of naturally mined diamonds.

Traceability And Certification

The great thing about lab-grown diamonds is that they are very easily traced, providing a perfectly clean paper trail and history. This gives customers confidence in the ethical validity of their purchase. Lab stones are also certified in the same way as natural diamonds by the various authorities including the Gemological Institute of America and the International Gemological Institute.  

Environmentally Sustainable

Being grown in a professional lab, these diamonds have a significantly lower impact on the environment compared to the extraction of rough diamonds from the Earth. Eschewing traditional mining means a reduction in land excavation, ecosystem disruption and water usage.

Reduced Carbon Footprint

Lab-grown diamonds incur a much, much smaller carbon footprint in their production process. The energy consumption that is needed and the emissions in a controlled lab environment have a significantly smaller impact on the environment compared to traditional mining methods.

Cost Saving

Lab-created diamonds are much more affordable than natural diamonds.  Their production is more efficient, which means that the reduced costs can be passed on to the customers. Both consumers and industrial users benefit from the cost saving which is significant. Synthetic diamonds are currently 30 - 50% cheaper than natural diamonds. 

Quality Control

Thank to the controlled conditions, lab-grown stones offer a much more consistent level of quality, with far fewer imperfections compared to their natural counterparts. Growers are able to determine everything about the form of the stone including color, clarity and size. 

More Design Options

There is much more control and choice in the design of an individual stone grown in a lab.  Everything from size to shape to color can be specified before creation, which allows for a much wider range of jewelry customization options.

Identical Physical Properties

It's worth stating again that lab-grown stones share all of the same physical and chemical properties as stones that have been mined from the ground. They are indistinguishable both visually and chemically from mined diamonds. There is no degradation to either the jewelry market or to industrial users because the latter particularly can be confident that synthetic stones have the same cutting prowess, hardness, and thermal conductivity as mined stones. 

 If you have decided that your next purchase will be man-made diamonds, we invite you to browse our website. At Stein Diamonds we have a wide range of jewelry featuring natural and lab-grown diamonds as well as loose stones that can be purchased individually or used in our custom jewelry service.