Lab-Grown Diamonds vs. “Real” Diamonds

Did you know scientists have been trying to replicate diamonds since 1797? We’ve come a long way since.

 

  • In 1954, GE physicists Howard Tracy Hall and Herbert Maxwell Strong invented the first lab-grown diamond using the high pressure, high temperature (HPHT) technique.
  • In 2007, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) introduced the grading report for lab-grown diamonds.
  • In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officially recognized man-made diamonds as real diamonds. They are not the same as artificial or synthetic diamonds.
  • Today, lab-grown diamonds make up roughly 17% of the total diamond market. Even the world’s largest diamond distributor, De Beers, has been cutting prices of natural stones by as much as 40 percent due to declining demands for mined gems.

 

Considering the trend, should you choose lab-grown diamonds over natural diamonds? Allow us to break down the differences to help you make an informed investment.

 

Difference Between Natural and Lab Diamonds

In the following sections, we have listed a side-by-side comparison of these two “different” types of diamonds.

 

Origin

Natural diamonds are geological marvels formed deep within the Earth’s mantle under immense pressure and heat over millions to billions of years. They are then brought to the surface through volcanic eruptions or mined from diamond-rich deposits.

closeup photo of tweezers holding a diamond

In contrast, scientists or diamond synthesis technicians cultivate man-made diamonds in controlled laboratory settings. They mimic the natural diamond-growing process using two primary methods: HPHT and chemical vapor deposition (CVD). These techniques accelerate the formation of diamonds from carbon atoms, replicating the conditions found in the Earth’s mantle.

 

Composition

Natural diamonds comprise 99.95% carbon atoms arranged in a crystalline structure known as diamond cubic. The remaining 0.05% can include trace elements, such as nitrogen, sulfur, and boron, which can color diamonds in stunning shades of yellow, green, and blue.

Lab-grown diamonds share the exact same chemical composition and crystal structure as natural diamonds. However, because lab-grown diamonds form in controlled environments, they often exhibit higher purity and clarity.

 

Appearance

Mined diamonds are available in an array of colors, ranging from colorless to fancy hues like yellow, pink, red, and more. They may contain inclusions or remnants of the diamond’s formation process. 

Similarly, lab-grown diamonds come in various colors, including colorless and fancy hues. They typically have fewer inclusions and blemishes due to the controlled conditions of their growth.

 

Cost

Mined diamonds are expensive because of their rarity. Costs depend on complicated and pricey mining operations, and no one can guarantee what will come out of the Earth. The labor, energy, and health risks that accompany mining operations, plus the transportation, distribution, cutting, and polishing processes, also contribute to a natural diamond’s high price. Buying them from popular jewelry brands like Cartier, Harry Winston, and Tiffany & Co. also drives prices up.

closeup photo of a diamond against black satin

Alternatively, man-made diamonds are less expensive—sometimes up to 85% less than a natural diamond of similar grade—because they don’t come from the same supply chains. Moreover, the ongoing technological advances enable more efficiency in crafting lab-grown diamonds.

 

Ethical Considerations

Mining natural diamonds has raised some ethical concerns about environmental impact, labor practices, and human rights violations in diamond-producing regions, commonly referred to as conflict or blood diamonds. For instance, many parents in Tanzania send their children to the mines instead of school. “We do this work so we can find something that will let us eat,” said the people of Mwanza in TIME. “When I find a stone, I eat. There is no money left for school.”

In contrast, lab-grown diamonds are a more ethical choice since they bypass the environmental and social issues associated with diamond mining. They offer consumers a conflict-free alternative with a smaller ecological footprint.

 

Durability

Natural diamonds have exceptional hardness, ranking as the hardest mineral on the Mohs scale. Their durability ensures longevity and makes them suitable for daily wear.

Lab-grown diamonds have the same hardness and durability as natural diamonds, making them equally resilient to scratches and abrasions. They are well-suited for all jewelry types, including low-set and high-set engagement rings.

 

Certification

Mined diamonds often have certifications from reputable gemological laboratories such as the GIA and International Gemological Institute (IGI). These certificates provide detailed information about the diamond’s features, including the 4Cs (carat weight, cut, color, and clarity).

Likewise, gemological labs can certify man-made diamonds, offering assurance of their quality and authenticity. These documents describe a lab-grown diamond’s specifications, ensuring transparency in the purchasing process. According to the FTC, “Describing simulated or laboratory-created diamonds merely as diamonds, without more [specifications], would likely convey the false impression to consumers that they are buying mined diamonds.”

 

Market Demand

Despite the growing popularity of lab-created diamonds, mined diamonds continue to command a substantial share of the diamond market. The global diamond market was $94.19 billion in 2023 and is estimated to rise from $97.57 billion in 2024 to $138.66 billion in 2032.

The demand for lab diamonds has steadily increased due to affordability, ethical sourcing, and sustainability. The global lab-grown diamond market was $24.0 billion in 2022. Their market share is expected to expand further, estimated to reach $59.2 billion by 2032, particularly among environmentally conscious consumers and younger generations.

 

Resale Value

Just as a buyer would pay less for a lab diamond than a natural diamond of a similar grade, the resale value of a lab diamond will be less than that of a natural diamond of a similar grade. As such, it’s important to purchase a diamond engagement ring not because of its resale value but because it’s a symbol of unconditional love and commitment. Still, appraisers will not devalue lab-grown diamonds due to their origin; instead, they will evaluate them using a different scale.

photo of a diamond against a white background

Moreover, the technology behind lab diamonds is continuously evolving, which may impact their value over time. If the manufacturing process becomes easier and more cost-effective, the cost of lab-grown diamonds can drop, consequently reducing their value. Also, if future generations place less significance on diamonds as symbols of love and marriage, the demand and value of both lab-grown and natural diamonds may decline.

 

Spotting the Difference

Most jewelers can’t tell a lab-grown and natural diamond apart, unless the stone has a tiny laser inscription on the girdle that identifies it as lab-created. Only GIA-certified appraisers in Phoenix with sophisticated instruments can analyze diamond strain patterns, phosphorescence, trace elements, and more to distinguish a natural diamond from a lab-grown stone.

Visit Biltmore Loan and Jewelry in Scottsdale or Chandler, Arizona, if you need help determining whether your diamond is natural or lab-grown. Our GIA-certified professionals would be happy to assist you. We buy diamonds, too, whether they’re from the Earth or a lab.

 

Should You Get a Lab-Grown Diamond Engagement Ring?

The choice is up to the person who’ll wear the ring, the buyer’s budget, and whether or not resale value matters. Ultimately, it involves compromise. There is no right or wrong answer.