What is a Lab Diamond?
A lab diamond is simply a diamond 'created' in a laboratory using cutting-edge technology, simulating the processes through which a mined diamond is grown. The procedures are very similar for growing both mined and lab diamonds. The only difference lies in the fact that for mined diamonds, the processes occur naturally. In contrast, the processes for lab diamonds occur inside a laboratory with controlled conditions.
Creation of mined and lab diamonds
So, how is a natural, mined diamond created? The simple answer is carbon dioxide! Buried more than 100 miles deep inside the core of the Earth, mined diamonds are the result of carbon dioxide under conditions of high temperatures, up to 2,200 Fahrenheit, and vast amounts of pressure, as high as 727,000 pounds per square inch. These diamonds are then transported to the surface of the Earth due to volcanic eruptions, after which they are mined using various methods.
A lab diamond, contrastingly, is mostly grown using one of two popular methods: CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) and HPHT (High Pressure, High Temperature) (Source)
Let’s explore these methods in detail below.
Chemical Vapor Deposition - CVD
Chemical Vapor Deposition is a prevalent materials-processing advanced technology. This particular method is used to produce diamonds in bulk. The process begins by taking a mined diamond ‘seed’ and infusing it with various infiltrated gases. Then, the seed is exposed to certain temperatures, pressures, and other laboratory-controlled chemical conditions, ultimately resulting in the formation of a diamond after a set period of time. (Source)
Furthermore, CVD-produced diamonds contain 100% carbon. Therefore, the diamonds created using CVD processes are classified as type IIa diamonds; said to be the purest diamonds available on Earth.
High-Pressure High Temperature - HPHT
Contrastingly to the CVD process, HPHT uses molten metal as a catalyst to speed up the processes and achieve optimum results. The HPHT method utilizes ‘premature diamonds’, which are not fully crystallized even after being released from volcanic eruptions. These premature diamonds are then exposed to high temperatures and intense pressure to fully crystallize until the required form and shape is achieved. Interestingly, the color of the diamond changes from yellowish-brown to a bright white during this process.
That being said, most lab-grown diamonds are created using HPTP technology opposed to CVD, which requires far more sophisticated technology, thus requiring astronomical sums of money. Very few have been able to perfect this technology to create satisfactorily large diamonds.
Is a lab diamond fake?
These fascinating laboratory processes result in, none other than, diamonds. Hence, lab diamonds are not fake. The origin of a mined diamond versus the origin of a lab diamond remains the only true difference between the two. Therefore, a lab diamond is very much so a real diamond.
It’s quite hard for some to believe a stone as precious as a diamond can be created inside of a laboratory, especially considering the value and hype surrounding them, which is often times the reasoning for the ‘fake’ stigma surrounding lab-grown diamonds. However, do not forget that the process of creating lab diamonds is neither quick, easy, inexpensive, or simple in any way.
Lab Diamond vs. mined Diamond
It is interesting to note that lab diamonds and mined diamonds have virtually the same chemical and physical properties. In fact, there are hardly any differences in their optical or thermal properties, either (Source). Due to their contrasting origins, however, the two diamond types have certain undeniable differences.
Let’s take a closer look at what exactly sets lab diamonds and mined diamonds apart.
Price: Mined diamonds are far more expensive than lab diamonds. Despite the rigorous processes involved in the production of lab diamonds, mined diamonds are considered very rare; they seemingly cannot be easily found on the surface of Earth, adding to their cost. To give you a rough estimate, a lab-grown diamond is, at present, around half the price of a mined diamond. You might also be surprised to know that mined diamonds are not as rare as they are portrayed to be. The supply of diamonds is kept much less than the demand for them, making them appear more valuable than they actually are; talk about a monopoly! Despite the vast resources of mined diamonds on Earth, their controlled supply makes them very expensive.
Value: Let’s shift to an intriguing idea. You should be advised that diamonds aren’t actually the greatest investments. Diamonds are purchased for primary reasons including sentimental value, status symbols, and their beauty. The process of reselling entails a loss of around 30 to 40 percent of the diamond’s sale value already, which remains true for both mined and lab grown diamonds. Therefore, there’s no reason for making a pricier purchase in the form of a mined diamond.
Environment: Mined diamonds are not very environmentally friendly due to the adverse effects mining has on the environment. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that roughly 100,000 tons of rock have to be dug in order to find a single crystal. The creation of diamonds inside a laboratory, however, does not hurt the environment, which can lead to more sustainable production of diamonds in the long run.
Keeping these differences in mind might help when deciding between a lab and a mined diamond. Otherwise, both lab and mined diamonds appear the same visually, for they sparkle similarly. No noticeable differences occur in their colors, shape, or cut.
Lab Diamond vs. Moissanite
Moissanite is a diamond simulant. Although the resemblance is strikingly high, it is not actually a diamond.
A lab diamond is a mined diamond but moissanite is a silicon carbide, SiC.
The refractive index of lab-grown diamonds is 2.42, which is less than that of moissanite, which is 2.65. This difference in refractive index simply means that a lab diamond sparkles very brilliantly, while moissanite gives off “rainbow sparkle”. This rainbow effect makes it much easier for experts to detect moissanite’s extremely low authenticity as a diamond.
Small is the optimum size for moissanite, since the rainbow effect is most prominent in smaller sizes. For a lab diamond, however, any size works just fine.
The color of a lab diamond is permanent and does not change over a very long period of time. However, moissanite is likely to change color due to differences in temperature, as its color exhibits temperature sensitivity; a property known as thermochromism.
Lab diamonds are either colorless, or display very sharp colors, while moissanite is usually found in shades of green and blue.
A lab diamond is not very susceptible to wear and tear, unlike moissanite, which is likely to get markings and scratches.
Moissanite is far cheaper than a lab diamond. At the same price, you can buy approximately 30% more moissanite than a lab diamond. (Source)
Lab Diamond vs. Cubic Zirconia
Cubic zirconia is another diamond simulant; the cubic crystalline form of zirconium dioxide. Cubic zirconia is not a naturally occurring substance/element, therefore is synthesized inside of a laboratory.
The sparkle of cubic zirconia is more colored than that of a lab diamond.
The refractive index of cubic zirconia is 2.2 (Source), which is less than the 2.42 of a lab-grown diamond; ultimately why cubic zirconia reflects much less light.
Cubic zirconia is not as hard as a lab diamond; a real, pure diamond being the hardest substance in nature.
While a lab diamond consists only of carbon, cubic zirconia contains zero carbon.
The distinction between cubic zirconia and a lab diamond is evident to a trained, naked-eye under the light.
Cubic zirconia does not resist showing wear, unlike a lab diamond’s resistance to wear and tear.
The cost of cubic zirconia, at an average of 20 USD, is far less than that of a lab diamond, which costs roughly 3,500 USD.
Cubic zirconia is, quite obviously, not considered a diamond due to the vast dissimilarities with mined or lab-grown diamonds. Moreover, cubic zirconia is simply considered a compound that resembles diamonds at a careless glance.
Lab Diamond Certification
A third-party lab offers a document providing details of the lab-grown diamond’s characteristics, otherwise known as certification. Certification is both available and required on lab diamonds, which can provide you with valuable knowledge regarding important properties of the diamond, such as its cut, clarity, carat weight, etc.
Once you have decided to get lab diamond certification, it is crucial to choose the right diamond laboratory; each has different grading criteria and would, therefore, grade a diamond differently. Keep in mind that the certification for mined diamonds is almost the same everywhere. However, there are several differences when it comes to certifying lab diamonds. The most suitable certification for lab diamonds is the IGI Certification, due to their thorough and affordable grading (Source). These comparisons will help determine whether you are getting a diamond worth its price when deciding between lab-grown versus mined.
That being said, most mined diamonds are graded by GIA, with standards as reputable as IGI. Unfortunately, GIA currently does not grade lab-grown diamonds, but there is anticipation that they will in the near future.