Lab Grown Diamonds

Are lab grown diamonds real diamonds?

The only difference between a lab grown diamond and a natural, mined diamond is its origin. Engineering methods and cutting-edge technology have been perfected to replicate the conditions that allow a diamond to "grow" artificially. What nature has taken 1-3 billion years to create within the earth’s surface, can now be developed in a laboratory within 6-10 weeks.

Example of the Lab Grown Diamond Process


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CVD or Chemical Vapor Disposition has become the more common method used to produce quality diamonds. A small diamond "seed" is placed in a sealed chamber containing a hydrogen and methane gas mixture. When heated to approx. 800 degrees Celsius, the molecular bonds in the gases break down and pure carbon begins to crystallise around the diamond seed. The result is a man-made diamond that is chemically, physically and aesthetically identical to its natural counterpart.

However, whilst it is difficult to distinguish between natural and lab grown diamonds, the latter still appears to lack the allure of one of nature's mysterious miracles.

Lab Grown versus Natural Diamonds

Whilst the popularity of lab grown diamonds has grown in recent years, the value of natural diamonds has continued to rise due to demand. There are a few reasons why diamond buyers may feel motivated to choose either option. Let's have a look...

Price

It seems strange now, but 3-4 years ago lab-grown diamonds began at up to 25% more expensive than natural diamonds. Historically new technology is always very expensive, but in time processes become more streamlined and the costs can fall dramatically. In the current market, lab grown diamonds are approximately 60% less expensive than natural diamonds.

With regards price, Lab grown diamonds benefit from having a shorter supply chain. By skipping the mining process, the work/costs of miners and distributors is made redundant. They can also be made in abundance, since their creation is not dependent on nature unlike the finite supply of natural diamond.

Example of the Lab where Diamonds can be grown

These savings allow a diamond shopper to achieve the same "look" for significantly less expense and means their budget appears to go further. The continuing decrease in costs of producing lab grown diamonds can be seen as a success and tribute to the advancements in modern technology. But can you have too much of a good thing?...

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Value

When you buy a natural diamond, the purchase will retain value over time. This is not the case with lab grown diamonds, the prices of which have been seen to decrease by 30% year on year in recent times. Their supply is not limited like their natural counterparts and likely to increase as the technology too becomes less expensive and more accessible for other producers. The demand has consistently been saturated by supply and thus the value of lab grown diamonds continues to fall.

This pattern has also been seen before with cubic zirconia. The popular diamond simulant has been increasingly mass produced in jewellery since the 1970s. Prices have fallen from approx. £400 per carat in the 80’s to practically no value in modern day markets. Buying a lab grown diamond will no doubt always be preferable than a synthetic stone, like cubic zirconia. Therefore, it is unlikely they will be without some value. However, at best the future value of lab grown diamonds is unreliable and even today they have no second-hand value.

Sustainability

Often Lab-grown diamonds have been marketed as the eco-friendly choice when it comes to diamonds. As with any natural resource, the mining of diamonds has a significant impact on the environment. It has been substantiated that for each carat of diamond mined, almost one hundred squared feet of land is disturbed and nearly 2 ¾ tonnes of mineral waste is created. In some locations a century of careless mining has caused some eco-systems to collapse due to soil erosion and deforestation. Naturally the physical work mining requires carries with it more risk; each year 1 in every 1,000 workers in the mining industry is injured.

Over recent years, diamond mining companies have shown recognition of the environmental impact their industry threatens and have been progressive in minimising the effect they have on ecosystems and the earth. Generally, diamond mining is not as harmful as some other types of mining such a gold, which employs more toxic substances, like cyanide and mercury. In addition, land restoration practices are now often scheduled where diamond mining activity is set to stop. Local communities are often involved to help fill in the mine pits, replace topsoil and encourage native species to return. Modern day mining tends to take place in remote and more inhospitable locations, employing local communities, supporting local businesses and generating revenue for local economies.Example lab-grown diamond ring from a Jeweller in Northern Ireland

At a time when it is becoming increasingly important to consider how our practices affect the environment, lab-grown may appear to be the cleaner, eco-friendly choice. However, this point of view is not without controversy as there have been questions over the lack of transparency in the lab-grown industry. The American Federal Trades Commission has issued warnings to jewellery brands that claim Lab-grown diamonds are sustainable. To date the eco-friendliness of this relatively new technology is difficult to substantiate.

As can be imagined, it takes an enormous amount of energy to artificially re-create the conditions that allow a diamond to grow. Constant power is required to maintain temperatures of around 1,100 degrees Celsius. The energy consumption can vary significantly between producers and many laboratories use methane to extract the carbon. There is uncertainty over how this potentially harmful gas is managed.

Traditional diamond mining practices has a much longer history to scrutinise and the negatives over the earlier years are widely recognised. This has motivated the industry to make significant improvements in minimising lasting effects on the environment, improving working conditions and developing fair trade policy at international and local levels.

As with any new technology, it will take time to learn of the true environmental impact of mass- produced lab grown diamonds. Until then it is not necessarily true that lab grown is the more sustainable choice.

Advice

Both natural diamond and lab grown diamonds will make beautiful jewellery items. Whilst the disparity in financial value between the two options is likely to increase, a similar sentimental value can be attributed to either. The significance of the diamond chosen is what it represents and means to the individual.

Ellisons Jewellers, Belfast and Cahoons Jewellers, Cookstown share a longstanding passion for diamonds. We have always believed in offering handpicked and fine quality, natural diamonds to our customers. The allure and mystery of diamonds for us has been that they are a natural creation of the earth that has taken millions of years to form. In some sense we feel that this appeal and romance is lessened when the product is artificially made, and mass produced. Example lab-grown diamond ring from a Jeweller in Northern Ireland

However, we recognise that Lab grown diamonds are here to stay and are not necessarily in competition with their natural counterparts. They are instead another option to be considered when deciding on one of the most significant purchases we are likely to make. The team at Ellisons and Cahoons continue to help our customers with these decisions and any other concerns. A selection of Lab Grown Diamonds has been added to stock and offer further inspiration and choice.

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