Lab Grown diamonds, also known as Lab Created diamonds, Cultured diamonds, Above Earth diamonds or Man-Made diamonds, are diamonds that are grown in a laboratory and mimic the way that natural diamonds are formed below the earth’s surface.
Lab-grown or Man-made diamonds, first created by GE in the mid-1950s, were rough, gritty, low in aesthetic quality and initially only purposed for various industrial applications.
Since then however, thanks to the astonishing advancements in HPHT (High-Pressure High-Temperature) and CVD (Chemical Vapour Deposition) technology, the two methods used for growing diamonds… we now have the ability to grow some of the finest, gem quality stones fit for any occasion or special someone. The process is far from easy and the technology is very expensive.
So how are they grown? Just like much of the organic produce we see in our day to day lives, both methods used for diamond-growing start with a diamond seed. Putting these seeds through extreme conditions in a highly controlled environment, closely mimicking the environment beneath the earth’s crust, the end result is a stone that beautifully demonstrates the same chemical properties and qualities of any mined diamond dug up out of the ground.
The first method, HPHT takes place in a small capsule capable of extremely high temperatures with high pressure being applied from all sides, much like the pressure that occurs beneath earth’s surface. Starting with a seed crystal, an organic pure-carbon substance falls through a molten metal flux attaching to the crystal, gradually growing the stone out in a rough cuboctahedron shape.
In the CVD method, the diamond starts out on a seed plate, slowly growing from a carbon-rich gas. An energy source, much like a microwave beam is shone through the high temperature, plasma-like gas cloud. This breaks down the molecules causing the carbon atoms to precipitate, falling onto the seed plate. Crystallization then begins and occurs over several weeks and the rough stones grow to exhibit a flat tabular shape with dark edges of graphite.
The lab process of creating a diamond is so similar in practice, to the earth’s naturally occurring phenomena, that just like earth-mined diamonds, no two lab-produced diamonds are alike. They are just as likely to contain naturally occurring inclusions and imperfections as diamonds that have been formed underground. It is for this reason that the grading of lab grown diamonds follow the exact same criteria as mined ones... the FOUR C’s.
As far as size (aka Carat weight) of a lab diamond, not only does this fluctuate, but because the conditions are so very similar it is currently still quite difficult to produce large stones, just as it is rare to find large stones under the earth.
As with Colour, the range for lab grown stones is just as wide and varied as with mined, from D to M colour, Champagne to Brown, Yellow, Blue etc.
And in terms of Clarity, one could find all sorts of inclusions in a lab grown stone that gemmologists, jewellers and diamond merchants have been accustomed to in earth mined diamonds since they were first discovered centuries ago.
Lastly, each and every lab grown stone must still be CUT into that perfect diamond shape we all know so well and is guaranteed be judged on the perfection of its cut, polish and symmetry just like any other.
Unlike cheap diamond simulants, such as cubic zirconia and moissanite, lab grown diamonds have the exact same scintillation, flash, fire, and brilliance as mined diamonds. The only significant difference between mined diamonds and man-made diamonds is the origin of the diamond. Even the most experienced gemmologists cannot tell the difference between lab grown diamonds and mined diamonds.
One really important thing to know and remember about diamonds generally, mined or lab grown, is where the real value of a diamond lies.
Most people strongly believe that mined diamonds are super rare, they are not. In fact, there is such an abundance of earth mined diamonds that in the late 1880s they were essentially considered a semi-precious stone equivalent to today’s turquoise or topaz. The over-supply at the time even led a couple of very rich and powerful people to orchestrate a huge monopolization of the entire diamond industry. A price-fixing effort that had been referred to as “the most successful cartel arrangement in the annals of modern commerce” (The Atlantic, February 1982).
Additionally, it is worth noting that whilst mining a diamond deposit is no cheap feat and to dig up those monstrous craters in the ground takes plenty of $$$... the cost to produce one carat of earth mined diamond (from the ground to a ‘rough-in-hand’) is in fact roughly the same as the cost to produce a lab grown diamond (from a seed to ‘rough-in-hand’). Good to know, huh?
A hugely significant part of a diamond’s value is in the post-grow production process. This process, starting from the discovery or growth of a rough stone includes the selection, sorting, cutting, polishing, grading and certifying/laser inscribing of the stone. This is what we refer to as the Rough to Retail part of the diamond’s life.
This process is conducted in exactly the same way in lab grown diamonds as mined diamonds applying an equally high degree of integrity and workmanship with great attention to detail.
All grading and certification performed on lab grown diamonds are held to the same strict standards as when grading/certifying mined stones treating each stone uniquely and assessing them all on an individual basis.