What are lab-grown diamonds?

Lab-grown diamonds are new source of diamonds grown above earth. They are identical to diamonds extracted from below earth - chemically, physically, and optically.

According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries: "A diamond is a mineral consisting essentially of pure carbon crystallized in the isometric system." FTC revised its definition of diamond that previously read "natural mineral". The Commision no longer defines a “diamond” by using the term “natural” because it is no longer accurate to define diamonds as “natural” when it is now possible to create products that have essentially the same optical, physical, and chemical properties as mined diamonds, noted the Guides. (Source)

Diamonds are formed when carbon atoms crystallize into cubic structures with tetrahedral bonds, making it the hardest substance on earth.

This concept is used to grow diamonds above earth using High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) process or Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) process. Diamond growth can occur only when a ‘diamond seed’ is present. A diamond seed is a very thin slice of diamond on which carbon atoms deposit to form strong tetrahedral structure and grows into a larger rough diamond.

How does a diamond grow above earth?

There are two basic technologies that enable crystallization of carbon over a diamond substrate – namely High Pressure and High Temperature (HPHT) technology and the Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) technology.

In the CVD process, methane gas is activated using microwave energy to a temperature approximately to 2000-3000 F causing it to break and release carbon atoms, depositing onto a diamond substrate. This slowly grows layer by layer, atom by atom. It is a natural process of cystal growth resulting in similar kinds of inclusions and defects that occur in mined diamonds and is beyond human control once the process starts.

In the HPHT process, a diamond seed (real diamond) is placed along with graphite and a metallic catalyst covered with a ceramic shell in growth chamber. As the pressure and temperature increase to about 55 K Bar and 1500 C, respectively the carbon atoms are released from the graphite through the molten catalyst and the atomic process of crystal growth starts on the diamond seed. The diamond grows layer by layer and atom by atom over a period of 8-10 days.The new diamond is cleaned and ready to be cut and polished, just like any other rough diamond extracted from below earth.

Why do some call lab-grown diamonds as 'synthetic'?

IGDA strongly disagrees with the descriptor 'synthetic' that is used by several in the mined diamond industry to create disparity between the two diamonds.

Lab-grown diamonds are formed by the “natural growth process” of carbon atoms growing on carbon atoms in a single crystal lattice. Each lab grown diamond starts with a diamond seed and, under the properly controlled conditions, “naturally grows.” Above and below earth diamonds have IDENTICAL carbon structures.

'Synthetic' when used in context of jewellery almost always implies an 'artificial' or a 'fake' which a lab-grown diamond isn't. The bottom line is that a lab-grown diamond exhibits the same exceptional beauty and brilliance as a mined diamond because it is identical in composition to a mined diamond — that’s right, identical. Not similar. Not a simulation. Not a fake.

More recently, even Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revised its Jewelry Guides and omitted the term 'synthetic' as prescribed qualifiers for lab grown diamonds. The Commission also no longer defines a “diamond” by using the term “natural” because, "it is no longer accurate to define diamonds as “natural” when it is now possible to create products that have essentially the same optical, physical, and chemical properties as mined diamonds," noted the FTC.

For further reading: IGDA welcomes FTC's revision to the Jewelry Guides

When placed side by side, can you distinguish between lab-grown & mined diamonds?

Without using technically sophisticated equipment, it is impossible to differentiate between diamonds grown above or below earth. After all, lab-grown diamonds ARE diamonds with the only difference being the place where it was grown.

Today, most retailers inscribe their diamond (girdle) to declare a diamonds' origin and also ensure that a certificate from a grading laboratory is offered to the customer to assure them of their purchase.

Is lab-grown diamond a 'real' diamond?

Scientists from all over the world and all diamond grading laboratories have subjected lab-grown diamonds to rigorous testing and undertaken many studies to ascertain that diamonds from above earth are identical to those from under the earth. Diamonds – whether grown below or above earth – are made of pure carbon containing only SP3 type carbon bonds (tetrahedral bonds) in the cubic crystal structure.

In the revised FTC Jewelry Guides, the Commission cautions marketers that it would be deceptive to use the terms “real,” “genuine,” “natural,” or “synthetic” to imply that a lab-grown diamond is not, in fact, an actual diamond.

For Further Reading: IGDA welcomes FTC's revision to the Jewelry Guides

How are lab-grown diamonds 'Eco-Friendly'?

Cultured within greenhouses under controlled conditions, lab-grown diamonds are distinctly eco-friendlier and sustainable. There's no harmful water or air pollution due to growing diamonds nor is any ecosystem uprooted during the lifetime of a lab-grown diamond.

According to research data from Frost & Sullivan, extracting 1 carat of diamond from below earth causes 1.5 billion times the carbon emission than growing diamond above earth. Greener Diamond, an environmental non-profit, estimates that for the 150 million carats of diamonds that are extracted from the earth through mining, an enormous amount of soil is removed and processed. This is catastrophic to the local environment and its aboriginal people.

It is heartening to see that apart from the traditional 4Cs of diamonds, 2 new Cs – ‘Conscience’ and ‘Carbon’ are becoming more relevant to buyers.

Also Read: Why Lab-Grown Diamonds Are Eco-Positive?

Are lab-grown diamonds same as cubic zirconia?

Lab-grown diamonds are 100% pure crystallized carbon, which makes them optically, chemically, and physically identical in every way to an earth-created diamond. Cubic Zirconia is made of synthetic zirconium dioxide in its crystalline form and is commonly used as a low-cost alternative to a mined diamond; it has absolutely no presence of carbon diamond bonds in its creation, it is simply a crystal cut in a way to mimic the look of a diamond. The lack of crystallized carbon is why Cubic Zirconia (CZ) differs chemically, physically, and optically from an earth mined or Lab-grown diamond.

What has been consumer's reaction to lab grown diamonds?

A consumer research by MVI Marketing shows millennials are very open to the idea of lab grown diamonds. The release of MVI’s findings align with those of a Morgan Stanley report calling lab-grown diamonds a “serious potential disruptor” to the market. Many millennials also believe they would rather save money and buy a gem that is both sustainable and ethical in nature than a stone mined from the ground having negative impact on both environment and humans. The MVI report shows that millennials would rather buy larger stones, grown in a laboratory of the same price than a smaller mined stone. Interestingly, Kathryn Money, Vice President of Strategy and Merchandising at Brilliant Earth, claimed that 'Google searches for Lab-grown diamonds have tripled in the last decade.'
(Also refer to Consumer Acceptance)

How exactly is diamond growing more sustainble than diamond mining?

Even with all the developments in diamond mining & extraction techniques, it is hard to keep pace with increasing consumer consciousness. On the other hand, lab grown diamonds are conflict free, without the problems of child forced labor and other disturbing facts that are associated iwth diamond mining.

For instance:
Detailed analysis of the environmental impact of both growing & mining diamonds was done by Frost & Sullivan (refer Eco-Positive) and the study concluded that diamond mining causes 7 times more impact to environment than growing diamonds. A Stanford University graduate, in his research, compared energy intensity of mined diamonds at BHP Billiton's Ekati mine in Canada against the lab-created diamonds produced in the US. The research concluded saying lab-grown diamonds produced less than one-fifth of the carbon dioxide emissions that result from diamond mining at Ekati.