Natural and Laboratory Grown Diamonds
A Brief Overview
You may know the story of a natural diamond. It started out as carbon with big dreams. After undergoing intense pressure and high temperatures in the Earth’s mantle, it became a natural diamond, which is the hardest substance known to man and the only gem made of a single element, carbon! Diamonds truly are marvels of the wonder of nature.
Thanks to many decades of science, research, and TLC, laboratory-grown diamonds are created through a similar process where they are carefully grown in human controlled environments over a shorter period of time. Essentially they share the same properties as a natural diamond but take a different journey to reach the hands and eyes of the beholder! Lab-grown diamonds are the celebration of humanity’s successful creation of nature’s best!
Diamonds are older than life on Earth, a true miracle of nature.
Long before there were Dinosaurs, there were diamonds. Natural diamonds are a crystalline form of carbon that was formed in the Earth’s upper mantle and then pushed to the surface via pipes or “diatremes” that were created through upward volcanic activity. The youngest diamonds known are estimated to be 900 million years old and the oldest may be more than three billion years old! Diamonds are the oldest thing that most of us will ever hold!
Gem Quality diamonds are rare.
As with most things we purchase, quality and rarity drive pricing. Low quality “industrial” diamonds make up the vast majority of rough gem recovered from most mines and are unsuitable for use in jewelry. While the ratio of gem-quality diamond to ore varies from mine to mine, and even within a single mine, workers often must process about one ton of rock just to recover a piece of gem rough weighing in at half of one carat. Which in turn, might be able to produce a faceted diamond half that size, or 25 points.
Adding another layer of rarity, diamond mines are often found in remote areas. Mining operations in places like the frozen terrain of Siberia and Canada, or remote regions in Africa and Australia, have special challenges – and costs.
The Diamond Industry makes an important contribution to the world.
The diamond sector supports the livelihood of approximately 10 million people globally. This figure includes approximately 1.5 million artisanal and small-scale miners and their families in Africa and South America. Miners from these regions provide 15% of the world’s diamonds and their livelihoods depend on consumer demand for their product. In Botswana, the discovery of diamonds has transformed the country from one of the poorest in the world to a middle-income country. Diamonds have helped build Botswana’s infrastructure, support women, and combat AIDS. Today, every child there receives free schooling until the age of 13 thanks to diamond revenues that represent almost a third of Botswana’s GDP. In the Indian state of Gujarat, the diamond sector employs about one million people and funds their schools and hospitals.
Conflict diamonds are a thing of the past.
To ensure that no diamonds traded are coming from conflict zones, the industry has put into place strict controls referred to as the Kimberley Process. As a result, 99.8% of all diamonds traded today are Kimberley Process certified.
Laboratory Grown Diamonds
Lab-grown diamonds are becoming a popular alternative for many these days. They can offer the same beauty and optical properties as mined diamonds and are also often more affordable.
What Exactly is a Lab-Created Diamond?
Synthetic diamonds go by many different names – lab-grown, lab-created, lab-made and even engineered diamonds. These names all point to the fact that synthetic diamonds are created in a laboratory or factory rather than occurring in nature and mined from the earth. Synthetic diamond laboratories use advanced technology to mimic the conditions that natural diamonds endure when they form beneath the earth’s crust. Since synthetic diamonds have essentially all the same chemical, optical and physical properties as well as crystal structure as natural diamonds, this origin story is the main factor that sets synthetic diamonds apart from natural ones.
How are Synthetic Diamonds Made in Labs?
There are two main processes used to create lab-grown diamonds.
1. High Pressure, High Temperature (HPHT)
With this method, synthetic diamonds are produced in laboratories that mimic the high pressure, high temperature conditions of natural diamond formation in the earth. HPHT diamond growth occurs at pressures of 5–6 GPa (roughly equivalent to the pressure exerted by a commercial jet airplane if balanced on the tip of a person’s finger) and at temperatures of 1300–1600°C.
2. Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)
This newer technique enables scientists to grow synthetic diamonds using moderate temperatures (700°C to 1300°C) and lower pressures. Carbon-containing gas is pumped into a vacuum chamber, depositing onto a diamond seed and crystallizing as synthetic diamond. The eventual size of the diamond depends on the time allowed for growth.
How Do You Identify a Lab-Grown Diamond?
Lab-grown diamonds can look exactly the same as natural diamonds to the unaided eye. Their identity can usually only be determined by gemological laboratories using specialized instruments. These instruments detect minor differences in trace elements and crystal growth to determine whether a diamond is synthetic or natural.