Is a diamond only a diamond when it’s formed over millions of years in the ground?
Evidently, the answer to that question is becoming a resounding “no” to many who shop for jewelry.
More and more, people are turning to diamonds made in labs, not found in mines.
According to reports, the lab-grown diamond market is expected to be a $50 billion industry by 2030.
Diamonds made by scientists in a lab are often a much less expensive option for jewelers and consumers, and more readily available than diamonds that have to be mined.
But how exactly are diamonds made in a lab and just how authentic are they?
Dr. James Shigley, research fellow at the Gemological Institute of America, lent insight on how diamonds are produced in a lab compared to naturally, and their authenticity.
Is a lab created diamond a cubic zirconia?
It should be noted that there are differences between lab-created diamonds and a cubic zirconia, as explained here by Luminesce Lab Grown Diamonds.
How are diamonds naturally formed?
Shigley said diamonds are naturally formed over millions of years in the ground in certain parts of the planet.
“Once the diamond crystals form in the Earth, they stay down there in that high temperature and pressure environment for millions of years,” he said. “They kind of come up accidentally in a way by eruptions of a special magma called kimberlite. It’s kind of like an elevator bringing them to the surface. They’re blown up on the surface by an eruption. That is what’s being mined today for natural diamonds.”
How are diamonds made in a lab?
Shigley said there are two main methods to doing, both of which are similar to “growing sugar crystals in hot water.”
“You’ve got a source of carbon, which is we believe is typically diamond powder,” he said. “That’s the start of where the carbon comes from. You have a molten metal alloy, which is kind of like the hot water, and you have a diamond seed crystal that’s placed in a growth chamber. There is a slight difference in temperature between the top and bottom of the chamber. The diamond powder goes in the solution in the middle at the hot end of this chamber, and the carbon atoms migrate through the metal to the sea crystal, which is slightly cooler in temperature. That’s where you have the actual synthetic diamond crystal being grown. It’s very similar to growing sugar crystals in water. To grow a crystal of two to three carats, I would guess it’s maybe two or three weeks.”
Shigley said the second method is “kind of like growing diamonds in a microwave oven.”
“You have a high temperature chamber and you have a carbon containing gas like methane in the chamber,” he said. “You have diamond seed plates at the bottom of the chamber and you can activate that methane gas with like a microwave beam, and it breaks the methane down into carbon and hydrogen atoms, and those are attracted to the seed plates at the bottom. You’re growing diamonds layer by layer upward. You end up with kind of flat, tabular-shaped crystal.”
How authentic are lab-produced diamonds?
Shigley said while lab-produced diamonds can’t fully replicate the geological formation over millions of years that natural diamonds have, they are still diamonds.
“Our main concern has been getting consumers to understand that these are diamonds,” he said. “They are not imitation material. These are actual diamonds. It has the same chemical and physical properties as a natural diamond.”
What are the pros and cons of lab-produced diamonds?
The main pro is that lab-produced diamonds can cost 40% to 50% less than natural diamonds, according to the International Gem Society.
Shigley said that is not only good for customers looking to buy jewelry, but also for industries. It’s incredibly expensive for industries to find mines and extract diamonds that way.
“Lab production is good for industrial use if you want many crystals in the same shape or way,” he said.
Of course, the main con is that some may simply feel lab-produced diamonds aren’t authentic, even if they are produced in the same manner as natural ones formed in the Earth.
“The only cautionary part of this story is that if you are purchasing them, if you make them, they can’t be totally rare,” Shigley said.
Are you a lover of jewelry who has tried lab-produced diamonds? What do you think of them? Let us know in the comments below.