Lab-Grown Diamonds vs. Natural Diamonds: An In-Depth Guide [+FAQ and Buying Tips]

Growing a diamond...

For centuries, humans have loved all things that sparkle. Diamonds are the quintessential shiny things, and scientists have spent years trying to recreate their natural beauty. Today, lab-grown diamonds are a popular alternative to their natural counterparts, and they offer several additional benefits that earthly stones do not.😎

Lab-Grown Diamonds on a Craftsman's Hands

So what should you know about a lab-grown diamond before buying one? And where can you find the best lab-created stones? In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What is a lab-grown diamond? How are they made?
  • How do lab-grown diamonds compare to natural diamonds?
  • Why should you choose a lab-grown diamond?
  • Advice on selecting the right lab-grown diamond for you.
  • Best places to buy a lab-grown diamond.

What is a lab-grown diamond?

A history of lab-grown diamonds

The fascination with cultured diamonds began in 1797, when scientists first discovered diamonds were made entirely of carbon. From this discovery, a mad dash to replicate diamonds endured for decades.

After controversial diamond creation experiments from 1879 to 1951, Tracy Hall of GE produced the first verifiable cultured diamond in 1954. At only .15mm wide, the diamond was ideal for industrial use but nothing else. However, by the 1970s, GE created lab-grown diamonds large enough for use in jewelry.

Once diamonds were large enough for jewelry, manufacturers spent the 1980s to the early 2010s perfecting the color and quality of cultured diamonds. The process for creation improved as well, until the 2010s where colorless lab-made stones were finally available to the public.

Lab-grown diamonds: A breakdown

Also known as cultured diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are exactly as they sound: grown in a lab! In comparison, natural diamonds are pulled from the earth after millions of years of intense heat and pressure.

Today’s advanced technology allows scientists to create lab-grown diamonds that are chemically, physically, and optically identical to natural stones.

While most people seek colorless diamonds, scientists can even produce colored lab-grown stones. The lab-grown gems mimic natural fancy colored diamonds, and popular options include pink, yellow, blue, black, and champagne or peach.🌈

How are lab-grown diamonds made?

There are two main ways labs create cultured diamonds. We’ll break down both processes below as well as explain a couple of other methods occasionally used in growing diamonds.

High Pressure, High Temperature

High Pressure, High Temperature (HPHT) is a process from the 1950’s used to create the first jewelry grade lab-grown diamonds. It’s also a popular procedure for improving the clarity and color of lower-quality diamonds or changing their color.

Rough Lab-Created Synthetic Diamond
A rough lab-grown diamond

This method requires scientists to replicate the natural process of diamond creation. Utilizing pressures of 5-6 GPa and temperatures of 1300-1600℃, scientists use intense heat and pressure to form diamonds from carbon. For a little perspective, 1300℃ is a little hotter than lava when it bursts from a volcano’s vents!

Similar to earth’s mantle, this process can produce stunning lab-grown diamonds in much less time. Scientists can replicate the pressure and heat of millions of years in just a few hours!⏱

Chemical Vapor Deposition

A newer process from the 2000s, Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) requires temperatures between 700 and 1300℃, and the entire process is completed in a chamber-like structure.  

Scientists pump carbon-filled gas into the chamber where a diamond seed is stored. The gas usually consists of methane and hydrogen, and these gaseous elements are ionized to break their molecular bonds and release the carbon within.

The carbon in the vapor crystallizes on the seed, and the diamond grows as it is exposed to the fumes. Much like HPHT lab-grown diamonds, these gems are identical to natural diamonds.

Other Methods

Detonation

“Detonation nanodiamonds” are only 5 nm wide, and they form when one detonates carbon-filled explosives within a specialized chamber. Similar to the HPHT method, detonation creates the heat and pressure necessary to transform the carbon into a diamond.  

Another variation of detonation includes placing a metal tube filled with graphite powder in the chamber instead. In both instances, graphite and other non-carbon byproducts must be dissolved with hot nitric acid to collect the nanodiamonds. The nanodiamond powder produced by the explosion is extremely useful as a polishing agent in manufacturing.

Ultrasound Cavitation

A less popular method, ultrasound cavitation requires suspending graphite in hot liquid while under both room temperature and atmospheric pressure. The result is micron-sized diamonds, which weigh about 10% of the graphite initially used in the process. That’s a rather small yield!

Although the process isn’t streamlined currently, there are still several ways experts are working to improve the diamond yield. Synthesis time, ultrasonic power, and alternative solvents are a few ways this method may see improvements in the future.

Lab-grown diamonds vs. Natural diamonds

How do lab-grown diamonds measure up to natural diamonds? Let’s compare:

Chemical and Physical Properties

When it comes to the chemical makeup and physical appearance of lab-grown and natural diamonds, they are the same!

Lab-grown diamonds have the same orderly carbon structure as natural diamonds. Both lab-grown and natural diamonds also rank as a 10 on the Mohs scale, and they’re the hardest gemstones available for jewelry. Additionally, lab-grown diamonds may have inclusions just like natural diamonds, although some inclusions are specifically found in cultured stones.

Structure of Cultured/Mined Diamond

Even a trained gemologist would have a hard time finding the differences between lab-grown and natural diamonds without at least a microscope. In fact, no one would know you’ve purchased a cultured gem without you directly telling them!

Overall Beauty

Because cultured diamonds are identical to natural gems, they share the same overall beauty and shine.💎 Although their creation processes may vary, lab-grown diamonds sparkle just like natural diamonds, and their hue can be as pure white or vibrantly colorful as earthly stones.

However, similar to natural diamonds, a lab-grown diamond’s fire, brilliance, and scintillation are largely dependent on the gem’s 4Cs grading. We’ll discuss the 4Cs of cultured diamonds shortly.

Comparison of Overall Beauty Between Lab-Grown and Natural Diamonds (James Allen)
Natural Diamond (L; James Allen SKU: 10691328) vs. Lab-Grown Diamond (R; SKU: 10165857) Specs: 1 carat, Excellent cut, G color, VS2 clarity

Diamond Shape

Lab-created diamonds are available in any shape you would typically find with natural diamonds, so there are no limitations when creating a cultured piece.  

Like with natural diamonds, the most popular lab-grown shape is the round brilliant due to its intense fire. However, oval, marquise, pear, or cushion shapes are also very popular choices for cultured diamonds.

If you’re interested in a diamond shape that is typically expensive, a lab-grown diamond is a perfect way to get a gem in your ideal shape and size for a better price. Because lab-grown stones are less expensive, you can usually find much better deals on the gems you want.

The 4Cs

While the 4Cs of lab-grown diamonds are the same as those used for natural stones, experts grade them differently in some criteria. Here is a breakdown of each grade for cultured diamonds:

Cut

A well-cut diamond is a sparkly diamond, whether it’s natural or lab-grown! The classic Poor to Excellent scale for cut measures both natural and lab-grown diamonds. Cultured diamonds may have more facets on occasion, but overall they sparkle just as much as their natural counterparts. In fact, these differences in cut are rarely noticed by the average buyer, and a jeweler or gemologist is the only individual who could identify such differences.

Clarity

Although they’re similar in most aspects, natural and lab-created diamonds do differ slightly when it comes to inclusions and clarity grades.

Due to their growth process, cultured diamonds tend to have darker, metallic inclusions that can be visible to the naked eye, and they are more noticeable than the wispy or white inclusions of natural diamonds.

Regardless, you can avoid visible inclusions by purchasing a higher grade lab-grown diamond. The scale for both types of diamonds is the same, ranging from Included (I) to Flawless (FL). A cultured diamond with a clarity grade of VS2 or above should be eye clean, and your jeweler can walk you through any inclusions you should watch for.

Color

Just like natural diamonds, lab-grown stones may have chemical impurities that alter their color and create a yellow or brown hue. The alphabetical color scale is the same as the one used by the GIA to grade natural gems, ranging from D to Z. There are recommended colors for different diamond shapes, and fluorescence is also noted in lab-grown diamonds.  

For elongated shapes like ovals, marquise, and pears, a color grade of I or above is nearly colorless. For round, Asscher, emerald, and cushion-shaped lab-grown stones, try to find a gem with a color grade of J or above. As a note, cultured diamonds are also more likely to be treated to enhance their color, but this doesn’t affect their quality overall.

Finally, for colored gemstones, lab-grown diamonds offer a wider variety of shades than natural diamonds, and for a fraction of the price!

Carat

Carat weight is the same for both lab-grown and natural diamonds, and it measures the overall weight of the stone.  

Similar to natural gems, certain weights of cultured diamonds—such as rounded carats like 1.00 and half-carat weights—are more in demand than other weights. As such, these carat weights may cost more than the others, as buyers flock to their well-rounded measurements.  

However, because lab-grown diamonds are plentiful, there are many more carat weight options, and there are more large stones available for purchase.

Diamond Report

While the GIA diamond report is the gold standard for natural diamonds, the IGI report is best suited to lab-grown stones. This is because the GIA does not specifically grade lab-grown diamonds on color and clarity, and it gives them a “range” grade instead.

In contrast, the IGI report provides a specific grade for all 4Cs of your lab-grown diamonds. Having a specific grade makes comparing diamonds easier, as you can know for sure you are comparing two H color diamonds rather than stones that might be “H-J” on a GIA scale.

Sample of an IGI Report for Lab-Grown Diamond
An IGI report for a lab-grown diamond (James Allen SKU: 10165857)
SEE ALSO: IGI: First in Lab Grown Diamond Grading

If you can’t find a diamond with an IGI report that you love, just make sure your diamond is graded in general by the GIA or AGS. Having the diamond’s specs is an important step in securing the value of your gemstone.💵

Price and Value

So how much is a lab-grown diamond? You can save money by purchasing a cultured diamond over a natural stone. Today, a lab-grown diamond’s price is typically 30-50% less than that of a natural gem.

Take a look at these identical natural and lab-grown diamond rings. They have the same specs, but the lab-created diamond costs less than half the price of the natural stone!

However, price is only part of a diamond’s value. If you’re looking to resell a stone at a later date, a lab-grown diamond does not hold value the way a natural stone does due to supply and demand. Later, we’ll look at some of the reasons buyers choose natural diamonds over lab-grown ones, such as perceived symbolism and the formation process.

Diamond simulants vs. Natural and lab-grown diamonds

It’s important to note the difference between diamond simulants and natural and lab-grown diamonds. Cubic Zirconia, Moissanite, and other white stones are often used in place of diamonds, but they are not the same.

On an atomic level, these simulants are completely different, and although they usually rank high on the Mohs scale they do not offer the same durability as diamonds. Similarly, while they may shine with a bright white light, it is often a bit different than the sparkle of a diamond.

Your jeweler should be able to distinguish between a diamond and diamond simulant should you ever need them to do so. Make sure you choose a reputable jeweler to handle your pieces, as they are your diamond experts!

Why are lab-created diamonds becoming more popular?

People are falling in love with lab-grown diamond jewelry, and it’s easy to see why!

While all of the above characteristics are important in your diamond buying decision, here are the top factors that make cultured diamonds exceptionally popular today:📈

Same look for a lower price

Why pay double the price for a natural diamond when you can find a lab-grown one that’s just as beautiful? Diamond fans are beginning to ask themselves the same thing!

As previously discussed, lab-grown diamonds and natural stones are identical, and you’ll have a hard time trying to spot differences. However, now that the supply of cultured diamonds has grown, the price has significantly decreased. In fact, natural diamonds can be almost twice the price of lab-grown diamonds now that the supply is much larger.

Lab-Created 1 Carat Ideal-Cut G-Color VS2-Clarity Round Diamond
$1,990 (Brilliant Earth SKU: 4191340Y; 1 Carat, Ideal Cut, G Color, VS2 Clarity)

Lab-Created 1 Carat Ideal-Cut H-Color VS1-Clarity Round Diamond
$1,860 (Brilliant Earth SKU: 4176727Y; 1 Carat, Ideal Cut, H Color, VS1 Clarity)

As advancements in diamond growing technology have closed the gap between natural and cultured stones, buyers have found themselves drawn to the affordable luster of lab-grown diamonds.

Ethical sourcing and environmental responsibility

“Conflict-free” diamonds have become all the rage with retailers, as the next generation strives to make informed purchases that do not leave the earth or its people worse off than before.

Unethical mining situations are the norm in many parts of the world where diamonds are mined. Moreover, blood diamonds fund local conflicts, creating unsafe environments for innocent people.🚫

The environmental impact of diamond mining is no better, with mines stripping the land of nutrients. 📝For example, a single carat of diamond can require the displacement of 250 tons of fertile earth. This means mining one carat of natural diamond requires twice the energy of creating a lab-grown diamond, and it produces 57kg of carbon that releases into the atmosphere!

While big diamond corporations are trying their best to minimize these effects and offer “conflict-free” stones that leave a smaller environmental footprint, the process is slow and complex. Instead, many people are choosing to buy sensible lab-grown stones that leave little footprint and still shine vibrantly.

Celebrity favor

As celebrities begin to wear more lab-grown diamonds, their followers are making similar decisions. Big names such as Lady Gaga, Meghan Markle, Emma Watson, and Billy Porter are just a few of the celebrities who have seized the opportunity to don diamonds that don’t have environmental or ethical implications.

The elaborate displays celebrities convey at events such as the Met Gala are an ideal runway for lab-grown diamonds. These lavish soirées with bold fashion perfectly prove that cultured diamonds sparkle just as brightly as natural ones!

Why do many people still prefer natural diamonds?

Despite the added benefits of lab-created diamonds, many buyers still insist on purchasing natural gemstones. Although natural diamonds evoke issues of ethics, many people still prefer the “real deal” to cultured gems. Let’s look at a few reasons below.

Formation

Many people prefer natural diamonds because of the labor-intensive process required to make them. For a natural diamond to form in the earth’s crust, the temperature and pressure must be extreme yet just right. The earth’s mantle must act as an incubator, and the diamonds must push their way to the surface once they are finished.  

Because of this complex process, the supply of natural diamonds is limited, and so many people feel they own something “rare” by purchasing a natural stone.

However, the process of creating lab-grown diamonds requires an equal amount of extremity and perfection. Scientists spent decades figuring out how to replicate diamonds, and years of advancements have led to cultured stones that are equal to natural diamonds in all ways.

Symbolism/Value

There are some people who believe natural diamonds are a symbol of wealth and order. A 10 on the Mohs scale, they signify perfection, eternity, and affluence. Due to their natural scarcity, earth made diamonds are often much more expensive than lab-grown stones, meaning those who buy them tend to feel they’ve made a more lavish purchase.

Because “diamonds are forever”, natural stones have become the symbol for eternal love. The engagement stone of choice across the globe, individuals feel compelled to buy their partners natural stones to signify their enduring affection.

However, because lab-grown stones are identical to natural diamonds, their structure and strength are equivalent. Their Mohs scale score is the same, and their structure is so orderly that you’re much more likely to find a perfect cultured stone than a natural one.

Lab-grown diamonds are a wonderful investment, and they symbolize enduring love just as much as natural gems.❤️

Our advice on how to choose lab-grown diamonds

So how can you find the right lab-grown diamond for you? Take a look at our advice below and see if these factors apply to you:

The wearer’s opinion

Many people still regard cultured diamonds as “fake”, so make sure your intended giftee is comfortable with a lab-grown diamond engagement ring or lab-grown diamond earrings! As discussed above, some people prefer the organic origins of a natural diamond and feel they carry more inherent value.

Consider Wearer's Opinion on Lab-Created Diamonds

If you know your partner would love a lab-grown diamond, then make sure you choose the right color, size, and style to suit their personal taste!

Budget and the 4Cs

Budget is always a key factor in choosing your diamond, and the lower prices of lab-grown stones means you have more options to choose from! The IGI carries the premier reporting process for cultured diamonds. As such, carefully review the reports of any stones you are interested in to make sure you are getting a good deal.

When it comes to the 4Cs, recommended grades are similar to those used for natural stones. Cut is most important, as an excellent cut can hide most flaws within a diamond. However, it’s important to keep clarity and color in mind when making any decisions, as noticeable inclusions or a yellowish hue can really ruin a jewelry piece.

If you ever hope to resell your lab-grown piece, keep in mind that cultured diamonds do not hold their value. Prices on lab-grown gems are dropping quickly, and so your stone may not garner the same price a couple of years from now. In contrast, natural diamonds hold their value and can sell for about 50% of their initial price, so if resale is something you’re interested in consider natural stones.

Mix it up

If you’re short on cash, mixing up lab-grown and natural diamonds can be a simple way to save money while still creating a dazzling piece of jewelry.

Consider using a lab-grown center stone to save on the largest gemstone in a piece. Or, spend more on a natural center stone and surround it with tons of stunning lab-grown gems. The choice to mix diamonds is entirely up to you, but we guarantee anyone looking at your piece won’t know the difference!😊

Choose reputable jewelers

It’s so important to find a reputable jeweler who can help you find the diamond of your dreams. Look for a retailer that offers IGI graded diamonds. Or, if not, try a jeweler with GIA graded diamonds who can carefully walk you through the specs of your chosen stones and help you make an informed decision.  

Best places to buy lab-grown diamonds

Here are a few trusted online retailers we recommend. ⚠️Some companies may try to sell you lab-grown stones as natural diamonds if you’re not careful, and others may promise untreated cultured diamonds that are actually enhanced.

Take a look at these quality brands and lab-grown diamond companies:

Brilliant Earth

A staple of the conflict-free buyer, Brilliant Earth has one of the best lab-grown diamond collections. If you’re interested in colored diamonds, we recommend perusing their wide variety of vibrant cultured diamonds. Brilliant Earth offers a manufacturer’s warranty and an extended service plan for additional purchase.

James Allen

James Allen holds their own in the lab-grown diamond community. Their catalogue of cultured diamonds is exceptional, and their prices are often hard to beat! 👍🏻Their cultured gems are also promised As-Grown, with no enhancements. Come for the beautiful lab-grown stones, stay for the superior customer service and live assistance from certified diamond experts.

Clean Origin

In an effort to produce ethical diamonds, all of Clean Origin’s stones are lab-grown! They have a huge inventory of cultured diamonds, and they even have wedding bands and other accessories to match. Live customer service and sleek, 360 viewing are just a few more reasons to buy with Clean Origin.

Other questions to consider

Do you still have concerns about lab-grown diamonds? Check out our FAQ to see if we’ve answered your questions:

How can I tell the difference between a lab-grown and natural diamond?

There are no chemical or physical differences between lab-grown and natural diamonds, so telling them apart is near impossible! Jewelers often struggle to tell the difference themselves, so figuring out whether a diamond is real or cultured can be difficult. 👉🏻The easiest ways to know the difference are checking the diamond’s report or using a microscope to read the diamond’s laser inscription and looking up its specs.

If your jeweler has access to specialized equipment, testing the diamond’s carbon purity can help him or her distinguish between natural and lab-grown gems. Or, a gemological lab can use radiation testing or observe your stone’s fluorescence at a deeper level to judge whether the gem is lab-grown.

Will lab-grown diamonds get cloudy?

Similar to natural diamonds, if your lab-grown diamond is of decent quality, it should not be cloudy. However, if your diamond becomes cloudy, it may be time for a cleaning!

Make sure you schedule regular cleanings with a respected jeweler. Dirt and other debris can become trapped underneath a diamond, making the gem appear hazy.

Are lab-grown diamonds worth the investment?

If you’re looking for a smart investment piece, lab-grown diamonds are not the answer. But, to be fair, NO diamond is a good investment! Similar to cars, all diamonds depreciate once you purchase them, so they don’t necessarily hold their value.

That said, natural diamonds do have the possibility of becoming heirloom or antique, but that won’t happen in your lifetime. And, lab-grown stones are decreasing in price every day, negatively impacting their value over time. If you want to leave something special behind in your will or make a quick dollar on your investment, do not buy diamonds. They are meant to be appreciated here and now!🙂

All diamonds are beautiful

So should you choose a natural or lab-grown diamond?

It’s important to weigh the benefits as drawbacks of each stone. There’s no shame in either choice, but cultured diamonds do have some innate benefits that natural gems do not. As the desire for ethically sourced and environmentally responsible diamonds grow, lab-grown diamonds are becoming increasingly popular options for Millennials and beyond.

Interested in learning more about natural diamonds and diamond simulants? Consider reading our natural diamond and simulants articles to dive deeper and find out which one best suits your needs. When it comes to choosing diamonds, you should always buy the one that speaks to you!

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