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Jewelry shopping can be intimidating. That’s why we started Ask Holden, our blog where we answer your FAQs, break down scary industry lingo, and guide you in finding the perfect piece of jewelry.
Lucy’s in the sky with them, they’re (apparently) a girl’s best friend, baseball players run around them, and your roommate has two giant boxes of Diamond Crystal Salt in your tiny apartment. They’re also...forever? Rihanna has instructed us to shine bright like them, but how bright IS bright, Riri? Diamonds: they’re complicated. How can one small thing symbolize so much, and what exactly makes a diamond a diamond? In this post, we’ll break down lab created diamonds vs natural diamonds, how diamonds are made in a lab, and why we choose to only use lab grown diamonds here at Holden.
Lab Grown Diamonds: The Short Version
In case you’re in a rush, the TL;DR version is: lab grown diamonds (sometimes referred to as man made diamonds or lab diamonds) are 100% real diamonds, chemically and physically identical to natural (aka mined) diamonds. The main difference is the origin of the diamond, but the benefits of lab-grown are huge: these diamonds cost less, are ethically made, and are environmentally friendly. Like natural diamonds, lab grown diamonds can even be used for industrial purposes, since diamonds are extremely useful thanks to their high thermal conductivity. Our lab diamond rings are made using cutting-edge technology that duplicates the same growing conditions as within the earth’s mantle. Over a period of two months, the seeds undergo a series of processes that expose them to a perfect storm of gases, pressure, and high temperature. Layer-by-layer, carbon atoms form upon the seed and eventually crystallize into a rough diamond.
Before we break down the differences in more detail, it might help to do a quick refresh on how natural diamonds are formed, in case your middle school geology unit has eluded you. So pull out some Dunkaroos (or any snack that takes you back) and transport yourself to the seventh grade while we give you the lowdown on diamond formation.
Diamonds are formed deep within the Earth, in what’s known as the mantle, about 100 miles below the Earth’s surface. As you travel closer to the Earth’s core, pressure and temperature increase, which creates the perfect oven for carbon to be converted into diamond (diamonds are the only gemstone to be made from purely one element). Through a massive volcanic eruption, these diamonds were transported to the Earth’s surface. It’s estimated this process was fairly quick (most likely over the course of several hours), which allowed the diamonds to stay intact without melting. Also, they’re old AF: all the natural diamonds we have today are from 1 billion to 3.5 billion years ago.
Diamonds are mined in one of three ways: pit (heavy machinery blows a massive pit into the earth, then uses the machines to mine), alluvial (riverbeds and banks are panned for diamonds), and marine (a vacuum cleaner-like machine sucks up sediment from the ocean floor to find diamonds). Unfortunately, all three of these methods have the potential for negative environmental impact. Conflict diamonds (also known as blood diamonds: diamonds used to fund conflict in war-torn areas) have become less prevalent through what’s called the Kimberley Process, but it’s hard to always know if your mined diamond comes conflict-free and responsibly sourced.
How Are Lab Diamonds Made?
In the lab, you can grow diamonds one of two ways: High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) or Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). Both processes start with what’s known as a “diamond seed,” a single crystal diamond in a slice about as thick as a human hair. Diamonds are grown over the course of several weeks through both processes.
High Pressure, High Temperature: In essence, HPHT is like a mini version of the Earth’s mantle. Over a period of two months, the seeds undergo a series of processes that expose them to extremely high pressures and high temperatures. Like, 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit high. Pure carbon, through the help of a metal catalyst, is converted to diamond through this process, building on the seeds. Fun fact: it’s also possible to use HPHT technology to pump up the vibrancy of a natural diamond.
Chemical Vapor Deposition: CVD, like CBD, is trending. Think of it sort of like 3D printing with gas: hydrogen and methane gases are heated to extremely high temperatures and turned into plasma that sprinkles tiny carbon pieces onto the diamond seed, Salt Bae style, ultimately growing a diamond.
Each rough diamond is then cut and polished by master cutters and high-tech lasers. The result is a diamond that is physically, chemically, and visually identical to a natural diamond.
Lab-Grown Versus Mined Diamonds
Unlike diamond simulants such as cubic zirconia, diamonds grown in a lab are certified real diamonds. According to Stephen Morrisseau, a spokesperson for the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), “[Man-made diamonds] are not fakes...they have all the same physical and chemical properties of a mined diamond.” In fact, the Federal Trade Commission officially changed its jewelry guide in 2019, eliminating the word “natural” from its diamond definition, which now reads: “a mineral consisting essentially of pure carbon crystallized in the isometric system.” A lab grown diamond is, by the official rule book, a diamond. Lab grown diamonds are graded in the same way as natural diamonds through what’s known as the 4 C’s: cut, color, clarity, and carat.
What’s a Carat, and Is It Different Than a Karat?
The short answer: carats measure the mass of stones, karats measure the purity of gold.
Carat: 1 carat is equal to 0.2 grams, about the weight of a paperclip (next time you see a photo of Mariah Carey’s 35 carat engagement ring, just imagine the burden of carrying 35 paper clips around your finger every day).
Karat: As far as karats go, 24 karats is pure gold. A 14 karat piece of jewelry is 14 parts gold out of 24 parts total (the remaining 10 parts are made of other alloy metals - such as zinc, copper, or silver), so a 14k ring is 58.3% pure gold. We wrote a post on different karats of gold if you’re curious to learn more.
Why Are Some Diamonds Colored?
Those fancy colors? They’re actually imperfections in the diamonds, from elements that have snuck into the carbon lattice - a diamond might be blue thanks to boron or purple due to hydrogen. And the yellow diamonds in the sky Rihanna sings about in “We Found Love,” her 2011 Calvin Harris collab and absolute bop? Probably a metaphor for the stars, but who’s to say for sure she isn’t singing about a diamond that has turned yellow due to nitrogen? Only Riri herself.
Within the mined diamond industry, the intensity of the color changes its value drastically: a slightly tinged diamond is typically less valuable than a crystal clear one, but an intensely colored diamond is what’s referred to by the GIA as a “Fancy Colored Diamond.” Some colors are more rare than others: there’s a CHANCE that one out of 200,000 diamonds MIGHT be blue, and even so, it’s most likely a pale blue. As you can imagine, Fancy Colored Diamonds can get pricey.
Why Choose Lab Created Diamond Rings
While the differences between a lab-grown and natural diamond can only be spotted with specialized tests using high-tech equipment (anyone who tells you they can differentiate the two from their naked eye is totally wrong), there are lots of advantages to lab grown diamond rings.
1. They’re ethical - Because the origin of each man made diamond is totally traceable, there’s no risk of purchasing a blood or conflict diamond.
2. They’re the eco-conscious choice - According to research done by Stanford Magazine, natural diamonds can create “143 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per carat mined—five-and-a-half times what it takes to make synthetic diamonds.” Not to mention, diamond mining also requires clearing land, which produces waste that can destroy habitats and ecosystems.
3. They're less expensive - Due to a shorter and more efficient supply chain, lab created diamonds are typically significantly less expensive than mined diamonds. For example, our 1.5mm Full Eternity Profile retails for $849, compared to an industry average of $1,400.