Since De Beers launched its now classic slogan, “A Diamond is Forever.” the durability of a diamond signified that marriage is forever. And now, a diamond’s purity and sparkle have become symbols of the depth of two people’s commitment to each other. DeBeer's was referencing mined or natural diamonds, but now lab diamonds are in the forever business too.
It seems suddenly everyone’s talking about lab-grown diamonds. So, what are they, how do they compare, and should you consider buying one? Well, here's the scoop.
Lab Diamonds vs. Mined Diamonds
Lab diamonds are created artificially in a laboratory instead of naturally occurring and mined from the earth. A lab diamond looks and feels exactly like a mined diamond and they are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. When comparing lab diamonds and mined diamonds, it is impossible to tell the difference. Honestly. The source is the only difference.
A mined diamond is formed throughout billions of years by intense heat and pressure. A lab-grown diamond is created in a laboratory and can be produced in just a few weeks. The two have almost identical chemical structures. The US Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, classifies man-made diamonds as "real" because of their carbon-based chemical makeup. One slight difference, mined diamonds often contain a small amount of nitrogen, whereas lab diamonds do not.
So, how can you distinguish between a lab diamond and a mined diamond? There is no discernible difference between the two. Even a professional gemologist will need specialized equipment to tell the difference. A professional can make out small differences in inclusions between mined and lab-grown diamonds with magnification. However there is a significant price difference between the two despite their similarity.
Contrary to a common misconception, lab diamonds are not produced as “perfect” diamonds. Each lab and mined diamond are unique and with that, they have diamond qualities all their own like unique color and clarity. You, as a consumer can tell the quality and difference by checking the diamond's certification. Diamond certification is a system to evaluate the quality of a diamond based on the 4Cs—carat, color, clarity, and cut. Diamond certification is also referred to as diamond grading. Jewelers must declare whether a diamond is a lab created or mined and it will be clearly stated on the diamond certification.
Only you can determine your priorities when selecting a diamond. Here are some considerations to think about.
Today, lab diamonds are significantly less expensive than mined diamonds. In some cases, they are 50-60% less than mined diamonds. Why the big difference? Supply and industry competition. Mined diamonds are limited since it takes nature billions of years to create one. DeBeers, the largest mined diamond supplier in the industry has produced as much as 35 million carats of diamonds per year in recent years, so diamond mining is still robust. Generally, there are five or six primary mined diamond suppliers of which DeBeers produces about 85%. But with lab diamonds, there is no limit on production and there are new labs producing diamonds each year so suppliers are facing competition which drives the price down.
Some people may be concerned with the environmental and humanitarian impacts of natural diamond mining. Mined diamonds are not necessarily unethical and great efforts have been made to address past issues. But it stands to reason that man-made diamonds offer fewer ethical concerns and more in the way of long-term sustainability than those pulled from the earth.
Sustainability, however, is a controversial topic. A report by the Natural Diamond Council, an industry organization promoting mined diamonds, claims mined diamonds are better for the environment than synthetic diamonds since the process of producing lab diamonds is carbon-intensive. There are also concerns about the sustainable practices of each lab, which at this time is unregulated.
Several retailers have done a fine job of promoting lab diamonds bearing their brand name as more sustainable. The brand name doesn't prescribe sustainability, the production process does.
Often purchasing a piece of jewelry is perceived as an investment that is likely to retain value over time. How well jewelry holds its value depends on a variety of factors; most notably, the materials used to craft the piece. Quality materials such as gold or platinum and lab diamonds or mined diamonds can be rejeweled in the future to create a new design. Still, that’s not quite the same thing as saying that jewelry is an “investment.” Most often, if you seek to sell a piece of jewelry you will find the return to be only a portion of the original purchase price.
When it is impossible to tell the difference between a lab-grown diamond and a mined diamond, which one should you choose?
Different buyers have different priorities, so it's difficult to answer this question for everyone. In most cases, lab diamonds and mined diamonds look the same to the naked eye. In the case of a lab-created diamond ring, it is almost certain that no one will be able to tell unless you tell them. A lab diamond will be more budget-friendly without sacrificing quality.
Some buyers perceive a mined diamond as more “real”, which is very a valid perception in the traditional sense. If it's important to you, regardless of the reason, make it a priority.
Only you can determine your priorities when selecting a diamond. I am please to offer a selection of diamonds for engagement rings that include both lab diamonds and mined diamonds, online and in real life. There is no wrong choice so go with the diamond that suits your priorities and budget.