As you research diamonds, you may have seen information about lab created diamonds versus naturally formed diamonds. Some people may refer to lab created diamonds as “fake diamonds”, imitations or simulants, but this is incorrect. Lab created diamonds share the same or similar chemical and physical properties as a natural diamond produced by the geological processes of Mother Nature. However, because of the contrasting conditions of natural and lab grown formation, lab grown diamonds display several features which allow them to be gemologically distinguished from natural diamonds. On the other hand, cubic zirconia and moissanite—which can look like diamonds—have very different chemical and physical properties and are known as simulant diamonds.
Lab Created Diamonds
If you’re in the market for a diamond, we want you to be able to make the best decision based on ALL the facts — so we want to share with you the current similarities and differences between nature-formed diamonds (aka “organic” diamonds), diamonds that were grown in a lab setting, as well as diamond simulants like cubic zirconia and moissanite. We hope after you read this, you’ll have the confidence that your happily-ever-after gem will last a lifetime.
Let’s Start at The Beginning… How Are Diamonds Made?
Diamond is the hardest, most stable form of pure carbon that occurs naturally (except Q-carbon, which scientists say might be found in certain planetary cores). Organic diamond forms when pure carbon undergoes superhigh temperature and pressure over billions of years within Earth’s mantle. It only forms in the “diamond stability zone”, 80 to 120 miles deep and extremely hot (up to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit), where the conditions are just right. Then, over eons of violent volcanic eruptions, diamonds get brought to surface embedded in large chunks of rock.
Not all organic diamonds are created equal though. Differences in size, color and clarity are caused by trace minerals and other conditions that influence a diamond as it grows. For example, the vivid yellow hue in fancy yellow diamonds is caused by trace amounts of nitrogen mixed within the carbon structure.
What Is A Lab-Grown Diamond?
Lab-created diamonds are grown in highly-controlled laboratory conditions that attempt to reproduce the Earth’s natural growing environment: high pressure and high temperature. These man-made diamonds have essentially the same chemical composition, crystal structure, optical and physical properties of diamonds found in nature. They aren’t technically “synthetic diamonds” since their chemical composition is that of naturally occurring diamonds; and they can exhibit fire, scintillation and sparkle as organic diamonds but do include specific, identifiable internal characteristics. Lab-grown diamonds are categorized as either high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) or chemical vapor deposition (CVD) diamonds, depending on the method of their production.
What’s the Real Difference Between Lab Created Diamonds and “Real” Diamonds?
Just like no two couples are alike, no two diamonds are alike. This is true for both lab-grown diamonds and organic diamonds. When considering the differences and similarities between lab created diamonds and “nature grown diamonds,” you won’t find many that are visible to the unaided eye. Trained gemologists can help you understand what the internal differences are and how to see them under a microscope. With our customers, we always recommend comparing diamonds of all types side by side. We have clients identify the “look” and “sparkle” that is important to them. This is true for nature grown diamonds or lab grown. With recent lab grown diamonds, customers often see differences in reflection and refraction of light and we recommend reviewing them in person and we can help.
The Presence and Size of Inclusions In Lab Created Diamonds Versus Organic Natural Diamonds.
Nearly all diamonds, organic and lab created diamonds alike, have inclusions that affect their clarity. Every certified diamond gets assigned a clarity grade by a lab (we work with GIA or AGS). These clarity grades tell us how large and noticeable a diamond’s inclusions are — though the scale used to grade clarity in lab-grown vs organic diamonds is a bit different.
Lab created diamonds are grown in a molten metal solution and as a result, they have metallic inclusions which can usually only be identified with 10x magnification (aka not visible to the unaided eye). Metallic inclusions do not occur in diamonds that come from the ground.
Organic diamonds, which are grown in deep inside the earth, have inclusions like feathers, crystals, pinpoints and clouds that are caused by all kinds of elements and violent volcanic eruptions as they rise towards the surface; only the rarest diamonds emerge in perfect condition, with no inclusions.
Colors of Organic Diamonds Vs Lab-Created Diamonds
Lab-grown diamonds are grown in white, yellow, blue, pink and green and are typically found with color grades ranging from D to K grades. However, certain types of lab-created diamonds are color-treated. “Many, though not all, CVD-grown diamonds come out a sort of brown color and then are de-colorized through a treatment process to make them colorless or near colorless,” according to Michelle Graff, Editor-in-Chief at National Jeweler.
Organic diamonds occur in every imaginable color with an infinite number of hues, tonality and saturation levels. Color comes from impurities (such as nitrogen molecules) that become trapped inside the diamond lattice as it grows. Different types of trace chemicals in the pure carbon cause different colors and saturation levels; the most common diamonds are the classic “white” category, and rarer types include fancy yellow, pink and vivid blue.
How Long Does It Take To “Grow” A Diamond?
When comparing lab-grown versus nature-grown diamonds, it’s fascinating to consider the differences in time spent “growing” diamonds. Part of what makes diamonds alluring to people is their history.
Lab-grown diamonds take approximately 6 to 10 weeks to develop in a laboratory.
Diamonds close enough to earth’s surface to be mined today were formed in nature between 1 billion to 3.3 billion years ago. This alone is one reason why they’re so valuable — they’re artifacts from before the dawn of the human race. Think about the symbolism behind that and how many years they’ve been around — a pretty intense symbol to grace an engagement ring, a pair of earrings or a necklace.
Another interesting difference is the carat weight ranges of lab-created versus organic diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds top out around 20 carats, while some of the largest pieces of rough organic diamond are upwards of 400 carats. For most consumers, diamonds that big are just a bit outside budget, but it’s still fascinating to see some of the monster diamonds Nature produces.
Are Lab-Created Diamonds Graded the Same As Real Diamonds?
From a consumer perspective, it’s important to know that the grading system used for lab-grown versus organic diamonds is different. The GIA doesn’t grade lab-grown diamonds the same way it grades organic diamonds.
If a diamond is found to be laboratory-grown, GIA issues a Synthetic Diamond Grading Report, which looks distinctly different from the standard grading report. Lab-grown diamonds display visual characteristics such as color zoning, metallic inclusions, weak strain patterns, and colors of ultraviolet fluorescence to differentiate them from organic diamonds. In addition to the same information as the GIA Colored Diamond Grading Report issues for natural diamonds, the Synthetic Diamond Grading Report also offers a more general description of color and clarity. After a lab-grown diamond is graded, the diamond’s girdle is laser-inscribed with its report number and a given statement that the stone is laboratory grown. With diamond grading, we ultimately want customers to compare the diamond or diamonds and see how they truly perform with light and light return. Not all diamonds perform the same even with strict grading standards applied. Once you can see the diamond, customers can decide what is important to them.
Are Lab Created Diamonds A Better Value?
Many retailers claim that lab diamonds cost about 30% less than natural diamonds of comparable size and quality. However, inventories of lab-created diamonds can be limited compared to organic diamond inventories, making your choice of the perfect diamond more limited. We suggest you ask for multiple diamonds to compare as no two diamonds are alike and active comparison will allow you to really appreciate the sparkle and the look of each gemstone.
What About “Diamond Alternatives” Like Moissanite and Cubic Zirconia?
Natural Moissanite originally comes from space–created by a meteorite that fell to Earth. These crystals are composed of silicon carbide. Natural moissanite is incredibly rare, so moissanite available for purchase today is laboratory-created. Lab-created Moissanite is engineered to look similar to diamonds, but is physically quite different from a true diamond.
Cubic Zirconia (also known as CZ) was first created in 1976 in a lab for its low cost, reasonable durability/wear ability, and some scintillation in it’s sparkle. Some people see a metallic reflection in its light performance and scintillation. CZs can scratch easily, and it does show it’s wear and tear quickly, so they don’t often last for years on daily wear rings. We do recommend them for short term plans and as a place holder for future more durable and long-lasting gemstones and for what your budget allows. Cubic zirconia is a synthesized (man-made) crystalline diamond simulant mineral that is colorless, hard, and flawless.
These diamond simulants are not made of carbon crystals, and don’t have the same brilliance as diamonds. For that reason, simulants sell at much lower prices than diamonds (lab created or organic).