Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Real?

Lab-grown, mined, simulated, cultured, natural, cultivated, lab-created…aagghh! There are so many adjectives swirling around the diamond jewelry industry these days, it becomes difficult to understand exactly what is what!

Thankfully, there are really only two categories to consider when starting your search for diamond jewelry: real and not real. These can be further broken down to: earth-grown, lab-grown, and simulated. Two of these, earth-grown and lab-grown, fall under the “real diamond” category and one, simulated, is considered “not real.” Now, let’s clear up this confusion with all of the adjectives. Originally, real diamonds were only formed in the earth, under extreme pressure and over vast amounts of time. These diamonds can be called natural, mined, earth-grown, or earth-created. Once the ability to grow real diamonds in a lab became possible and then perfected for the jewelry industry, a “new real” hit the market place. These diamonds are referred to as lab-grown, lab-created, synthetic, man-made, cultured, or cultivated. Again, both are considered real diamonds. The last group of adjectives are assigned to the ‘not real’ category of diamond lookalikes. You will  hear descriptors like simulated, imitation, faux, or fake diamonds when dealing with diamonds that are not real (such as CZs or moissanite).

What is a Real Diamond?

So what, you may ask, makes a diamond real? Real diamonds were either created in the earth’s mantle over billions of years or in a laboratory over a fraction of the time, but they both developed from one thing: carbon. Although identical in chemistry, composition, and classification, there are important differences between the two. Lab-grown diamonds have a lower cost than earth-grown diamonds and they are free of the ethical ramifications that affect the earth-grown diamond mining industry. Both types of real diamonds are used in luxury jewelry, in diamond cutting and in cutting, grinding, and polishing other hard materials.

Simulated diamonds, made from cubic zirconia or moissanite may look like a diamond with the naked eye, but they are not grown from carbon. Simulants have different chemical and physical properties and are, therefore, much less expensive than real diamonds.They can be used in costume jewelry or to have an inexpensive near replica of an expensive piece of jewelry made for security purposes.

How Are Lab-Created Diamonds Formed?

However you choose to refer to a lab-grown diamond, the most important thing to remember is that it is a real diamond. Geologists studied the way diamonds formed in nature, then, scientists used this information to recreate the process. They have come up with two ways to grow these precious gems. The first process is called High Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) and the second is Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). 

A CVD diamond begins as a thin slice of a diamond seed which is placed into a chamber. A carbon-rich gas, like Methane, along with other gases, are piped into the chamber and are heated to about 800 degrees Celsius. The gases are ionized into plasma using technology similar to that used in lasers or microwaves. The molecular bonds of the gases are broken down into pure carbon by the ionization process, which then adheres to the diamond seed, causing a crystallization effect. Over time, the carbon crystals form a diamond around the seed slice.

HPHT diamonds can be made using one of three manufacturing methods: a cubic press, a belt press, or a split-sphere (BARS) press. Each of these methods creates the intense pressure and extreme temperature needed for diamond growth.   

An HPHT diamond starts as a tiny diamond seed that is placed in pure carbon and exposed to pressures of up to 1.5 million pounds per square inch and temperatures around 1500 degrees Celsius. As the carbon melts it forms a diamond around the starter seed. 

Whichever process is used to grow a diamond in a lab, the result is a carbon-rich real diamond with the same chemical, physical, and optical properties of an earth-grown diamond.  

Lab-Grown Diamond Jewelry

With their beautiful elegance and brilliant sparkle, lab-grown diamonds are used to create luxury rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, but at appealing prices. Because of their lower cost, lab-created diamonds are becoming a practical choice for engagement rings and wedding bands. One can expect to pay 25-40 percent less for lab-grown diamonds when compared to their earth-grown cousins. 

You can choose various shapes of lab-grown diamonds, including round, oval, pear, emerald, asscher, princess, cushion, heart, or radiant, but at a lower price point. Just like mined diamonds, lab-created diamonds come in various levels of cut, clarity, color, and carat.

Certifications for Lab-Grown Diamonds

Lab-created diamonds compare in quality and selection to mined diamonds, as they are graded and certified in exactly the same way. Diamonds are sent to labs to be certified after they are finished being cut by a gem-cutter. Most labs use the four Cs of grading diamonds-cut, clarity, color and carat-but some labs use their own criteria for grading.

The major diamond certifications labs are:

Gemological Institute of America (GIA)

Antwerp World Diamond Center (AWDC)

American Gem Society (AGS)

International Gemological Institute (IGI)

Gemological Science International (GSI)

The way diamonds are graded is much the same at every diamond certification lab, with several gemologists grading each diamond independently. The grades are then scrutinized and a final grade is given. By comparing grades from several gemologists, the goal is to come up with an impartial grade for each stone. This process is the same, whether grading a diamond that was mined from the earth or a diamond grown in a lab. So, whichever type of real diamond you choose to purchase, you can feel secure knowing that the process for grading your diamond was stringent and unbiased.

You still may get mixed up trying to keep the various descriptors for diamonds straight, but it shouldn’t be hard to remember which diamonds are real. Earth-Grown (or mined) diamonds and Lab-Grown diamonds are both real. Simulated diamonds (cubic zirconia or moissanite) are not real. They each have their place in the jewelry industry, but it’s up to you to decide which is right for you.