Diamonds rock! (Pun intended.) While it’s true that I love an alternative engagement ring, diamonds remain the pinnacle of romance and beauty in the popular imagination. It’s easy to understand why. The way diamonds sparkle and reflect color and light is simply unparalleled. There is a lot of tradition, symbolism, and mythology all wrapped up in this coveted stone. Unfortunately, diamonds can also be extremely expensive. So it’s no surprise that lab-grown diamonds have become so popular. But are they as beautiful as natural diamonds?
Many of my clients come to me with questions about the appearance, price, and quality of lab-grown diamonds. Often, they want a simple answer as to whether natural or lab diamonds are “better.” While I can’t definitively say which choice is better, I can break down the key pros and cons between the two and help you determine which is right for you!
What’s the Difference?
Not much! It’s important to distinguish between a lab-grown diamond and a so-called “synthetic” or “fake” diamond. Cubic Zirconia and Moissanite are both examples of separate minerals that are cut to imitate diamonds. These would be examples of “fake” diamonds - although moissanite is a great alternative to a diamond.
A lab-grown diamond, in contrast, is an actual diamond. Lab-grown diamonds are identical to natural diamonds in terms of physical and chemical properties. It’s impossible to tell the difference with the naked eye, even for a jeweler like me! That said, most lab diamonds can be identified by a number or lab-diamond marker inscribed in the girdle. These inscriptions are so tiny that they can only be seen with a microscope. My scope goes up to 30x power, so the zoom is amazing! This is what I use to verify whether a diamond is lab made or not - otherwise I’d have no clue.
That said, if there are doubts about whether a diamond is natural or lab-grown (or moissanite or cubic zirconia for that matter) and there is no identifiable number to be seen, the best way to differentiate is to send it to a lab for grading and testing. There, the gemologists can analyze the minerals for trace amounts of nitrogen that only appear in natural diamonds. While it would be really cool to be able to do this in my studio, it’s more practical to let the experts handle it! As a bonus, when you send a diamond off for grading, you’ll receive a certificate that can stay with the diamond for future reference and added value.
How Are Diamonds Formed?
Natural diamonds are formed under intense heat and pressure deep inside the Earth’s core, through a process that takes actual eons. Lab diamonds, in contrast, are formed inside carefully calibrated high-tech machines over the course of about a year. There are two methods for accomplishing this: High Pressure High Temperature and Chemical Vapor Deposition. (Getting a little dorky here!) HPHT is an older method designed to imitate the conditions under the surface of the Earth. CVD is newer and imitates the conditions in interstellar gas clouds. (How cool is that!)
Because scientists are able to control the conditions under which their diamonds grow, lab diamonds can often be larger and contain less faults than natural diamonds. CVD especially is known for creating extremely pure diamonds that are highly rare in nature.
How are Diamonds Rated?
Both natural and lab-grown diamonds are rated according to the 4C’s: color, cut, clarity, and carat. The perfect diamond is colorless, cut to best reflect light, has no imperfections or inclusions, and is large! Both natural and lab-grown diamonds are compared to an ideal set within their own category. (IE Natural diamonds are rated in comparison to other natural diamonds.) Lab grown diamonds will often have serial numbers or internal descriptions to help identify them. Either way, you will always be told up-front whether your diamond is natural or lab-grown. It’s illegal to mix the two types or pass off a lab diamond as natural.
The Price of Diamonds
The big difference between natural and lab-grown diamonds is simply the price. Natural diamonds can cost 10 times as much as a lab diamond! The bigger and more perfect the diamond is, the bigger the difference in price will be between the two types. This is because it’s much harder to find a perfect diamond in nature than it is to grow one in a controlled lab environment.
Ethical and Environmental Factors
Some people prefer lab-grown diamonds because of the environmental costs of mining diamonds. While growing diamonds also has an environmental impact, it’s significantly less than mining them. Also, depending on where you’re sourcing your diamonds from, there is a risk that natural diamonds might be mined using unethical labor practices. However, I am confident that every Kristen Baird® diamond comes from a reputable organization and has been ethically sourced. Check out our Ethics and Sustainability blog post for an in-depth dive into how we verify our diamonds are ethically sourced and to learn more about the Kristen Baird® commitment to sustainability.
Which to Choose?
It really comes down to what matters to you and how you want to spend your money! There is a lot of beauty and romance behind a natural diamond. The fact that your stone was grown deep inside the earth is awe-inspiring. It’s hard to put a price on such a powerful symbol of eternal love and the reminder that everything in nature is connected.
On the other hand, lab diamonds have a cool backstory as well! Plus, money saved on a lab-grown diamond can be used on the design and the unique characteristics of your ring. No one will ever be able to tell the difference, and you may not want them to anyway. After all, science is cool!
Personally, I don’t have a strong preference when it comes to lab-grown vs. natural diamonds. It’s more about what my client wants and it often comes down to budget. If you want a real diamond out of the ground, that’s awesome - but a real diamond out of a lab is awesome too!