Lab Grown Diamonds & Gems (Good or Bad?)

Julie Janecka
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What're The Difference Between Natural and Lab-Grown Gems?

When you hear the phrase "I'll just take that ring in a plastic bag", it's a sure sign you're dealing with a synthetic gem, lab-grown stone or a synthetic diamond. Lab-grown gems and synthetic diamonds have become the new normal, especially in the lower price segments.

Lab-grown gems and synthetic diamonds are virtually indistinguishable from natural gems or diamonds because most of them are actually grown in diamond or ruby-producing facilities. The only way to instantly tell a lab-grown gem from a natural gem is to run a special spectroscopic test that involves placing the gem in front of certain colored backgrounds. The color spectrum of an authentic gem won’t be altered by the color of the backgrounds. The color spectrum of a lab-grown gem will.

What's The History of Lab-Grown Diamonds And Gemstones?

Artificial or synthetic diamonds were first created in the mid-1950s, but they weren’t used in jewelry until more than a decade later. In those days, gemstones were more expensive and comparatively rare, and lab grown diamonds were in high demand, particularly by jewelers who were after large, perfectly clear cut stones.

Gemstone prices were on the rise, which caused consumers to look for cut-cost alternatives. But the earliest lab-grown diamonds weren’t well received by people who wanted high-quality jewelry. The lab-grown diamonds may have been affordable, but they were not transparent, lacked durability. Additionally, the public perceived them as being made in labs and inferior to the pricey natural gemstones.

The diamonds market was also undergoing big change and at this time, the diamond cartel had re-established itself, which was advantageous to consumers because it created a new sense of trust in the industry. This increased demand for diamond jewelry, which was strongly backed by what became known as the "diamond is forever" campaign.

Naturally created diamonds were back in high demand, due in part to cost and availability, but also because they were a perfect fit for the newly resurfaced celebrity-marketed and romanticized diamond engagement and wedding rings. This, along with the advent of blue-white light emitting diodes and laser technology, created a new market for lab-grown diamonds.

Gem Imitations vs. Lab-Grown Stones?

You may have noticed a trend in jewelry stores and at fashion shows, lately: lab-grown diamonds and gemstones. It may be tempting, to these gem lovers, to think they are a better option than the natural goods. After all, they are supposed to be cleaner and more environmentally friendly, cost less money, and are widely available … right? Not necessarily.

The truth is, lab-grown diamonds and gemstones have become so popular in the last several years because of their many advantages. Many consumers have jumped at the opportunity to purchase a better quality product for the same cost. But diamond and gem lovers should know the truth about whether or not lab-grown diamonds and gems are worth it.

So, what are lab-grown diamonds and gems, and are they really a better option for consumers?

Lab-grown diamonds and gems are both synthetically created in a laboratory. This means that their creation is man-made, rather than occurring naturally in the earth like their natural counterparts. Lab-grown gems are grown under strict conditions of high heat and pressure, which mimics the diamond-forming environment inside the earth. Lab-grown gems are also made to be identical, containing the same kind of crystalline structures, with the same optical properties, hardness, and chemical makeup as diamonds and natural gemstones.

Why is it important to know this?

How are Lab-Grown Stones Created?

Most popular gemstones are created by deeply mining the earth to get the rock from which the gemstone is crystallized. Sometimes this kind of mining is a necessary evil to get a gemstone. In fact, for some gemstones, it’s the only way that they can be found. However, there are some gemstones that can be created in laboratories rather than in a mine. There are 7 primary gemstones that are frequently created in a laboratory setting. Among these 7 are ruby, sapphire, and diamonds.

Now given that most gemstones are created in mines, which is the right way to create a gemstone? What are the differences between these two different kinds of gemstones? Which is a better value?

This article is going to examine these questions and delve into the advantages and drawbacks that go along with lab-created stones.

Flame Fusion

The most traditional and most common method of creating a synthetic (man-made) diamond is through the Flame Fusion process that involves an extremely heated container.

The synthetic diamond is placed into the heated container and exposed to a carbon-bearing gas like methane. As the gas melts, the carbon atoms fuse with the already condensed carbon atoms of the synthetic diamond and the surrounding pressure fuses and compresses the carbon atoms into a perfect diamond.

Flame Fusion is the most common method of producing a synthetic diamond because it’s relatively inexpensive and can provide a diamond of high quality, that’s identical to a natural mined diamond. There are many who are quick to claim that one type of diamond is better than another, with claims of the Flame Fusion diamond being of lesser quality.

However that’s not always the case. Although the process of creating the Flame Fusion diamond is similar to the way natural diamonds are created, the results are all based on the method and quality control.

When it comes to identifying the differences between a natural mined diamond and a man-made one, it’s often up to the trained eyes of an expert gemologist. However, the Flame Fusion process produces an extremely high-quality man-made diamond and is very difficult for the untrained eye to tell the difference.

Crystal Pulling

A Fake or True Practice?

While there are many businesses selling expensive crystals that claim to be "healed by a shaman", these fake gems come attached to a high price. But beware, not all of these crystals are fake. While there is no definitive answer as to whether or not you can heal crystals, there are many skeptics that believe pulling crystals can lead to fake crystals.

The idea behind the crystal pulling practice suggests that by taking the crystal and pulling it across your skin, you are clearing the energy from the stone. While many people are proponents of crystal healing, many skeptics believe that the efficacy of the healing power lies in the person, rather than the crystal. Regardless, that belief is not a reason to purchase a fake.

Just because the healing powers may not have anything to do with the crystal, doesn’t mean the crystal isn’t worth purchasing. It does mean that if you choose to purchase crystals to place in your home as home decor, chances are you are getting a real and beautiful piece of art, even if it doesn’t hold healing power.

Flux Growth

The Perfect Environment for Diamond Growing?

The diamond crystal lattice is known as a cubic crystal structure. It has 4 atoms at each corner and 8 along each edge. While the interstitials are necessarily imperfections in nature, the incorporation of external interstitials on the crystal surface is often intentional. Humans have found that certain environments are better than others for growing diamonds. The two main areas of interest have been fluxes and diamonds.

Flux growth is preferred over raw diamond growth because of its lower starting cost. A flux-grown diamond begins with a diamond seed. These are often called synthetic diamonds and they are typically extremely small and low heat diamonds. With flux growth, the diamond seed is placed in a flux at an appropriate temperature and left to grow for about a year. If the growing conditions are right, a single seed can grow into a rough diamond weighing a few carats. Once it is taken out of the flux, the rough diamond is sent to a polisher for cutting. The average rough diamond is anywhere from 3 to 12 carats. While this is an expensive process, it provides for faster growth and greater yield than raw diamond growth.

Hydrothermal Growth

Earth materials that are around the diamond in its special environment include the non-diamond form of carbon (carbonaceous material), the mineral grains that contain fluids and carbon dioxide gas in pores and cracks, the water that conducts a chemical reaction, and externally supplied trace gases that maintain the correct temperature and pressure to produce diamond.

The diamond begins to grow when carbon dioxide gas and fluid-containing mineral grains come together at the high pressure, high temperature conditions in the Earth’s crust.

The overall reaction involves ions (atoms and molecules with an electrical charge) from the fluid mixing with carbon dioxide gas to form carbonic acid. The water molecules contain the carbonic acid and the carbonic acid is used to dissolve the minerals. The carbonic acid then reacts with the minerals and forms the solid substances of diamond and graphite, and the gaseous substances of carbon dioxide and water vapor.

What Are The Benefits of Lab Diamonds & Gemstones?

Is the issue of lab-grown vs. mined diamonds a black and white issue or is there a gray area? It’s much more than that. And it’s an issue that should not be confused with issues surrounding conflict or blood diamonds.

When considering lab diamonds vs. mined diamonds, most people will likely first think about cost. And while the debate over lab-grown diamonds has focused extensively on cost, there are actually many other benefits.

For a number of years, lab diamonds and gemstones were only used in industrial applications because they were considered inferior to natural. Well, all that has changed in recent years, as the quality and availability of lab-grown diamonds and gemstones has increased dramatically.

Lab-grown gemstones have many other benefits that allow the average consumer to be the beneficiary of these improvements. This list of benefits can be substantiated by a close look at each of the facets of a lab-grown diamond.

If we were to summarize the more significant lab-grown diamonds benefits, it would include:

Cost

Flawless diamonds are one of the biggest benefits of buying a synthetic diamond. The price of lab-grown gemstones is now highly competitive with mined diamonds.

Low Cost

And Ethical?

Environmentally Friendly

Lab grown or man made diamonds are also referred to as cultivated, synthetic, and cultured diamonds. The process used to create lab diamonds is also referred to as HPHT or High Pressure High Temperature. The first scientifically documented diamond created by HPHT was in 1955.

An HPHT environment consists of a diamond "seed" which is equipped with a tiny micron-sized pipe leading into a very high temperature/high pressure chamber. The high temperature/pressure environment produces temperatures from 1200°C to 1900°C and pressure as high as 120,000 atmospheres. The HPHT process produces a growing environment similar to natural diamonds in best conditions, therefore, it is considered as a perfect replication of natural diamonds and how the Earth can produce diamonds.

HPHT lab grown diamonds start their life as a carbon-rich powder or a pure graphite in a diamond anvil tube. The precursor is then subjected to high pressure and high temperature which causes it to react and grow in a vacuum. The diamond is created by a chemical reaction deep within the earth. The same process used to create a diamond allows us to create jewelry.

Lab grown diamonds are a great alternative to mined diamonds, as they reduce the environmental stress caused by mining while helping to offer other advantages to diamond jewelers including:

Ethical

The debate over lab grown diamonds has been raging on for some time. On one side, we have the manufacturers of lab grown diamonds who claim the process is safe and environmentally friendly. They also argue that the gems are of equal or higher quality than mined diamonds. This is intended to appeal to humans because humans are price driven, especially when it comes to something so important as an engagement ring.

On the other side, many environmental groups and animal rights advocates are against synthetic diamonds. They claim lab grown diamonds are bad for the environment because more electricity is required to create them. They also claim they are bad for the workforce as they are made in labs where conditions are most likely not ideal.

The controversy surrounding lab grown diamonds just repeats the controversy surrounding lab grown gemstones. Is it ethical to manufacture gemstones that are basically the same as a natural, mined gemstone? Would consumers even want mined stones if a lab grown alternative is readily available?

These are questions that lie in wait for an answer, but don’t expect to see these gems in your local Sears, JC Penny, or K-Mart any time soon.

Flawless

Some jewelers refute lab-grown diamonds because they are not natural-usually because the Earth can do it for a better price. However, lab-grown diamonds are expensive, but you are paying for something more valuable. These diamonds are not only virtually flawless, but they are eco-friendly. They don’t produce carbon dioxide or create mercury emissions. Because they don’t need to be mined, lab-grown diamonds preserve the environment and are conflict-free.

Variety

The differentiation between a lab-grown diamond and a naturally mined diamond is simple. The lab-grown diamond is exactly that – lab-grown in a laboratory. On the other hand, the naturally mined diamond naturally formed over many centuries in the earth's layers of sediment.

Because the production process of a natural diamond is "hands off," that means there is no human involvement in the creation of a naturally mined diamond. The only human contact is when it is finally extracted from the ground and cut by a licensed diamond cutter. However, that's not the case for lab-grown diamonds. In addition to the human interaction during the production process, they are also chemically and physically different from naturally mined diamonds.

Since a diamond is a complicated combination of carbon atoms, lab-grown diamonds are created through a special, and quite innovative, scientific process.

Lab-grown diamonds are almost as hard as a naturally mined diamond, with the exception of the Moissanite, which is almost as hard as a sapphire. The problem with Moissanite is that it is not as clear as a diamond AND, as a member of the cubic zirconia family, it tricks the eye as being a diamond.

Versatile

Despite its many well-known uses, diamonds are still a mystery when it comes to their true nature. When it comes to the origin of the diamond itself, there’s still a lot that hasn’t been discovered. The only thing we really know for sure is that diamonds are made of carbon and they form naturally under extreme conditions.

But diamonds are basically just one type of the more than 400 minerals that belong to the gem category. They’re actually much more versatile than we think. There are many different kinds of gems, each with its own special qualities and characteristics.

And another thing that sets gems apart is when they’re formed. Most gems are formed through nature, but not all of them are created equal. In nature, diamonds are formed under extreme conditions, where intense heat and pressure create similar conditions to what goes on inside a nuclear reactor. Scientists have copied the same conditions inside labs and as a result, they have managed to create lab-made gems.

So a lot of the time, lab-created gems such as synthetic rubies and emeralds are used in place of naturally mined gems when it comes to fashion, all for the same purpose ‑ to make the finished jewelry look as good as possible.

The Disadvantages of Lab-Grown Gems

One of the biggest reasons lab-grown gems are in the news is because of their growing popularity, but the problem is often the synthetic gems are being marketed as "natural" which perpetuates the idea that synthetic gems are the same as their "natural" counterpart.

The label "100% natural" gets slapped on a lot of items that simply shouldn’t bear the label. From food to clothing and even the materials used to make our computers, we’re being fed misinformation that is counting against our health and the health of our environment.

Lab-grown gems are made wholly in a lab. They are created from liquid that is placed in a vat and out pours a diamond that is polished, cut and set into a jewel. There is no emerging from the Earth, sunrise over the mountain or feelings of serenity in paradise. In other words, lab-grown gems are fake.

If you’ve been scammed into thinking that synthetic gemstones are equivalent to real gemstones, know that this is not true.

This misunderstanding is likely a result of the fact that the synthetic and natural stones look identical. The only way to tell the difference between lab-grown or synthetic gems and real gemstones is by using a gemmological microscope.

Not Unique

All types of diamonds are carbon. Mineral carbon. Breathe deep and happy!

Earth-grown diamonds are made billions of years ago when intense heat located in the earth's mantle caused coal and organic matter to fuse together to create diamonds. Before you agree to accept a ring, you should learn what carbon "formed" your intended's ring or the ring you might be considering yourself.

Lab-grown diamonds started as coal in power plants. Since coal and coal or plant-based materials contain a mixture of elemental carbon, a direct element of common diamonds.

So lab-grown diamonds are carbon-natural carbon. Earth-grown diamonds and laboratory grown diamonds are identical.

Carbon-natural carbon makes humanity's diamonds unique. Each lab-grown diamond, synthetic, manmade or earth-grown diamond has the advantage of being cut, set, and polished into a beautiful gem. That's what makes each diamond an individual.

Similar to the Earth-grown diamonds, laboratory-grown diamonds are mined in one location, through open cast mining. From there, they are cut and sold when they reach a retail market.

Currently, manmade diamonds can be made identical to real earth-grown diamonds in hardness, clarity, and color. This wasn’t the case 20 years ago.

The differences?

Loss of Value

Nope, that beautiful lab-grown diamond you have is just as valuable as a real one mined from the ground. Lab-grown diamonds look and are treated exactly the same as mined diamonds.

A lab-grown diamond cost less than a mined one, so what’s the catch? The difference in value again, is societal and people are often conditioned to think that mined diamonds are of higher quality than lab-grown diamonds. This is an unfortunate way of thinking because a lab-grown diamond is every bit as much a diamond as a mined one. It’s worth exactly the same, has the same chemical formula and it has the same carbon signature.

What’s more, many people feel that since lab-grown diamonds have been created in a lab setting, they are somehow second-class, and shouldn’t be used as engagement/wedding rings and other quality jewelry. Again, not true. Lab-grown diamonds are of the same quality and value as mined diamonds.

Contributes to Job Loss

There are many items that are lab-created and identical to their natural counterparts — acrylic nails, synthetic leather, and even diamonds. It is very difficult, but not impossible, to distinguish a lab-grown diamond from a natural one. One giveaway to the difference may be cost. While there is a significant difference in cost between a natural diamond and a lab-grown diamond.

Then there is the larger question. If lab-created diamonds are so durable and so cheap, how does that affect the economy? Natural diamonds are considered to be a precious commodity; however, lab-created diamonds are cheaper. While this is good for those who have the financial means to enjoy the luxury of jewelry, it is bad for those who work to find the precious stones to be used to make jewelry. There are currently 800,000 people employed worldwide as "diamond finders." These hardworking people risk their lives, provide their own equipment, go through months of training, and are even forced into harsh and dangerous situations to find the earth's diamonds.

The Bottom Line on Lab-Grown Gemstones

Gem quality lab-grown (synthetic) diamonds and gems have the same chemical structure as their natural "mined" counterparts. As for appearance, no two are alike, and you can't tell them apart by looking at them. That said, a lab-grown gem has different specifications than its natural "mined" counterpart. In our case, a standard round cut from a mined source is the best cut we can find, but a lab-grown diamond is usually cut to exacting proportions to maximize its beauty. Lab-grown stones are also free of inclusions and other imperfections that can appear in a natural stone.

Just as a natural stone can originate from an enormous depth in the earth, a lab-grown gem can be created at virtually any depth. This means the gem can be cut to a very precise and ideal specification.

Pandora is known for their lab-grown gemstones, but they are one of several companies that offer lab-grown gemstones. So it’s safe to assume that lab-grown gemstones are available to anyone.

Learn More About Jewelry

When you decide that it’s time to buy a piece of exquisite jewelry, whether for yourself or for the special someone in your life, you want to find the perfect piece.

Most people aren’t jewelers so they don’t know what to look for. When they see a beautiful piece of jewelry, they aren’t able to distinguish if it’s pure gold, just gold plated, or if it’s a real or synthetic diamond. If they don’t know if it’s real or not, you can be sure that they will be paying a hefty price for the piece.

So how can you determine if that’s the piece of jewelry you’ve been searching for?

The first step is to start asking questions. We all know that you can get more information from a plain-spoken person than you can from somebody who speaks in vague generalities. When you’re shopping for jewelry, you need to understand what you’re dealing with.