While about 10 years ago lab grown diamonds were dismissed as fake, today these man produced crystals are considered equivalent to natural stones. Let’s examine how laboratory grown diamonds will impact the jewelry market and whether they should be taken seriously.
A brief history of lab grown diamonds
Attempts to grow diamonds in laboratory conditions date back to the 1930s, and successful experiments were conducted in the 1950s. However, at that time, the diamonds produced were only of technical grade. For a long time, the lab grown diamond industry focused on the needs of various industries. Laboratory-made stones were used to replace natural stones in semiconductors and tools that required high precision or strength.
History shows that jewelers didn’t give much importance to these “pseudo-stones” initially, as the first samples were cloudy and brownish-yellow. However, with technological advancements, grown diamonds became noticeably more numerous by the 1970s. Although they were still intended for industrial use, lab-grown diamonds have successfully replaced expensive and rare natural diamonds. In fact, they now account for 95% of the industrial diamond market and are commonly used in quantum technologies and atomic blocks.
The turning point came in the post-2000s when technologists learned to create flawless crystals identical to natural diamonds in terms of the traditionally accepted four Cs characteristics. In the mid-2010s, there were several high-profile scandals where manufacturers inspected large batches of diamonds and discovered a significant amount of lab grown stones. This caused concern among jewelers. However, the affordability of these new stones in comparison to natural diamonds quickly gained traction in marketing.
A shift from disparaging grown stones to promoting them happened, becoming the new reality.
In 2018, United States sellers were permitted to sell natural and lab-grown diamonds without making a distinction (unscrupulous sellers take advantage of this by not indicating that the stone in a piece is synthetic, so always ask for a certificate). Concurrently, De Beers, the dominant player in diamond mining worldwide (accounting for up to 90% of the market), established a line of synthetic stones – the Lightbox Jewelry line. This is how lab-grown diamonds shed their “fake” label and became nearly equivalent to natural diamonds.
Lab-created diamonds are produced under conditions similar to natural ones. Engineers use highly complex devices to imitate the natural environment, applying immense pressure and high temperature. Only this specific combination of pressure and temperatures forces carbon particles to form stones; in fact, diamond is coal, but with a fundamentally different crystal structure.
The initial technology was named HPHT (High Pressure High Temperature), after the conditions. The second technology currently in use, known as CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition), was introduced in the late 1980s. CVD works by building up a crystal: through microwaves or lasers, a gaseous substance transitions into a solid state, creating a diamond from carbon particles. While natural diamond formation can take years or decades, lab-grown diamonds can be cultivated within a matter of weeks.
Major industry players
Right now there are not that many companies producing diamonds because the machines themselves are expensive, making such an investment out of reach for most. However, those who have invested have not lost out. Unlike finite mines and deposits, artificial diamonds can be produced in an infinite quantity and within a set timeframe. The USA and China lead as the largest producers.
Now it is possible to obtain high-quality stones, including fancy-colored ones (which are typically more expensive than colorless ones), up to 5 carats using lab-grown methods. The American company Diamond Foundry dominates the market as the leading producer of synthetic diamonds. The founders of this cutting-edge startup, disrupting the conventional stones market, include the co-founder of Facebook, the creator of Twitter, and the successful investor, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Should you buy grown diamonds?
What makes engineered stones so attractive? They look indistinguishable from natural stone and cost half as much. The only way to tell the difference is to take the stone to a lab that has super-precise equipment. Such a machine costs from $75,000 and there are not many of them.
Defenders of natural stones argue that man made ones are not a wise investment and lack any emotional value. Although they have currently disrupted the market for natural stones, causing a significant price drop, they will eventually lose their value. Unlike natural diamonds, these stones are not a finite resource, making the “rarity” criterion irrelevant. Even large stones with impeccable characteristics will decrease in value if there are millions of them and will cost significantly less tomorrow than they do today.
Therefore, if you’re considering purchasing lab-grown diamonds, it’s advisable to wait until they become more affordable, which is likely to occur soon.
Ethics and Ecology
At the same time, laboratory stones eliminate the ethical problem of mining. African mines, which supply the majority of natural diamonds, are notorious for their use of child labor and poor work conditions. These stones are aptly nicknamed “blood diamonds” due to their century-long history of fueling feuds and wars. The advocates of synthetic companies, primarily targeting the environmentally conscious millennials, stress the importance of ethically produced laboratory stones. However, the validity of this argument is questionable. The production of lab-grown diamonds consumes an enormous amount of electricity, making them “ethical” but not necessarily “eco-friendly.”
Who is winning?
It remains unclear who will triumph – natural or lab grown diamonds. As with pearls, there may be a clear distinction: cultured diamonds could become standard for mass-produced jewelry and less expensive accessories, while natural diamonds will be viewed as collectibles. Jewelry featuring natural diamonds can cost millions and is typically found in collections of rare connoisseurs, often from the Forbes list.