Lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds are chemically identical. Both natural and lab-grown diamonds are carbon atoms arranged in a tetrahedral crystal structure. So, yes, lab-grown diamonds are diamonds.
Under a microscope, lab-grown and natural diamonds are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Only the most experienced gemologists should be able to tell lab-grown from mined diamonds, and that only upon the closest and most detailed scrutiny of a diamond’s inclusions.
Be that as it may, what recommends lab grown diamonds vs natural diamonds, and vice versa?
In gemology, gemologists assess a diamond’s quality using the 4C standards set by the Gemological Institute of America.
It’s the lack of color that makes a superior diamond according to generally accepted standards. So, all other things being equal, the more colorless a diamond is, the higher its quality.
Diamond colors range from D, H, N, and Z, with D being the most colorless and Z being the most colored. Diamonds with more color than Z diamonds are known as fancy-colored diamonds.
Diamonds are essentially carbon atoms, but they have traces of other substances in them, known as “inclusions.” All other things being equal, the fewer inclusions there are and the clearer the diamond, the higher its quality.
Diamonds can be flawless, internally flawless, two grades of very, very slightly included, two grades of very slightly included, two grades of slightly included, and three grades of included.
How well a diamond interacts with light speaks about the gem cutter’s skills. Evaluating the quality of a diamond’s cut involves assessing the gem’s brightness, fire, and scintillation or sparkle.
A carat is 200 mg. All other things being equal, larger diamonds are more valuable than smaller diamonds.
When it comes to quality, there is not much difference between lab-grown and mined diamonds. Like mined diamonds, there can be colorless and more colored diamonds. It all depends on how the diamond grows from the diamond seed in a laboratory.
However, note that the high-pressure, high-temperature method of growing diamonds can enhance the color of mined diamonds.
Diamond growers have more control over the growth process of lab-grown diamonds, so they can work to minimize inclusions and aim for as flawless a diamond as possible. Even so, lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds typically have inclusions. Their inclusions differ in composition and pattern, however.
Finally, the gem cutter influences the weight and cut of a diamond, whether it be lab-grown or natural.
This point-by-point comparison of lab-grown and natural diamonds shows that no type of diamond has a distinct quality advantage. There are high-quality and low-quality lab-grown diamonds, just as there are high-quality and low-quality mined diamonds.
2. Environmental Sustainability
When it comes to environmental sustainability, lab-grown diamonds have an advantage over natural diamonds.
The diamond mining process significantly contributes to greenhouse gases. Diamond mining produces harmful emissions that lead to air pollution and climate change. Other adjunct processes, moreover, also harm the environment.
Such activities include removing significant amounts of soil or diverting river flows at the mine site. Without mitigating procedures, this leads to permanent changes in the landscape that could harm the ecosystem.
The heavy machinery and the transport trucks required in mining operations also consume large amounts of fossil fuel energy, increasing the carbon footprint of the diamond mining process.
In contrast, lab-grown diamonds do not require any changes to the landscape since they are grown in laboratories. They also do not need to be transported over long distances and processed through energy-intensive procedures.
However, diamond synthesis requires a significant amount of energy. Lab grown diamonds can have a considerable carbon footprint unless a laboratory deliberately implements measures to reduce its dependence on fossil fuel sources of energy.
The good news is that laboratories can readily shift to renewable energy sources to ensure truly eco-friendly operations. Moreover, seeding only with diamonds grown in renewable-energy laboratories can further reduce diamond-growing laboratories’ carbon footprints.
3. Ethical Responsibility
Of course, you’ve probably heard of blood diamonds or conflict diamonds. This term refers to natural diamonds mined and sold to finance conflicts. Abusive labor practices also taint diamond mining.
To be fair, natural diamond producers are working harder now to protect their supply chains from conflicts and human rights abuses.
However, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that conflict diamonds and diamonds from less-than-ethical mining operations continue to make it into supposedly clean diamond supply chains.
In the matter of ethical responsibility, lab-grown diamonds have a clear advantage over mined diamonds.
Natural diamonds are 20 to 60% more expensive than lab-grown diamonds of comparable quality. And the increasing supply of lab-grown diamonds can only lead to a further decline in lab-grown diamond prices.
Lab-grown diamonds are indeed more affordable than natural diamonds. Price-wise, lab-grown diamonds have an advantage over natural diamonds.
5. Retained or Resale Value
Retained value is the value that the diamond keeps after retail, after purchase from a diamond retailer.
A natural diamond depreciates by around 40 to 80% of its market price upon purchase. Therefore, if you try to resell a natural diamond, you can probably sell it to a jeweler for 20 to 60% of its original purchase price.
The good news is that the value of natural diamonds generally appreciates over time. So, a mined diamond’s value will gradually increase through the years, starting from its initial, depreciated value.
When it comes to retained value, natural diamonds have an obvious advantage over lab-grown diamonds. While lab-grown diamonds are much more affordable than natural diamonds, lab-grown diamonds have little resale value.
But this should not be a deal-breaker for those who buy diamonds because they want or like them; not because they want to invest in them.
Natural or Lab-Grown Diamonds?
Lab-grown diamonds are diamonds in the truest sense of the word. There are high-quality and low-quality lab-grown diamonds, just as there are high-quality and low-quality natural diamonds. However, lab-grown diamonds do not retain their value as well as natural diamonds.
Indeed, lab-grown diamonds are not investment instruments. However, they are perfect for you if you appreciate diamonds for and in themselves, and you want an affordable, ethical, and environmentally sustainable alternative to mined diamonds.