Diamonds have long held an almost mystical allure for the human species. These gemstones were first encountered around 6,000 years ago in India. Although our experience with these stones only goes back a few thousand years, every natural diamond on the planet has existed for billions of years. But, recent advancements in technology allow science to speed up the diamond-making process. What exactly are lab-grown diamonds, and are they identical to their natural counterparts?
How Natural Diamonds are Formed
Since their discovery several thousand years ago, science has illustrated the processes responsible for forming diamonds. Intense heat and pressure found approximately 100 miles below the Earth’s surface have a tremendous impact on carbon deposits in this deep layer of the Earth’s crust. Over millions of years, this extreme pressure causes the carbon to crystallize, forming an exquisite stone known as a diamond. But a dwindling available supply, coupled with an ever-increasing price point, has expanded the market for shoppers interested in lab grown diamonds.
Much of the expense reflected in the price tag of retail diamond jewelry is related to the acquisition costs. Mining natural diamonds is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process requiring expensive, specialized equipment and a trained workforce. When these costs are added to the relative rarity of gem-quality stones, the reasons for the high prices commanded for natural diamond jewelry become clear.
The Process of Creating Lab-Grown Diamonds
Lab-grown diamonds, sometimes called manufactured, synthetic, or cultured diamonds, first appeared on the scene in the early 1940s. General Electric was the first company to develop the technique for use in industrial applications. A team of researchers at GE successfully applied the heat and pressure components to diamond seed crystals resulting in the first lab-created diamonds. In contrast to the millions of years required for natural diamonds, these lab-created stones were produced by scientists in just 38 minutes.
Initially manufactured for industrial use, early synthetic diamonds were widely used to assemble heavy construction machinery, mining drill bits, and quarrying saws. While these early stones worked exceedingly well for industrial usage, they lacked the clarity required for use in jewelry. This changed in the early 1970s when GE refined its process, producing the first gem-quality diamonds.
Are Lab-Grown and Natural Diamonds Identical?
The naked eye cannot detect any differences between synthetic and natural diamonds. Creating diamonds in the lab is now so precise that a trained, experienced jeweler cannot see any differences between identical cut and clarity gems. The stones have similar chemical and physical properties, including extreme durability. Natural and lab-grown diamonds share that characteristic sparkle and brilliance, with each lasting forever.
The retail price tag is one critical difference between lab-created and natural diamonds. According to recent data from 2021, lab-grown diamonds are sold for 30-50% less than their counterparts. However, diamond prices, along with other gems and precious metals, as a worldwide traded commodity, can fluctuate due to the basics of supply and demand and world events.
As demand for precious gemstones continues to grow, the market for lab-grown diamonds appears promising. With some of the world’s largest diamond mining companies announcing plans to launch their signature lines of lab-grown diamonds, the future looks bright. With manufacturers able to quickly meet consumer demand, price points are poised to remain at sustainable levels.