Are lab-produced diamonds real diamonds? Are lab-produced diamonds of lower quality than mine diamonds? And are lab-grown diamonds really that much more sustainable than mine diamonds? When it comes to the topic of natural diamond vs. lab-grown diamond, there is still a lot of uncertainty. This article clarifies the most important questions.
Lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds - only their origin differs from each other
Natural diamonds are formed under the earth at extremely high pressure and temperatures. Several hundred kilometres underground at temperatures between 1200°C and 1500°C and at a pressure of 100-150 kilobars, carbon atoms join together to form a solid crystal lattice, resulting in the formation of diamonds over a period of millions of years. The diamonds are brought to the earth's surface by volcanic activity and can then be mined from the rock.
To produce laboratory diamonds, these natural conditions are recreated in a laboratory. During the growth process, extremely high temperatures are produced at the same time as extremely high pressure, which means that a diamond can be created within a few weeks. This classic process is the HPHT process, i.e. High-Pressure-High-Temperature. There is also another, modern process - the CVD process. In chemical vapour deposition, carbon-containing gas, such as methane, is used. The CVD manufacturing process works with lower pressure and lower temperatures.
If you want to know more about laboratory diamond manufacturing processes, you can read our blog post on the subject here.
Real diamonds with unique properties
With the bare eye, even experts cannot distinguish a laboratory diamond from a natural diamond. Since laboratory diamonds are created under basically the same conditions as natural diamonds, they have exactly the same optical, chemical and physical characteristics. Both types of diamond are made of carbon and have a hardness grade of 10. In both types of diamond, the density (SG) is around 3.52 and the refractive index (RI) is 2.42. For these reasons, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also defined lab-grown diamonds as real diamonds since 2018. Each lab-created diamond is as unique as its natural counterpart. Contrary to popular belief, lab-grown diamonds can also have air inclusions and colour qualities below H.
Lab-produced diamonds are the sustainable alternative
A much discussed question is which type of diamond is more sustainable. Here it can be said that on average the ecological footprint of laboratory diamonds is much lower than that of mine diamonds. However, this does not mean that laboratory diamonds are generally sustainable. The artificial production of diamonds requires an enormous amount of energy, and many companies obtain this energy from coal-fired power or other unclean energy sources. Laboratory diamonds can be a much more sustainable alternative to mine diamonds, but it also depends on the company ethics of the respective manufacturer.
When mining natural diamonds, an average of 250 tonnes of earth have to be moved to find a diamond of gemstone quality. Mining diamonds in mines therefore means an enormous intervention in nature, which destroys the ecosystem in the long term. In this sense, there is no sustainable way to mine diamonds.
The social aspect should not be neglected either. Mine workers have a very dangerous and physically demanding job. Moreover, most diamond mines are in structurally weak countries where people work far below western standards and even under working conditions that violate human rights. Moreover, the business of mining diamonds is very opaque, whereas the value chain of lab diamonds is much more transparent.
More details can be found in our previous blog post on the benefits of lab-grown diamonds.
Whether from the mine or the lab, both types are ultimately unique gemstones. They have the identical characteristics and offer equally different colour qualities, sizes and can both have air inclusions. Only their origin and their impact on the environment differ.