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Lab Grown vs. Natural Diamonds: What is the Difference?

Synthetic or lab grown diamonds are different from simulants such as CZ’s or Moissanite in that simulants have totally different chemical and physical properties from natural diamonds. Lab grown diamonds on the other hand have the same chemical and physical properties as natural diamonds.

Both simulants and lab grown diamonds can be differentiated from natural diamonds with the appropriate instruments however lab grown diamonds are more complex to detect. The most effective way to better understand lab grown diamonds is to do a brief analysis and comparison with naturally sourced diamonds.

Man-made diamonds are grown in days or weeks depending upon size, whereas natural diamonds were formed millions of years ago under enormous heat and pressure, at depths of around 100 miles below the earth’s surface. At some point after crystallization the rough diamonds were forced closer to the earth’s surface by volcanic eruptions forming narrow, vertical rock formations known as kimberlite pipes.

By mining and processing kimberlite ore, the rough diamond crystals are identified and removed. The ratio of rough diamonds to kimberlite is extremely low and it is not unusual for miners to process around 2 tons of ore to find a single rough diamond large enough to produce just one polished diamond weighing 1.00 carat.

Diamond material is classified in 4 categories whether natural or lab grown.:

Type 1a: Generous amounts of nitrogen present in clusters or pairs.                                 [95% of all natural diamonds are Type 1A.]

The remaining 5% of natural diamonds and lab grown diamonds may be classified in the following 3 categories:

Type Ib:  Crystal has scattered, isolated nitrogen atoms – not in pairs or clusters.

Type IIa:  Crystal has almost zero nitrogen.

Type IIb:  Crystal has traces of boron.

Type I and type II diamonds can be distinguished by type II’s transparency under short-wave ultraviolet radiation and both types can be definitively separated by infrared spectroscopy.

While there are existing instruments to differentiate lab-grown from natural diamonds, more efficient and cost effective versions are expected to be available in the not too distant future. The need to discern lab grown from natural diamonds both quickly and reliably, is a high priority for the natural diamond industry as it must work to preserve the integrity, mystique and value of naturally sourced diamonds.

Synthetic diamonds [not suitable for jewelry] have been produced and supplied for different industrial uses for decades. Diamonds are the hardest known natural material and have other unique properties making them ideal for certain industrial applications:
Diamonds can withstand high levels of radiation, do not trigger an immune response and have considerable value for cutting tools, nuclear engineering and medicine.  Diamonds also have unique thermal conductivity qualities making them an ideal material for electronics because of their ability to transfer twice the amount of heat and more current than the silicon used in semiconductors today.

In the not too distant future, man-made diamonds are likely to contribute substantially towards the production of smaller, more-powerful electronic devices.  It is hard to believe but currently industry already uses over 1,500 tons of lab grown diamonds each year.

Recent advancements in lab grown diamond technology has made it possible to create larger, better quality and whiter  lab grown diamonds suitable for jewelry. This new technology is called ‘chemical vapor deposition’ (CVD) or low-pressure, high-temperature (LPHT). It works by allowing the diamond to grow in a vacuum chamber using a diamond crystal or plate as a seed to initiate growth.

As this new technology is becoming more prevalent, a growing number of companies have indicated their intention to produce and market ‘jewelry quality’ lab grown diamonds. This prospect will likely cause downward price pressure on synthetic prices over time.

Synthetic ‘jewelry quality’ diamonds accounts for no more than 2% of the total diamond sales and currently cost +-35% less than natural diamonds.

It is worth noting, there have been no significant new natural diamond discoveries anywhere in the world for over 15 years and as the populations of China and India in particular become more prosperous, the outlook for the value of naturally sourced diamond appears to be positive.

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    Author: Carmelo Speelman

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