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Lab-grown diamonds have become a popular choice for jewelry. Many consumers have learned their benefits and the way they compensate for some downsides of mining natural ones.
Now, jewelers offer lab-grown diamonds, also called synthetic or man-made, on engagement rings, necklaces, bracelets and more.
We’ll discuss the nine pros and cons of lab-grown diamonds, so you’ll know if it’s right for you.
Pros of Lab-Grown Diamonds
Appear Identical to Natural Ones
Lab-grown diamonds have the same physical and chemical properties as natural diamonds.
As an example, take a look at this diamond.
You can’t distinguish whether it’s natural or lab-created.
The same is true of this one.
In fact, the first diamond is natural and the second is man-made.
While earth-mined diamonds take millions of years to form under the ground, lab-grown diamonds take only a few weeks to produce.
This is a result of two processes: high-pressure-high-heat (HPHT) and chemical vapor deposition (CVD).
HPHT places carbon under extreme heat and pressure. It reaches between 1,300-1,600 degrees Celsius. This mimics the conditions within the earth that forms natural diamonds.
The crystal is cut and polished by the manufacturer into the final lab-grown diamond.
CVD diamonds involve a “seed” diamond placed into a chamber under high temperatures. Gasses like hydrogen and methane are added. The carbon forms atomic bonds with the seed, which creates a new diamond.
The result of both methods is a diamond that appears identical to a natural one. In fact, trained gemologists can’t tell the difference without special equipment.
If you’re worried someone viewing your lab-grown diamond could identify it as such, there’s no reason for concern.
Another pro of lab-grown diamonds is they cost significantly less than natural ones. There are a few reasons for this.
High-quality, earth-grown diamonds are rare. Most found have strong color and noticeable inclusions, so they sell for a lower price.
The process of mining also incurs huge expenses, and they often pass through many hands before reaching the final buyer.
Each buyer charges a markup along the way.
Lab-grown diamonds have a shorter supply chain, which reduces costs.
To understand the differences in price between lab-grown and natural diamonds, we compared costs from James Allen, a leading online jewelry vendor.
The round-cut diamonds had the following traits:
- Carat weight: 0.75
- Cut: Very good
- Color: F
- Clarity: SI1
The natural diamonds sell for an average of $2,500.
Lab-grown ones with the same grades sell for an average of $658.
That’s a 280 percent increase in price for natural over lab-grown.
As another example, we compared lab-grown diamonds from Clean Origin with natural diamonds from James Allen. They earned the following grades:
- Carat weight: 1.00
- Color: J
- Clarity: SI1
- Cut: Ideal
At James Allen, the average price was $4,026, with a range of $3,260-$4,380.
The lab-grown ones with those same grades averaged $1,197. The range was $1,033-$1,286.
As you can see with these examples, you’ll save 40-60 percent by choosing a lab-grown diamond.
Growing in Popularity
Lab-grown diamond jewelry has grown in popularity.
This chart shows the relative change in interest over time through people searching for lab-grown diamonds online. In recent years, that interest has increased.
As buyers have gained an understanding of their advantages, it’s natural that more people have become interested.
This is also demonstrated by several of the largest companies in the industry pursuing this market.
For example, James Allen has more than 22,000 synthetic diamonds listed, including lab-grown diamonds to go with their fine jewelry.
Clean Origin, founded by veterans of the industry, sells this type exclusively.
Even brands with household names like Jared, Kay, and Zales have entered the market.
This means there’s a variety of lab-grown diamonds available for you to explore. You can buy from some of the most well-known brands in the industry that no longer exclusively sell natural diamonds.
Environmentally and Socially Conscious
Buyers are also drawn to lab-grown diamonds because they’re considered more environmentally and socially conscious.
It requires significant resources to run mining operations, which often take their toll on the environment. For example, the practice has been known to cause soil erosion.
According to the World Diamond Council, large amounts of soil must be removed from the earth at each mine. This includes waste rock, sand, and soil that accumulates in the surrounding areas.
This is preceded by the exploration process, which has its own environmental impact.
When diamond deposits are found on seabeds, the area also needs to be cleared to access the diamonds. Unless it’s replaced, the inhabitants won’t return.
The council also notes mining diamonds uses multiple forms of energy: hydrocarbons and electricity. This releases carbon emissions into the air.
The industry has also earned a reputation for exploitative labor practices and contributing to unstable politics. In recent years, guidelines like the Kimberley Process, which most prominent jewelers adhere to, have sought to remedy this issue.
Additionally, companies like Brilliant Earth have shown a spotlight on these challenges and sought to determine a more eco-friendly and socially conscious way to sell diamonds.
Lab-grown diamonds avoid many of these problems. It doesn’t require deforestation or building extensive mining operations to extract them from the ground.
They’re made in high-tech labs around the world instead of being tied to a specific location.
Cons of Lab-Grown Diamonds
Minimal Resale Value
One of the reasons natural diamonds retain some of their value is because they’re rare. Each is truly one of a kind.
That’s why you might hear it recommended to buy a quality diamond with the intent to resell it for a higher price down the road.
But we don’t recommend buying any diamond with intent to sell it for a premium at a later date. In many cases, it’ll lose up to half its value after you buy it.
But if it’s large, colorless, and has no visible inclusions, it could hold more of that value over time.
Lab-grown diamonds have minimal resale value because they aren’t rare. Companies can mass-produce them.
It’s unlikely you’ll find a jeweler willing to buy it, because they could purchase an identical one from another supplier.
If you resort to an online marketplace to sell it to an individual, you’ll have to settle for a fraction of the cost.
Buy lab-grown diamonds with the intent that it won’t change hands beyond the first person to wear it. You’ll be disappointed if you stay under the illusion its value will go up over time.
Energy Consumption and Impact on Local Communities
Although the overall impact on the environment is lessened by lab-created diamonds compared to natural ones, they do require huge amounts of energy to create.
In fact, a Trucost report found that on average, the greenhouse gas emissions were three times greater when producing lab-grown diamonds compared to mined diamonds.
This is because the machines required to create them produce tremendous heat. The energy is taken from local power grids located in places that rely on coal and natural gas.
These power sources are considered unsustainable, so it’s depleting those resources.
For example, it’s been noted how many lab-created diamonds produced with HPHT are from China. Fifty-five percent of its power is from coal. In India, 75 percent of its power grid relies on coal.
So while lab-grown diamonds have made improvements mitigating the environmental impact, there are some areas where it’s yet to solve the challenge.
Although the industry has taken heat for its reputation of poor labor practices, some have also noted the economic opportunities that have been provided to poorer regions because of diamond mining.
In some areas, diamonds are a primary source of economic growth.
These are lost when companies shift from setting up mining operations and instead build labs in other areas of the world.
Fewer Options on the Market
Even though some of the most prominent jewelers have started selling man-made diamonds, there are still far fewer options on the market compared to natural ones.
For example. Ritani lists about 165,000 natural diamonds on their website. There are about 93,000 lab-grown diamonds available.
That’s still a huge selection, but it’s almost half of its earth-mined inventory.
You’ll find close to 250,000 round-cut, natural diamonds from James Allen compared to 23,000 synthetic ones.
This concept plays out across most vendors who sell both.
Tiffany & Co., a jewelry retailer, has refused to enter the lab-grown diamond market.
The company has said they don’t view them as a luxury product and don’t believe it fits the type of jewelry their customers buy.
And if you walk into a local jewelry store, it’s likely they’ll only sell natural diamonds.
Breaks Engagement Ring Tradition
The vast majority of engagement ring diamonds are natural.
This is evidenced by the wider selection you’ll find browsing most jewelers.
For example, when I was searching for an engagement ring for my now-wife, I was speaking with a jewelry consultant. He didn’t even ask whether I was considering natural or synthetic.
He assumed I’d choose a natural diamond, although its higher price may have been a factor in pushing me that direction.
Many buyers don’t want to break tradition with a lab-grown diamond.
In fact, Sally Morrison of Lightbox said their research indicates consumers want mined diamonds for their engagement ring but are more content with lab-created ones for everyday wear.
This is especially the case for older consumers. They aren’t as open to breaking tradition and choosing one created in a lab.
But when younger buyers are selecting a tennis bracelet or necklace, they’re far more open to lab-grown diamonds than if they’re searching for a traditional engagement ring.
That’s why vendors like Clean Origin go beyond diamond rings and sell promise rings, pendants, and bracelets.
But as we’ve discussed, these traditions aren’t held as strongly anymore.
As synthetic diamonds become more popular, it won’t be an anomaly if someone mentions their engagement ring diamond is lab-created.
Is a Lab-Grown Diamond Right For You?
Once you understand the pros and cons of lab-grown diamonds, you can make an informed decision about whether it’s right for you.
Here are some tips to help you decide.
You should consider a lab-grown diamond if:
- You want significant savings on costs compared to a natural diamond
- You’re interesting in the environmental benefits that result from avoiding mining operations
- You aren’t concerned that most other engagement ring diamonds are earth-mined
By combining them with an elegant setting, you’ll create the perfect lab-created diamond ring.