Natural vs Lab-Grown Diamonds

Not all diamonds are natural. When it comes to this special type of gemstones what often comes to mind is the complex processes: from the mines to the factory and then to the hands of jewellery. That marks their emergence to consumer-grade diamonds, which are used in the making of precious jewellery. Or for certain diamond varieties which are also sourced from nature, however, this time are directed towards specific industrial uses. Given the popularity of diamonds in the consumer space as luxury jewellery items, and the industrial significance of diamonds; means that over many years considerable research has gone into understanding the atomic and crystalline make-up of these carbon based on stones. A science-heavy process that has been matched by dedicated efforts by specialist engineers in the field, who have, over the decades helped develop methods that can produce synthetic diamond variants in the laboratory.

The emergence of synthetic variants of gemstones has been remarkable development in the diamond trade, and for the world of gemstones as a whole. Diamonds, for much of human history, have been sourced solely from nature. A product of the near abundant source of carbon-based resources of the planet. With diamonds, among arguably the most valuable, along with fossil fuels, when it comes to energy. However, advances in technology over the past decades has meant that the underlying atomic structure of diamonds and the process of developing them artificially has been deciphered. In recent decades these artificial processes have been optimized, and given the economic opportunities, these present for businesses has attracted private companies who have sought to exploit the trade for such lab-created stones. But how good are these lab-grown alternatives? Do natural diamonds stand a chance in the face of these artificial variants? Here we will find out.

Characteristics of Natural Diamonds

First let us start by understanding what diamonds, to see how artificial variants contrast with them. Diamond is a rare, naturally occurring mineral composed of carbon. What differentiates diamonds from other carbon-based minerals is their atomic structure. Every carbon atom in a diamond is surrounded by four other carbon atoms, which are connected to them by powerful covalent (a chemical connection, that occurs via the sharing of electron atoms). This extremely strong chemical bond gives rise to one of the most durable and versatile substances in the world. Diamonds are the hardest known natural substance in the world. In the popular Mohs scale for hardness, diamonds score a perfect 10. To understand what this level of hardness means: If one uses hydrofluoric acid, which can melt or burn through metal, rock, ceramic and even glass; on diamonds, it produces no such effect on it. 

The extreme durability and hardness of diamonds have made them suitable for use as a cutting tool and for other applications where hardness is a requirement. Which makes diamonds a key element in industrial use. In addition to their cutting capabilities, diamonds also carry certain optical properties such as a high index of refraction, high dispersion. The very qualities that make diamonds glitter and shine have been adopted for dedicated applications in industry, that go beyond their appeal for beauty. Thus if one is to speak of the industrial uses of diamonds, the list is quite vast. Hence in the world of jewellery, the character of diamonds is relatively better understood. The fact that diamonds stand for beauty and luxury, and that they are the unmistakable mark of status-depending on the quality of the stone is well documented. The key measure when it comes to determining the quality of diamonds in the consumer space is the well-known 4Cs of diamonds. Of course, one of the Cs: the Cut, will not apply to precious uncut diamonds, which are also traded with consumers. Often it is the whole range of factors that are considered when measuring diamond quality. Like fine jewellery, like engagement rings, is what drives their demand. 

Characteristics of Synthetic Diamonds

Whilst the concept of synthetic or lab-grown diamonds might sound new, the artificial variant of natural diamonds has been in the industry for some time now. With the application of lab-grown diamonds in industrial use going back decades, following the development of the artificial variant of the diamonds all the way to the middle of the last century. The first synthetic diamonds, which often sub-par variants of the natural alternative, were developed in the early 1950s by researchers in Stockholm, Sweden. Their efforts were soon matched by development in GE (the great American Conglomerate). The broadly dominant method when it comes to artificial diamond production involved the conditions that mimicked the heat and pressures in which diamonds naturally develop over billions of years. However, the various high-pressure, high-temperature methods which are used to bring together and synthesise the core elements that produce artificial diamond differ in terms of quality often varies: from its size, the presence of impurities, and other gemological attributes. With the quality and hence price of the gemstone differing according to the quality of the synthetic diamond variant; with those that match the natural diamond variant commanding the highest price. The popularity of making artificial diamonds, and the broader industry, and later consumer demand for artificial diamonds has led to the steady growth in the supply of these artificial gemstones.

Industrial Use of Lab-Grown Diamonds

As noted, the key driver for artificial diamonds is the large and growing demand for these stone that stems from industries. Those that are involved in the manufacture, rely on synthetic diamonds as cutting implements, and even in the production of large drilling equipment diamond containing tools and machines are used in major mineral excavation projects. According to industry reports, around 100 tons of artificial diamonds are produced annually around the globe. With companies like Diamond Innovations, Sumitomo Electric, and even major natural diamond miners such as De Beers now leading the way (1). With so many diamonds being artificially produced one may be tempted to think that this will come to erode the market for natural diamonds. However, there are deeper reasons as to which this is not so. For a start diamonds which are sourced naturally from nature are still viewed as unique and hence command a higher market value. But this could change.

Factors driving the popularity of lab-grown diamonds

As noted the popularity of lab-grown diamonds has historically been led by industrial demand. Companies involved in manufacture and extraction have long understood the many capabilities that diamonds possess. However getting them in bulk, consistently over time entails a considerable cost. Especially given the limited supply of natural diamonds, and the difficulty of mining for new sources. Owing to the demand, a number of private ventures have moved into space, and have succeeded in driving the supply of artificial diamonds. With advances in technology speeding things up even further. Given the growing supply of artificial diamonds, and their wider recognition has led to the changing attitudes of these carbon-based stones, even in the consumer space. Such as:

The Ethical Character of Synthetic Diamonds

In a world where the conservation of nature and the importance of sustainable business practices are gaining ground, the controversy that has been associated with natural diamonds: their mining and trade, has, given the times driven the popularity of lab-grown alternatives. These synthetic diamond variants are viewed as more ethical alternatives. As the importance of ethics in business and the need for environmental protection, along with the need to become a part of the pro-environmental movement. Which has in turn driven the demand for lab-grown diamond alternatives. In this regard owning a lab-grown diamond is viewed as a symbol of a person’s convictions. So wearing an ethically made diamond engagement, for example, despite being cheaper, is still valued for its environmentally friendly character.