Lab grown diamonds are gaining attention and popularity amongst prospective diamond buyers and the general public lately for a number of reasons.
In this guide, we outline the pros and cons of lab grown diamonds compared to naturally mined diamonds and other types of diamonds.
Summary – Pros & Cons Of Lab Grown Diamonds
They are not fake diamonds or substitute diamonds – they are grown from real diamond material
They are the same as mined/organic diamonds in almost every way (except tiny differences that can only be identified by special devices)
The technology is constantly getting better for to improve the manufacture of lab grown diamonds
The industry is developing and growing fast
Lab grown diamonds form fast in the lab
Lab grown diamonds don’t rely on as many factors to be produced as mined diamonds
The purchase price is usually cheaper than mined diamonds
The environmental impact and eco footprint is usually more favorable than mined diamonds (although there are some eco factors to watch out for)
Some sellers are quite good with their ethics and conflict free standards
Some sellers are quite good with their level of social investment from a portion of their profits (in both developed and developing countries)
You can get a more reliable guarantee on what you’re buying
The purity and clarity grades tend to be quite good from the better sellers
Renewable energy might be able to be used for electricity supply in diamond labs in the future in greater shares
Re-sell price is significantly lower than for a mined diamond – especially the longer they are kept
Not as rare or precious as mined diamonds because theoretically they can be manufactured at will, compared to mined diamonds which take many years to form geologically
Some sources indicate that lab grown diamonds might only be able to be grown to 20 carats, whereas some naturally mined diamonds might be as large as 400 carats
Some sellers have a smaller range of diamonds and jewelry to choose from for lab grown diamonds compared to mined diamonds
Marketing phrases used by some lab grown diamond sellers can be confusing
Some lab grown diamonds still have a high energy/electricity usage and carbon footprint
There’s still some uncertainty about the raw materials used, waste by-products, disposal and true environmental footprint
Can lead to loss of mining jobs and investment back in the local communities in developing countries and regions
There’s alternatives to lab grown diamonds such as recycled and second hand diamonds that might be more ethical and eco friendly
Some people may still have an appreciation or romance for mined diamonds
Some certifiers grade lab grown diamonds differently to mined diamonds
*Note – these are general pros and cons of lab grown diamonds.
Obviously the final set of pros and cons of lab grown diamonds, or mined diamonds, is going to come down to the seller, and how they source, produce, finish, distribute and sell their diamonds.
Each seller is going to have different variables and standards/requirements that make up that process.
Pros (& Benefits) Of Lab Grown Diamonds
They Are Not Fake Or Substitutes
Lab grown diamonds are not hybrid, simulant or cubic zirconia diamonds.
They are therefore not a fake or synthetic diamond.
They Are The Same As Mined Diamonds In Almost Every Way
Their physical, chemical and optical/visual properties are all the same as mined diamonds i.e. a lab grown diamond has the exact carbon structure as diamonds that are mined – they are crystalized carbon.
You can’t tell the difference between the two when you look at them and touch them.
The only real difference is how they are created – earth formed vs lab formed.
Once formed, both lab and mined diamond go through the exact same process – cut, color, clarity, carat.
The skill of the diamond cutter can be a variability in how they both look – but this is specific to the diamond producer.
The Technology Is Getting Better & Better For Lab Grown Diamonds
So the quality and capabilities are getting better and better.
Companies can also control the size and shape of the diamond.
Also, more jewelry suppliers are getting access to detection devices that allow consumers to see which diamonds are lab grown and earth mined.
Over the last decade alone, lab grown diamonds have gone from being mostly colored and small, to bigger and colorless.
Some Individual Suppliers/Sellers Have Good Range To Select From
Although overall there may not be many advanced sellers right now, some individual sellers do have good ranges to choose from.
Some offer Type IIa diamonds, with good clarity and cut.
Some offer up to 10 carats, and a range of colors.
Each supplier/seller offers something different though – so you have to research what each one offers in depth and separately.
The Lab Grown Diamond Industry Is Growing Fast, Which Means More Investment & Options
The size of the industry is currently around 1 or 2% of the total diamond industry, but it’s going to be an estimated 15% by 2020.
It’s Fast To Form Lab Grown Diamonds
A one carat cut diamond takes about three months (compared to thousands of years for mined diamonds, and then they depend on volcanic eruptions to rise to the surface).
Lab Grown Diamonds Don’t Rely On As Many Factors To Be Produced
Mined diamonds rely on the perfect combination of temperature, pressure and chemical reactions just to form.
After that, we rely on super deep volcanic eruptions that have magma that travels towards the surface of the earth carrying diamonds with them in a rock.
On top of that, we need geologists and other experts to do tests to understand where these diamonds might be located so mining operations can start.
Comparatively, lab grown diamonds need a lab with the necessary technology/equipment, as well as loose diamonds or ‘seed’ diamonds to start the formation process
Can be much cheaper than mined diamonds to buy new (for the same, clarity, color and sized diamond).
They can be on average around 10-20% cheaper, or up to 40% cheaper for colored diamonds (natural colored diamonds are extremely rare and consequently very expensive).
The price of lab grown diamonds is expected to keep falling as more of them are produced, they become more widely available and efficient to produce, and the market becomes more competitive.
Lab grown diamonds have only recently begun to reach a level of quality and size that is comparable with natural diamonds.
Lab costs tend to be much cheaper than mining operations
They use less water and disturb less land than mined diamonds (roughly 200 to 250 tons of earth must be mined and sifted through to find 1 carat of earth mined diamond, with some sources saying miners have to dig down to unearth 1,700, almost 2,000 tons of soil for one carat of mined diamonds.
Other sources say for every carat of diamond that is mined, nearly 100 sq ft of land is disturbed and almost 6000 lbs of mineral waste is created).
They also leave less pollution and environmental degradation.
The electricity lab grown diamonds use may eventually be able to become part or fully renewable energy.
In fact, some labs already use solar energy, and some sources say lab created diamonds are seven times less impactful to the environment than mined diamonds, use significantly less resources and emit a fraction of the air pollution
Ethical, & Conflict Free
We should note that regular mining of diamonds has come a long way and there are more ethical mining operations out there now that don’t make use of child labor and have relatively fair labor and safety practices (thanks to the Kimberley Process, established in 2003, these unethical practices have been significantly reduced)
In fact, it’s estimated that 99.9% of natural diamonds are now conflict-free..
But, purchasing lab grown diamonds means you can be 100% sure you know where they came from and how they were made (they don’t fund civil wars or make use of unethical labor).
Some sources say mined diamonds result in 1 injury for every 1,000 workers annually, while lab-grown diamonds result in zero.
There is some debate over this though …
coreyegan.com provides an alternative view on how socially conscious the Kimberly Process actually might be (part of this stemming from the narrow definition of ‘conflict’ in ‘conflict free’)
There’s also some question over the sourcing of some labor used to make lab grown diamonds in Eastern countries
Can Benefit Developing Countries
Some lab grown diamond producers or suppliers have a donation initiative to restore communities and the environment in countries that have been affected by diamond mining.
Guarantee On What You’re Buying
There are reputable/trustworthy lab grown diamond sellers, and you can get certificates from them with your purchase to guarantee what you are buying.
For example, some popular third-party certification companies might be GIA, AWDC, IGI, GSI, IIDGR, AGS, or HRD.
You should always confirm you are getting the right certificate when buying diamonds to certify what you’re buying.
Sellers should be open about this.
If you want to go the extra step, ask the jewellery retailer who their lab is – they should have a good relationship with them and trust them to deliver quality diamonds – as each lab is different with what they offer.
Purity, & Clarity Grades
Some people think that because the lab conditions are controlled, some lab grown diamonds have less impurities and a higher clarity grade than mined diamonds – but this is a subjective point of view.
Cons (& Disadvantages) Of Lab Grown Diamonds
Re-Sell Price, & Holding Value After Purchase
Lab grown diamonds tend not to hold their value after being bought as well as a natural diamond.
Re-selling prices can drop significantly.
Lab grown diamonds aren’t an investment at the moment if you plan on having a piece of jewelry that holds it’s value over the long term (as a rough estimate, they might hold their value to around 25% of their purchase price, compared to 50% for mined diamonds – but, this is just a rough estimate).
Having said this – it’s difficult to forecast if this will be the case in the future if lab grown diamonds become more popular and in demand.
But, some people predict that as Chinese labs start to enter the market and production increases, the long term value will drop.
Comparatively, earth mined diamonds have a unique rarity to how they can be formed and mined – they are a finite resource where only a select number of them are of gem quality
Limited Production, Supply, Availability & Range To Choose From In The Short To Medium Term
The man made diamonds market might be constrained by limits on manufacturing capability, funding, and access to technology and intellectual property in the short to medium term.
Because of this, you may not find as many jewelers that carry them in their inventory, and as a result, there may be a reduced range of man made diamonds overall to choose from for now.
Marketing Phrases Can Confuse Buyers
The terms ‘synthetic’ or ‘cultured’ diamonds can confuse some buyers from a marketing perspective when buying lab grown diamonds.
They might think the diamonds are hybrid or CZ diamonds, when they are not.
Instead, “man-made,” or “lab-grown” are probably the best terms to use – although, not all sellers might use these terms.
In the US for example, the FTC determines what phrases you can use when selling and marketing lab grown diamonds
Energy Use, & Carbon Footprint
Lab grown diamonds use a lot of electricity.
The exact amount of energy they take to produce is not usually released by the labs that make them.
It’s possible the energy use and carbon footprint is much higher than what we think.
But, some studies suggest that labs use about one quarter to one third of the total energy that mines use, and produce about one fifth of the carbon emissions – so it might not be an issue.
Less energy means less fossil fuel use, less pollution and so on.
But, this is an area that can definitely be researched more.
Raw Materials Used, Waste By-Products, Disposal, & True Environmental Footprint
There are questions over the exact waste by-products by lab grown diamonds, and how that waste is treated or disposed of.
Not a lot is not about waste and disposal of the lab grown diamonds process, and this could be something that needs to be explored and explained so we are aware of exactly the environmental footprint of lab grown diamonds.
More independent research needs to be done on the raw material used to make the synthetic diamonds, the waste created and the true environmental footprint – they are created in factories after all.
The same can be said for the raw materials used by labs and factories producing diamonds – knowing exactly where their materials come from helps us get a better idea of the true environmental footprint.
It’s possible lab created diamonds are not eco friendly, but just more eco friendly in some ways than mined diamonds.
Loss Of Jobs & Money In Developing Countries
Making diamonds in a lab in a developed country means that there is a loss of jobs and economic stimulus in developing countries where diamonds could be getting mined.
Mining can be the only way out of poverty for some people.
It’s estimated diamond mining supports upwards of 10 million people globally.
For instance, diamond revenues enable every child in Botswana (the second largest diamond producing country in the world) to a free education up to the age of 13.
Diamond revenues are also instrumental in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa, and for every 2.5 acres of land mined, at least 6 acres are donated for conservation.
This is just a small portion of the good that is being done in the diamond industry.
Having said this, it’s possible some lab grown diamond companies have social programs in place (which you can check on their website) to donate a % of profits to certain communities
There’s Alternatives To Lab Grown Diamonds That Come In The Form Of Natural Diamonds (& Minimise The Cons Of Natural Diamonds)
You can buy verifiable Canadian diamonds of known origin if you want to buy 100% conflict free natural diamonds.
You can also buy recycled or second hand natural diamonds if you want cheaper natural diamonds from a price perspective.
Also, from an environmental perspective, once a natural diamond has been mined and cut, it can pass from generation to generation, diffusing the environmental impact of mining the diamond significantly.
So, there are ways to reduce the cons of natural diamonds.
Stigma & Romance
Some people find it far more appealing to think that their diamond spent thousands of years being put under pressure and refined in the earth, rather than being developed in a lab over the course of a few weeks or months.
Mined Diamonds Can Have Uniqueness To Them
In different parts of the world, different carbon is exposed to different chemical reactions.
No one place is the same, so no one mined diamond has the exact same lattice.
Some people like this about mined diamonds.
Mined diamonds are also mined up to miles below the ground, and have been forming in some cases for millions and billions of years (one to three billion years) – some people place a greater value on this type of diamond than lab grown diamonds (which are commercially produced in a lab).
Moreover, the formation can only occur in very specific parts of the earth where the combination of temperature and pressure is just right.
Many factors have to line up for the perfect earth formed diamond to form and come to the surface.
Another ethical issue highlighted by lab-grown diamonds is one of disclosure.
Because of profits to be made, unethical jewellers may be tempted to pass off lab-grown stones as mined ones.
So far, there is no evidence that this has happened to any significant degree, but it’s impossible to guarantee this couldn’t occur in future.
This risk and behaviour can be managed by buying from a reputable seller and obtaining certificates.
An ultraviolet light can be used to detect the difference between natural and lab-grown diamonds.
Lab-grown diamonds will usually show a strong phosphorescent glow that is not common to natural diamonds.
Some people think that many synthetic stones are coloured, due to impurities in the manufacturing process.
But, this is a subjective opinion.
If you do come across many colored lab grown diamonds, you won’t have as many white diamonds to choose from.
May Require Visual Inspection
Like mined diamonds, it can be hard to see the exact diamond appearance and quality of cut unless you look at it in person.
To be fair, this is the same as mined diamonds as well.
Some people may like to see the diamonds in person before they buy.
Other Resources/Guides On Lab Grown Diamonds That You Might Be Interested In Reading
Finding The Best Lab Created Diamonds: Reviews Of Top Sellers/Jewelers, & A Buyer’s Guide With Buyer Tips (Lab grown diamond buying guide, and review guide)