Lab-Grown Diamonds vs. Natural Diamonds: What’s the Difference?

Two specimens of faceted crystalized carbon - both are crystal clear and give off a kaleidoscope of spectral colors in direct light. They appear to be identical. One, however, is a billion or more years old and the other was recently grown in a laboratory.

Both are diamonds, of course. The first is a natural diamond created by forces deep within the young Earth. The second is from a laboratory and possesses essentially the same chemical, physical and optical properties as its natural counterpart.Diamond – the material, not the gem – is a mineral consisting of “essentially pure carbon crystalized in the isometric cubic system,” according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which develops trading guides for the gem and jewelry industry.

Although the FTC says diamonds are essentially pure carbon, the vast majority of natural diamonds contain trace amounts of other substances, particularly nitrogen, which gives them a yellow color or (rarely) boron, which imparts a blue color. In addition, they usually contain 

inclusions, tiny bits of foreign material that were trapped in the still-forming diamond millions of years ago.

Laboratory-grown diamonds (also sometimes referred to as man-made or synthetic diamonds) entered the gem and jewelry market in commercial quantities about five years ago. Although identical in appearance to natural diamonds, they have very subtle differences that can only be detected by trained gemologists and sophisticated equipment designed for that purpose.

How They’re Created -

Most naturally-occurring diamonds on the market today were formed far beneath Earth’s surface, in the planet’s mantle layer. Billions of years of intense heat and pressure caused the element carbon to rearrange on an atomic level, and thus take on the solid form of a diamond. In areas of the globe where the conditions and temperatures have been ripe to create diamonds, deep-source volcanic eruptions sent the stones closer to the surface. These massive, deep-reaching craters are then mined for precious stones.

Lab-grown diamonds, on the other hand, are just that: diamonds grown in a lab. "The most common way is through a process called chemical vapor deposition". You start with a very slim slice of a diamond, where the crystalline structure for the diamond is already formed. This is often called the diamond 'seed' and is composed of pure carbon; either natural or existing lab- created diamond. The seed is placed in a vacuum where carbon molecules assimilate to the diamond seed. It’s almost like 3-D printing a diamond. Once the diamond is 'grown' in this chamber, it will be ready to be cut and polished, just like a natural diamond." Because a diamond created in a lab is still pure carbon, it is, chemically speaking, the exact same as a natural diamond.

Pricing -

Part of the reason natural diamonds are so pricey is because of their rarity. There is thought to be a finite amount of the stone on this planet, and the natural circumstances under which each is created are unique.

Lab diamonds are going to be less expensive than natural diamonds, sometimes up to 50 percent less than a natural stone of similar grade because they aren’t controlled by the same supply chains.

Durability -

Lab-grown diamonds are comprised of carbon, the same material natural diamonds are comprised of. They remain the hardest material on earth—a 10 on the Mohs hardness scale— and thus are as difficult to chip as a natural diamond.