“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” as the old and well-known Broadway song goes. Diamonds have been valued as precious gems for thousands of years in human history, for both jewelry and various industrial purposes. In the 20th century, Lab-Created Diamonds began to increase in prominence. What is the difference between natural and lab-created diamonds? This article will help explain, and will also elaborate on advantages and disadvantages of both.
A natural diamond, usually just called a diamond, is a gemstone/precious stone made of carbon. When the carbon is put under high pressure and heat for 1 to 3.3 billion years, a diamond is naturally formed. Diamonds are renowned for their luster, hardness, and thermal conductivity. The two broad categories in which diamonds are used are in jewelry and in industrial applications. Diamonds in the first category are called gem-grade diamonds, and diamonds in the second category are called industrial-grade diamonds. Gem-grade diamonds are cut and polished after they are mined, and then used in jewelry. Industrial-grade diamonds have a variety of applications including drill bits, blades, and heat sinks for electronics. These days, synthetic diamonds are used more frequently for industrial purposes due to the relatively low cost. Pictured above are an uncut diamond, top, and a cut diamond, bottom.
Lab-created diamonds, also called synthetic diamonds, cultivated diamonds, or cultured diamonds, are created through artificial processes rather than natural geological ones. Lab-created diamonds are commonly produced through one of two methods: the “high-pressure high-temperature” method (HPHT), and the “chemical vapor deposition” method (CVP). In the HPHT method, a diamond seed (a very small piece of diamond) is bathed in graphite and a metal-based catalyst. At a very high temperature and under high pressure, a controlled environment recreates the natural formation of diamonds and causes the diamond to grow. In the CVP method, a diamond seed is put into a vacuum environment along with hydrogen gas and methane. The corresponding physical and chemical processes cause the diamonds to grow. Pictured above is a synthetic diamond scalpel blade.
|Natural Diamonds||Lab-Created Diamonds|
|Produced through natural geological processes.||Produced through artificial laboratory-controlled processes.|
|Large diamond sizes possible.||Large diamond sizes not possible.|
|Sometimes associated with conflict and unethical labor practices.||Conflict-free production.|
The main differences are in:
- Process by which the diamond is created
- Cost of the diamond
- Possible size of the diamond
- Ethical practices surrounding diamond production
As their names would suggest, the primary difference comes from the way in which both diamonds are made. Natural diamonds are made through a long natural process of carbon being put under high pressure and heat for billions of years. Lab-created diamonds, on the other hand, are made through a shorter process replicating the high pressure and heat of the natural process.
Natural diamonds often cost 20 to 40 percent more than synthetic diamonds. The still relatively high cost of lab-created diamonds is due to lab-created diamonds generally needing a small piece of natural diamond to be created.
Due to manufacturing processes and technology, lab-created diamonds have a smaller maximum size than natural diamonds. Lab-created diamonds usually grow to 3 carats in size, but natural diamonds have been known to grow up to over 3000 carats in size.
There are some ethical issues surrounding certain mines involved in natural diamond mining. Many diamonds are mined in Africa, and the revenue from mined diamonds has been used to fund civil wars. Additionally, diamond mines have been known to cause environmental damage, and have also had a history of poor working conditions. Lab-created diamonds avoid some of these issues, and the diamonds that many manufacturers of lab-created diamonds purchase for production are obtained from sources known to avoid these ethical issues.
The main advantages of a natural diamond, then, are aesthetic, e.g. the possibly larger size and the more varied patterns that occur from natural production. Lab-created diamonds are compositionally identical to natural diamonds, are cheaper, and do not fund unethical practices, though they are smaller. Many consider them “unromantic,” because of the synthetic process through which they are made.
The below video is an interview with a CEO of a synthetic diamond manufacturing company.