Natural, imitation, and laboratory grown diamonds

Natural, imitation, and laboratory grown diamonds

Natural, imitation, and laboratory grown diamonds

In the last few years laboratory grown diamonds have moved further into the limelight, having been around for many decades. This article will explain the difference in a clear + unbiased (best possible!) way - it's not intended to be a deep, academic guide; more a summary of the main considerations. 

Natural, laboratory or imitation diamonds?

White + sparkling, what's the difference between these three types of gems? It's simpler than you may imagine: 

Mined diamonds are natural geologically historic gemstones, found deep in the ground - these are historically what our jewellery has used, and we continue to do so.

Imitations are artificially manufactured crystals, designed to imitate the sparkle look of diamonds, at a fraction of the price: think cubic zirconias or costume jewellery - moissannite is a diamond like material that synthesises diamonds' properties. These are never referred to as diamonds, their role is to imitate them.  

Laboratory grown diamonds share the exact same chemical + physical properties as natural diamonds, but are (surprise) grown in laboratories replicating the heat and pressure of millions of years taken to create mined diamonds. They are made in one of two methods: High Pressure High Temperature, or Chemical Vapour Deposition. HPHT is more prevalent as it is less expensive. Did you know HPHT uses the same amount of pressure equivalent of 80 elephants standing on your big toe? Later on, we discuss the sustainability aspects of your choice.  

There's no right or wrong to choosing one of the above - only that our clients should have enough knowledge around the topic to make their own informed decision. 

How do you compare natural with laboratory grown?

In reality, natural and laboratory grown diamonds are extremely hard to tell apart. They are categorised in the same way - using the famous 4 C's of diamonds: carat, colour, clarity and cut. Lab grown diamonds also have certificates, some from reputable testing laboratories (beware poor certificating - see this article for more on that). Specific laboratory equipment can test diamonds and tell the difference between the two. Imitations are easier to spot as they have different looks and physical properties, different to diamonds. 

A major difference is price - imitations are very inexpensive. Natural diamonds are the most expensive, and laboratory grown in the middle. Because prices change relatively often, and vary depending on the type of diamonds being compared, we've refrained from listing a set of example prices, but you can always contact us for more info.

What are the ethical and sustainability considerations?

Currently, a key ethical consideration for laboratory grown diamonds is that the earth is not disturbed to produce them. That said, small amounts of material (commonly graphite) are used to 'seed' growing a laboratory diamond and that is still mined. 

This must be fairly balanced with the knowledge that extremely powerful and energy consuming technology is required to make laboratory grown diamonds, replicating pressure and temperatures. This power must of course come from somewhere, and will typically be from an electricity grid system.

Either argument has yet to be proven to which is least damaging in a wider context.

Natural diamonds can be argued to have issues around ethics, notably conflict diamonds and employment conditions of those in the mining industry. It would be fair to say that historically this was the case, however the introduction of the Kimberley Process, and much improved working conditions are true today. Some argue that many economies and careers in emerging economies are dependent on diamond mining for economic + social advancement.

With laboratory grown diamonds not requiring a specific geography to produce, the social welfare of employees would theoretically be subject to any local standards. 

It is however a legal requirement to clearly and unambiguously explain to clients which diamond variety they are buying. 

Working on synthetics, laboratory grown or natural diamonds 

It's worth knowing that imitations are not suitable for repolishing, and heat near them (as used in jewellery repair) can damage them easily. Natural and laboratory grown diamonds are harder and can be polished and allow easier repair work adjacent to them. As with any material, is is possible to chip, damage or destroy a natural or laboratory grown diamond. 

Financial considerations

Currently laboratory grown diamonds are markedly less expensive than their natural counterparts, and have been consistently falling over the past few years. At present a laboratory diamond can be between 15% and 25% of its natural counterpart (October 2023).  

This may allow clients to buy larger, higher specification gems than they may have been able to afford previously. 

We have been asked "will laboratory grown diamonds hold their value, or increase, in the same way as natural diamonds have done so?".

We have no idea, and there is no way to be sure.

As an opinion, many factors determine long term value and what prices of any item does: the geopolitical landscape, exchange rates, inflation are all examples of these, and all out of our control. What we do know is that natural diamonds have a finite supply, whereas with technically laboratory grown diamond supply could be infinite. If there's lots of supply of items, then price generally drops, if there is scarcity the price is higher.

In selecting their diamond, each client's circumstance is different: education and understanding are key to the right choice.

Next steps?

You can view our laboratory range here or ask us more by clicking the below button. 



If you'd like to know more, or would like us to help you with an enquiry, do make contact.

Ask Jacobs More

Article by Adam J

Adam J

Adam's been working at Jacobs since 2003, has a professional jewellers diploma and looks after the business as whole.

Book your appointment (recommended)