What is a lab grown diamond? A lab grown diamond, also known as lab created diamond, lab diamond, lab made diamond, laboratory grown diamond, or cultured diamond, is a diamond produced by human technology instead of a natural diamond crystal from the Earth's crust. Lab grown diamonds are not fake diamonds or diamond simulants like cubic zirconia; they are true carbon crystals with the same physical and chemical properties as their mined diamond counterparts.
As the global diamond industry treads the path towards a more sustainable future, lab grown diamonds have emerged as an exciting intersection of scientific innovation and environmental stewardship. At the heart of this transformation are two advanced technological processes: Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) and High-Pressure High-Temperature (HPHT).
If you’ve ever pondered the origin story of these fascinating gemstones or considered investing in the world of lab grown diamonds, you’ll find the below detailed understanding of these methodologies helpful.
Emergence of Lab Grown Diamonds
At its core, a lab grown diamond is a gemstone created under controlled conditions in a laboratory, which shares the same physical, chemical, and optical properties as a mined diamond. There are two types of growing methods: HPHT and CVD. Both of these are a testament to humankind’s ability to replicate and accelerate the deep-earth conditions under which mined diamonds form over billions of years. Using technological ingenuity, we've harnessed the power to transform pure carbon into crystalline diamonds within a laboratory in a fraction of the time.
High-Pressure High-Temperature (HPHT) diamonds were the first type of lab grown diamond available commercially. The process simulates the mined diamond-making process fairly closely to create diamonds. It's like having a piece of earth's mantle in a lab.
HPHT diamond creation starts with a diamond seed — a minute piece of diamond. This seed is placed in a specialised press capable of generating phenomenally high pressures. Under this extreme pressure, it's surrounded by a carbon source, typically graphite, along with a metallic catalyst to aid the transformation process. As the heat soars to approximately 1400°C and pressures ratchet up to about 5.5 Gigapascals (over 50,000 times atmospheric pressure), the catalyst melts. The liquid metal acts as a solvent, enabling the carbon to dissolve.
As the mixture cools, the carbon atoms bond with the diamond seed, creating a larger diamond crystal. The result is a beautiful, lab created diamond that shares the same physical, chemical, and optical characteristics as a mined diamond. HPHT diamonds can be created in a variety of sizes and grades, making them versatile for various types of jewellery.
The Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) process arrived later in the timeline of lab grown diamonds, representing a high-tech alternative to the intense pressures of the HPHT method. This procedure begins in a sealed chamber, where a thin slice of diamond seed is bathed in a rich carbon gas, such as methane, at temperatures around 800°C — much cooler than the earth's mantle or the HPHT process.
Under these conditions, the carbon atoms in the gas break down. They slowly deposit onto the diamond seed, building up layer by layer to form a diamond crystal over several weeks. Although the CVD process takes longer than HPHT, it allows for more control over the growing conditions, potentially leading to diamonds with fewer inclusions or flaws.
CVD vs. HPHT: A Comparative Analysis
When it comes to the resulting diamonds, both CVD and HPHT are capable of producing gem-quality stones. However, the two processes can result in diamonds with different types and frequencies of inclusions, which may affect their clarity, colour, and overall appearance.
When it comes to grading lab grown diamonds, the International Gemological Institute or another reputable gemological laboratory assess factors like carat weight and clarity grades. Lab created diamonds can even be identified by a tiny laser inscription that can't be seen by the naked eye but can be detected with specialised equipment.
So, are lab created diamonds worth it? It's crucial to note that most lab grown diamonds are of higher quality than most mined diamonds. They display the same fire and sparkle, and you can find them in all cuts, shapes, and even fancy coloured diamonds — much like their mined diamond counterparts. The diamond industry has embraced lab created diamonds, making them a popular choice for a diamond engagement ring.
Buying lab grown diamonds can also be a more ethical choice. Diamond mining has often been linked to conflict diamonds and other serious social and environmental issues. In contrast, lab made diamonds provide an alternative that doesn't involve the potential ethical and environmental problems associated with diamond mines.
From a sustainability standpoint, both methods outshine traditional mining, using less land and producing fewer emissions. However, it's worth noting that the CVD process, which requires less intense conditions, might edge ahead in the energy efficiency race.
Whether you decide to buy lab grown diamonds or mined diamonds, both are real diamonds with the same crystal structure of carbon atoms. With advances in technology, lab created diamonds offer an alternative to mined diamonds, a testament to human ingenuity, and a potential gift for future generations.
At Clear Neutral, we're committed to minimising the environmental footprint of diamond production. We're proud to partner with organisations globally to certify lab grown diamonds as carbon neutral. Our goal is to set new standards of sustainability in the diamond industry, so find out more here.