Diamond are a big investment. You’ve heard of lab created diamonds, and have probably seen that they’re a lot less expensive. Why is that—what’s the catch?
Are Lab Grown diamonds fake? Lab diamonds are real diamonds. They’re made of the same elements, and have the same key properties, as earth-grown diamonds. Even the most experienced gemologists, can’t tell them apart based on feel or appearance. Lab created diamonds are equally beautiful and durable, but far less expensive.
If lab-grown diamonds are the same as below ground diamonds, then why the naming distinction? I’ll address that question, and share a great deal of additional information below.
How Lab-Grown Diamonds Differ From Earth Grown Diamonds
As I’ve already mentioned man made diamond and earth produced diamond are identical twins that share DNA. You couldn’t get any more similar. They’re Chemically, Physically, and Optically the same.
In terms of ‘DNA’, both categories of diamond are made entirely of Carbon. While there are a couple of different processes commonly used to manufacture these gems, the method that’s used most (HPHT) mimics the natural conditions that forms them in the earth by applying intense heat and pressure.
What’s truly remarkable about the whole issue to me, is that man can now do in 6 to 10 weeks, what it could take the earth 3 million years to do naturally—It’s mind blowing!
When was the last time you ate a tomato that was raised in greenhouse? How did it look and taste? Did you think of it as a ‘fake’ tomato? Probably not. That tomato plant likely spent its whole life in a very controlled, unnatural, environment, yet the resulting tomato seemed identical to those brought up in a normal farm or garden setting.
Created diamonds are also grown in controlled environments, but just like greenhouse tomatoes, it’s silly for anyone to pretend they aren’t real diamonds simply because they weren’t extracted from the earth. Under that same line of thinking, we would need to start referring to greenhouse tomatoes as ‘Synthetic Tomatoes.’ The problem with that, is that the word ‘synthetic’ suggests fake, and neither is actually ‘fake’ simply because of how it came to us.
Diamonds are commonly touted as the hardest naturally occurring mineral on earth. Their extreme hardness has made them sought after and valuable for a wide range of industrial applications. In fact, it’s that industrial need that has helped advance the mission creating and perfecting laboratory diamonds that are identical to the earth generated gems.
The creation process wasn’t instant or easy. Many have contributed, but it was General Electric (GE) that really got us to the cusp of the jewelry grade stones we know today. Of course, GE is an industrial titan that uses diamonds in many of their operations, so they had a very personal, and compelling, interest in advancing the science behind production of man made stones that were identical to those produced in nature.
Recent discoveries, and technological advances, have lead to diamonds that are truly jewelry quality gems. If you handed two diamonds (one lab-grown and one earth formed), to an internationally known, and celebrated, gemologist, and then asked him to positively identify the lab created stone, he couldn’t do it based on look and feel—even under magnification!
Mohs Scale of Hardness is the standard tool used to gauge and communicate the relative hardness of various minerals and materials. The scale ranks materials from 1 to 10 based on their harness. 1 is the lowest possible score. It’s reserved for the softest materials. 10 is the highest possible score, it’s reserved for the hardest materials. Earth mined diamonds are rated at 10, but guess what—so are lab-created diamonds.
Hardness is so frequently talked about, because it means scratch resistance. Soft gems could get serious scarred as you go about your everyday routines. Just grabbing things from shelves at the grocery stone, or opening a file cabinet a the office could lead to accidental bumps, scratches, and gouges that quickly ruin the appearance of your ring.
While it’s still a good idea to be protective of your diamond ring, they’re hard enough to resist scratches when they come in contact with items that quickly and easily scratch softer stones.
While clear diamonds will always be a popular choice, colored versions are really gaining in popularity too right now. Pink stones, for example, are popular with many brides. Laboratory diamonds can be made into all the fancy colors their earth produced counterparts are found in, plus a wide-range of additional colors.
In terms of price, you’ll save significant money by purchasing a lab cultured diamond. I shopped some reputable dealers, looking for a very comparable 1 carat brilliant round cut stone with good clarity. Here’s what I saw:
- Mined Diamond = $8,912
- Lab Diamond = $2,772
The lab gem quoted above, was made through the HPHT (High Pressure High Temperature) process. A second process is referred to as CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition). It builds diamonds that are just like the HPHT stones, but it requires less electricity, and therefore leads to a less expensive product. Because of the lower manufacturing costs, retail costs for these diamonds is also typically a bit lower. For example, I found a 1 carat CVD gem that was comparable to the stone mentioned above.
- CVD Diamond = $2,200
Those are some pretty significant savings—Up to 75% less for something that looks and feels identical!
Lab Created Diamonds are Conflict Free
In 2006, Warner Brothers released a movie called Blood Diamonds, starring Leonardo Di Caprio that brought a lot of awareness to ethical concerns about the way some diamonds were being brought to the market.
Extremist groups sometimes take over diamond mines and then force slave labor to extract the diamonds. The gems are sold on the international market, and the money raised is used to buy weapons that they use to commit genocide, wage war on governments, or carry out other acts of violence and terror. These diamonds are commonly referred to as Blood Diamonds or Conflict Diamonds.
The thought turned the stomach of many people that have purchased diamonds as a symbol of their love. The idea that their diamond could have come to the market as a result of so much blood and suffering was jarring and sad. Many of those that learned about the diamond inflicted pain of so many in other nations, determined never to buy one again.
Not all diamonds are blood diamonds, but unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell. International rules and guidelines have been sidestepped by these resourceful guerrilla groups who find ways to infuse their diamonds into the market. The inability of the of our regulations to stop the flow of blood diamonds has been frustrating to many in the international community.
If asked, every retailer will assure you that their diamonds aren’t blood diamonds. They’ll often give you reasons that you can be certain. They may believe the details they’re giving you, or they may initially be misleading you, but in reality, it’s nearly impossible for them to know, and blood diamonds do show up in our malls and main streets.
Lab created diamonds are conflict free. They’re diamonds that people can purchase without fear of a brutal history behind the stone.
Shifting Trends and Open Mindedness
De Beers is the diamond mining, and processing, company that has ruled and controlled earth grown diamonds for well over a century. They’ve essentially always operated like as monopoly or a cartel, intentionally restricting supply in order to keep prices artificially high. They’ve observed and neutralized threats in past, but they’ve never seen a threat as significant as lab-cultured diamonds!
A marketing group conducted a survey in 2018 that they’ve been administering annually to gauge market sentiment regarding created diamonds. This year, they saw a spike in the percentage of Millennials that say they would be open to buying a lab grown diamond for an their engagement ring. In total, 70% of the Millennials said they would consider it. That represented a 13% increase from the prior year. A 13% swing in just one year, is evidence of how quickly people are learning of, and accepting, above-ground diamonds.
The quantity of Google searches for lab-grown diamonds has approximately tripled over the past 10 years. That’s a trend that makes the mined diamond industry very nervous.
The Propaganda for Mined Diamonds
The mined diamond industry is expert at influencing public opinion. Their marketing campaigns have been legendary. Their “Diamonds are Forever” campaign is recognized as one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history. They convinced tight a tight-fisted nation that had recently been through the Great Depression, that diamonds were part of love and marriage. From there, the messages and traditions got ingrained to the point, that emotional obligation, self worth, and identity were pulled into the size and value of the diamond.
Marketing is now changing culture throughout China in similar ways. Not long ago, Chinese couples rarely exchanged diamonds. Today, it’s spreading like a wildfire.
As we’ve discussed, cultured diamonds are equally beautiful and durable, but way less expensive. How do you compete with that? Only one option would make sense, you have to make the lab-grown product seem incredibly uncool or inferior. If your marketing team can pull that off, you’ll still be able to sell your identical gems for ridiculous prices to people who are afraid of being judged by others.
If the two types of diamond are that identical, then why would anyone pay a much higher price for an earth grown diamond?
- They’re lead to believe that the less expensive version is ‘fake’ or of lesser quality.
- They feel shame over getting the less expensive version
- They’re mislead or about the merits of each type of diamond.
The Diamond Producers Association, which represents the world’s largest diamond mining organizations has campaigned in a variety of ways to defend its interests from the effect of laboratory diamonds. The organization launched a new marketing slogan in November of 2018, “Real is Rare.” Sounds great, but do you know what else is rare?
- Independent thinking that isn’t easily controlled by marketers
- All the extra money (thousands dollars) that you’d have to spend for an earth mined diamond (without any improvement in the beauty, quality, or usefulness, of your product).
As their new slogan clearly demonstrates, The diamond miners want to perpetuate the lie that only diamonds pulled from the earth are ‘real.’ They know it’s not true, but their efforts are enough to convince some people to spend up to 70% more than they need to for an absolutely identical product—now that’s Jedi level mind control!
The term ‘Synthetic’ implies ‘fake’ to the general public. A synthetic diamond sounds like something made of plastic. The same association that puts out slogans like ‘Real is Rare’ would love to use terms like synthetic to create confusion and defend their interests. Diamond producers have fought hard for the right to use the term Synthetic, and for it to be a required qualifier whenever man made stones are being marketed.
New Guidelines at the FTC
In 2018, the diamond mining industry, and related organizations got some REALLY bad news. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) had released some revised guidelines on mined diamonds and lab grown diamonds. The new guidelines didn’t require continued use of the word synthetic, in fact, it clarified that lab diamonds are truly diamonds in every sense of the word.
Based on that finding, they suggested that use of the term ‘synthetic’ was misleading. They suggested that a term like ‘Cultured’ be used instead to denote that the gem was man-made, without falsely implying that it wasn’t real, or was somehow of lesser quality. They also said that it would be misleading for mined diamond producers or retailers to refer to their product as ‘Natural’ diamond.
The announcement caused major disruption for many in the mined diamond industry, because an often repeated, and very successful play, had essentially just been ripped from their play book.
In the wake of the FTC announcement, De Beers shocked the industry by announcing that it was going to start producing its own laboratory created stones beginning later that same year. That was a significant change for a company that had lobbied so adamantly against the gems in a number of different ways.
Their challenge, was how to sell sell man made diamonds without cannibalizing the market for earth mined stones. They seem to be addressing the issue by selling their lab gems under a new brand, and by carefully positioning the stones as being good for right now if they’re all you can afford (meaning that you should still hope to one day trade-up to the earth mined version).
The Bottom Line
While marketers will continue to spend lots of time and money creating emotional attachment and a sense of self-worth that’s tethered to earth-mined diamonds, hopefully, you can steer clear of influence from those self-serving messages. Lab created diamonds are in fact diamonds.
Since they look the same, wear just as durably, are better for the environment, are free from human rights violations, and cost SUBSTANTIALLY less, lab diamonds easily outshine their earth mined identical twin in every area but one—marketing.
Will Lab Made Diamonds Pass a Diamond Tester?
There are several different types of diamond testers that can be used. They range in price and complexity. Some inexpensive testers are owned by common jewelers and gemologists. Those machines have a limited ability to positively differentiate between the two types of diamonds. More elaborate and expensive machines are owned by major grading laboratories like GIA (Gemological Institute of America).
When Jewelers and gemologists get test results that aren’t conclusive from their machines, they often forward the gem to a resource like GIA to have the stone evaluated. The advanced machines owned by grading companies can reliably tell a man made stone from and earth mined stone.
What’s the Resale Value of Lab Created Diamonds?
The resale value of all diamonds, regardless of their origin, is less than ideal, regardless of what diamond peddlers try to make you believe. You’re likely to lose 50-70% of the value of any diamond as soon as you take possession.
That simply means that you can’t buy at retail and then turn around and sell for anything close to retail. There are a number of reasons for that.
- Rings are sized and stylized, so you have to find a close match for those aspects
- Buyers are understandably suspicious of people reselling diamonds
- Jewelers can buy inexpensive diamonds from their suppliers with payment terms—so they don’t want to pay cash-upfront for yours.
- Pawn shops are in the business of taking advantage of people with a serious need, and they may also be suspicious of what you’re trying to sell to them.
With all that in mind, doesn’t it make sense to minimize the amount that you spend on your diamond? If you can get a lab grown ring for $2000, but the absolutely identical earth grown version was $8000, your money would be better protected on the cheaper ring here’s why:
If you lost 50% reselling your $8000 diamond, you would lose $4,000. If you couldn’t resell your man made diamond at all, you’d only lose $2,000. Keep in mind that the two rings look identical and are just as durable, so you get the same use and beauty out of both rings until it’s time to sell.
If you could resell your lab grown diamond for $1,000, then you’ve only lost $1,000 in the end. That means you came out $3,000 further ahead than you would have after buying and reselling the earth mined diamond.