What is the difference between a lab-grown and natural Diamond and more importantly which one should you buy?
These are the questions many people are asking whether they are looking to buy a Diamond engagement ring or a piece of Diamond jewelry and the problem is that there is a lot of conflicting information out there, which makes this decision so much more difficult.
And the reason for this is that most of this information is being supplied by businesses or individuals who have a vested interest in you choosing one or the other.
This is where I come in as it doesn’t make any difference to me which one you choose and as a gemologist, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and studying these two types of Diamond and in this post, I’m aiming to answer all of your questions so that you can make the right decision for you.
- There isn’t enough information to say whether one is better than the other as they both have their pros and cons
- Lab-grown Diamonds cost significantly less but also have little to no resale value
- Lab-grown Diamonds don’t have as big of an impact on local environments
- Natural Diamonds have a much wider reaching socio-economic impact than lab-grown
- The decision about which one you should buy comes down to what is most important to you
Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Real Diamonds?
Yes, lab-grown Diamonds are real Diamonds as they share the same physical, chemical and optical properties as their natural counterparts and when cut and polished, it is nearly impossible to tell them apart just by looking at them.
So no, they aren’t fake Diamonds, even though some people claim that they are but it must be disclosed that they are lab-grown Diamonds but confusingly, there are a number of terms that may be used to describe them, including:
- Lab or laboratory grown Diamonds
- Synthetic Diamonds (the correct gemological term)
- Man-made Diamonds
A lab-grown Diamond should not be sold just as a Diamond as this implies that the stone is a natural, mined Diamond.
Fun fact: A stone, such as a CZ or Synthetic Moissanite can only be a fake Diamond if it is sold as a Diamond, if it is sold as what it is, then it isn’t a fake Diamond.
Do Lab-Grown Diamonds Test As Diamond?
Yes, but there are occasions when they can give a false negative on Moissanite or Dual testers, this is because some lab-grown Diamonds grown using the HPHT process can contain boron.
This makes them electrically conductive, meaning that they will test as Synthetic Moissanite (as they are also electrically conductive).
Lab Grown vs Natural Diamond Price
One of the biggest things that is talked about in the Lab-grown vs Natural Diamond conversation is price and it is definitely a significant thing to consider as the gap between the two is considerable.
And one of the big issues here is that the price gap is growing and here are the figures to prove it on a 1 carat, G color, VS1 clarity in 2018 vs 2023:
2018 price source: Paul Zimnisky, 2023 price source: Blue Nile average price
This shows that prices of lab-grown are selling for less than 60% of what they were just 5 years ago and when you factor in companies like Lightbox that are selling 1ct lab-grown Diamonds for $800, this is likely to continue to push the prices of lab-grown Diamonds down even further.
But this does mean that you can get a lot more bling for your money with lab-grown Diamonds, just don’t be too disappointed if in a couple of year’s time, you see a larger, high-quality lab-grown Diamond for sale for less than what you paid.
Lab Grown vs Natural Diamond Resale Value
For this, I’m just looking at loose Diamonds rather than Diamond jewelry as there are more variables to consider when looking at the resale value of jewelry.
Do Natural Diamonds Have Resale Value?
Yes, but expect to sell it for between 25% and 50% of what you paid for it as the person or business buying the Diamond are going to give you less than what they could go and buy the stone from a Diamond dealer for and things like:
- Quality (the 4 C’s)
- Style of Cut
- Whether the Diamond has a report, when the report was issued and who by
- Current market prices
Are all going to play a factor in how much you get back for your Diamond and in general, larger, higher-quality stones in desirable shapes will see you get a higher resale value than lower-quality stones.
Do Lab-Grown Diamonds have resale value?
Not really and there are two main reasons for this:
- Lab-grown Diamonds are still very new in the market, with them only gaining popularity in the last few years and this means that there isn’t enough information about how well these sell and for how much in the pre-owned space
- As I pointed out above, Lab-grown Diamonds are continually falling in price and this makes it very difficult to give them a resale value when the market for new goods is constantly falling
This is why many pawn shops and pre-owned dealers treat lab-grown Diamonds in the same way they would a Diamond simulant such as a Synthetic Moissanite and will pay little to nothing for the stone.
Are Lab-Grown Diamonds More Ethical?
This is the question that doesn’t have a yes or no answer (even though many people say there is!) as ethical is a very broad subject and there are many things that fall into this category, with the two main being:
- The environmental impact
- The socio-economic impact
The Environmental Impact of Diamonds
Many people focus on the environmental aspect of ethics when talking about lab-grown Diamonds but the BIG problem with much of the “information” that is often quoted is that the sources are dubious at best because:
- The 2014 Frost and Sullivan Report which is commonly quoted by lab-grown Diamond retailers was found by JCK Online to have links to the International Grown Diamond Association (which is why it is no longer available online)
- The 2016 SPG report that is quoted by many Natural Diamond retailers was paid for by the Diamond Producers Association
And this is a bad look for parties on both sides of the argument as this could result in customers being told wrong or misleading information that influences their decision on which type of Diamond to buy.
Another problem when it comes to the environmental impact is that it there are many factors to consider, including:
1: The Energy Required To Produce A 1 Carat Diamond
There was only one independent study that I could find about the amount of energy required to produce a lab-grown and natural Diamond and they stated that:
- Mined Diamonds – between 96kWh and 150kWh per carat
- HPHT Diamonds – 36kWh per carat
- CVD Diamonds – 215kWh per carat (this closely matches the figure quoted by De Beers Lightbox Diamonds of 228kWh for CVD Diamonds)
So when it comes to the amount of energy used, lab-grown Diamonds definitely aren’t the greener option but there are other variables including:
- Larger, high-quality lab-grown Diamonds take longer to grow, which means they require more energy
- Energy usage varies between Diamond mines depending on their location
But there is more to consider than simple energy usage as there are also greenhouse gasses and once again, there is a lack of information but some things to consider are:
- The majority of lab-grown gem-quality Diamonds are produced in countries that primarily use coal as their main source of power (China 56% and India 55%)
- Mining involves the use of heavy, diesel-powered machinery, which isn’t the cleanest fuel source
- Many mining companies are investing in using renewable energy sources to help power their mines and reduce their carbon footprint
- There are lab-grown Diamond companies based in the Western world that use 100% renewable energy
And what this means is that on a carat vs carat basis, the lack of information and high number of variables means that it simply wouldn’t be possible to make any kind of blanket statement as to which one is ‘better’.
2: Impact On The Environment
The environmental impact is much easier to talk about than the previous point as Diamond mining does have a more detrimental impact than lab-grown Diamonds that are manufactured in industrial units.
But it is worth noting that mining of any resource is damaging to the environment, yet there seems to be more of a focus of the impact of mining Diamonds than any other resource.
But what are the negative effects of Diamond mining:
- Disruption of land – most Diamond mines require land to be removed in order for the Diamond to be removed from the host rock, this can result in the destruction or upset of local:
- Fauna (plants, trees etc)
- Water Usage – one of the key aspects with Natural Diamonds is that more water is used in the production process and while they don’t need to use additional chemicals with the water, the wastewater can become contaminated with elements that are trapped within the excavated earth
- Heavy Machinery – this does fall under greenhouse gases but heavy diesel machinery does create more pollutants in the local environment
And for many large mining operations, the result of Diamond mining is a very large hole in the ground but how much rock needs to be mined to produce a 1-carat Diamond?
Well, the figure varies but there is a commonly quoted figure of 250 tonnes of ore for every 1 carat of Diamond and I’m not sure where this comes from but in Botswana in 2021, it ranged from 2.2 tonnes per carat to 8.3 tonnes per carat and some Canadian mines are estimated to yield 2.5 carats per ton, which is a lot different to 250 tonnes isn’t it?
This doesn’t look great for Natural Diamonds but mining companies are taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment by:
- Using more renewable energy sources
- Having a reclamation plan in place for all of the mines that they are closing down
- Preserving land to compensate for their mining operations, for example, De Beers says that for every acre of land that is used for mining, 6 acres are dedicated to conservation (source: De Beers)
And one thing that I think is quite interesting is that Kimberlite (the material from which Diamond is primarily mined) does have the potential to be used for carbon sequestration, which is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.
How Does This Compare To Lab-Grown Diamonds?
Lab-grown Diamonds don’t have much of an impact on the local environment, especially if the company uses a building for their factory that already exists but if a custom building is required, then this may have some impact.
And one of the big things is that neither of the main manufacturing methods requires anywhere near the amount of water that a mined Diamond and this does give a clear advantage to lab-grown Diamonds.
The Socio-Economic Impact Of Diamonds
This is something that is either not talked about or information is cherry-picked so that it fits in with a company’s marketing goals.
The Social Impact Of Diamonds
When buying a Diamond, you want to know that your purchase hasn’t had a negative impact on someone else’s life and there are a few negative things that get regularly mentioned about Natural Diamonds, that include:
- Human rights abuses
- Child labor exploitation
And unfortunately, most of this is focused around Africa and while Diamond mining in the continent does have a history of these things, things are different in modern times with the large industrial mines as they abide by international laws and regulations about workers’ rights, health and safety and pay.
In addition to this, not only do Diamond mines bring jobs and employment to areas but there are many cases where the revenue generated from mining activities, such as DeBeers 50/50 partnerships with the Botswana and Namibia governments has led to:
- Improved infrastructure
- Improved healthcare
- Improved education
The big problem with Diamond mining is the small artisanal mines as they are much more difficult to regulate and many are operated illegally, added to this is the corruption that is rampant in many African diamond-producing countries, which makes things even more difficult.
When it comes to the mining of Natural Diamonds, more does need to be done by both the Diamond industry, which would benefit from more transparency and traceability in the pipeline from mine to customer but governments of diamond-producing countries also need to do more as well.
There are currently no known issues around human rights or child labor when it comes to lab-grown Diamonds but the two largest producers of lab-grown Diamonds are China and India, which don’t exactly have stellar records when it comes to human rights.
The Economic Impact Of Diamonds
The economic impact of Diamonds is an interesting one as the industry was worth $96.4 Billion in 2022 (which sounds like a lot until you see that the revenue of Amazon in 2022 was $514 Billion!) but one type of Diamond has a far bigger economic impact than the other.
Let’s start with the economic impact of lab-grown Diamonds by looking at the 5 biggest producing countries:
- China – 2nd biggest economy
- India – 5th biggest economy
- USA – the biggest economy
- Singapore – 34th biggest economy (impressive considering it is a small island and city state)
- Russia – 8th biggest economy
In all of these economies, the impact of the lab-grown Diamond industry is very small and the money stays within the large economies as China is the largest producer, India is the diamond-cutting center of the world and the USA is the largest customer base.
Compare this with the largest Natural Diamond producing countries in the world:
- Russia – 8th biggest economy
- Botswana – 117th biggest economy
- Canada – 9th biggest economy
- Democratic Republic of Congo – 87th biggest economy
- South Africa – 38th biggest economy
In fact, 8 of the top 10 Diamond producing countries are in sub-Saharan Africa and in some of these countries, Diamonds are a significant contributor to GDP, such as Botswana (over 32%) and Namibia (around 10%) and to Africa as a whole, Diamonds generate over $9 Billion a year.
Outside of the pure figures, Natural Diamonds also bring a lot of jobs and employment to parts of the world where there might not be many opportunities and this includes Russia and Canada as the location of the mines aren’t in heavily industrialized areas such as Canada’s Northwest Territories or Russia’s Sakha Republic.
In comparison, lab-grown Diamond manufacturers are usually in highly industrialized areas such as the Henan Province in China or Surat, India (also the world’s main center for cutting and polishing Diamonds).
Which one has the bigger socio-economic impact is down to your interpretation but the impact of Natural Diamonds has a far wider reach than Lab-Grown.
Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Certified?
Yes, as with Natural Diamonds, a large number of lab-grown Diamonds will be accompanied by a grading report that will state:
- That the stone is lab-grown (or whatever wording that gem lab chooses)
- The 4 C’s of the Diamond (color, clarity, carat and cut)
- If the Diamond has fluorescence
Along with the report number and any additional notes, sometimes they will state the growth method for the Diamond and while many gem labs grade lab-grown Diamonds, the two most popular are the GIA and IGI.
Most gem labs will also laser engrave the report number along with the words “Lab-Grown” or whatever wording they choose to use and while this does require magnification to see, it is a great way to make sure the report matches the stone.
Pros and Cons of Lab-Grown Diamonds
There are pros and cons to both types of Diamond and I’m going to do a quick summary for you here:
Pros of Natural Diamonds
Cons of Natural Diamonds
Pros and Cons of Natural Diamonds
Pros of Lab-Grown Diamonds
Cons of Lab-Grown Diamonds
Choosing between a lab-grown and natural Diamond is a challenging one and ultimately, only you can make the decision and it comes down to:
- Personal preference – if one appeals more than the other, then that is an indication of which one you should go for
- Ethics – if the ethical impact of your Diamond is important, then do your research and choose the one that fits with your ethical beliefs
- Price – this one can’t be ignored as we all have budgets
I also recommend that you don’t get pressured into buying one or the other, especially if the Diamond is for an engagement ring as you will have this Diamond for the rest of your life and you want to be happy with it.