The Diamond Pro

Lab-Created Diamond Vs. Natural Diamond

By Michael Fried
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The topic of lab-grown diamonds is a bit of a contentious one. Lab diamonds have drawn a lot of hype, positive and negative, in recent years. Whether to buy lab-created or natural is a question you should, at the very least, pay some consideration to when shopping for a diamond.

Lab diamonds are different from natural diamonds in that they are artificially created – man-made in a laboratory, instead of naturally produced in the earth, like regular diamonds.

Fundamentally, this is the only difference. Lab diamonds look and feel just like natural diamonds. They’re available in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and if you had a lab diamond and natural diamond in front of you, it would be virtually impossible to tell the difference. They even have almost identical chemical structures.

Despite all the similarities, there is a growing gulf in price, resale value and overall desirability for lab-created diamonds vs. natural diamonds.

Natural diamonds are created by nature, as a result of intense heat and pressure, formed over the course of billions of years. Lab-grown diamonds are created in a laboratory, often produced in just a matter of weeks. There is a tiny chemical difference between the two, as natural diamonds often contain a very small amount of nitrogen, while synthetic diamonds do not. This is the only inherent difference though – even the US Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, classes man-made diamonds as “real” diamonds, due to the gem’s carbon-based chemical makeup.

So how can you tell the difference between a lab diamond and a natural diamond?

There is no visible difference between the two. Even a professional gemologist will need specialized equipment to tell which is which. With magnification, a professional will be able to make out small contrasts in the inclusions of lab-grown vs. mined diamonds.

The best way to tell the difference is to check the diamond’s certification. Jewelers must declare whether a diamond is naturally or synthetically created, so as long as you shop with a reputable store, you will always have this information available. Pay attention to this information, as it will have a significant impact on the price and resale value of your diamond.

Should You Buy a Lab Diamond or a Natural Diamond?

If there is no visible difference between a lab-grown diamond and a natural diamond, which one should you go for?

It’s hard to answer this question for everyone, as different buyers have different priorities. If appearance is literally the only factor that matters to you, then it doesn’t matter if a diamond is man-made or natural. No one will notice unless you tell them.

There are, however, some big differences, which should cause you to think twice when making your decision.

Price

The cost of lab diamonds is still in a constant flux. Just 3-4 years ago, we found lab diamonds on average 23-25% more expensive than natural diamonds. Today, lab diamonds are coming in significantly cheaper than natural diamonds. From 30-50% cheaper, or even more in some cases.

For an example of the price difference between natural and lab-grown today, take two diamonds from James Allen. The first is a natural 1.00-carat G VS1 round diamond, which costs $5,670. Compare it to a lab-created 1.00-carat G VS1 round diamond, which is $1,990. Despite nearly identical grades, the lab-created diamond is 35% of the price. 

The difference is due to supply. Natural diamond supply is limited, due to the billions of years it takes for nature to create a diamond. Yet with synthetic diamonds, there is no cap on the supply, which drives the price lower and lower as supply goes up.

The price of lab-grown diamonds is falling at an alarming rate, and shows no signs of stopping or reversing. Take this into account when making your purchase – the same lab diamond bought for $1,000 today may be priced at a fraction of that amount in just one or two years.

Value

The difference in resale value between natural and synthetic diamonds is even greater than the difference in price. While natural diamonds often retain around 50% of their initial value, lab-created diamonds are almost impossible to resell without accepting pennies on the dollar. You lose a massive percentage of its value the moment you make the purchase.

We also must consider how the cost of real diamonds vs. synthetic diamonds changes over time. With lab-created diamonds dropping in price, and natural diamonds historically rising in value, your synthetic diamond will almost certainly be worth less than a natural one of similar grade, even before considering the difference in resale value.

Sustainability

Some may have concerns over the environmental and humanitarian repercussions of natural diamond mining processes. 

That’s not to say that natural diamonds are necessarily unethical. But it stands to reason that man-made diamonds offer more in the way of long-term sustainability than those pulled from the earth. 

There is some contention over this issue. In fact, the FTC warned a number of jewelers about making unsubstantiated claims of their jewelry being sustainable or eco-friendly.

A report from the Diamond Producers Association claims that natural diamonds are, in fact, better for the environment than synthetic diamonds, due to the carbon-intensive process of producing lab diamonds.

All in all, it appears there is not a consensus just yet on whether lab diamonds are actually a more sustainable option. 

See this article for a comprehensive guide on ethical issues in diamond buying.

Look

Lab diamonds and mined diamonds are, for the most part, identical to the naked eye. If you buy a ring with a lab-created diamond, it’s just about certain that no one will be able to notice, unless you tell them.

There can be some very small inclusions on lab diamonds that aren’t present in natural diamonds. It’s very rare for these inclusions to be visible unless using magnification tools.

In just about every case, a lab diamond will have the same brilliance and shine as a natural one, so if you’re primarily looking for a diamond that looks beautiful, lab diamonds can present a low-cost option without settling for a lower grade.

The Verdict: Which Diamond Should You Buy?

While diamonds generally should not be seen as an investment, there is also sense in purchasing a piece of jewelry that is likely to retain its value over the years. If this is a priority to you, opt for natural diamonds.

Don’t discount synthetic diamonds as an option. Couples who are strapped for cash may be able to find a beautiful ring that would otherwise be far out of their price range by going with a lab-created diamond. But just be aware that you may see the exact same diamond on sale for a fraction of the price in the future.

Lab Diamond vs Cubic Zirconia vs Moissanite

A lot of people refer to lab diamonds as “fake” diamonds, but this is not accurate. The carbon-based chemical composition of lab diamonds means they are in fact “real” diamonds – unlike cubic zirconia or moissanite.

These diamond simulants are also lab-created but are not composed of carbon atoms, and therefore are not real diamonds.

Unlike lab diamonds vs. natural diamonds, which are inherently identical in look, feel and hardness, there is a noticeable dropoff from a lab-created diamond to a simulant like cubic zirconia or moissanite.

Simulants do not have the same brilliance and sparkle as real diamonds. The refractive index of cubic zirconia is lower than a diamond, 2.2 vs. 2.42. Moissanite actually has a higher refractive index (2.65 – 2.69). The higher refractive index of moissanite means it gives off a vibrant colored reflection, in dazzling colors that is a little too much for some people.

There is also a difference in hardness. Diamonds score a perfect 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness, while moissanite is between 9-9.5, and cubic zirconia 8.

Like lab diamonds, both cubic zirconia and moissanite don’t carry much value and make for poor investments. However, there is a drop off in quality between lab diamonds and diamond simulants, as you are not actually getting a real diamond.

Frequently Asked Questions About Lab Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds

Find answers below to some of the frequently asked questions about lab diamonds.

Are lab-created diamonds good?

To the look, to the touch, and chemically, lab-created diamonds are almost identical to “real” or natural diamonds. They are also cheaper, and some consider them a more environmentally conscious choice. However, the long term value of lab diamonds is significantly lower than natural diamonds.

Are lab diamonds as strong as natural diamonds?

Lab diamonds are as strong and as hard as natural diamonds, both scoring a 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness.

Can a jeweler tell if a diamond is lab-created?

For even jewelers or professional gemologists, it’s often not possible to tell the difference between a natural and a lab-created diamond with the naked eye. But with specialized equipment, a gemologist may be able to tell small inclusions that identify a lab-created diamond.

Will lab diamonds pass a diamond tester?

Yes. Lab diamonds are real diamonds, made from pure crystallized carbon, and will pass any tests to prove such.

Do lab diamonds shine like natural diamonds?

Yes, lab diamonds carry the same shine and sparkle, the same color and clarity as mined diamonds. There is no difference, other than the creation process.

How much is a 1 carat lab diamond?

The cost of lab diamonds can fluctuate, but on average, a 1 carat lab diamond will cost between $1,500-$2,500, or more depending on its grade.

Are lab-grown diamonds GIA certified?

Lab diamonds are graded on the same scale of Cut, Clarity, Color and Carat weight as natural diamonds. The GIA does certify lab-grown diamonds, however, we recommend IGI certifications for lab diamonds, as they give specific grades for Color and Clarity, which help you make a more informed decision.

What is the difference between a lab-created diamond and a cubic zirconia?

A lab-created diamond is a real diamond, whereas a cubic zirconia is not. A cubic zirconia does not contain carbon, so does not qualify as a diamond. A simulant like cubic zirconia is less hard and does not look quite the same to the naked eye, unlike a lab diamond, which has the same look and physical properties as a natural diamond.

Bottom Line

Lab-created diamonds are in fact real diamonds and offer the same brilliance, sparkle, and shine of a natural, mined diamond. If you want a cut-price diamond that looks exactly the same, lab diamonds are an option to consider. But be aware of the long-term value you’re losing when choosing a lab diamond over a natural diamond. The declining value of lab diamonds and very low resale value means one can easily end up with a case of buyer’s remorse.

About the author
Mike learned the diamond business from the ground-up at Leo Schachter Diamonds - one of the world's top diamond manufacturers. He has been recognized as a diamond industry expert by Time, PeopleMoney, The Daily Mirror, NerdWallet, The Times Herald, Yahoo Finance Australia, The Art of Charm, The Washington Diplomat, The Next Web, and more. See more
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