Are lab-grown diamonds the real thing or are they fake and valueless? We ask experts to weigh in
Before you turn your nose up at these cultivated gemstones – which are bona fide diamonds, by the way – here’s why they’re worth every bit of your attention.
Ever wondered why diamonds are so expensive, even though they aren’t the rarest gemstone on Earth, nor do hold they their value as well as gold? It has to do with its identity of being the choice of gemstone for sealing a love promise.
The arrival of lab-grown diamonds has undeniably shaken up the mined-diamond industry – the substantial cost savings that the former is able to offer is an advantage that has taken off a little of the lustre of natural diamonds. According to Forbes, millennials are reportedly driving increasing sales for lab-grown diamonds, which are also perceived to be a more environmentally friendly and ethical choice, compared to the natural versions.
Iris Tan, co-founder of Authica Jewellery, a local jeweller that specialises in lab-grown diamonds, sees a rising interest here in cultivated diamonds. “We are also seeing a trend where people are willing to invest in eco-friendly product alternatives with the increased awareness of climate change,” she said.
Authica serves myriad customers, and many of them have done thorough research on lab-grown diamonds. “We often have fruitful conversations with them and exchange knowledge about diamonds. On the flip side, we also see some who were misinformed about lab-grown diamonds, thinking that they are ‘diamond simulants’ or ‘fake diamonds’, which is not the case at all. Hence, we focus on re-educating them and sharing with them the benefits of a lab-grown diamond,” she added.
If you were, perhaps, similarly misinformed or do not know much about lab-grown diamonds, here are the facts that you need to know should you be in the market for some diamond jewellery or planning to pop the question with some decent bling.
ARE LAB-GROWN DIAMONDS FAKE DIAMONDS?
When something is labelled man-made, there’s admittedly a tendency for people to regard it as a fake or an imitation of its naturally occurring counterpart. No thanks to synthetic bling like cubic zirconia and moissanite, lab-grown diamonds are disadvantaged by the association with these terms.
All three products in question may be produced via chemical synthesis, but lab-grown diamonds are not like cubic zirconia and moissanite – they actually are real diamonds, while the latter two are simply not diamonds at all.
Lab-grown diamonds are cultivated from seeds in a laboratory, while natural diamonds were formed over three billion years ago, deep within the Earth’s crust.
According to Patsy Loo, the business director of Goldheart Jewelry (which offers Star Lab, a line of jewellery with lab-grown diamonds), a lab-grown diamond has the same physical and chemical properties of a natural diamond.
“Lab-grown diamonds are crafted with an innovative technology that replicates the natural process of diamond formation, allowing both types of diamonds to have an identical chemical, physical and optical structure,” she shared.
“The biggest difference lies in how they are made. Lab-grown diamonds are cultivated from seeds in a laboratory, while natural diamonds were formed over three billion years ago, deep within the Earth’s crust,” she explained.
In other words, even if the start of the growing process is human-controlled, the latter part is not entirely unlike that of how a natural diamond is formed.
HOW ARE LAB-GROWN DIAMONDS “MADE”?
Authica’s Tan explained that lab-grown diamonds are created in highly controlled lab environments using advanced technological processes that clone the conditions under which diamonds naturally develop. The two widely used methods to grow diamonds in labs are CVD (Chemical Vapour Deposition) and HPHT (High-Pressure High Temperature).
“Typically, lab-grown diamonds start with a tiny lab diamond, called a seed. These seeds are placed in a chamber known as a plasma reactor (CVD) or a large mechanical press (HPHT). Then, a combination of heat, pressure and a carbon source is used to grow the crystals, layer by layer. A few weeks later, a rough diamond is grown and is then cut and polished like any other diamond, for a piece of beautiful fine jewellery,” she said.
As such, one can easily see how convenient this makes the whole business of procuring real diamonds, without the need to mine them from the earth. Speed is clearly another advantage that lab-grown diamonds provide (it takes barely a couple of weeks to grow a diamond in a lab), on top of the elimination of the complex issues that natural diamond supply chains tend to have.
DOES THIS MEAN THE GROWTH OF THE DIAMOND CAN BE CONTROLLED?
One of the biggest questions we have about lab-grown diamonds is that since they are man-made, can they can be manipulated in some way and grown to be perfect – in other words, flawless and in any size that’s desired?
Tan told us, however, that lab-grown diamonds cannot be manufactured to be the same or to meet specific demands – qualities like their carat size, colour and clarity cannot be controlled.
This is because the growth process is not within human control, even if its initiation is done by hand. Thus, each diamond will grow uniquely to develop their own characteristics, just like a natural diamond – no two are the same. This also means that lab-grown diamonds will come in various qualities and will be assessed by the same grading standards that are being applied to natural diamonds.
Lab-grown diamonds cannot be manufactured to be the same or to meet specific demands – qualities like their carat size, colour and clarity cannot be controlled.
“Since both types of diamonds are at the mercy of science, be it billions of years ago or today, it’s impossible to guarantee a perfect diamond every time. As with natural diamonds, the growing process of a lab diamond creates inevitable inclusions in each piece. This is why lab-grown diamonds that are graded flawless are definitely rare and highly exclusive too,” said Tan.
Authica’s lab-grown diamonds are graded according to the 4Cs and certified by internationally renowned gem labs like GIA (Gemological Institute of America) and IGI (International Gemological Institute), to be graded and certified in the same way as mined diamonds are.
“Each graded diamond is accompanied by a dedicated report and laser inscription that serves as a unique ID, just like a mined diamond. Price will also differ according to the grades. However, a lab-grown diamond of great quality and grades is still the more economical choice, in comparison to mined diamonds,” shared Tan. Goldheart’s Star Lab collection is similarly graded and certified by the IGI.
WHAT DO THEY COST, AND HOW DO THEY RATE IN VALUE?
One can expect to pay around half the price of a mined diamond when buying a lab-grown diamond of the same size and quality.
The savings are substantial, to say the least, if you can get past a cultivated diamond’s less-romantic origins. When it comes to value retention or resale value, however, they are not likely to fare as well as natural diamonds do. But it’s also worth noting that natural diamonds may not hold their value as well as some people think they do, too – factors such as the size, colour, clarity, cut and even the brand of the diamond will all affect their resale value.
Tan emphasised that, in the fine jewellery category, diamond jewellery is not known for its investment value. “Diamond jewellery has a stronger representation of emotional value as it’s usually meant to celebrate key milestones in life, for weddings, push or anniversary gifts, and so on. Though lab-grown diamond doesn’t have a strong investment appeal, the huge amount of savings from lab-grown diamonds is a key value-add for wiser financial planning and management of other important life events or investment decisions,” she said.
WHY GET A LAB-GROWN DIAMOND?
“The cost-savings factor is a big plus for most, as the cost of adulting is very real and these extra savings can be put to great use in other milestone life events,” said Tan.
Of course, the same is true for others who may not be buying diamond jewellery for engagement or wedding purposes. Don’t forget, too, that these savings mean that that one-carat diamond ring you’ve always dreamt of may be more easily within reach if you opt for a cultivated diamond. By that, we mean that you’d be able to get a larger-sized lab-grown diamond as compared to a natural diamond for the same amount of money.
Lab-grown diamonds look and shine every bit like natural diamonds.
Tempted to go for lab-grown diamonds but worried that they won’t look quite the name as natural diamonds? According to Loo, there’s no difference between the two to the naked eye.
“Because they have identical physical and chemical makeup, lab-grown diamonds look and shine every bit like natural diamonds. Only by using the right equipment or tools, can some specialists be able to discern whether a diamond is natural or lab-created. This includes identifying the diamond’s atom arrangements and even the growth patterns,” she said.
There’s also quite a bit of talk in the jewellery industry on how lab-grown diamonds may rate better in terms of supply-chain issues that involve the question of ethics, labour and sustainability. It might seem true, but Loo said that the claim that cultivated diamonds are more ethical and sustainable is complex.
“One such qualifier is how the diamonds are produced. Ethics are reliant on factors such as fair labour practices while sustainability involves the type of energy used – be it carbon-neutral or clean energy. Additionally, more naturally mined diamonds of today are being produced with the highest possible ethical and sustainable standards,” she said.
Since lab-grown diamonds are real diamonds, it’s not difficult to understand their allure and potential for continued popularity. Of course, there will always be those who feel that they can never replace mined diamonds – and that’s probably true. The two will never be a hundred per cent the same because of their provenance, which undeniably does colour their intangible sentimental significance, a quality that is at the very centre of every diamond marketing campaign touting the promise of love.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to what is most important to you. Romance is all good, but the practical considerations count too. It makes sense to be clear about the size and quality of diamond you are looking for, and what your budget allows you to do. If you’re considering a lab-grown diamond, do your research and go into the boutiques to take a closer look – it might just change your original view.