The timeline of diamond trade dates back to the 4th century BC, where rough diamonds were found along riverbeds in India. While the diamond industry is one of the most historically enduring markets, it has not been immune to evolution and change.
The latest development to shake up the diamond industry is the rapid growth in technology used to produce laboratory grown diamonds. While the technology to produce lab diamonds has been around since the 1950’s, the process used to manufacture synthetic diamonds has recently become more widespread and readily available. This has allowed lab diamonds to enter the diamond market space on a large scale for the first time.
Why are synthetic diamonds making such a mark on the natural diamond market?
The most enticing features of laboratory grown diamonds to consumers is that they are sustainable, affordable and free from conflict.
Lab grown diamonds are considered environmentally conscious as they obviously circumvent the usual mining process. Mining has a huge impact on the environment, from destruction of natural habitat to pollution of local waterways. As synthetic diamonds are grown in a controlled laboratory setting, the impact on the environment is negligible in comparison.
The price has been a large driver of demand for synthetic diamonds. While a natural 1.00 carat G-colour SI1-clarity diamond will on average sell for roughly $7,400, De Beers have led the market for synthetic diamonds setting the prices at $800 for a 1.00 carat stone. This means your jewellery can still have all the sparkle, without the price tag.
Synthetic diamond supplies are also absent of moral dilemma of conflict diamonds (also known as blood diamonds) which continue to plague the integrity of natural diamond markets as they continue to filter through diamond supplies. The term ‘conflict diamond’ is used to describe diamonds mined in war torn regions and sold to finance warlord action or political insurgency. The conflict free nature of synthetic diamonds make them more desirable to ethically conscious diamond buyers.
Why are jewellers so worried about lab-grown diamonds?
Jewellers and diamond wholesalers are concerned about synthetic diamonds entering the jewellery market, as they threaten to destabilise the well-established natural diamond market pricing structure.
Many jewellers have steered clear altogether, arguing that synthetic diamonds are not suitable for the emotional purchase of an engagement ring. These jewellers firmly believe diamonds should symbolise something rare and cherished, and that this ideology is not quite conveyed by something manufactured in a laboratory. Despite this fact, Eric Swanson of Neustaedter’s Fine Jewellery aptly put “Some flowers are grown in a field, and some are grown in a greenhouse. This is the same thing. Chemically, it’s the same.”
On the other hand, jewellery companies such as the diamond giant DeBeers have taken the front foot with the issue, attempting to create a clear distinction between the two products. DeBeers have release a budget friendly line of synthetic diamond jewellery named “Lightbox” which makes a clear statement that natural and lab grown diamonds do not belong in the same market.
By setting prices as low as $800 per carat, DeBeers not only removes the “substitution effect” of synthetic diamonds priced just below natural diamonds, but also undermines any potential synthetic diamond rivals who might try to threaten natural diamond prices.
Know the difference
The only sure-fire way to know what you are getting when it comes to lab-grown or natural diamonds is to make sure any diamonds you have purchased is graded so that you know exactly what you are paying for. There have been reports of natural diamonds being found in packets of synthetic diamonds and vice versa. If you are paying the premium for a natural diamond, then that is the product you are expecting to receive. The only way you can know for certain is to have a stone that has been graded by a certified diamond laboratory such as GIA.
Want to know more about lab-grown diamonds and how they are made? Continue reading!
Synthetic grown diamonds are those formed in a factory or laboratory setting. Unlike natural diamonds (read about how natural diamonds are formed here), lab-diamonds are grown over a short period of time – usually a few weeks to one month. Despite some confusion, lab-grown diamonds are not an imitation like cubic zirconia or moissanite, as they are chemically and physically identical to a natural diamond.
Lab diamonds used in the jewellery industry are typically formed via one of two methods, High Pressure, High Temperature (HPHT) or Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD). HPHT imitates the conditions that natural diamonds are formed, whereas CVD involves growing a diamond layer by layer in a chamber filled with ionised gas.
Advanced chemical testing is required to distinguish a diamond formed via HPHT or CVD from a natural diamond. Standard gem testing equipment such as refractometer, UV fluorescence lamp, binocular microscope and polariscopes are used to identify lab-grown diamonds.
The debate over synthetic vs natural diamonds is one that will continue to divide both the industry and consumers for years to come. While the majority see the value of a natural diamond and the beauty that they hold, synthetic diamonds are here to stay and will continue to integrate into the mainstream diamond market over time.