Lab Grown VS Earth Mined Diamonds

They're the hottest thing in the jewelry industry right now, and the question is worth asking:  are they real? 

The short answer is YES, but if you're here, it's likely that you're looking for a bit more of an explanation.  Read on for the full scoop: 

It's a highly debated subject matter, so much so that the US government has even weighed in: The Federal Trade Commission recently revised its previous definition of a diamond which stated: “A diamond is a natural mineral consisting essentially of pure carbon crystallized in the isometric system” by dropping the word “natural” in its latest revision.   This is not surprising, considering the fact that Lab Grown Diamonds and Earth Mined Diamonds are chemically identical: 100% Carbon.  Furthermore, it's worth noting that all respected and reputed gem grading laboratories (including GIA, IGI, HRD Antwerp and GCAL, among others)  acknowledge that both types of diamonds have identical properties. 

Properties of a Diamond:

Carbon: Diamonds are made of simple carbon atoms that undergo extreme heat and pressure over a certain amount of time.   Earth mined diamonds do this deep inside the earth (they're often found inside inactive lava tubes), and most likely became diamonds somewhere between 1 billion and 3.3 billion years ago.  They emerge closer to the surface after many years of earth movement, where we are able to mine or otherwise collect them.  In contrast, diamonds grown in a lab take a mere weeks to produce, on demand.  Today's scientists and engineers can replicate the necessary conditions, a process that has been under development since the 1950's, but has only recently become sophisticated enough to produce gem-quality specimen. 
Worth Noting:  Contrary to popular belief (and some arguments against lab-growns), earth mined diamonds did not actually require billions of years to produce -- they probably happened over similar time frames (or even faster) as their lab grown counterparts, but they've simply been buried for billions of years since.  The real difference is how accessible they've been (specifically -- how deep in the earth they've been). 

Hardness: Diamonds are a 10 on a 1-10 scale, regardless of whether they come from the earth or from a lab.  

Sparkle and Refractivity: Diamonds of all kinds sparkle and exhibit refractivity.  Technically, there are diamonds that are so heavily included that they don't have this characteristic, but that's an entirely different discussion and another blog post (see: Alternative Diamonds).   For the purposes of this discussion -- we'll presume we're only talking about 'perfect' diamonds (clear, colorless, without inclusions, cut to ideal parameters) -- in which case, the more 'perfect' a stone, the better refractivity it will have.  Between earth mined and lab grown, there is simply no difference.  The amount of sparkle and refractivity (and beauty) will be entirely dependent on a diamond's specific characteristics (cut, clarity, color, etc.), not how it was created.  

So, then, what IS different? 

The Paperwork:
Once a lab grown diamond has been graded, the diamond’s girdle is laser inscribed with an unique identifier: a report number that can be matched to an accompanying lab report.  This report bears a statement that indicates that a diamond is a 'laboratory grown diamond.' Grading labs use the exact same parameters to grade both mined and lab grown diamonds.  Earth Mined labs may have a certification and inscribed number as well (not all do) but they won't bear the lab grown notation.  

The Price:
Lab Grown Diamonds, on average, cost around 30% less.  This is a result of production costs being lower than the cost of mining diamonds from the earth and exporting them (a shorter overall supply chain).  There is absolutely no compromise in quality or durability that comes with this difference in price.  

The Impact:  
There is much argument about the sustainability and impact of different diamond types.  To truly make an accurate assessment, one must consider multiple factors beyond simply the extraction or creation process.  One should consider these alongside social impact (such as labor practices) as well as community and economic benefits.  

*Environmental: Lab grown diamonds are made without displacing any natural resources or butchering any habitats.  Earth mined diamonds still require the moving and disruption of the natural environment, both on land or in the ocean.  Much of this disruption occurs over long periods of time and there is no initiative to remedy what damage is done by the mining industry.   
Lab grown diamonds do come with a hefty energy requirement, which is a fact that cannot be argued.  Not all growers are equal, but it is becoming more and more common for growers to offset energy use by taking up green production processes (such as utilizing solar to produce the required kilowatts).  Some growers are already undergoing extensive third party certifications to lend credibility to their green energy and fair labor practices.  Additionally, when comparing the two: one must not forget how much energy is expended to extract mined diamonds from the earth AND how much energy is spent exporting them all over the world to cutters, then to dealers, then to a jeweler near you.  

*Social: While working conditions have and will presumably continue to improve in traditional mining communities (some more-so than others), and we've established the Kimberly Process, it is still in some ways an imperfect system.  It's inarguably better now than in generations past, and hopefully can become more perfect with time. However, one cannot ignore the fact that there are still lots and lots of middle men in the diamond-mining industry.  If one is not working directly with the miners (and observing to some degree), it can be hard to know with 100% certainty that a diamond is ethically sourced.  In contrast, the lab grown industry is primarily a part of industrialized communities that have labor standards in place and where observations can easily be made, and hours and pay are regulated.

*Community: There is a very valid argument that can be made for some more socially-ethical mining operations: that the presence of a diamond mining operation impacts a community in a positive way by providing income and jobs for members of the community (particularly in places where there may otherwise be little hope of employment and/or there may be no other industries or natural resources).   The income made by the workers typically stays exclusively within the local community, further adding benefit to the community.   A similar argument can also be made for lab grown diamonds, as factories often employ a variety of people in various capacities.  However, its not quite as clear whether the earnings from these operations stay within the respective communities, simply because of differences in lifestyle and accessibility.   

At the end of the day, it is you, the informed consumer, that must weigh the nuanced differences in the sourcing of the diamond you choose.  At MAKE MADE, we offer both, and strive to find the most ethical stones we can -- whether they be lab grown or earth mined.  The most important thing you can do when choosing a diamond is choosing a jeweler that you trust.  A diamond is ultimately only as ethical as the folks you choose to purchase it from.  

Food for Thought: As a final note about lab grown versus earth mined stones is this, an adaptation of something I heard from another jeweler: 

' If a child that is conceived in-vitro, is it any less human than a child conceived the traditional way? '

Want direct links to more info on all things Diamond and Engagement? Check out our other posts on:

Buying a Traditional Diamond - The 4 C's
How to Choose the Perfect Diamond 
Types of Non-Traditional Diamonds
Non-Traditional Diamonds: Knowing the Cut
Choosing a setting style for a Diamond Alternative
Choosing a Non-Diamond Stone for an Engagement Ring