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Lab-Grown Diamonds: The What, The How, and Everything Else You Should Know About Them
If you've been on the hunt for diamonds, chances are you've come across lab-grown diamonds, also known as cultured diamonds, man-made diamonds, synthetic diamonds, and artificial diamonds. You've probably noticed that lab-grown diamonds cost significantly less than natural diamonds, leading you to wonder whether they are truly as good as they seem to be.
In this detailed guide, we’ll bring you up to speed on everything you should know to help you decide whether lab-grown diamonds are the right choice for you. So, let’s get started.
What is a Lab-Grown Diamond?
A lab-grown diamond is practically identical to a natural diamond in terms of its characteristics. The only difference is – how it’s made. Natural diamonds are formed over billions of years beneath the earth’s surface under immense pressures and temperatures. On the other hand, lab-grown diamonds, as the name indicates, are created under similar conditions inside a lab.
The Federal Trade Commission clearly states that lab-grown diamonds have the same physical, chemical, and optical properties as their natural counterparts. In fact, if you visit a retailer and browse some of their best engagement rings, chances are that many of them will have synthetic diamonds.
However, sellers are prohibited from promoting them as regular diamonds. They must use phrases like “lab-grown,” “lab-created,” “lab-manufactured,” or other similar terminology when advertising these diamonds. This ensures that buyers understand the product they are purchasing.
Lab-grown diamonds are becoming increasingly popular due to their ethical and environmental benefits. Because they are created in a controlled lab environment, they do not require mining, which can have a negative impact on the environment and local communities. Additionally, lab-grown diamonds are often less expensive than natural diamonds, making them a more affordable option for many consumers. Despite being virtually identical to natural diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are often considered to be a more socially and environmentally responsible choice.
When Were Lab-Grown Diamonds Invented?
Are you thinking 10 or 20 years ago? Well, that’s when lab-created diamonds became popular. But, it might come as a surprise to you that the first lab-grown diamonds were invented in the 1950s!
That’s right, they’ve been around for around three-quarters of the century.
The credit for the first lab-grown diamonds ever manufactured is usually given to General Electric, which announced their creation in 1955.
However, around the same time, a Swedish company also announced that they had been manufacturing diamonds for well over two years. Why they did not announce their breakthrough earlier is unknown.
Irrespective of who created them, the early lab-made diamonds were purely for industrial purposes, because of their strength, electrical conductivity, and other properties. The consumer-grade diamonds, however, did not hit the market until the 1980s.
Since the quality of these synthetic diamonds was nowhere close to what consumers preferred, they remained in relative obscurity for a few more decades until technological advancements brought them at par with natural diamonds.
How are Lab-Grown Diamonds Made?
Lab-grown diamonds are primarily manufactured using two different processes. Here’s everything you need to know about them:
1. High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT)
HPHT merely replicates the natural conditions under which diamonds are created in nature – extreme pressures and extreme temperatures. This method has been in use since 1954 and continues to be a popular technology among diamond manufacturers. Over the years, HPHT has been improved, refined, and upgraded to produce higher-quality synthetic diamonds.
In this method, a tiny diamond (called the seed diamond) is placed inside a carbon ball. The two are then compressed under tremendous pressures of 1.5 million pounds per square inch, while they are simultaneously heated to a temperature of 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
Under these conditions, carbon melts and fuses into the seed diamond, ultimately forming a big crystal of a diamond.
2. Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)
The CVD process is a more recent technological innovation and is used primarily to create gemstone-quality synthetic diamonds.
In this process, a seed diamond is placed inside a high-temperature-high-pressure chamber where, once again, extreme conditions are created. When these unimaginable temperatures and pressures are created, carbon-heavy gases are released into the chamber. The severe conditions rip the carbon atoms right off the gas molecules and release them to move freely.
At this point, the free-floating carbon latches onto the seed diamond in layers to form high-quality crystals.
CVD is used chiefly to produce industrial-grade diamonds, as it gives better control over the chemical impurities during the production stage.
Different Types of Lab-Grown Diamonds
You’ll often find many sources listing imitation diamonds like cubic zirconia and moissanite belonging to a category of lab-grown diamonds called “simulant diamonds,” but they are largely mistaken. As mentioned before, they are not “diamonds” in any sense of the word.
Authentic lab-grown diamonds are classified based only on their method of production – HPHT diamonds and CVD diamonds.
Whenever you buy lab-created diamonds, check and verify the certificate to ensure that it clearly indicates one of the two types – if it doesn’t, run and don’t turn back!
Why You Should Buy Lab-Grown Diamonds?
There are several reasons why lab-grown diamonds could be the right fit for your needs. Perhaps, you can already guess some of them, but keep reading to find some more surprising reasons:
Lab-grown diamonds have the same physical, chemical, and optical properties as natural diamonds, ensuring that they are of equal quality.
Lab-grown diamonds are available in a wide range of sizes, colors, and cuts, providing consumers with more options to choose from when making a purchase.
No Ethical Dilemma
Natural diamonds have a long history of unethical sourcing, as popularized in Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie, Blood Diamond. Although such unethical sourcing of natural diamonds has come down sharply over the past few decades, it’s not entirely gone. So, a consumer is constantly faced with an ethical dilemma when buying a diamond – whether the diamond they are buying was used to fuel a war, insurgency, or political coup in underdeveloped countries!
Lab-made diamonds don’t expect an ethical compromise from you. They are all produced by commercial labs for commercial purposes only.
Of course, price is a crucial decision when buying diamonds. A lab-grown diamond can cost anywhere between 20% to 80% of the price of a natural diamond. Both classes of diamonds are practically identical, and the naked eye cannot tell the difference. So, you can go for a higher grade and a bigger stone with a lab-grown diamond.
Diamonds are usually found hundreds of feet below the ground. So, extracting them involves displacing millions of pounds of earth, which results in lasting ecological damage in and around the mines.
On the other hand, lab-grown diamonds do not result in any cost to Nature. Although they do happen to use vast quantities of energy for production, there is a strong emphasis on sustainability in the manufacturing process.
Identifying Lab-Grown Diamonds
We’ve already said it many times, and we’ll say it once more just to reinforce the message – for all practical purposes, lab diamonds cannot be distinguished from natural diamonds.
In fact, they are so identical that even experienced gemologists cannot differentiate between the two using traditional methods. For this reason, certification agencies like GIA had to develop advanced devices to help distinguish them. Today, such devices are the only way to distinguish between lab-grown and natural diamonds.
As far as retailers or consumers are concerned, diamonds from both sources look the same. Therefore, sellers are mandated to use the term “lab-grown” or something similar to refer to all lab-grown diamonds for sale. And, that’s the only way you know a diamond is made was synthesized in a lab.
Also, make sure that the diamonds have authentic certifications from reputed agencies like GIA, AGS, or similar reliable organizations.
Grading Lab-Grown Diamonds
Lab-grown diamonds are graded the same way natural diamonds are graded. Gemologists grade both of them using the same set of criteria and do not differentiate between the two. The grading is based on the following:
As a consumer, you must understand that grading is a highly subjective task. Therefore, different gemologists may assign different grades to the same diamond, even when they are equally competent. So, it’s strongly advised that you buy a lab-grown diamond that’s certified by trusted and reputed gemologists like the professionals at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
Generally, synthetic diamonds of Grade D to Grade F (on a scale of D to Z) are considered to be the best lab-created diamonds. Although grade D is assigned to the most crystal-clear diamonds, there isn’t much difference between Grade D and Grade F diamonds to the naked eye and the latter cost lower too.
Financial Value of Lab-Grown Diamonds
Consumers frequently worry about the “authenticity” of lab-grown diamonds and their endurance as a valuable asset. So, we’ve answered a few common questions regarding the financial value offered by lab-grown diamonds here:
Can lab-grown diamonds be insured?
Certainly! Just like natural diamonds, lab diamonds can also be insured. This includes a variety of jewelry like lab-created diamond rings, lab diamond rings, lab diamond earrings, lab diamond bracelets, and so on. What’s more, because of their lower price, their annual insurance premium would be lower too.
Will they hold their value?
Lab-grown diamonds have experienced tremendous variations in prices. A few years ago, they were priced at a premium when compared to natural diamonds. But, they are now selling at a fraction of the price of natural diamonds. As people become increasingly environmentally conscious and sustainability-focused, the price of lab-grown diamonds can escalate rapidly.
In any case, lab-grown diamonds will continue to hold a comparable value to their natural counterparts.
Are lab-grown diamonds a good investment?
The verdict is mixed. In recent years, one of the staunchest opponents of lab-grown diamonds – DeBeers – has had to swallow their pride and start producing lab-grown diamonds. The writing on the wall is clear as day – lab-grown diamonds are here to stay.
However, there’s always the possibility of new competitors entering the arena and bringing down their prices. So, it’s not possible to predict whether lab-grown diamonds will prove to be a good investment in the long run.
Disadvantages of Lab-Created Diamonds vs Natural Diamonds
Despite their remarkable similarities with natural diamonds, the value for money they offer, and the ecological benefits involved, lab-grown diamonds do come with their own set of drawbacks. Here’s a quick list:
They have a low resale value
They are not rare, as they can be produced at will. So, their prices are often considered highly inflated
They tend to be small. The technology is not there yet to produce large lab-grown diamonds like Mother Earth does. So, if you are looking for big diamond rings, then natural diamonds are likely your only choice for now.
People continue to have a strong romantic association with mined diamonds, especially when it comes to diamond rings for women
Lab-Created Diamonds vs Real Diamonds: What’s the Right Choice?
Lab-grown diamonds are unequivocally the more affordable, environmental-friendly, and globally responsible choice for consumers, despite their limited drawbacks. However, if you are romantically attached to natural diamonds, then lab-grown diamonds may not be the right fit for you.
The right choice depends on you and what you want rather than just the differences between the two classes of diamonds. It’s as simple as that.
There you have it – the simple and detailed guide to lab-grown diamonds.
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Are Lab-Grown Diamonds as Strong as Real Diamonds?Absolutely! Lab-created diamonds sit atop the list of hardest substances on earth, sharing the space with natural diamonds. In terms of strength, hardness, and durability, lab-grown diamonds are an equal match to natural diamonds.
What are the raw materials used in creating lab-grown diamonds?You already know that the HPHT process uses a diamond wrapped inside a ball of carbon to create diamonds. However, what you don’t know is that an alloy of iron, nickel, or cobalt is usually used in the process too. If it’s the CVD method, hydrocarbon gases are used as carbon sources, and nothing else.
How Do Lab-Grown Diamonds Differ From Cubic Zirconia and Moissanite?Contrary to popular misconception, cubic zirconia and moissanite are NOT lab-grown diamonds. Although many people confuse them as synthetic diamonds, they are not related to diamonds (natural or lab-grown) in any way. In fact, both cubic zirconia and moissanite have physical, chemical, and optical properties vastly different from diamonds. They are what’s known commercially as “imitation diamonds.” So, if anyone is advertising cubic zirconia or moissanite jewelry as lab-grown diamond rings, necklaces, earrings, and so on, then avoid them altogether.
Do Lab-Grown Diamonds Come In Different Colors?Yes, they do. Like natural diamonds, lab-grown diamonds often have subtle tints that may or may not be visible to the naked eye. A competent gemologist can differentiate between clear and colored lab-grown diamonds, although regular consumers may not be able to. Also, yes, their prices are closely related to their color. The crystal-clear lab-grown gems with no color tints command the highest price. In most cases, you’ll find a yellow or bluish tint, which indicates the presence of nitrogen and boron, respectively, in trace quantities. Also, CVD diamonds often have a brown tint to them. If you are looking for affordable colorless gems, then HPHT are the best lab grown diamonds for you. They are usually colorless but cost twice as much as CVD diamonds for the same reason.
Do lab diamonds sparkle less?Lab-created diamonds, also known as synthetic or cultured diamonds, have the same chemical composition and physical properties as natural diamonds. Therefore, their ability to sparkle and reflect light is essentially the same. The sparkle of a diamond is determined by its cut, clarity, and the way light interacts with its facets, regardless of whether it's lab-grown or mined from the earth. When it comes to sparkle, the most important factor is the diamond's cut. A well-cut diamond will reflect and refract light in a way that maximizes its brilliance and sparkle. Both natural and lab-grown diamonds can be cut to excellent standards, allowing them to exhibit exceptional sparkle. It's worth noting that the appearance of sparkle can also be influenced by other factors such as the quality of the cut, the presence of inclusions or flaws, and the overall design of the jewelry piece in which the diamond is set. These factors apply to both lab-created and natural diamonds.
Will a lab diamond fail a diamond tester?No, a lab-grown diamond should not fail a diamond tester. Diamond testers are designed to determine whether a gemstone is a diamond based on its electrical and thermal conductivity properties. Both natural and lab-created diamonds have similar thermal conductivity, as they are composed of carbon atoms arranged in a crystal lattice structure. Therefore, a diamond tester should accurately identify a lab-grown diamond as a diamond. However, it's important to note that diamond testers are not foolproof and can sometimes give false positive or false negative results. Other gemstones or diamond simulants with similar thermal conductivity properties, such as moissanite, can sometimes yield positive results on a diamond tester. Therefore, it's recommended to use additional testing methods, such as visual inspection or professional gemological analysis, to confirm the identity of a gemstone.
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