Cutting-edge technology creating eco-friendly heirlooms
In recent years the jewellery industry has been embracing one of its most significant technological advances in modern times – the creation of synthetic, or lab-grown diamonds.
While scientists have been ‘growing’ diamonds in labs for several decades, these stones were primarily used for industrial purposes. Now however, labs can create diamonds that are large enough and of high enough quality to be used in jewellery, and there has been a surge in demand for these gemstones.
Lab-grown diamonds are hugely popular among couples who are environmentally and socially conscious, and they are also an attractive option for those who want bling on a budget, as they are generally about 30 per cent cheaper than mined diamonds.
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What are lab-grown diamonds & how are they made?
Natural diamonds are formed after millions of years of heat and high pressure below the surface of the earth, and these conditions determine the size and colour of the stone. Modern technology can now recreate these conditions using processes called High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD).
HPHT diamonds are made using a specially-designed machine that creates high pressure and temperature. A small diamond seed – a tiny fragment of an existing diamond – is placed into the machine and exposed to temperatures of about 1,500 degrees Celsius, and pressure of approximately 1.5 million pounds per square inch, just like diamonds deep in the ground.
The CVD process uses a thin slice of diamond seed, which is placed in a sealed chamber, heated to around 800 degrees Celsius and exposed to carbon-rich gases. The carbon begins to adhere to the diamond seed and crystallises.
Are lab grown diamonds the same as mined diamonds?
Despite the lower price point, lab-grown diamonds are in no way inferior to mined diamonds, which are also referred to as natural diamonds. Synthetic diamonds are simply more cost effective because the producers can cut out lengthy supply chains and there are no mining costs, so there is no need to compromise on style and sparkle if you opt for this sustainable alternative.
Diamonds created in a lab are virtually identical to mined diamonds in both appearance and structure. They have almost identical internal structure and hardness/durability as natural diamonds, and the manner in which the stones reflect light is also exactly the same.
Also known as ethical diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are certified by the same system and standards as mined diamonds and are individually graded according to the four Cs – carat, cut, clarity and colour, just like natural diamonds.
The only difference between mined diamonds and lab-grown diamonds is their origins. One comes from deep in the earth, while the other is ‘grown’ in a lab by recreating the same processes, such as extreme pressure and heat, that natural diamonds are exposed to in the ground.
Why choose a lab-grown diamond?
While diamond mining companies have made significant inroads in becoming more environmentally and socially conscious in the last two decades, growing a diamond in a lab still has a lot less impact on the planet.
A massive 250 tonnes of earth must be extracted to mine a single one carat rough diamond. Deforestation can also occur, destroying ecosystems in the area surrounding a mine. Mining companies in some countries have to adhere to strict environmental standards, but other countries do not have any regulations in place.
Another issue of great concern for customers purchasing diamond jewellery is blood diamonds, or conflict diamonds. These are diamonds that have been mined in war zones to fund armies and rebel militias fighting civil wars.
Thanks to the formation of the Kimberley Process in 2003, the majority of conflict diamonds have been eliminated from the jewellery market. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) imposes extensive requirements on its member countries to enable them to certify shipments of rough diamonds as ‘conflict-free’ and prevent conflict diamonds from entering the legitimate trade.
However the system has been criticised for failing to address the often poor working conditions of mine workers, and other issues like child labour and health and safety. Lab-grown diamonds mean that the buyer can be 100 per cent certain that no staff were forced to work in inhumane conditions to mine their gemstone, and that it was not used to fund violence in any way.
Thinking of choosing Moissanite for your ring?
Another man-made gemstone that works well in engagement rings is the moissanite. These are the most brilliant gemstones in the world; natural moissanite comes from rare meteor fragments, but most commercially available moissanite is lab-grown.
Moissanite is a unique gemstone that has a higher brilliance than diamonds, and is almost as durable. Diamonds score the maximum 10 on the Mohs scale, which measures the hardness of gemstones, while moissanite comes in at 9.25.
Visually, moissanites and diamonds are almost identical, with moissanites providing just as much sparkle for a fraction of the price, costing up to 90 per cent less than diamonds.
Unlike lab-grown diamonds, moissanites are a distinct gemstone in their own right, with different properties and composition to diamonds, but to the naked eye, it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between the two.
What are the downsides of lab-grown diamonds?
While the ethical and money-saving advantages of lab-grown diamonds and moissanites are substantial, it’s fair to say that they don’t appeal to everyone. Some couples love the history behind mined diamonds and the fact that every stone is one of a kind, forged by the power of nature over millions of years.
When compared to synthetic diamonds that can be mass-produced in the sterile environment of a lab in just a few weeks, it does seem like the more romantic option. There are also still many misconceptions about lab-grown diamonds, as they are relatively new to the jewellery market. The majority of people probably haven’t heard much about them, and couples may be concerned that friends and family will think they have bought an artificial, cheap diamond.
Whatever your views on synthetic diamonds, they are definitely here to stay, and are likely to become more ubiquitous in the future as a growing number of retailers are deciding to offer their customers this cost-effective and sustainable option.