The Pros and Cons of Lab-grown Diamonds
Updated: Mar 20, 2020
If you haven’t heard much about lab-grown diamonds yet, you’re about to. Very recently, the FTC revised their guidelines about what makes a diamond, a diamond.
Okay, but why does that matter?
Until now, a lot of jewelers who felt threatened by the invention of lab-grown diamonds were falsely claiming that lab-grown diamonds are inferior to naturally occurring, mined diamonds.
Some jewelers have even been calling lab-grown diamonds ‘fake’ or ‘synthetic.’
The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) ruling makes that kind of talk illegal. And for good reason. That kind of talk is scientifically wrong, and it is designed to mislead consumers.
But why would jewelers want to mislead their consumers?
Because if you believe only mined diamonds are real, you’ll be inclined to pay thousands more dollars for the rarity of a “real” diamond.
Lab-grown diamonds cost less to produce, and that savings is passed directly to consumers.
Often, lab-grown diamonds cost 30% less than mined diamonds of equivalent value.
Is it any wonder that jewelers who don’t offer lab-grown diamonds also don’t want to compete against them in the marketplace?
That’s why the FTC ruling is so important: It secures the status of lab-grown diamonds as being diamonds, period.
So the only question that remains is whether a lab-grown diamond is the right diamond for you! To help with that, we’ve compiled this fact sheet of lab-grown pros and cons.
Lab-grown diamonds are made in processes that mirror Earth-grown diamonds. In other words, when the lab processes are complete, the end result will be a diamond.
There is no such guarantee in mining.
People mine for miles before they recover a diamond, and moving that much Earth takes a ton of energy and destroys surrounding habitats. Mining operations also require approximately 127 gallons of water per carat, and contribute 2011 ounces of air pollutants per carat recovered. That's why we consider lab grown diamonds to be exponentially more Earth-friendly.
It's pretty hard to find any negative planetary impact from lab grown diamonds. I suppose if you were really pressed to come up with one, you could argue that lab grown diamonds still require a great deal of electricity to produce, and while electricity can come entirely from sustainable sources, the electric grid is not yet powered only by sustainables. Therefore, lab-grown diamonds do carry a minute carbon footprint. How much exactly depends upon the lab. However, lab-grown diamonds contribute negligible pollutants to the air (.001 ounces per carat), and use only 14% as much water as traditionally mined diamonds.
The Take-Away: Approximately 98 sq. feet, (or 250 tons), of Earth are displaced for each one carat of mined diamond. A lab grown diamond is made using only .076 square feet of land, and labs can be built in responsible locations that don’t disturb important natural habitats.
Lab-grown diamonds are indisputably better for the Earth than mined-diamonds.
Lab grown diamonds are much less expensive to produce.
There are two main factors for why this is.
The first has everything to do with rarity. A lot of mining has to occur for every carat of diamond found deep beneath the Earth’s surface. All that mining costs extraordinary amounts of money, whether or not diamonds are being retrieved. Mined diamonds are expensive simply because they are rare and difficult to recover. Lab-grown diamonds remove the need to search for stones, so they cut costs significantly.
The second, and even bigger factor as to why mined diamonds are so expensive is that diamonds are one of the world's only "controlled commodities," meaning, they are controlled by a monopoly. There are only two companies, which together control nearly all the world's supply of diamonds. These companies are DeBeers, and Alrosa, a company of the Russian State. Because these companies can work together without any outside competition, they can dictate the pricing to the rest of us.
Lab grown diamonds not only cost less to produce, but they actually help to democratize the diamond market by adding necessary competition.
Con: In terms of cost, there really aren’t any downsides to choosing a lab-grown diamond. Firstly, it’s important to remember that diamonds, whether lab-grown or mined, aren’t really a financial investment. They aren’t like gold, which fluctuates drastically with the currency market. Diamonds are an emotional investment and therefore, apart from the absolute rarest in the world which sell for millions at auction, historically, diamonds will only retain their value if you hold on to them long enough (as in for twenty or more years). Generally, diamonds don't increase in value.
The Take-Away: It is awe-inspiring to have a beautiful gemstone produced for you straight from the depths of Mother Earth, and if that’s important to you, then sure, go with a mined diamond. However, with lab-grown diamonds being 30-40% less expensive, you can expect to get a significantly bigger, clearer, brighter stone for your money. If the wow factor is what you're after, you will only gain by going with a lab-grown diamond.
All diamonds, whether lab-grown or mined, are unique. Every diamond is one-of-kind because every crystal grows in its own unique way, whether that growth occurs underground or in a lab.
Here is something you should know: diamonds are classified based on their crystalline structure. The better the diamond’s structure, the more potential it has to really sparkle once it’s cut. The best-of-the-best diamonds in nature are designated as ‘TypeIIA,’ and when these are cut well, they have more fire and brilliance than any other type of diamond. But these beauties are rare. So rare, in fact that only 2% of all mined diamonds are pure enough to be considered TypeIIA, and to get a TypeIIA mined diamond, you will pay a premium.
But all lab-grown diamonds are TypeIIA.
How is that possible?
Because scientists only use TypeIIA “seed crystal” in order to grow your beautiful lab-grown diamond.
Further adding to each diamond’s uniqueness is the fact that lab-grown diamonds, just like mined diamonds, are cut by hand. Where there is artistry by hand, there is inevitable variation.
Even if someone spent their entire life trying to create two completely identical diamonds, they wouldn’t be able to do it.
There are simply too many variables in the process of creating a finished diamond.
Cut is what gives a diamond its fire and luster, and so it is just as possible to get a poorly cut lab-grown diamond, as it is to find a poorly cut mined diamond. Labs, because they are more sterile than the belly of the Earth, tend to produce clearer stones. But cut is another matter altogether, and whether you go with a mined or lab-grown diamond, it is imperative to go with a reputable jeweler who only sources well-cut stones. Even a TypeIIA diamond won’t sparkle the way it should if it’s poorly cut.
The Take-Away: All diamonds are entirely unique. Labs emulate the same conditions that produce diamonds in nature, and so there are just as many variations in lab-grown diamonds as there are in mined diamonds.
If size and clarity are important factors for you, a lab-grown diamond may be your perfect stone.
If the environment is of great concern to you, there is no question that lab-grown diamonds are the better choice.
If, however, it’s the elusiveness of a diamond that captivates you, if rarity is what you’re after, you may find that mined stones excite you more.
Whichever direction you go, you can rest assured that your diamond will be in every way, a diamond.
Chemically, physically, and visually, your stone, whether lab-grown or mined, will have the beauty and structural integrity found only in diamonds.
And finally, with the ruling of the FTC, you don’t have to take our, or any other jeweler’s word for it.