Jewellery lovers have more options than ever before, thanks to an expanding market, new designers and cutting-edge technology.
Two of the most exciting technologies affecting the jewellery industry are HPHT and CVD diamond manufacturing. Until now, diamonds could only be found one way, through mining. But thanks to these new techniques, consumers now have even more options.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at both natural diamonds and synthetic diamonds. How are they different? And how are they similar? With a solid background, you’ll be able to choose the best option best for you. Let’s get started.
Natural and synthetic diamonds have the same crystal lattice structure and the same elemental make-up. The only remarkable difference between the two stones is how they’re created.
Billions of years ago, and roughly 150km-200km beneath the earth’s surface, the diamonds that are being mined today were born. At these depths, heat and pressure cause carbon atoms to bond with each other and modify their atomic structure, creating an unusually strong mineral that we call diamonds. Deep-source volcanic pipes bring diamonds to the earth’s surface where they’re stored in kimberlite rock, which is located in the volcanic crater.
Mining companies mine the kimberlite pipes and then mechanically break up the ore to release the diamond crystals. The amount of diamond found in kimberlite rock is exceedingly small, about one part per million, so miners have to process enormous amounts of rock in their pursuit of the precious stones.
Diamonds can also be formed when asteroids impact the planet. These collisions provide the heat and pressure necessary to change the chemical makeup of carbon atoms.
Scientists have discovered a way to produce the heat and pressure necessary to replicate the diamond-making process. Using wafer-thin shavings cut from existing diamonds, lab technicians can grow diamonds inside growth chambers.
The chambers apply superheated plasma and intense pressure to the “diamond seed” for 28 days. During this time, the diamond seeds grow into cubes, which have the same chemical composition and properties as diamonds that are grown deep below the earth’s surface. This method of creating diamonds is called Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD), and it has been so successful that many variations of the process are now used.
The first laboratory-created diamond was made in the General Electric laboratory back in 1954. It was created using a process called HPHT (High-Pressure High Temperature), which is different than the growth chamber method mentioned above. Until the 1990s, this method wasn’t refined enough to be used for creating diamonds for jewellery. Today, however, we’re seeing more and more laboratory-grown diamonds.
Clearly, laboratory diamonds and natural diamonds have very different histories, but how are they different in other ways?
Nearly all diamonds, both natural and synthetic, have inclusions that affect their clarity, although the inclusions differ in these two different types of precious stones.
Natural diamonds undergo quite a trip from their origins 150km below the earth’s surface up to where miners can wrest them from the earth. During this trip, diamonds usually sustain some injuries. After all, they pass through volcanic eruptions and rub up against all kinds of other minerals and elements, resulting in inclusions like crystals, feathers, clouds and pinpoints.
Laboratory diamonds, on the other hand, develop metallic inclusions from the molten metallic solution they’re grown in. These inclusions are not generally apparent to the naked eye. In fact, in most cases, they can only be identified using 10x magnification.
Natural diamonds appear in every imaginable colour, from classic white to pink, yellow, brown and even blue. Colouration results from impurities (such as nitrogen molecules) becoming enmeshed in the molecular lattice structure as the diamond grows.
Certification agencies such as the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) grade diamonds by colour, giving the highest marks to colourless stones. Diamond colour is mostly a matter of personal preference despite colourless diamonds fetching higher prices.
Laboratory diamonds also come in a variety of colours (white, yellow, blue, pink and green, for example). Using diamond certification standards, they usually range between D and K grades for colour.
Some CVD-grown diamonds come out a yellow-brown colour and are subsequently treated to make them colourless or near-colourless.
The GIA doesn’t grade synthetic diamonds in the same way it grades natural diamonds. The GIA report for laboratory-grown diamonds includes several unique markers:
Another difference between the two certifications is that the descriptions for colour and clarity are more general for synthetic diamonds.
Although natural diamonds and synthetic diamonds have the same chemical makeup and structure, they can vary substantially in price. In general, lab-created diamonds cost about 30 per cent less than natural diamonds of similar quality and size.
At this point, inventories of synthetic diamonds are smaller than stocks of natural diamonds so you may not have as many options if you’re searching for a lab-grown diamond.
Even expert jewellers struggle to tell the difference between natural and synthetic diamonds. That’s why it’s important to ask for a diamond’s certification before you purchase, so that you know what you’re buying. The diamond’s certification will give you essential information about its cut, clarity, carat weight and colour, and it should also tell you about its origins.
Some people want to know about the environmental impact of their purchases, and this can be a factor in the decision about what kind of diamond to buy.
Finding one carat of natural diamonds requires the movement of anywhere from 200 to 1700 tons of earth. One study found that lab-grown diamonds generate about one-fifth the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced by the heavy machinery required to mine natural diamonds.
Another point to consider is that some diamond shapes are not available in the synthetic variety. Since laboratory-grown diamonds are grown in cubes, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to create rectangular shapes such as marquise, pear and oval diamonds.
Natural and synthetic diamonds are chemically, physically and structurally indistinguishable from one another. That said, the decision of which kind of diamond to purchase is highly personal. Whatever type of diamond you choose, cover it with Q Report jewellery insurance to protect it from loss, damage and theft. We’re here to protect the things you love.