The Low-Down on Lab Grown Diamonds: The Budget Friendly Choice

All About: Lab Grown Diamonds
A Few Reasons to Love Lab-Grown Diamonds
This is an open letter to why we love lab grown diamonds and you should, too.  The diamond industry was taken by storm in the last 5 years with the innovation, marketing, mass supply, and thriving sales of lab grown diamonds.
YOU MAY BE ASKING YOURSELF:
But what are they?  Are they real diamonds?  We had some questions, too.  So we ordered one in to inspect it.
Learning about Labs, from a GIA Graduate Gemologist's perspective.
Some things we’ll investigate:
  1. Are they “real diamonds?”
  2. “Are they as valuable?”
  3. “Why should I buy a lab grown diamond?”
  4. “What should I look for in a lab grown diamond?
Under My Microscope...
I’ve looked at lab grown diamonds under my trusty GIA Mark VII microscope, and was amazed.  Clear, crisp, and visually appearing the same as natural diamonds.
The inclusions are very similar, for the most part.  Occasionally, I do find that cloud inclusions in lab grown diamonds can be black in hue and appear like smoke winding through the diamond.  However, even if occurring, the cloud inclusions are often not dense enough to be seen with the unaided eye.
Amazing, from a first look!
CVD & HPHT : Growing
Lab grown diamonds are often manufactured overseas in India and China, although there are certainly more US-based manufacturers joining the ranks.  The location of manufacturing doesn’t impact the quality of the diamond, in my current opinion.
Composition & Manufacturing
Lab Grown diamonds are chemically the same as natural diamonds.  Formed from carbon in the presence of another proprietary elemental mix, these diamonds also contain the typical “impurity” elements we find in natural diamonds, such as boron and nitrogen.  However, since the growing process is highly contained, it is possible to grow diamonds with almost no impurities.
Lab Grown Diamonds are made using large machines, which utilize high levels of energy to transform the elements into a plasma state (CVD) or to melt a carbon starting material (like graphite in HPHT), which deposit onto a diamond “seed”.  Depending on the type of manufacturing, diamonds can be grown in as little as 2-3 weeks and might take as long as a couple of months.

GIA Lab Grown Diamond Education: link.

The Different Growing Methods
CVD
Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) is a method of forming lab-grown diamonds, arguably the fastest and cheapest way to form a lab-grown diamond currently.  Average grow time is 2-4 weeks.
CVD diamonds are fast-growing, which also means that the potential for spotty color or internal graining (disruption in the crystal growth structure) is higher.  These diamonds are commonly treated post-growth with High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) to improve color and remove the internal graining.  Some CVD diamond manufacturers are increasing boron in the “mix” to offset some of the brownish/yellowish hues seen in CVDs, creating a bluish tint.
This treatment isn’t always disclosed on the lab report (as seen in some IGI graded lab-grown diamonds), but is neither a positive or negative impact on the diamond’s beauty or pricing in the current market.  In cases where the diamond has developed spotty color, of course HPHT treatment would be a positive thing!
When a CVD diamond has not been treated, you will see the report note, “As Grown, No evidence of post-growth treatment.”
Quick Facts
  • One Growth Direction
  • Fast to Produce
  • Creates Colorless Crystals
  • Can show some strain, often abated with HPHT treatment
  • Can sometimes phosphoresce when exposed to heat.

    No worries, this is less common nowadays. And the original color resumes after 30mins to an hour at most.

  • Can sometimes display strange fluorescence patterns.

    No worries, you won't see your diamond glow strangely in normal UV light sources. Near X-Ray frequencies can detect a HPHT lab-grown.

HPHT
High Pressure High Temperature is a method of forming lab-grown diamonds of larger sizes and purity, requiring specialized equipment that compresses carbon starting material onto a diamond seed crystal through a complex flux material.
HPHT lab-grown diamonds require significantly more time to form, and use equipment that is more expensive to build, maintain, and use during the process.  Conversely, HPHT diamonds are often yellowish and brownish in color, although improved growth methods have routinely produced colorless crystals.
This method of growing synthetic diamonds does produce rough that has less “strain” when viewed in specialized light.  Because of the intense pressure, the crystal line up is neat and orderly.
Comparing finished diamonds from both methods from a consumer standpoint, I find them extremely similar.
Quick Facts
  • Multiple Growth Directions
  • Slow to Produce
  • Creates Colorless Crystals
  • Rarely shows strain
  • Sometimes has unusual fluorescence patterns

    No worries, you won't see your diamond glow strangely in normal UV light sources. Near X-Ray frequencies can detect a HPHT lab-grown.

  • Also used to create fancy colors
TIPS & TRICKS
Choosing The Right One
Due to the way lab grown diamonds are formed and then graded for color/clarity, I have key tips for selecting the right one.
Labs that grade lab-grown diamonds are still catching up in standardizing their grading guidelines.
In fact, GIA (Gemological Institute of America) just began assigning single-grade color (ex: H) and clarity (ex: VS1) to lab-grown diamonds in November 2020.
GIA Report
  • CUT GRADING: Same as natural
  • SYMMETRY/POLISH: Same as natural
  • COLOR GRADING: Same as natural
  • CLARITY GRADING: Different! Inclusions are instead called "Growth Remnants"
GIA just began assessing grading reports for lab-grown diamonds in November 2020, so it is still rarer to see these reports.
IGI Report
  • CUT GRADING: Not quite as stringent as GIA
  • SYMMETRY/POLISH: Same as natural
  • COLOR GRADING: Less stringent / Offset color desired by one grade up
  • CLARITY GRADING: Same as natural, just as or more stringent.
IGI is arguably the most prolific grading lab for lab-growns, and definitely the most common report to see in the market.
GCAL Report
  • CUT GRADING: Very stringent
  • SYMMETRY/POLISH: Same as natural
  • COLOR GRADING: Less stringent / Offset color desired by one grade up
  • CLARITY GRADING: Same as natural, just as or more stringent.
GCAL is the second most common reporting lab seen, and most reports come with a nifty light performance image.
WAIT, WAIT
The Truth: Long-Term Value
White Gold Hidden Halo Cushion Cut Diamond Engagement Ring
Tell it to me straight.
The simple math:  Endless supply = Falling Prices.
As the technology improves and more manufacturers enter the lab-grown diamond game, prices will likely fall. They have already fallen since introduction.
However, let’s be honest here:
NO DIAMOND IS A GOOD INVESTMENT
Fact: Diamonds are emotional luxury purchases.
The truth is:  Unless you’re buying wholesale as a dealer or bought your diamond on the resale market for an insane price, you will never recoup the original price you paid for a diamond.  You will be fortunate to recoup 50%-60% if sold to a dealer.
And after all?  If you sell it to an individual/end user, they won’t want to pay full retail either, right?  (There are some rare exceptions, very rare.)
For lab grown resale market, you’ll be lucky to find a jeweler who would be interested in paying for a pre-owned lab-grown diamond.
If you do, the resale offers have varied wildly due to the uncertainty of long-term lab grown diamond pricing.  Most pre-owned lab grown diamonds are sold on pre-owned marketplaces by private owners.
TRANSLATION, PLEASE
Lab Grown Vs. Natural: Your Choice
What's right for me?

Ultimately, it’s your choice whether to purchase a lab grown or natural diamond…or something completely different!  Here are the top three buying traits I see for my Client Friends who choose one over the other.
See if these resonate with you.
ETHICAL
TRADITION
BUDGET
LAB VS. NATURAL
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