Types of Diamonds: Differences in Lab-Grown, Earth-Mined, and Simulated Diamonds
Confused about what a diamond is or isn’t based on all the new products coming into the market? We don’t blame you! Things aren’t quite as simple these days when you go to buy a diamond or are browsing engagement rings, simply based on the sheer number of options. Lab-grown, Earth-mined, moissanite, cubic zirconium, morganite — there is a lot to consider! In this blog, we’re going to break everything down for you, so you have a go-to guide that explains the differences in all these commonly purchased stones for diamond rings. But first, we’re going to look at something completely different: pearls.
What do pearls have to do with diamonds?
Pearls are another beloved gem used in timeless jewelry pieces. They have a fascinating origin story, as pearls are produced when a mollusk creates layers of a material called nacre around an irritant in its shell. In the wild, these pearls were primarily found in the Persian Gulf; however, according to the American Gem Society, it is now extremely rare to find natural pearls because nearly all of them have been harvested. So, in order to continue creating pearls, there are now pearl farms where mollusks undergo a delicate surgical procedure by a technician to inject a nucleus that will turn into a pearl.
There are a lot of parallels to diamond creation here! For example, the Better Diamond Initiative shares an in-depth analysis here on how the supply of Earth-mined diamonds is dwindling — and may run out as soon as 2030! Luckily, scientific breakthroughs in the past few years have ensured that lab-grown diamonds are a sustainable solution to this problem. There is also a parallel in the creation process: just as a pearl is cultured by a human initially and then grows into its natural structure, the same is true in lab-grown diamonds. A human begins the process with a carbon “seed”, and then science continues the creation process until you have a diamond with the exact same chemical structure as an Earth-mined diamond. The key thing to point out here, though, is that there is no stigma around pearls that are cultured in a pearl farm. Consumers wisely recognize that there is no legitimate difference in a cultured pearl or a wild-grown pearl; they look the same, they are both “real”, and of course, they both have value. The same is true for lab-grown and mined diamonds, and we’re glad that consumers are breaking free from the deceptive marketing practices of the past and realizing that lab-grown diamonds are indeed real diamonds.
Now that you have some more framework for understanding lab-grown diamonds, let’s take a deep dive into the many different types of diamonds that you’ll come across when researching engagement rings or buying other diamond rings.
What are the differences in lab-grown and Earth-mined diamonds?
To keep it very simple, there is only one key difference in lab-grown and mined diamonds: point of origin, or the setting from where the diamond comes. Like how pearls that are farmed are only different from wild pearls because they are grown in a controlled environment, the same is true for diamonds. The finished product after a lab-grown process is exactly like the finished product in nature (if not better, thanks to technology!). Diamonds created in the lab and diamonds formed in the Earth share the exact same physical, optical, and chemical properties, which make the differences basically indistinguishable, even to trained professionals!
Based on these facts, the Federal Trade Commission recently amended its Jewelry Guides to do away with deceptive marketing of the past. “The Commission no longer defines a ‘diamond’ by using the term ‘natural’ because it is no longer accurate to define diamonds as ‘natural’ when it is now possible to create products that have essentially the same optical, physical, and chemical properties as mined diamonds,” the FTC ruled. This was a huge breakthrough for lab-grown diamonds because prior to this, the mining industry preyed on the (incorrect) use of the word “synthetic” when describing man-made diamonds. Now there is full clarity as to why this is scientifically inaccurate, deceptive, and just plain wrong, which is why we’re so passionate about educating consumers on the many advantages of lab-grown diamonds. As such, we’ll take a deep dive into what’s most important when comparing these two different types of diamonds.
How do lab-grown diamonds and mined diamonds share the same properties?
This is one of the most important things to understand when you begin to get a clear understanding of the differences in diamonds. Diamonds, whether their origin is in a lab or in the Earth, are both made from carbon. Specifically, carbon atoms are subjected to high heat and high pressure, which causes the atoms to crystallize. This process continues in layers until a diamond is formed. Because both types of diamonds are made from pure carbon, they are the same chemically, physically, and optically. If it seems like we are emphasizing this point — we are! Lab-created diamonds and Earth-mined diamonds are only different based on the setting in which they formed — otherwise, they are both beautiful products of carbon subjected to high heat and high pressure.
Do lab-grown and mined diamonds really look the same?
Yes! If you are not a trained geologist, then you’ll never be able to differentiate between a lab-grown diamond and an Earth-formed diamond. In fact, geologists use highly-specialized instruments with lots of magnification — otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, either. Put your worries aside; lab-created diamond rings shine and sparkle just like those that are mined from the Earth.
The durability of diamonds (lab-grown and Earth-formed)
Diamonds are known as one of the hardest substances on Earth, hence the phrase “Diamonds are forever.” This is largely attributed to the fact that they rank as a 10 on the Moh’s scale, which is defined by Google as “a scale of hardness used in classifying minerals. It runs from 1 to 10 using a series of reference minerals, and position on the scale depends on the ability to scratch minerals rated lower.” Whether you get a diamond from the Earth or from a lab, you can be sure that it will still rank at a 10 on the Moh’s scale. The other things to consider in regard to diamond durability are toughness (how chip-resistant the diamond is) and stability (how well a diamond withstands temperature changes and chemical reactions). By this point, you’re probably not surprised to hear that the toughness and stability of lab-created diamonds is equivalent to that of an Earth-formed diamond (which is very important when it comes to engagement rings)! Read more about diamond durability here.
The ethical advantages of lab-grown diamonds
This is a major differentiator between mined diamonds and grown diamonds. In fact, the terrible ethics among the mining industry is one of the huge reasons that so many people are now buying lab-created diamonds. One of the most well-known issues among the mining industry is the trade of blood diamonds — which are diamonds that are used to fund rebel militias that are trying to overthrow governments in vulnerable countries. While the Kimberley Process stepped in to try to resolve this issue, it has many gaps, and the trade of blood diamonds is still prevalent to this day. Additionally, the Kimberley Process doesn’t cover things like worker exploitation and child labor. Sadly, many diamond diggers are paid extremely low wages (less than $2 daily!), which keeps them in extreme poverty and leads to a host of other social issues (extreme hunger, illiteracy, medical issues, etc.). You can read more about how lab-created diamonds help with the issue of child labor here. Issues like these make it clear that the only real way to know that you’re getting an ethical, conflict-free diamond is by opting for a lab-grown diamond.
Lab-grown diamonds have a colored diamond advantage
Beyond being more affordable, more ethical, and more sustainable, there is another advantage that grown diamonds have: colors. Colored mined diamonds have been historically much more expensive, due to their rarity in nature. However, lab-created diamonds are completely opening the world of colored diamonds, since scientific advances have allowed for the color creation process to be replicated in the lab. We have pinks, oranges, blues, smoky grays, and more to choose from, all at an affordable price. If you want to learn more about colored diamonds, read this.
The cost comparison
We saved the best for last when it comes to comparing lab-grown diamonds and mined diamonds: the affordability! While it’s widely known that diamonds from the lab are more cost effective than their mined counterparts, we’d like to point out that diamonds from New World Diamonds are the most affordable diamonds on the market. We’re able to keep our prices low because we own our own lab, which cuts down on middleman costs while also ensuring that all our diamonds are grown in the US. Want to see specifics on prices? Do a cost comparison here.
Simulated diamonds: moissanite and cubic zirconium
Now that you have a complete understanding as to why both Earth-mined and lab-grown diamonds are “real” diamonds, it’s time to talk about simulated diamonds, which are also sometimes called synthetic diamonds. These are the sparkly stones often set in engagement rings that are NOT structurally the same as a diamond — most commonly being moissanite and cubic zirconia. High-leaded glass (like rhinestones) is sometimes used as a diamond simulant, but it’s not as common. Many people opt for simulated options due to their affordability and their appearance. The GIA does a great job of pointing out the differences in real diamonds and these simulants:
Most simulants have a chemical composition and physical properties that are very different from natural or synthetic diamonds. Natural and synthetic diamonds are very durable; they are the hardest material on earth. Conversely, most diamond simulants are not nearly as tough.
What this means to you: Most simulants quickly show signs of wear, with scratches and visible abrasions, especially along facet junctions. Diamonds are typically more durable and longer lasting.
Diamonds have superior polish compared to simulants. They usually have more fire, brightness, and scintillation. Most simulants do not have the dazzling luster that makes diamonds so coveted. These differences are usually visible to the naked eye.
What this means to you: Most simulants don’t sparkle like a diamond.
Still yet, it’s worth looking into the most common diamond simulants so you have a robust understanding of all of your options at hand. Here are the most common simulated diamonds in the market today:
Moissanite: Moissanite is a mineral that is both naturally-occurring and grown in a lab. However, it is very rare in nature, being found only in meteorites and upper mantle rock; therefore, virtually all moissanite in engagement rings and other jewelry is grown in a lab. Whereas diamonds are made from pure carbon in structure, moissanite is silicon carbide that was first discovered over 120 years ago (but only came into the jewelry market in the 1990s). While moissanite compares in hardness and can be cut into many different shapes, it has inferior color properties to real diamonds.
Cubic Zirconia (CZ): CZ is the most popular diamond simulant that is very similar to diamonds in appearance and refractivity. Structurally, CZ is the cubic crystalline form of zirconium dioxide (ZrO2). One of the main differences between CZ and diamonds is the hardness; whereas diamonds rank at a 10 on the Moh’s Scale, CZ ranks at an 8 — which means it is more vulnerable to getting chipped. It is also usually colorless, so if you’re hoping for a colored gemstone, CZ is not the right choice.
You are now completely educated on the differences in lab-grown diamonds, diamonds that come out of Earth, and diamond simulants! You can go forward and make a conscious, educated choice when it comes to engagement rings or other diamond rings. If you do have questions, however, feel free to get in touch with us so we can help you find the perfect diamond for your budget and your style!