The differences between lab-grown and natural diamonds
Shopping for diamond or lab-grown diamond jewelry should be a fun experience: celebrating a birthday, marking a milestone, gifting to a special friend, or buying a first-day-on-the-job piece of perfection. But there’s a lot of information to unpack before you add to cart that can impact both your budget and bling.
Before you tackle the 4c’s of diamonds (cut, clarity, color, and carat), it’s important to understand all of your glittering options—namely the difference between buying a natural vs. Lab-grown diamond. Not only is lab-grown diamond jewelry a welcome addition to your collection, but it is also a cost-effective option that means you can expand your arsenal of awe-inspiring styles.
Remember that for over 50 years, the team behind lightbox has used leading technology to create lab-grown diamonds that are all measured as having at least a “very good” cut, to ensure exceptional brilliance, fire, and scintillation. So, as you start to become a jewelry expert in your own right (whether you’re fully versed in what is moissanite, have a handle on what diamond shapes are popular, or what type of gold is best), know that if you still have questions, lightbox’s virtual concierge is here to help every step of the way.
What is a natural diamond?
For the best definition, we turned to the pros at the gemological institute of America (GIA). “a diamond is 99.95 percent pure carbon, with 0.05 percent trace elements that are atoms that aren’t part of the diamond’s essential chemistry.” And here’s a fact for your next trivia night: a diamond is the only gem made of a single element.
A natural diamond is a diamond that is formed under high pressure and high temperatures that exists about 100 miles below the earth’s surface. A natural diamond is mined from the earth, cut, polished, and set into jewelry.
What is a lab-grown diamond?
Lab-grown diamonds are often called synthetic diamonds, cultured diamonds, engineered diamonds, and even man-made diamonds. They share the same chemical makeup and physical structure as natural diamonds and they are optically identical. While natural diamonds take millions of years to form, scientists can create a one-carat lab-grown diamond in a lab in two weeks. Lightbox’s lab-grown white diamonds are grown to match the chemical properties of a natural diamond and the finished stone is optically identical.
A lab-grown diamond is not a simulated diamond. Stones like moissanite, cubic zirconia, or white sapphire—all diamond simulants—have different chemical makeup and are diamond imitations.
Lightbox’s scientists have the process of creating our lab-grown diamonds down to an art. The team behind lightbox has been refining their methodology for growing diamonds for the past 50 years, and they hold the most patents in the lab-grown space.
Differences between lab-created and natural diamond
Another fun fact: if you’re comparing lab-grown versus natural diamonds side by side, you won’t be able to tell the difference. The same goes if you closely examine the stone with a jeweler’s loupe, which typically has a 10x magnification. A diamond’s identity as a lab-grown stone can only be determined by gemological experts using specialized instruments to pick up trace elements and other signatures related to the way the diamonds are grown.
Shopping for diamond rings, necklaces, or earrings: you will have lots of fun choices like picking the diamond shape, size, color, and setting. The price point of lightbox lab-grown diamonds means you have the freedom to experiment with fun diamond shapes, create earring stacks, and tell your style story.
How do you make a diamond in a lab?
There are two ways to make a diamond in the lab: HPHT and CVD. At lightbox, we mostly use the CVD method.
CVD stands for chemical vapor deposition. Lab-grown diamond seeds are loaded into a CVD reactor. Then, a mix of carbon-containing gas is added at a very low pressure. Microwave energy is used to heat the gases and generate plasma. When the temperatures climb over several thousand degrees Fahrenheit (about 3000 degrees Celsius), the gas molecules break apart and carbon atoms bond to the seeds, growing them one layer at a time.
HPHT stands for high pressure, high temperature. This method mimics the conditions happening below the earth’s surface and grows diamonds at warp speed, comparatively. Large mechanical presses are used to apply extreme pressure and high temperature to carbon in the presence of a diamond seed. The seeds act as a template for a lattice of carbon to grow layer by layer over the course of a few days.
Did you know: the pressure exerted in the HPHT method is equal to a commercial airliner balancing on the tip of a person’s finger!
If you’re a visual learner, our video on ‘the science behind the sparkle’ breaks down the key steps. Check it out on YouTube.
Do lab-grown diamonds have resale value?
This depends on the price you pay for a lab-grown diamond originally. As a relatively new manufacturing process, it’s reasonable to expect the cost of production to fall, and lab-grown diamonds purchased at too high of a price will lose value as similar stones will become available for a lower cost. Through our world-leading technology, we’ve already achieved a sustainable pricing model that means our lab-grown diamonds are priced transparently starting at 800 USD a carat, or 1500 USD a carat for our lightbox finest™ stones. Prices elsewhere may fall, but you can be confident that our lightbox linear pricing will hold its value into the future.
Grading lab-grown diamonds and the 4c’s
Lab-grown diamonds are graded the same way as natural diamonds, by assessing the 4c’s of diamond quality: cut, color, carat, clarity. GIA and IGI both offer dedicated reports using a similar grading process as natural diamonds, while also specifying their origin as lab-grown.
Colored diamonds: lab-grown and vibrant hues
One of the great advantages of lab-grown diamonds is that they can readily be made in an array of colors that are extremely rare when found in nature. This is achieved by making changes in the gas mix added to the CVD reactor combined with post-growth enhancements to these stones applied at the end of the synthesis process. The process sounds simple, but it has taken our scientists thousands of hours to refine the steps to create the perfect lightbox shades of light pink and blue every time.