A lab-created diamond, also known as a cultured diamond, is a clear gemstone that has been created by replicating the same conditions under which a diamond is made naturally. This involves putting pure carbon under enormous amounts of pressure and heat until it crystallizes.
Lab-created diamonds were first produced in 1954 by General Electric. Their method involved subjecting carbon to 400 tons of pressure. Scientists could at first only synthesize dust or very small stones, which were better suited for purposes such as tipping drill bits than for setting in jewelry. By the beginning of the 1970s, GE's machines could produce diamonds of up to 2 carats, but the process was incredibly expensive and used a vast amount of electricity.
Methods of Creating Diamonds In A Lab
Chemical vapor deposition is a diamond-making technique that turns carbon into a plasma, which then "rains" a large amount of microscopic diamonds onto a surface. Apollo Diamond, a Boston cultured-diamond company, uses this technology to grow a single larger diamond rather than lots of tiny stones. The Apollo process starts with a button-sized diamond "seed," onto which the carbon plasma rains, creating new diamond crystals on top of the seed. When the desired size has been reached, the new diamond is separated from the seed.
Gemesis, another leading manufacturer of lab-grown diamonds, also begins with a diamond seed when making stones. Then, carbon is subjected to huge amounts of heat and pressure. It changes into a diamond, growing around the original diamond seed.
Lab Created Diamonds vs. Diamond Simulants
Diamond simulants include cubic zirconia, moissanite and Asha-brand diamond-coated stones. There are several differences between lab created diamonds and diamond simulants. If tested, lab created diamonds will be indistinguishable from natural diamonds, whereas CZ, moissanite and diamond-coated stones will be detectable as fake. You can do a quick test at home by breathing on your "diamond" and seeing if it fogs up: real diamonds won't fog, whereas most simulants will. Moissanite, however, won't fog either. When a gemologist examines a real diamond, she will see SP3 carbon bonds only: most simulants also contain SP2 carbon bonds.
Lab-Created Diamonds Vs. Natural Diamonds
Lab-created diamonds will fool a gemologist, because they are in fact diamonds: they are equally hard, and they have the same SP3 carbon bonds. They're cut and polished in the same way, and refract light the same. They're also both rated according to the Gemological Institute of America's Four Cs Of Diamonds criteria: cut, color, clarity and carat weight.
Why Lab Created Diamonds?
There are three reasons why the market for lab-created diamonds has grown larger. First, it's beginning to be common knowledge that the demand for diamonds was largely manufactured as part of an ad campaign by the De Beers diamond company. Allegedly, De Beers used to keep back most of the diamonds it mined, releasing only a few to sell every year, which made it appear that diamonds were rarer than they actually are. In the 1940s, advertising agency N.W. Ayer came up with the legendary slogan "A Diamond Is Forever," for De Beers. This statement meant that a diamond signified endless love, and that a diamond would never decrease in value. Now the general public is more aware of marketing strategies, it is less likely to fall for them, and more likely to pick a similar product that costs less money.
The second reason is that diamond mining has been linked to conflict in countries with political unrest. Diamonds are bought and sold to fund resistance to ruling factions: Angola and Sierra Leone's illicit diamond trade supports their rebel political groups, who are using violence rather than peaceful negotiation to try and regain control of the countries' governments. It's possible to buy a diamond that is certified as coming from a government-controlled area, but once a new diamond has been cut, polished and brought into the marketplace, you can never really be 100 percent sure where it came from. Lab created diamonds avoid this issue.
Third, lab created diamonds are arguably better for the environment, because there's no need to mine the earth for them. There isn't yet much information, however, on the environmental toll of creating a lab-grown diamond, in terms of emissions, energy use, and depletion of natural resources.
Kate Wharmby Seldman is a writer, ghostwriter and editor. She writes about subjects including electronic music, jewelry making, baby and child care, and ecologically friendly building construction. Originally from London, England, she now lives in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband and son.