If ever you needed evidence of the incredible majesty of nature, just look at the diamond. Stunning, strong, and enduring, these stones have been valued and prized by countless cultures over centuries. Their beauty simply does not fade.
Natural diamonds are elegant evidence of the power of nature, and lab-grown diamonds are equally compelling evidence of the ability of man and science to recreate what is one of the Earth’s most stunning creations. What is a natural diamond made of? What is a lab-grown diamond made of? Let’s find out.
What Is a Natural Diamond Made Of?
It starts a hundred miles beneath us in the Earth’s crust, where extreme pressure and heat make it uninhabitable. But this is the perfect environment for growing diamonds. The high-pressured mineral friction, combined with ultra-intense heat, is nature’s lab if you will.
In the upper mantle of the Earth’s crust, carbon atoms attach themselves to each other and create crystal formations. A carbon atom forms four other carbon atoms to form a unique chemical bond; it is one of the strongest chemical bonds known to science. Slowly, over hundreds of millions or billions of years, other covalent bonds of carbon atoms “join” that first five-atom structure. And a diamond grows.
Scientists can go into the field to study diamond formation! They must hypothesize what happens. At this point, they are not sure what the origin of the carbon is. What we do know is it’s not coal as the popular myth goes! More likely it is carbon that comes from limestone, marble, dolomite, and even particles of plant debris that shifted and moved with plates beneath the Earth. Diamonds began forming during a period of intense volcanic activity; all that tumult would ultimately result in stunning stones of incredible beauty.
What Is a Lab Grown Diamond Made Of?
Lab grown diamonds are not “fake.” They are very much real. They are not siblings of cubic zirconia, moissanite, or other imitators. The distinction is important, however, because consumers should be well-informed about the origins of their products (any product, particularly those that carry higher price tags). They need to know what they are getting. Lab grown diamonds are not natural diamonds, and this is another very important distinction.
In terms of their chemical composition, lab grown diamonds are identical to natural or mined, diamonds. They, too, are formed from those unique carbon bonds. The difference is that the pressure and heat is replicated in a man-made setting and takes just months. Labs crystalize carbon and mimic the conditions of the Earth’s crust in order to produce stones that are physically and chemically identical to natural diamonds. The resulting stones also have the same hardness, dispersion, and refractive index.
The Difference Between The Two
This brings up an important question: how do you know if a diamond you are buying is natural or lab grown? And why does it matter? Let’s tackle the former question first.
There are a few ways to tell if a diamond is lab grown vs. natural:
The Lab Tells You
The vast majority of labs are not trying to pull the wool over consumer’s eyes. They are not trying to trick anyone. In fact, they use this information in their marketing campaigns. Many people do find lab grown diamonds appealing for a variety of reasons. Many labs also include minuscule inscriptions that read “lab grown” for full transparency.
The Diamond Type
All lab grown diamonds are type IIa. This indicates that they have virtually no impurities and most are colorless. Natural diamonds tend to have elements that made their way into the carbon bonds (e.g. boron, nitrogen, hydrogen). A natural type IIa diamond is exceeding rare (only 1-2%). GIA uses an FTIR spectrometer to determine type; this is a supplemental service that they offer when grading diamonds.
Lab grown diamonds are made of carbon, just like natural diamonds. As mentioned, it is impossible to see any difference with the naked eye or a microscope. Organizations like GIA use specialized machines to pick up on key differences. One of these has to do with how the diamond is formed.
A lab grown diamond starts with a “seed,” that is, a sliver of a lab grown or natural diamond. The seed is put into a vacuum chamber and exposed to microwave rays, hydrogen, and methane to build layers of carbon bonds. Experts can see the distinctive growth patterns via these machines.
This is another way to be sure that you are getting what you are paying for; K. Rosengart, for example, offers expert diamond analysis services. We can spot melee lab grown diamonds that may have ended up in a batch of natural diamond melee with sophisticated technology.
Now onto the second question: why does it matter? Why does it matter if you are buying a lab grown vs. a natural diamond? Again, some people prefer lab grown for their own reasons, while others want a natural diamond.
It’s that simple: getting what you want and what you expect at the appropriate price point. You certainly do not want to be in the market for a natural stone, for example, and end up with a lab grown variety. Not because they are not beautiful in their own right, but you were paying for, and expecting, something very different.
Equip yourself with knowledge and work with a scrupulous, transparent supplier. This is the best way to ensure you walk away with the very best diamond for your needs, style, tastes, and budget.