Real lab-grown diamonds have constantly Buy diamond offered the tantalizing prospect of making the beauty of true, real diamond affordable to jewelry lovers around the world. Unfortunately there is still a large gap between typical media articles and the reality of what diamond growing labs can actually grow as of November 2009.
This article is thus designed to educate diamond buyers who are interested in purchasing a real, lab grown diamond to ensure your expectations are realistic and understand what is and is not available (and why). In addition, this article can help prevent you from being taken by unethical CZ sellers who advertise their product as ‘lab grown diamond’ or ‘man made diamond’ when their product is actually deceptively advertised CZ.
Since our last article in 2007, there has been minimal progress on larger, lab grown white diamonds, though not for lack of effort by scientists. Buying a 2ct, real gem grade, lab grown white diamond is currently about as likely as you encountering a unicorn…the reality is neither, as of November 2009, currently exist.
There are only two labs that have publicly noted that they are working on growing white lab diamonds for the consumer market at this time. While one lab has had a few as large as 1ct, these were rare occurrences and not readily reproducible to date. Even after years of research and effort, the typical diamond produced is less than.50ct, and often the color is below the typical gem grade white mined diamond. The few that are available typically sell for the same price as or higher than a comparable natural mined white diamond and wait times for larger sizes (.75ct and higher) can exceed one year with no guarantee of if or when you will be able to purchase. Thus the reality remains that there is no diamond seller able to offer lab created white diamonds on a consistent, readily available basis and in sizes over 1ct (as of November 2009).
Because of this disparity between supply and demand for real lab grown white diamonds, there are still a number of CZ sellers who run ads, likely even showing next to this article, proclaiming ‘Flawless Man Made Diamonds’, ‘Perfect Lab Created Diamonds’ or similar false claims. These are unethical sellers peddling ordinary CZ under bait and switch advertising tactics. Their product is not actual lab grown diamond (carbon), but rather CZ (cubic zirconium), a widely available simulated diamond material that mimics the look of white diamond, but is not real diamond. Plain CZ has been available since the 1980s and is nothing new to the jewelry market. The only twist is how many sellers have succeeded in taking advantage of the consumers knowledge gap between media articles over-proclaiming the availability of real lab grown diamonds, and the limits of what truly is available in real lab created white diamond.
Larger, 1ct and higher lab grown white diamonds will hopefully eventually come to fruition, but for now, the market is still constrained by the extreme difficulty of growing white diamonds in sizes desirable to consumers.
Lab grown blue diamonds are the one high point of the current lab diamond market. Natural mined blue diamonds are created when grown in the presence of boron, which accounts for their rare and unique blue color. Mined blue diamonds showing a rich, saturated blue color (Fancy Vivid Blue is the diamond term) of any reasonable size are exceedingly rare, and when available are nearly always sold via auction (Sotheby or Christies) in order for the seller to obtain maximum value for what will likely be a once in a lifetime sale. As a result, natural vivid blue diamonds can command prices from $565,000 per carat to as high as $1.3 Million dollars per carat. A vivid blue diamond at auction is a media event, and regularly covered as such by the press due to the extreme rarity, beauty and eye popping prices presented by mined blue diamonds.
The goods news for diamond lovers not on the Forbes 500 richest list, is that as of two months ago, real lab grown blue diamonds are entering the market in sizes from.50ct to as high as 1.00ct. Supply is still quite tight, with an average of 5-10 Vivid Blues per month becoming available, but it is the first time such an option has even been available on a consistent basis. Just like mined blue diamonds, lab created blue diamonds are grown in the presence of boron in conditions identical to what happens under the earth (high pressure and high temperature) and they are the chemical, optical, and physical equivalent – the only difference is where they were born.
The pricing on lab grown blue diamonds ranges from $5000/carat to as high as $10,000/carat ($2500 is an average price for a.50ct stone). Not cheap, but an incredible bargain compared to the pricing of the mined equivalent. One point of mentioning pricing here is to show the contrast between real lab grown diamond, and the CZ’s being sold as ‘lab grown diamond’ for $150/ct. $150/ct would not even cover the costs of cutting the material, and thus by pricing alone you can readily discern which sellers are selling real lab created diamonds versus engaging in bait and switch advertising.
In terms of diamond beauty, while the chemical composition of both lab and mined blue diamond are identical (carbon plus boron), lab grown blue diamonds readily outshine their natural mined counterparts. The reason is the cutting standards employed. Cut controls 98% of a diamonds brilliance, and hence diamond beauty. Most natural blue diamonds are poorly cut in order to keep the blue coloration as rich as possible, and for the simple fact that cutting for optimal beauty (light handling) would result in a much smaller finished carat weight.
When you are dealing with material that is that incredibly rare and expensive (again, as high as $1.3 Million per carat and considered one of the most valuable materials in the world), the focus is on preserving as much finished weight as possible. Thus cutting for maximum beauty gives way to cutting for maximum size. From a pure diamond cutting perspective, some natural blue diamonds likely rank among some of the worst cut diamonds available, showing large windows where light passes through instead of being reflected back because of the focus on maximizing the finished size (steeper angles produce better light handling, but also mean less finished size).
By contrast, the lower cost of lab grown blue diamonds means they can be cut with a focus on diamond beauty and not just size. For example, one lab blue diamond recently sold was a.63ct lab grown Fancy Vivid Blue Diamond that was independently graded as an ideal cut round…something that to our knowledge has never been seen in a natural blue diamond. Lab grown blue diamonds, cut to excellent standards, are thus finally able to unlock the true beauty of blue diamond and in that respect have exceeded their mined counterparts.
It is important to note that the lab grown blue diamonds are identical to natural blue diamonds in every respect, including the property of being electrically conductive, something only true blue diamonds have. This unique property is a result of boron being part of the diamond, which allows it to conduct electricity and is also responsible for its rich blue coloration.
The inclusion of boron is a key item to note when shopping, as most ‘blue diamonds’ being advertised (assuming they are real diamond and not colored CZ) are natural white diamonds turned blue by exposure to radiation. Irradiated (also termed treated or enhanced) blue diamonds do not have boron in them and thus are not electrically conductive, making identification fairly trivial even though they are real diamond. Irradiated blue diamonds also do not show the rich deep blue coloration of boron blues – rather they are a distinctive greenish-blue – pretty in their own right, but are not the same color as real blue diamonds (lab grown or natural) and are easily identifiable as treated and not boron blue diamonds.
Lab grown blue diamonds are thus the one recent highlight of the current man made diamond market. This is one area where limited but recent, actual availability in sizes suitable to make an engagement ring (over.50ct), and outstanding cutting never before seen in blue diamond is perhaps producing some of the most beautiful diamonds available on the planet.
Lab grown pink diamonds are an area that presents disappointing news. There is currently no available supply of new pink diamonds, and those consumers who were able to purchase one of the very few pink diamonds over.50ct in the past should be very glad they purchased when they did. The only lab that produced pinks has stopped production, and no other lab has stepped in. Thus, the only top color pinks available are the remainders of past production, which are virtually all below.25ct in size.
The reason for this is not lack of demand, as lab grown pink diamonds over.50ct were in extremely high demand, with wait times measured in months for the option to purchase. Rather, it is the difficulty of producing the desired pure pink or purplish pink color. Pink in lab grown diamonds is due to the creation of what are called “Nitrogen vacancy centers”. Basically, within the carbon lattice, you have to coax a nitrogen atom and a gap in the carbon lattice to sit next to each other. Doing so is anything but consistent, and the result is most of the lab grown pinks come out off pink or have gaps within the diamond coloration where parts are yellow or clear, and parts are pink (color zoning)…thus only a small percentage of production is the truly prized, even and rich pink color, and the diamond grower is left with far more unsellable ‘off- pinks’ than finished and sellable rich pink diamonds.
With the inability to solve this puzzle, there is simply no new supply of lab grown pink diamonds available, and likely will not be for some time. Lab grown pink diamonds over.50ct thus ironically begin to approach the rarity of their natural mined pink diamond brethren. The only distant hope is that eventually CVD grown diamonds will make lab pink diamonds available again. The reason is that CVD grown diamonds (diamonds grown in negative pressure and with gas, mimicking conditions found in outer space) naturally include these nitrogen vacancy centers. This makes them excellent candidates for pink diamonds for jewelry use, and also for chips for quantum computing, which requires these same nitrogen vacancies in diamond.
However, growing diamonds to larger sizes and to gem quality in the CVD process has its own set of challenges, and thus the result is no new lab grown pink diamonds are being brought to market as of November 2009.
For those few consumers who did manage to purchase a lab grown pink diamond over.50ct when they were available, you should appreciate that you have one of the rarest types of diamond around. Be sure to have your ring inspected annually to ensure you do not accidentally lose the pink diamond due to loose prongs, as there is no ability to replace it currently.
Lab grown yellow diamonds were the first type of lab grown diamond available to consumers (around 2002) and their arrival is what sparked most of the media coverage on lab diamonds. In total, five labs ended up producing yellow diamonds for sale to the jewelry market.
However, since then, only two remain as the others have ceased yellow diamond production. The reason? Similar to pinks, producing the pure yellow that consumers expect proved to be very difficult. Most lab grown yellow diamonds are in fact either orange-yellow or brownish yellow. Achieving a pure, vibrant ‘canary’ yellow was a rarity.
As a result, most of the labs production ended up being orangy-yellow goods that sat stockpiled at jewelers who were unable to sell these diamonds to consumers who expected pure yellow diamonds. With minimal demand for what they could consistently produce, and no easy way to grow the pure yellow consumers wanted, the result was the exiting of most of the producers from the business of producing lab yellow diamonds.
Only one lab was able to figure out how to consistently produce the pure, rich yellow most consumers want (termed Fancy Vivid Yellow) and their production is only a few stones per month. Thus, supply is a limiting factor for the best of the lab grown yellow diamonds. The good news is that a few of these have been grown to sizes approaching the 2ct range, the largest of the lab grown diamonds available. Our company sold a 2.08ct lab grown vivid yellow last year, setting what we believe was the record for the largest lab grown, pure vivid yellow publicly sold.
Hopefully this article brings you up to speed on what is and is not available in real man-made diamonds as of November, 2009 and allow you to consider whether purchasing a lab grown diamond is of interest, based on what is and is not available. Such knowledge will certainly help you avoid what has become a common consumer mistake of believing the many deceptive ads run by sellers promoting their CZ’s as lab grown diamonds.
Looking forward, there is some possibility that white lab grown diamonds in very small sizes (.10ct,.15ct) may be available in the next year on a consistent basis due to a technological improvement in how to grow multiple stones in one cycle. However, that is a work in progress for now.
Growing larger white diamonds (over 1.00ct and in the colorless grade that consumers want) on a consistent and profitable basis remains a substantial challenge and a problem that unfortunately no one has succeeded at solving to date.
Lab grown pink diamonds are no longer available beyond what is left from previous production due to the inherent inability to produce the desired pink color on a consistent basis. CVD-grown diamonds are likely the only hope of seeing lab grown pink diamonds becoming available again in the future, due to having the necessary Nitrogen and vacancy centers naturally included during growth.
The most exciting development for 2009 is the recent, consistent availability of lab grown, vivid blue diamond in sizes suitable for diamond engagement rings (i.e..50ct and higher) and these are perhaps the first lab diamonds to truly exceed, rather than simply match, their mined counterparts in beauty due to the higher cutting standards used.
The ability to grow true gem-grade diamonds in a lab has been a long standing goal of science and industry, and one that has been achieved on a limited basis over the past five years.
Unfortunately most media publications are usually designed to sell articles, and thus often do not provide consumers with a true picture of the commercial reality and availability of lab-grown diamonds. Further, many sellers of diamond simulants (stones that look similar to diamond, but are not real diamond) exploit this knowledge gap as a way to deceptively sell their simulants as ‘lab-grown diamonds’. As the president of a company that has been involved with both lab-grown diamonds and diamond simulants for over seven years, and having seen the confusion many of these less than factual articles have caused, I wanted to help provide customers with an industry insider assessment of what is and is not commercially available, and help educate those who are indeed looking to purchase a true lab-grown diamond. Thus, we begin a short tour of myth vs. reality in the lab-grown diamond market (circa 2007).
First and foremost, lab-grown diamonds (real diamond, but not mined) are in fact available for jewelry purchase, but on a limited basis. The significant catch though is this – when most people think of a diamond, they automatically think of white diamonds. As of October, 2007, no one is currently able to offer white (colorless) lab grown diamonds for sale on any type of production basis. Regardless of what various reporters write, the reality is only fancy color diamonds (predominantly yellow, and to a much lesser degree, pink and blue) are available.
The reason for that gap between what consumers want (white lab-grown diamonds) and what labs can deliver (mostly yellow lab-grown diamonds), is due to both commercial value and natural barriers. Lets discuss the natural barrier first – yellow diamonds are yellow because they incorporate nitrogen into their crystal structure. White diamonds are white (or clear) because they have much less nitrogen in their crystal structure. When growing diamonds, however, nitrogen is a catalyst – it significantly speeds up diamond growth, and in addition reduces defects. Thus, you can grow a 1ct (finished) yellow in roughly one week, versus growing the same size white (by restricting nitrogen) can take you 4-6 weeks (using BARS method, the default method currently). In other words, nitrogen can help you grow up to 6x as much yellow diamond as white in the same amount of production time. That’s a tough natural barrier.
The commercial barrier, is that yellow natural diamonds are worth much more than white natural diamonds. In nature, there are roughly 10,000 whites for every fancy yellow. Thus, fancy yellows command a much higher price per carat. Lab grown diamonds typically sell at a discount but are still pegged to their natural counterparts, and since yellow diamonds are worth more than whites, the absolute selling price for lab grown yellows is higher than what the market will pay for lab grown whites.
Now, if you combine the fact that labs can grow yellows much more quickly and easily than whites, and that yellow diamonds (lab grown and natural) further command higher prices than whites, you can see you have a severe dis-incentive to produce white diamonds with the current technology. White diamonds can and have been produced by labs (we have some sample photos on our website) but they are not price competitive with natural white diamonds at this time. Hence, a very big reason for why there are currently no white diamonds available for commercial sale.
These fundamental reasons are typically not explained in most published articles about lab grown diamonds, and many articles typically leave the reader with the exact opposite impression, that white lab grown diamonds are plentiful and cheap (remember the $5/ct quote from Wired magazine?). Various unethical simulant (CZ) makers have utilized this confusion to deceptively advertise their imitation diamonds as being “flawless man-made diamonds”, “perfect lab-grown diamonds”, etc. all for the low price of $100/ct. And based on emails we’ve received from customers, people have been tricked into buying plain CZ, after being told it was a ‘lab grown white diamond’ and having seen articles discussing the advent of lab-grown diamonds being available.
There are two easy ways to avoid being suckered into unethical advertising like that. First of all, the price. To cut a 1ct finished diamond, you need between 2-3 carats of rough diamond to start. Cutters charge by the carat for their cutting work, and $100-$150/ct is a common rate. That means even if the diamond material were free, a seller would still have to charge at least $200-$450/ct just to break even on the cutting cost. And obviously, the lab grown material is not free and the seller would like to make a profit instead of break even, so if you see a seller selling ‘cultured diamonds’ or ‘man-made diamonds’ for less than several hundred dollars per carat, you can be assured it is not real lab grown diamond, regardless of what claims they make. Currently, lab-grown yellow diamonds are selling for around $4,000/ct. And remember, yellows are produced up to 6x faster than whites, so you are unlikely to see lab grown white diamonds selling for much less than that in the future unless someone figures out a much faster way to grow diamond.
The second way to protect yourself, for lab-grown diamonds of any size (i.e. .30ct and higher), is to only buy a lab-grown diamond that comes with a certificate from an independent lab. Just like natural diamonds, virtually all major gem labs now offer grading reports for lab grown diamonds (including, as of this year, the GIA). They are basically the same reports as they issue for natural diamonds, but with the origin listed as “lab-grown”. If there is no certificate with a ‘man-made diamond’ of any real size (i.e. .30ct or larger), and the seller declines to provide one when asked, then you can also be pretty sure its a simulant being called a lab-grown diamond.
Checking for the price and the grading certificate can ensure you are dealing with an ethical seller of lab-grown diamonds. We’ve seen many a customers whose hopes were dashed after we explained that the $150 pair of ‘man-made diamond’ earrings they bought were in fact nothing more than deceptively advertised CZ. Don’t fall into that trap.
Another common myth about lab-grown diamonds is that all lab grown diamonds are ‘perfect’ or flawless. As noted, the current default technology for growing diamonds (BARS method) is simply replicating the high-pressure and high-temperature present under the earth, and doing it above ground (sometimes with additional catalyst to lower the necessary temperature/pressure required). And just as diamonds from under the earth have flaws, diamonds grown above the earth also have flaws. It is a more correct analogy to think of growing diamonds (using current technology) as diamond-farming, rather than diamond manufacturing. Just like farming, you plant a seed, and try to optimize the growth conditions, but you no more get a perfect diamond than a farmer always gets a perfect tomato. In fact, sometimes after a week is up, the chamber is opened and no diamond has grown at all…so it is no where near the ‘push a button, out pops a perfect diamond’ that many people think. Similarly, labs cannot customize how the diamond grows to be a specified shape (i.e. pear or emerald cut) – you get what you get, and cut to optimize the yield of each crystal.
That being said, it is true that most lab grown diamonds (especially yellow diamonds) are slightly harder than their equivalent natural diamonds. In yellows, this is due to the nitrogen being more perfectly dispersed, and Carbon-Nitrogen bonds are slightly stronger than Carbon-Carbon bonds. This is also one way labs with Raman equipment can detect man-made versus natural yellows – in yellow naturals, nitrogen is clumped, versus it is quite evenly dispersed in lab-grown yellow diamonds.
The next myth – lab grown diamonds can always be produced, so their prices will continue to drop vs. a natural diamonds will keep going up. Currently, gem grade, lab-grown diamonds are in fact substantially rarer than natural diamonds if you compare yearly production. While white diamonds are being mined in tens of millions of carats per year, lab grown whites are virtually non-existent except for research samples, and yellow lab grown diamond production is measured in thousands of carats. And because growing lab diamonds is still hard, prices for lab grown diamonds have slowly gone up, not down because there is only so much production available even as demand has increased due to public awareness.
One more reality about lab grown diamonds – size. Currently, most diamond growth chambers are unable to grow larger than 3ct piece of rough (sometimes 4ct) and thus, after cutting, most lab grown diamonds are 1.5ct or smaller (frequently smaller after accounting for flaws being cut out). The reason for this is that in order to grow a diamond using the standard HPHT (high pressure, high temperature) technology, you have to place an area under extremely high pressure and temperature. The larger the area you are trying to maintain these extreme conditions, the harder it gets..exponentially harder, in fact, because the pressure at the center is magnified due to leverage. The parts applying the pressure themselves have a limited lifespan, as they will eventually crack and fail, and require constant replacement. Thus, most labs have not tried to go beyond the 3ct size growth chamber as it does get exponentially harder to maintain the same pressure for a larger area, and that is one reason why no one is offering 6ct finished yellow diamonds for sale.
With the reality check done, we’ll end this article on a positive note – even with all the problems, costs and issues that still hamper lab-grown diamond production, colored lab-grown diamonds do offer people the ability to own and wear extremely high-end, fancy color, real diamonds at a fraction of the natural price. We’ll emphasize that these are still real diamonds – chemically, optically, physically, and of course will pass any test for being diamond (since it is diamond, the place where it was grown is the difference). Most lab grown colored diamonds are vivid in color, meaning they are among the most valuable color grades as compared to natural colored diamonds. For example, one of the first lab-grown diamonds we ever sold was graded a ‘fancy vivid orangy yellow’, and was initially appraised as a natural diamond, valued at $65,000 by a major lab (we had informed them we were submitting a lab grown diamond btw). We then received a very panicked call the next day from the same lab, who after running a Raman analysis on it realized it was a man-made and not natural diamond (due to the nitrogen being so perfectly dispersed). We sold that same diamond for $3500. Similarly, most of our pink lab-grown diamonds also grade fancy vivid pink, and if they were mined instead of lab-grown, could sell for as high as $150,000/carat…we sell them for around $5,000/ct, but unfortunately due to low supply (production difficulties) are sold out most of the year. Nevertheless, the lucky few customers who do buy a lab-grown pink have a lot of fun walking into their neighborhood jewelry store and seeing the jaws drop. It is also usually the first time their jeweler has seen a real lab-grown diamond in person, again due to the relative rarity of true lab-grown diamonds. They are very beautiful and leave most natural fancy color diamonds (who are normally less intensively colored) looking pretty bland by comparison.
Technology continues to improve, and hopefully over the next few years, there will be additional breakthroughs in lab grown diamond technology. One of the most promising areas is growing diamonds by mimicking how they (theoretically) grow in outer space. This is by using ultra-low pressure, plasma and high temperature, often called plasma vapor deposition. Because it does not require the high pressure, chamber sizes are much larger and in theory, much larger pieces of diamond can be grown. Conditions are more controllable as well, due to the diamond growing by in a more nano-technology like environment (carbon-rich gas is shredded at the molecular level, and the carbon atoms then reassemble on the diamond seed below). The trade off is the machines to do this often run between $500,000-$800,000 each, and a host of additional problems not present in high pressure growth regimes come into play in this new growth environment..but hopefully in the future these will offer a new method for growing lab-grown diamonds.
Now that you are armed with industry insider knowledge, you’ll be able to readily avoid the scams that so many unethical diamond simulant sellers use by playing on the publics (and even the medias) ignorance of the realities of man-made diamonds. Hopefully, you’ll also realize that the constant claims that DeBeer’s or other forces are to blame for the lack of lab-grown white diamonds are not true (there are in fact real natural and commercial barriers to it). Finally, you’ll hopefully have an appreciation for the hard work and effort that many scientists have put into turning the former dream of lab grown diamonds into reality on your finger, even if it still has many constraints as to what types, sizes and colors of lab-grown diamonds are available.