By Basma Chaieri, Founder, Etika Jewels
With the new generation of conscious luxury shoppers, the onset of lab-grown diamonds and precious stones has been well-received globally. Cultured diamonds are chemically and visually identical to their earth-grown counterpart with the sole exception of their originating source. Even experts in the field find it challenging to decipher a mined diamond from the sustainable alternative with the naked eye, loupe, or a microscope. However, like many new discoveries, misconceptions about the process and makeup of the stones still remain, leaving many luxury consumers with mixed viewpoints. Reassuring science-based details bring knowledge to the topic at hand.
A Carbon Copy of Chemical Properties
Engineered using the latest industry technology replicating extreme heat and pressure from the earth’s surfaces, identical chemical structures and properties develop from a diamond seed through two main methods:
- High-Temperature and High-Pressure (HTHP): high heat and pressure, conditions forcing a diamond crystal to grow.
- Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD): Microwaves of heat and pressure are used to break down gas molecules from a vacuum chamber. The carbon atoms from the gas remain turning it into a growing diamond.
A diamond, regardless of how it is made, is a solid form of carbon with its atoms arranged in a crystalline structure – a diamond cubic. This organized pattern is the result of extremely high temperatures and pressure, resulting in crystallization. Although development takes place in a controlled lab setting, the result is identical to a mined, pure crystallized carbon. In a less scientific approach, whether you can get ice from a freezer or from a glacier – frozen water is the result, making the place of origin, the difference.
Duplicate Key Physical Properties
Hardness and Density: A gemstone’s durability and scratch resistance are determined by its ranking on the industry’s profoundly used Mohs scale of mineral hardness. Diamonds are notorious for holding a score of 10, the highest making them the hardest and most durable mineral. The Mohs scale and ranking process apply to mined and lab-grown diamonds equally.
Reflection and Dispersion: Along with a high reflection index, diamonds disperse and refract light visually. This is more commonly expressed as ‘fire’ and ‘brilliance,’ and is applicable to both mined and lab-made diamonds.
Identical Grading and Certification
Anyone who’s purchased a diamond or done some research knows the 4Cs – Colour, Cut, Clarity, and Carat, the universally approved system of diamond quality evaluation. Both lab-grown and mined diamonds undergo the same rigorous grading process evaluating the four aforementioned parameters. A perfectly cut and internally flawless diamond is expensive, whether traditional or lab-made.
Similar to natural diamonds, lab-created diamonds have varying amounts of internal flaws or ‘inclusions,’ affecting their grading. These inclusions result from chemical elements entering the dense structure of the strong crystalline bonds across both types of diamonds affecting the diamond’s clarity and colour. Both the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the International Gemological Institute (IGI), prominent industry organisations that assess and grade mined and lab-grown diamonds.
Equivalent or Higher grade for Colour
Industry experts have cited that lab-grown diamonds might be higher in quality even if the chemical structure is the same. Naturally, the earth holds additional elements and due to this, mined diamonds are more suspectable to traces of nitrogen, which is responsible for a yellowish tint in many mined diamonds. On the other hand, lab-made diamonds, especially those created with the Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) method contain hardly any nitrogen impurities in their structure and therefore are colourless. They are categorized as Type IIa diamonds, the purest, and only two percent (2%) are formed from natural mining. In most cases, lab-grown diamonds are not only identical but also better in quality than the majority of their mined counterparts, according to the official grading system.
The Outcome: Identical Precious Stones with Different Origins
Cultured gems possess the same chemical and physical properties making them indistinguishable to the naked eye, equally strong, and scratch-proof, and undergo the same grading protocol.
While laboratories and industry associations with state-of-the-art equipment, like IGI or GAI, can differentiate, the two both gravitate to end-consumers with their allure and sparkle.
The only differentiating factor is the source and scientific method to produce a diamond in a sustainable fashion and without political or social conflict.
A certified diamond grader from IGI, Basma Chaieri, has always had a passion for science and believes in its ability to establish facts. Combining her digital marketing experience, technical expertise, and conscious mindset, she launched Etika Jewels in 2022 to cater to the GCC’s growing demand for ethical and mindful fine jewellery options and fulfil a personal passion.