To the naked eye they look exactly the same, and under a microscope, they are very difficult to tell apart since atomically they are exactly the same. They have the same carbon structures but they are poles apart in how they are manufactured.
The best way I have come across to explain the difference is to compare ice found in a freezer to the ice on top of a mountain. Under a microscope they look the same, and it melts at exactly the same temperature, but one has been formed naturally whilst the other has been produced with the help of modern-day technology.
So, which should you choose? Well that is entirely up to you. Each has its advantages and disadvantages but knowing the nuances and qualities that are most important to you will help you make that decision.
How are diamonds made?
A natural diamond is created under the pressure of the earth’s crust over millions and millions of years. They are then mined, cut and polished.
A lab-grown diamond is created using a similar amount of pressure, but that pressure is created by technology. Amazingly, technology cuts down the growth time from millions of years to a couple of months. Once formed, the lab diamond is also cut and polished.
Lab-grown diamonds of an equal grade and quality are costed approximately 40–50% less than a natural diamond, which means you can purchase a significantly larger diamond for the same budget.
The reason for that price difference is that natural diamonds have a rarity value; there is a finite number of diamond mines within the world, therefore a finite number of natural diamonds to be found, whereas lab-grown diamonds can be produced indefinitely through the use of technology. The basic laws of supply and demand maintain that, as demand increases, especially with limited supply, value goes up. Grown diamonds are therefore less in price, but also might not hold their value in the same way over time.
Sustainability and impact on our environment
Some think lab-grown diamonds are more ethical because there is no mining involved. However, the argument is not quite so clear cut due to the fact that lab-grown diamonds require a huge amount of energy to create the high heat and pressure needed to produce them. Natural diamonds are mined in 35 countries but since the 1870s, most of the world’s gem-quality stones have been mined in Africa. Many customers remember and are horrified by the events filmed in Blood Diamond, however since the Kimberley Process was put in place in 2003, the flow of conflict diamonds has been prevented. Moreover, communities that mine natural diamonds have benefited massively through social enterprises in education, health and increased work opportunities that governments and mining companies have instigated.
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing between a lab-grown diamond or a natural. A lot will depend on your budget, the size and quality of the stone you or your partner would like to wear, whether or not you prioritise resale value and also how you feel about the source of your diamond.
As I always say, be informed and then go with your gut – do what feels right to you.