During the last several years lab created diamonds have entered the main stream of retail diamond purchases. Growth is expected to exceed 15% of all diamond purchases within five years. The feasibility of creating diamonds in a laboratory setting within a time span of a week contrasts with the long journey from the depths of the earth to sorting centers including Antwerp, Israel and other worldwide destinations.
Although De Beers International, founded by Cecil Rhodes in 1888, controlled as much as 90% of the diamond market in the 1980’s, their industry share as of 2013 dropped to about 33%. Redistribution within the traditional diamond market has been a positive element with greater liquidity, transparency and ethical sourcing. With the decrease in control of the worldwide diamond inventory including both Australia and Canada purchasing diamonds outside of De Beers channels beginning in year 2000, the benefits to the consumer are manifold.
The history of lab grown diamonds begins with General Electric’s research teams and its scientists with the first production of lab-created diamonds in 1954. High Pressure/High temperature (HPHT) was utilized with a belt press exerting 1,500,000 pounds per square inch and temperatures of 3,630 degrees Fahrenheit. The largest diamond produced at that time by Tracy Hall of GE was just .15mm or .0059 inch in diameter. Recently in less than 300 hours a 10ct. high color/high clarity diamond was produced in a lab.
With regard to mined diamonds, only about 10% to 20% percent of mined diamonds can be used in jewelry based on sufficient clarity and color of the diamonds mined. The remainder of mined diamonds may be used for various industrial purposes. With the advent of lab grown diamonds, the future inventory of fine gems could be limitless.
An important question will most assuredly arise in the next several years. What will be more valuable in the near future both as jewelry or investment purposes—a mined or lab grown diamond? With diamond labs opening all over the world, one might surmise that the costs of manufacturing lab grown diamonds will decrease and the worldwide lab grown diamond inventory will increase. Will a mined diamond, with limited source availability increase in value due to its inherent rarity based on discovery? If supply and demand theories dictate future diamond pricing, then one could surmise that lab created diamonds will not be as valuable as mined diamonds for future investment. Alternatively, with the prospect of both types of diamonds observed by the consumer as being essentially identical, prices may then eventually coincide. Currently, lab grown diamonds command approximately 70% of the price of a naturally mined diamond of the same carat weight, clarity and color.
Both lab grown and naturally mined diamonds are essentially the element carbon with very minute differences in their internal structure. New detection instruments for determining the difference between lab grown and mined diamonds are now available on the market and can detect the absence of nitrogen atoms which signify a Type IIA diamond, an indicator of lab grown origin. Thermal conductivity testers, which jewelers have utilized for uncovering cubic zirconia and other various diamond-like or synthetic gems from diamonds cannot determine a lab grown from a naturally mined diamond.
In most cases, a lab grown diamond should have an inscription on the girdle edge of the diamond with the initials “LB” or Lab grown or other identifying nomenclature. There are now noted cases of diamond melee (small diamonds) being mixed in with lab grown diamond melee by unscrupulous worldwide dealers creating confusion within the industry. Reputable wholesalers and jewelers will know their sources and be assured that the proper instruments were utilized before diamond distribution. In addition, fine and original vintage jewelry with antique or old European cut diamonds should prove not to be a problem for identification. Finally, recycling older diamond jewelry may turn out to be the foremost solution in terms of the consequent minimal impact on the environment.
Should the traditional diamond market decline further, which in all respects seems to be the current trajectory, there will be the resulting decrease in employment for miners, sorters, equipment operators and thousands of ancillary workers associated with the diamond industry. Recently, Botswana had made tremendous progress in its overall economy and livings standards due to its diamond industry. Also the Kimberly process for certifying conflict-free diamonds has increased consumer confidence concerning the origin and tracing of the naturally mined diamond market.
The apparent negative attributes of diamond mining will be alleviated somewhat with the addition of lab created diamonds, but the consequent environmental repercussions of the many labs that exist today has not been studied adequately to give a definitive result of any harmful environmental factors. With the HPHT lab grown diamond process, temperatures of 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit over a period of time and hundreds of thousands of pounds of pressure utilized to grow the diamond crystal can be comparable in some degree to the energy ramifications utilized in diamond mining, including labor, machinery and waste products. Another method in creating lab diamonds is the chemical vapor disposition (CVD) process which does not require the extreme pressures as the HPHT procedure.
In 1947, Frances Garety, a copywriter for the firm N.W Ayer & Son coined the phrase “A diamond is Forever.” With the advent of lab created diamonds, that famous advertising slogan may prove now to be more relevant than ever.
Jeff Deleuse, Graduate Gemologist, GIA Certified Appraiser
American Gem Trade Association, American Gem Society, GIA
Deleuse Jewelers, Fairfax, Ca., 94930