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Synthetic vs. Genuine Diamonds: Which is Better?

The big debate these days is between genuine natural grown and mined diamonds versus lab-grown diamonds. We're going to lay out the difference between the two types of diamonds and go in depth between the two processes to let you decide on your own which type of diamond you may want in your jewelry collection. 

Diamonds have been a symbol of luxury and wealth for many centuries. A few historians have said that diamond mining and trading dates back to as early as B.C.. Diamonds have been appreciated for many centuries, but only in the last 50 years has there been in influx of research on diamond formation, how they get to the earth’s surface, etc. Genuine stones take thousands of years to be created through extreme pressure and heat. They come to the earth’s surface through natural processes like volcanic eruption, or manually, through diamond mining. Many people do not know that mining genuine diamonds are not the only ways to obtain a diamond. Scientists have created a process to man-make synthetic diamonds in a laboratory. It is not as new as one would think either- synthetic diamond creation has been around since the 1950s. There are essentially no differences in how both kinds of diamonds look to the naked eye. To tell the difference between the two, one would need heavy duty equipment in a gem lab.

An obvious difference in genuine and synthetic diamonds are how they are produced. Synthetic diamonds are grown in a lab. A genuine diamond lives in the earth’s mantle for thousands of years under extreme pressure and heat, slowly making its’ way closer to the earth’s surface to be mined. The process for mining diamonds is very long and takes lots of manpower. There are different types of mining: diamond pipe mining and alluvial diamond mining. Diamond pipe mining consists of miners locating areas where they will find diamonds in the ground. Shanks are then inserted into the ground at the ore-bearing pipes to get deep enough into the earth’s surface to find diamonds. Large parts of the soil are extracted and taken off-site to a plant to be sifted through and sorted. Alluvial diamond mining is when areas with water (places like riverbanks, beaches, etc.) are cleared of their water with walls and diversions and the soil is again taken off-site and sifted through for rough diamonds.

Diamond mining

There are many schools of thought on whether genuine and synthetic diamonds should be treated as the same thing. A “Rare is Real” campaign began in 2017 that focused on the only true way to buy jewelry: purchasing genuine diamonds. To followers of this campaign and school of thought, synthetic diamonds are only replicas of the real thing, missing the rarity and preciousness that a real diamond has after being crafted over thousands of years deep in the earth. Since synthetic diamonds can be made in a lab, they generally cost less than a genuine diamond. Also, they are becoming easier and quicker to make, the value of the synthetic diamonds will get cheaper over time. Many different diamond companies and large jewelry companies have expressed their commitment to genuine diamonds staying at the forefront of the diamond industry.

On the flip side, there are some who argue that synthetic diamonds are an environmentally-friendly alternative. They see genuine diamond mining as disruptive and harmful to the ecosystem and topsoil of the earth, since mining more often than not results in large holes remaining in the earth’s surface. To synthetic diamond supporters, there is no difference between the two kinds of diamonds, so why not choose the less expensive and environmentally-friendly option? Especially now, when millennials are trying to be as conscious of the environment as possible, it seems like a better option for some. We know synthetic diamonds are made in a lab, but what are the actual processes used to create these diamonds? There are two different ways to synthetically create diamonds. The first process is by high pressure high temperature (HPHT) which imitates a natural diamond formation in the earth, but with carefully chosen materials to grow the diamond quicker. This process was created in the 1950’s and was thought to be the only way to create a diamond in a lab. A few years after the HPHT process was created, though, a new process was announced: chemical vapor deposition (CVD), which involved growing diamonds through a heated mixture of a hydrocarbon gas and hydrogen in a vacuum chamber at low pressures, almost like a 3D printer printing layers of diamond to create a whole one.

There are certain things to consider for both synthetic and genuine diamond processes. For example, are the HPHT and CVD processes actually environmentally-friendly? The definition for something to be environmentally-friendly is that it reduces, minimizes, or puts no harm upon ecosystems or the environment. This definition does not entirely match up with the processes used to create synthetic diamonds. The process to create synthetic diamonds are certainly not helping the environment, and one could even argue that the factories where the synthetic diamonds are being made and the energy being used to make the diamonds cause some harm to the environment. Most who are on board with a synthetic diamond hold on to the fact that the process of making synthetic diamonds does not include creating massive holes and does not physically disrupt the earth.

A controversial aspect of genuine mining are blood diamonds, or conflict diamonds, as they are sometimes referred to as. A blood diamond is a diamond that has been mined in a warzone, under horrible conditions. This phrase was coined in the late 1990’s when this controversial issue became increasingly more public. It became public knowledge that mines in countries like the Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, etc., were being taken over by militia groups and turned to fund violence against their citizens. People in these countries were forced to work under inhumane working conditions, sifting and digging through the mining areas for diamonds just so they could have the opportunity to provide for their families. Most were threatened, beaten, and forced to mine, or they faced the possibility of worsened torture. Often, rebel groups in these countries were responsible for these actions, but sometimes mining companies and governments were also responsible. In 2003, an effort called the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was introduced. The KPCS imposed extensive requirements for the countries to be certain all shipments had rough diamonds that were ‘conflict-free.’ They also wanted to prevent blood diamonds from entering the trade. These monstrosities becoming more public led to some diamond consumers to turn to purchasing synthetic diamonds, to make sure their diamonds were not mined in violence.

A new way to prevent blood diamonds from entering the diamond trade is using blockchain technology. Blockchain technology is something that is being used by various types of industries world wide as a ledger to keep track of all transactions/movement of an item. At the beginning of this year, the powerhouse diamond mining company called De Beers announced that they were beginning to use blockchain technology to track a diamond from the point of being mined all the way to when it is in the hand of the consumer. This ensures consumers and diamond companies that their diamonds are conflict-free. 

Two paths to the same thing: getting a diamond. Genuine and synthetic diamonds both have pros and cons, and ultimately it depends on what is important to the diamond consumer. Genuine mining has its own baggage, facing issues like violence and being harmful for the environment. Many campaigns like the ‘Real is Rare” campaign are targeted at millennial-aged consumers, because they are mostly the ones opting to buy synthetic diamonds to try and lower their carbon footprint. As more research is done on the process of how synthetic diamonds are made and what it takes to make them, more will see that the process is not entirely consistent with the definition of what it means to be eco-friendly. Though the diamond industry has been around for centuries, it still continues to grow, mature, and tailor to the ever changing world we live in. 

What will you do when you decide on buying a diamond. Will you buy natural mined diamonds or lab-grown diamonds? We hope this has educated you further on both processes and the value of both types of diamonds.