The debate surrounding lab-grown and mined diamonds continues in jewelry circles. Are lab-grown diamonds better than mined diamonds, or is it the other way around? A few still oppose the idea that diamonds produced in labs are “real” diamonds at all, although this is scientifically not true. Not only are lab-grown diamonds real diamonds, but they come with several unique perks and benefits.
Statistically, lab-grown diamonds are quickly taking over a larger share of the market. In 2022, engagement ring sales shifted heavily toward lab-grown diamonds as they increased by over 60%. Sales for mined diamonds fell by about a quarter during the same period, so the jewelry landscape is certainly changing.
This article seeks to explore the reasons behind that. Keep reading for more information about both options and to better understand why more people are opting for lab-grown diamonds and jewelry.
Cost is often a factor in jewelry purchases, especially on major pieces like engagement rings. People often approach jewelers with a set budget, or at least something close to it. Lab-grown diamonds win this category easily, and anyone shopping for diamonds will get a lot more bang for their buck by going the manufactured route.
On average, lab-grown diamonds are around 40% to 50% less than a mined diamond of the same criteria. Prices for manufactured diamonds continue to drop, too, as more competition enters the market. In only a four to five-month period in 2018, prices dropped over 10%! With prices already half the cost of mined diamonds and more jewelry companies introducing lines of lab-grown diamond jewelry, the price gap can grow wider still.
The price difference is particularly important because both types of diamonds are evaluated with the same metrics. The Four C’s (Cut, Carat, Clarity, and Color) apply to both manufactured and mined diamonds, so you receive the same quality at vastly different price points.
Sustainability & Environmental Impact
Sustainability is one of the major draws for lab-grown diamonds. Larger numbers of people continue to look for ways to live sustainability and lessen their impact on the planet. Lab-grown diamonds fit into that goal and offer a way to purchase jewelry responsibly.
There’s a finite number of mined diamonds available in the world. A natural diamond requires billions of years to form. On the other hand, manufacturers produce lab-grown diamonds in a matter of weeks. Eventually, the supply of mined diamonds will run out. They’re not limitless, but the materials required for lab-grown diamonds are plentiful.
Beyond that, mining’s demonstrably negative impact on the environment deters some customers. Sourcing concerns and environmental destruction are heavily on the minds of consumers. News travels lightning fast in the age of the internet. Eighty years ago, mining practices and their impact weren’t well documented and certainly not easily accessible by the general public. Fewer people had cause for concern. That’s different in a time when all it takes is a simple search to see the effects of diamond mining.
Types of Mining
Diamonds aren’t all mined in the same way, as they come from different areas. Each extraction or mining method has its own set of concerns.
- Open-Pit Mining – Open-pit mining involves digging massive pits in the ground. They can take up hundreds of acres, meaning the natural ecosystem is displaced, disrupted, or completely destroyed. In certain areas, this is particularly devastating. Ecosystems are fragile things and certain species of plants and animals are unable to recover from that kind of activity. Water sources may be disturbed, too.
- Underground Mining – This method comes on the heels of open-pit mining. Once a pit is depleted, mining goes deeper into the earth. The equipment necessary for underground mining releases massive amounts of fossil fuels into the environment and atmosphere.
In recent years, regulations around the diamond mining industry attempted to lessen its impact. It isn’t the same free-for-all operation as it once was, but its environmental impact can’t be eliminated or reversed, either.
Lab-Grown Diamonds and Environmental Concerns
Lab-grown diamonds are a relatively new phenomenon, and it’s difficult to track accurate and thorough information about exactly how much energy they require. One of the major studies performed on this subject was conducted by the Diamond Producers Association, which is closely associated with several large diamond mining companies, so the accuracy of its findings is questionable.
Regardless, it does take energy to produce lab-grown diamonds. Currently, it’s widely accepted that the energy costs are roughly half the amount of power required to mine an equivalent diamond. There is an environmental impact, nevertheless, and producing manufactured diamonds releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere during the process.
Since lab-grown diamonds are a new part of the industry, there are fewer regulations around them. Certain companies do produce their manufactured diamonds with solar power and other renewable energy, however, so it is possible to greatly reduce their environmental footprint and continue to reduce emissions.
For decades, diamond mining was at the center of human rights violations and war in parts of Africa. Diamonds mined and sold to fund various wars earned the nickname “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds.” Once the diamonds were sold, cut, polished, and entered the regular market, they were impossible to differentiate from legitimately mined diamonds. It wasn’t until 2002 that many countries banded together to stop the sale of conflict diamonds, requiring all sellers to prove that they sourced conflict-free diamonds instead. Still, the treatment of diamond miners can be brutal, and the work is difficult, while the regulations are new in comparison.
There are no similar concerns with lab-grown diamonds. While the industry is new and does not have a lot of regulations around it yet, they are generally considered more ethical and sustainable in comparison to past transgressions of diamond mining.
As mentioned briefly earlier, lab-grown and mined diamonds are held to the same standards. There are no visible differences between the two, certainly not to anyone simply shopping for jewelry, and it takes special equipment and a trained jeweler to see anything setting them apart.
The GIA has been grading and evaluating lab-grown diamonds since the mid-2000s and even eliminated the word “synthetic” back in 2019. There is currently no distinction between them, and both types of diamond are evaluated by:
In addition to matching quality, it’s easier to get precise carat weight with lab-grown diamonds. After all, they’re purposefully produced. You’re more likely to get a perfect two-carat diamond by going man-made. Larger-carat diamonds are easier to make, too. Massive diamonds are quite rare in the mining industry (and are priced to reflect that), but high-carat stones can be grown in the lab.
Generally speaking, when you purchase jewelry (whether it’s mined diamonds or lab-created), you shouldn’t expect to get your full purchase price with a resale. Fluctuating prices, changes in the market, and other factors go into determining the resale price.
With that said, if the resale value of diamonds, in general, is low compared to their original cost, there’s a lot more to lose with mined diamonds. For example, If you pay $20,000 for a mined diamond and the resale value is only half of that price, you’re out $10,000. On the other hand, the lab-grown version might cost around $8,000. Losing half that investment upon reselling means you’re only out $4,000 instead. That’s a sizable difference.
The debate about lab-grown vs. mined diamonds is unlikely to stop any time soon. Certain people will remain loyal to mined diamonds and the idea that they are the only “real” option. Scientifically, chemically, and officially – that’s false. Lab-grown diamonds are as real as their mined counterparts. They’re also free of many of the issues that plague the diamond industry, including conflict, environmental devastation, and questions about sustainability.
Ultimately, when you’re choosing a ring, earrings, necklace, or any other type of diamond jewelry, it’s important to get the stone you or your loved one wants. Whether it’s a mined or man-made diamond, it’s your stone to enjoy. Jewelers and jewelry stores notice the shift toward lab-grown diamonds, however, with higher numbers of people gravitating toward the lower-cost manufactured stones. If the numbers are any indication, the trend will likely continue. The future of diamonds looks lab friendly.
If you want to learn more, contact the man himself Harry Glinberg and he’ll gladly discuss the differences and options available!