Recently the debate for buying natural vs. lab grown diamonds has been known to be a contentious topic, so we thought we would write a bit about why we only ever sell natural diamonds. Since the 1960's we have been dealing in second-hand jewellery, with the aim to find unique and interesting pieces at great value. Here at Wave Antiques, we want to provide people with future heirlooms and items that hold lifetime memories. Our exploration into the natural vs lab grown diamond dispute examines the formation of each type of diamond, the question of sustainability and the overall inherent value of natural vs lab grown diamonds.
How are natural vs. lab grown diamonds formed?
Over billions of years, natural diamonds have formed deep under the earth’s surface under extreme pressure and high temperatures. Through volcanic activity, diamonds are carried closer to the earth’s surface and located in a volcanic rock formation called ‘kimberlite pipes.’ It is from here that they are mined, cut and polished into the stones we recognise today.
Lab grown diamonds are created artificially via man-made methods in a laboratory. To the eye, they are almost impossible to tell apart. However, one of the main signifiers gemologists use to identify if a diamond is lab grown or natural is a chemical difference between the two types of diamond, which is that natural diamonds often contain a very small amount of nitrogen, while synthetic diamonds do not.
There are currently two known processes used to grow “gem-quality” (i.e. jewellery quality) synthetic diamonds:
- High-Pressure, High-Temperature (HPHT)
HPHT synthetic diamonds start life as a seed, which is a crystal of natural or synthetic diamond placed in an industrial tank. The seed is then subjected to extreme conditions of high temperature and pressure, along with a chemical “catalyst” which speeds up the growth. Under the right conditions carbon atoms crystallise around the “seed” and a synthetic diamond is formed.
- Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD)
CVD synthetic diamonds are grown in a high pressure, chemical reactor. At the bottom of the reactor is a plasma surface made out of natural or synthetic diamond, or sometimes even silicone. Carbon, in the form of gas, is then pumped into the reactor where chemical reactions cause carbon deposits to build up on the plasma surface. This is the CVD synthetic diamond growth.
Why choose natural vs. lab grown?
Natural diamonds carry inherent value due to their rarity and uniqueness as a gemstone formed over billions of years. The finiteness of natural diamond has, over the last 35 years, seen natural diamonds appreciate in price by approximately 3% on average every year. The basic laws of supply and demand maintain that as demand increases, especially with limited supply, value goes up. On the other hand, the cost of lab grown diamonds continues to decline due to mass production. As the market becomes flooded with lab grown diamonds, they are less likely to hold their value over time, which means the resale prices could continue to depreciate substantially. The difference in resale value between natural and synthetic diamonds is even greater than the difference in price. While natural diamonds often retain around 50% of their initial value, lab-created diamonds are almost impossible to resell without losing a massive percentage of its value the moment after its first purchase.
Lab grown diamonds have become known as an ‘eco-friendly’ option, however a report from the Diamond Producers Association claims that natural diamonds are, in fact, better for the environment than synthetic diamonds, due to the carbon-intensive process of producing lab diamonds on a mass scale. Although a lab grown diamond circumvents the environmental and ethical issues that come with mining natural diamonds, there are definitely questions to be raised regarding the sustainability issues with lab grown diamonds as well. HPHT and CVD methods require huge amounts of energy and carbon-intensive processes to produce lab grown diamonds. Some think lab grown diamonds are more ethical because there is no mining involved however, progress such as the The Kimberley Process put in place in 2003, has successfully prevented the flow of conflict diamonds.
The Kimberley Process is an international certification scheme that regulates trade in rough diamonds. It aims to prevent the flow of conflict diamonds, while helping to protect legitimate trade in rough diamonds. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) outlines the rules that govern the trade in rough diamonds. The KPCS has developed a set of minimum requirements that each participant must meet.
We believe that the relationship of sustainability ties hand-in-hand with second-hand antique and vintage jewellery, due to its ability to be restored, re-sold and re-owned again and again.