At Hitched, we’re always on the lookout for the next big thing in weddings – and lab-grown diamonds may be just what we’re looking for.
Diamonds are firmly cemented in popular culture as the most covetable of gemstones. It’s unsurprising they play such a big role in wedding jewellery, whether we’re talking dazzling engagement rings, sparkle-studded wedding rings or bridal jewellery.
Of course, the fact that diamonds are so covetable is reflected in the price. But what if you could get a diamond for less? And what if, at the same time, that more affordable diamond may be kinder to the planet than naturally occurring sparklers?
This is where lab-grown diamonds come in. We predict you’ll be hearing a lot more about these synthetic gemstones – here’s everything you need to know.
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Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Real Diamonds?
Lab-grown diamonds are also known as synthetic or man-made diamonds. They look exactly the same as natural diamonds, and they have the same chemical composition. The only difference is in how they're made.
"Lab-grown diamonds are identical to those found in nature, only they’re created in laboratories under conditions that mimic the natural processes of diamond creation," says Jack Cherry, Gemologist and Design Consultant at Hatton Garden jewellers Queensmith. "Intense heat and pressure encourages the crystallisation of carbon molecules from a microscopic piece of existing diamond or graphite, forming an authentic diamond in as little as one week. In stark contrast, natural diamonds take millions of years to form within the Earth’s mantle, before they’re transported to the Earth’s surface through volcanic eruption. The interesting part is that only specialist equipment could tell a lab grown from a natural diamond."
Even De Beers, the world’s largest diamond retailer, has recently built a facility to create lab-grown diamonds. Synthetic diamonds also have the Meghan Markle seal of approval – she was pictured wearing a pair of Kimai earrings featuring lab-grown sparklers. It may not be long until these man-made gems go mainstream.
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Why Are Lab-Grown Diamonds so Cheap?
With recent advances in technology, lab-grown diamonds are quick to create and require less labour than mined diamonds. This means they’re less expensive than natural diamonds so you can get a bigger sparkler for your budget. "Thanks to the efficiency of their production, lab-grown diamonds retail between 50-60% less than mined diamonds," says Jack.
Do Lab-Grown Diamonds Last?
They’re identical to natural diamonds, so yes, lab-grown diamonds will last – forever, according to various song lyrics and a Bond film.
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Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Better for the Planet than Natural Diamonds?
Natural diamonds are extracted from the earth by mining. Over the years, there have been serious humanitarian and social issues relating to the practice. "The ethical nature of lab diamonds is another huge driver of their popularity. Global initiatives have eradicated over 99.8% of the blood diamond trade and therefore a mined diamond purchased in the UK is almost certainly conflict-free. That said, many engagement ring and diamond jewellery buyers are attracted to the transparent provenance of a lab diamond - it’s an assured way to purchase a totally conflict-free stone," says Jack.
There are also questions are raised about the cost to the planet of mined diamonds - and lab-grown diamonds could prove a more sustainable alternative. According to The Diamond Foundry, which creates synthetic gems, it takes considerably less energy to create a diamond than to mine a natural diamond; the company now says it has a zero-carbon footprint. However, that may not be true of other lab diamond producers, and there are conflicting reports as to whether synthetic diamonds really do have a less of a carbon footprint, given the energy needed to produce them. That being said, there are other significant environmental costs of mining, such as damage to natural habitats and soil erosion, which don't occur with lab-grown diamonds.
Is a Lab-Grown Diamond a Good Investment?
"Lab-grown diamonds can be divisive: little is known about how their value will hold up in the long term, so a mined diamond can seem like a more sensible investment," says Jack. "Monetary value aside, it's up to individuals to choose between the wonder of nature versus the wonder of science when it comes to their precious jewellery and heirlooms-to-be!"
Should I Buy a Lab-Grown Diamond?
The decision is entirely yours - but if you do decide to go for man-made diamonds, it's worth getting help from an expert. "High quality lab diamonds are harder to come by than high quality natural diamonds, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist," says Jack. "Work closely with a trained gemologist who will do their utmost to source lab diamonds with the ideal cut, colour and clarity combinations - for a diamond that’s equally as lustrous and beautiful as a traditional, natural diamond."
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What Are the Best Alternatives to Diamonds?
Lab-grown diamonds aren't the only alternatives to natural diamonds. For engagement ring sparkle on a budget, if you're set on a colourless stone, you could also consider the following:
- Cubic Zirconia: This synthetic stone has plenty of diamond-like dazzle. The downside? It will eventually lose its lustre, and is prone to scratches.
- White sapphire: Whether natural or lab-grown, a white sapphire is a long-lasting gem. This isn't one for anyone looking for mega-watt bling, as sapphire has a softer sparkle than diamond.
- Moissanite: A lab-grown gem that's similar to diamonds in look, and is pretty durable, too.
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- White Zircon: This semi-precious stone is certainly brilliant, but what you get in dazzle you lose in durability.
- Goshenite: Made from the same mineral as emerald, if this gem is cut well it can have some lovely sparkle.
Once you've decided on a stone, you can think about the overall look - we bring you the 25 engagement ring styles to know about.