Lab-grown diamonds touted as ethical alternative

The lab-grown diamond industry is growing as millennials seek out eco-friendly, conflict-free alternatives to mined diamonds, industry insiders say.

Industry says millennials are looking for an eco-friendly, non-conflict alternative to mined diamonds

Lab-grown diamonds becoming viable alternative to natural diamonds

5 years ago
Duration 1:19
Precious stones said to be eco-friendly and non-conflict

They are real diamonds. That's what the industry behind diamonds made inside a scientific laboratory wants you to believe.

Their chemical composition is exactly the same as that of a natural diamond, said Kelly Good, the director of marketing for Pure Grown Diamonds. 

"What we've done is we've just taken what's happened in nature and just put it in a lab."

Currently, the lab-grown diamond industry is small, but it is growing fast. And the $17.5 billion ($14 billion US) global rough diamond market is taking notice, according to investment management firm Morgan Stanley.

Lab-grown diamonds are just what they sound like. They are diamonds that are grown inside a laboratory using pure carbon in a process that simulates what happens in nature. It just speeds up the process up dramatically.

Inside a laboratory in Singapore, workers inspect and select a diamond seed. Then dozens of seeds are placed inside the chamber of a diamond greenhouse. Using a scientific method called microwave plasma chemical vapour deposition, a plasma ball made of hydrogen is created inside the chamber. Methane, which is a carbon source, is added.

The carbon mix rains down on the diamond seeds, layer by layer, creating a rough diamond that is cut and polished. The process takes about 10 to 12 weeks.

Good said the lab-grown diamonds simply offer consumers another choice and young buyers like a product they feel is eco-friendly and conflict-free. 

Smaller carbon footprint

She said many millennials are choosing lab-grown diamonds for engagement rings.

"They also like the fact of the environmental aspect of it — that it's grown in a greenhouse. There is less soil being moved. We have a [smaller] carbon footprint."

  Good said lab-grown diamonds tend to cost about 30 to 40 per cent less than mined diamonds of the same carat, color, cut and clarity. 

Near New York City's Diamond District, gemologist David Weinstein, who is also the executive director of the International Gemological Institute in New York, said the only difference between a lab-grown and a mined diamond is its origin. Only a high-powered microscope can be used to tell the difference between the two. 

  In addition to growth patterns, Weinstein said inclusions — other materials trapped inside the diamond crystal — can offer details about a diamond's origin.

For example, he might spot a green peridot crystal inside a diamond. 

"I know right away this wasn't created in a machine. So the inclusions can really be very telling as to what the origins of the material is. And that's what our gemologists look for." 

To help distinguish mined diamonds from lab-grown, all lab-grown diamonds are required to have a laser inscription identifying them as lab-grown.

Lab-grown gems have been around for decades, but it's only recently that the science and technology have made it possible to grow large, colourless diamonds.

Pure Grown Diamonds says it can grow IIA (two-A) diamonds as large as five carats. IIA diamonds are so rare and colourless that only two per cent of mined diamonds get that grade, according to Frost and Sullivan, a market research and consulting company.

According to another report by Morgan Stanley, as of now, the lab-grown diamond market is about one per cent of global rough diamond market, but it predicts the lab-grown diamond market could grow to 15 per cent by 2020.