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Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Worth It? An Investigation

Picking out an engagement ring is no easy feat—and if you think it is, you definitely haven’t spent enough time thinking about it. (Just kidding! Please tell me your secrets.) There are so many factors to consider: exactly how bankrupt are you hoping this ring will leave you? What’s your ring size (and will you still wear that size in six months, or will your sweating for the wedding routine throw everything off?) Are the 4 Cs (cut, color, clarity, carat) everything you dreamed? And finally, the main event: assuming that you’re springing for a diamond ring, should you go for mined or lab-grown diamonds?

I’ll be totally honest: I hear a lot of bad things about the ethics of diamond sourcing, but I’m also shallow as hell and don’t like the idea of my forever ring being anything but 100% legit. So, I spoke with a rep from Clean Origin, a laboratory-grown diamond company featured in Vogue, W Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and even Betches. They answered all my questions about WTF lab-grown diamonds are, and how they’re different from buying a “real” diamond. If you’ve been wondering the same thing, read on.

What Are The Pros Of Lab-Grown Diamonds?

Since I was talking to a lab-grown diamond company, I figured I’d kick things off with a softball. Per the representative I spoke with, “lab-created diamonds are [an] affordable, conflict-free and environmentally sustainable alternative to mined diamonds.” When asked to expand on each of those points (affordable diamonds? Tell me more), they clarified that lab-grown diamonds are typically “20-30%” less expensive than mined diamonds. Apparently, lab-created diamonds follow a simpler process than mined diamonds, which means “less costs get passed onto the consumer.”

As for their ethical benefits, lab-grown diamonds have the advantage of not being “mined using exploited labor,” and are thus “the only diamonds that can be trusted to be truly conflict-free.” Lab-grown diamonds also sidestep “the environmental impact of extracting mined diamonds from the earth,” which, upon further research, is not a negligible impact. Per Diamond Foundry, “even the most ‘sustainable’ mining site” unearths “up to 250 tons of earth for a single carat of diamond.” Considering that lab-grown diamonds unearth exactly zero tons of earth, it does seem more sustainable and responsible.

Is There A Visible Difference?

According to Clean Origin, lab-created diamonds are “atomically identical” to mined diamonds. The only difference is that they came out of a lab instead of the ground, and there’s no way to tell from looking at a ring whether the diamond is mined or lab-grown. I was kind of skeptical of this answer TBH (if they look identical, why isn’t literally everyone buying lab-grown diamonds?!), but the internet at large confirms this. Back in 2015, Popular Science ran a piece claiming that lab-grown diamonds were “so indistinguishable to the naked eye that the diamond industry [was] in an arms race to produce machines that [could] discern lab-grown from natural ones, in order to keep the synthetics from flooding the market.”

First of all, the diamond industry needs to take an enormous chill pill—but I have to say, I’m impressed to see how much the lab-grown diamond industry has gotten to them.

Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Synthetic?

In my lab-grown diamond research, I noticed a lot of outlets using the term “synthetic” to describe any diamond that wasn’t mined. Curious whether this was an appropriate designation, I checked in with Clean Origin, and apparently, the term “synthetic” is on its way out. Here’s how it was explained to me, starting with the basics of what a diamond really is: “A diamond is pure crystalized carbon; a diamond is a diamond whether it is grown in a lab or comes out of the ground.” The Clean Origin rep continued, “The term synthetic is not accurate—in fact the Federal Trade Commission recently ruled that lab-grown diamonds ARE real diamonds and can no longer be called ‘synthetic.'”

The Gemological Institute of America (what, not familiar?) is on the FTC’s side, and has updated its language for all certificates issued for lab-grown diamonds. Per their website, “the grading lab will no longer use the term synthetic when referring to diamonds created in a lab, either inside its reports, or in the title. The new reports will also feature the same 4 Cs descriptions found on the GIA’s grading reports for natural diamonds.” In other words, any reports you see referring to lab-grown diamonds as either “synthetic” or “fake” are pure and utter bullsh*t: they’re made from the exact same material as any other “real” diamond, and the only difference is that no one died for it. (Kidding! I think?)

I’m sure it sounds like I’m coming down hard on the side of lab-grown diamonds, but, well, I am. The price point makes a big difference to me, and frankly, I’m all about scientific improvements on outdated methods. After all, modern technology is behind most of my beauty routines—why shouldn’t it be in my jewelry too? That being said, I totally understand if you have a sentimental attachment to the idea of a diamond that’s found in nature. Just really, truly do your due diligence to make sure that diamond is ethically sourced—it’s 2019, and you have no excuse not to.

Images: Izabelle Acheson / Unsplash;  @cleanorigin @pleasereturntocesar/ Instagram; @TheEconomist / Twitter