Mined vs. Lab-Grown Diamonds: What's The Real Difference?

Millennials and Generation Z are more focused on ethical sourcing, diamond original and its environmental impact. According to the MVI research, nearly 70% of consumers said they would consider a lab-grown diamond for their engagement ring.

Are you a great admirer of diamonds? But at the same time do you have a conscious attitude concerning the environment? Then you need to compare man-made diamonds vs. real diamonds and choose an appropriate variant.

Here you’ll get to know about the distinctive characteristics of mined and lab-grown diamonds. You’ll read about the process of forming these diamonds and why lab-grown diamonds are becoming so popular, particularly among young people.

What Are Mined Diamonds?

mined diamonds

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Mined diamonds are the diamonds that occur naturally under the surface and are mined from the earth. The first diamonds have been found in the rivers of India in the 4th century BC. In the 1700s gemstones were discovered in Brazil. In 1867 Kimberley, South Africa became a great diamond source. Nowadays, the world’s top five diamond mining countries are Russia, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia, and Canada.

Formation Process

The diamonds are formed about 100 miles deep in the earth. It happens in the upper mantle below the oldest stable continents. They are made under enormous high temperatures (above 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) and pressure (725,000 pounds per square inch). This combination affects the modification of crystalline carbon on the atomic level. As a result diamond crystals are formed. It takes from one to three billion years for a diamond to be formed.

The gemstones are brought to the surface by a deep-seated volcanic eruption. A mound of volcanic material is transported via volcanic pipes and ejected over a large area. When it cools, the diamonds are stored in bowl-shaped kimberlite rocks. 

Mining of Diamonds

The process of mining diamonds is interesting and at the same time laborious. Each rough stone is selected by hand and has its unique characteristics. There are three main approaches to diamond mining:

  • Pipe mining
  • Alluvial mining
  • Marine mining

Pipe mining divides into two techniques: open-pit and diamonds underground mining. Open-pit mining is implemented in open pits, such as the Kimberley Big Hole. The process includes removing sand and rocks above the kimberlite. When the ore in the pit is broken up by exploding it’s transported to an ore crusher where diamonds are extracted.

In turn, underground mining includes constructing two-level tunnels to the kimberlite pipe. The tunnels have funnels that connect them. The ore is blasted on the top level and falls through the funnels to the second tunnel. Here loaders gather the ore and transport it to the surface for further treatment.

Alluvial mining is the process of finding diamonds in the sand, mud, and clay along river banks. Due to environmental conditions, such as wind and rain, rough diamonds are carried downstream from kimberlite rock formation to the rivers. Miners build a wall to separate the ground from the water in the area, where the gravel is collected. Then they haul the gravel and proceed to search and inspect the diamonds. Around 10% of the world’s rough diamonds are excavated through industrial alluvial mining.

Marine mining includes mining of diamonds from the riverbed or seabed deep underwater. Miners utilize ships with specialized technology, which allows sucking gravel from the bed up via hoses or pipes. As an alternative, people set a scale drill to the ship to dig diamonds. The biggest source of marine diamond deposits is the coast of Namibia. Approximately 64% of Namibia’s total diamond production is represented by marine diamond deposits.

Price and Value

The price of the mined diamond is defined by its uniqueness, rarity, and brilliance. Its characteristics assessed by the 4Cs standards created by the Gemological Institute of America in 1940, also affect the price. In comparison with lab-grown diamonds, mined diamonds are more expensive because the process of mining, cutting, and polishing requires tremendous effort and resources. Besides, mined diamonds retain resale value (30–50% of its purchase price) and can be sold later.

Sustainability

The process of mining diamonds from the earth has a huge environmental impact. It can devastate ecosystems and lead to ecological havoc. During marine mining, sea life is being displaced and disrupted. Open-pit mining causes soil erosion, deforestation, and devastation of precious lands. Alluvial mining affects the quality of the water.

Moreover, there are still so-called “conflict diamonds” or “blood diamonds”. They are mined basically in Africa and the process fuels violence and forced labor. While the Kimberley Process controls removing “conflict diamonds” from the global supply chain, 5% to 10% of the world’s diamonds are still traded illegally.

What Are Lab-Grown Diamonds?

Lab-Grown Diamonds

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Lab-grown diamonds are created in a lab using scientific knowledge and technologies. They have the same chemical and visual properties as mined diamonds. The only chemical distinction between man-made diamonds vs. real ones by which gemologists can differ them is the presence of nitrogen in the mined diamonds. The first commercially successful diamond was produced by the team of General Electric Research laboratory in New York in 1954. 

Lab-grown diamonds could also be called “lab-created”, “cultured”, “manufacturer name-created” diamonds according to the Jewelry Guides by FTC. So, when you buy diamond jewelry, you should be provided with information about the diamond and understand what it means. 

Formation process

Comparing the time needed for creating a man-made diamond vs. a natural one, there is a big difference. The process of growing diamonds in a lab is rather quicker and takes around 600 hours. There are two primary methods to produce diamonds:

  • High Pressure High Temperature process (HPHT)
  • Chemical Vapour Deposition process (CVD)

The HPHT process replicates the process of forming mined diamonds under the earth. Gemologists place a diamond seed in a growth chamber with extremely high pressures and temperatures. It is crushed and carbon atoms turn into small diamond crystals. Then they are cut and polished by a cutter.

In the CVD process, a diamond seed is located in a growth chamber, which is filled with heated carbon-containing gas. When the gas reaches the right temperature (about 900–1200°C) a seed crystal is formed from layers of carbon. It causes the growth of the seed and the creation of a diamond crystal as a final product.

Price and Value

In comparison between man-made vs. natural diamonds, the lab-grown diamond with the same carat, colour, cut, and clarity as a natural diamond costs about 30 to 40% less. It’s determined by a much shorter and renewable process of producing the diamonds and their resale value. If mined diamonds can be resold, lab-grown diamonds can’t. 

Sustainability

Lab-growth diamonds are considered sustainable and eco-friendly. The process of creating these diamonds doesn’t require disturbing land and the environment. Besides, working conditions in the lab are safer and more comfortable. However, there are some sustainable issues while producing man-made diamonds. The HPHT and CVD processes need huge amounts of energy because of the high temperature required to grow diamonds. 

Conclusion

gia gem testing device

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GIA grades mined diamonds as well as lab-grown ones. The diamond that was submitted for GIA grading is assigned its tracking number and put into a storage case. First of all, gemologists weigh and measure the diamond by using an electronic micro-balance and an optical scanning device. These devices allow determining accurate measurements, facet angles, and proportions of the diamond.

The next step is to distinguish man-made diamonds vs. natural diamonds. For that, GIA uses top-notch equipment. One of such instruments is GIA iD100 Gem Testing Device. It’s a professional, easy-to-use desktop tool for screening stones. The GIA iD100 helps to discern mined vs. lab-grown diamonds by utilizing advanced spectroscopic technology and the GIA’s diamond identification research. The results of grading are presented in the GIA Natural Diamonds Reports and GIA Laboratory-Grown Diamonds Reports

Mined diamonds have been well-known for a long time. But today’s generation is paying attention to environmentally-friendly diamonds. So, lab-grown diamonds are getting more popular and they are even included in the list of the biggest engagement ring trends of 2020.

Mined diamonds and lab-grown diamonds have both similarities and distinctive features. What diamond to choose for your engagement ring? The choice is yours. Take their characteristics into account and make an informed decision.

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