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Natural or synthetic diamonds? The Parisian jeweller believes we don’t have to choose

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and one of the world’s most prized natural materials—but what about lab-grown diamonds? Popularly marketed as cultured, engineered, or synthetic diamonds, these gemstones are man-made in a lab, rather than the process of natural diamond creation, which takes millions of years, the mining of which has been linked to having less than preferable environmental and social consequences.

Read more: Here's Everything You Need to Know About Lab-Grown Diamonds

How Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Made?

According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), there are two main processes used to manufacture lab-grown diamonds which date back to the 1950s: High Pressure, High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD).

Both processes start with a “diamond seed”, a tiny diamond fragment that’s about as thick as a strand of hair. HPHT involves mimicking the environment in which diamonds are naturally formed within the earth's crust. This process can even improve the colour and clarity of a low-quality mined diamond. It can also be used to change the colour of a diamond into pink, blue or yellow. After this process, the stone is sold as a “treated diamond”.

CVD is a newer technique involving lower temperatures and pressures than HPHT. Gas containing carbon is pumped into a vacuum chamber that is heated and deposits onto the diamond seed. These carbon fragments layer and crystallise as the lab-grown diamond. Both processes take a few weeks, but the longer they are allowed to grow, the bigger the diamond will be.

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Lab-Grown vs Natural Diamonds: What’s the Difference?

There is a common misconception that lab-grown diamonds aren’t real diamonds, but this is unfounded.

Lab-grown diamonds are chemically and physically the same as natural diamonds since they are made in an identical process, albeit in different environments. Even a gemologist would not be able to tell the diamonds apart at first look and would only be able to do so with special instruments detecting the differences in trace elements, the elements the stone is made up of.

The distinct difference between synthetic diamonds and mined diamonds is the transparency in their production chain and environmental impact. The thought of a natural diamond is a romantic one. The diamond you buy has been growing on the earth for millions of years before ending up in your possession, almost as if it were meant to be. However, the demand for the remaining natural diamonds has also led to the destruction of environments and the resources of communities.

The Impact of Diamond Mining

Mining involves removing sand and soil to reach the earth's surface where the diamonds lie. This process may also involve draining entire lakes and killing ecosystems; when a lake is drained, the fishes and living creatures inhabiting it are also killed. The process is extremely labour-intensive, involving heavy machinery and explosives powered by dangerous chemicals and millions of litres of diesel.

Dust particles created by the exposure to mines contribute to the production of “ground-level ozone”, a gas that is linked to causing lung problems and asthma. Environmental pollution causes the land to become unfit for crop production due to water scarcity and contamination. This in turn means that the people occupying the surrounding area are more susceptible to illnesses like malaria, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and skin diseases.

The beauty of a big, fat, sparkling diamond becomes somewhat tainted when you remember that mining it may have exposed communities to diseases.

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The Future of Lab-Grown Diamonds

With that said, it begs the question: is there any reason not to buy a lab-grown diamond?

The natural diamond industry is as old as time, so as a society we are well-versed in what buying a diamond means. It’s a finite source and therefore makes a safe bet for an investment—something which we still can’t say about lab-grown diamonds. This goes hand in hand with the fact that historically, the natural diamond industry has supported millions of livelihoods around the world, as well as the economic infrastructure of whole countries. Beyond mining, the following steps of processing diamonds, including sorting, cutting, polishing, manufacturing and retailing, is responsible for about millions of jobs.

Who better to offer his take than Jean Dousset, founder of the eponymous fine jewellery brand, as well as the great-great grandson of Louis Cartier, the founder of Cartier?

“Lab-grown diamonds are bringing a very fluid new dimension to the diamond industry,” says Dousset. “It is a paradigm shift, unlike anything we have ever seen in the history of the jewellery industry. Future diamond buyers and current observers will now be able to have the size diamond dreams are made of, at a price they can afford, without any sacrifices on the quality of the stones.”

Read more: Experts Weigh In On The Future Of Lab-Grown Diamonds

“The natural diamond sector is already contracting and consolidating,” he adds. “There are fewer natural diamonds than in previous years, and the prices have increased. Large natural diamond companies are adapting to the change with their own lab-grown brands. I believe that most diamond jewellery will become lab-grown in the future, while the most illustrious jewellery companies will continue to buy and sell natural resources and cater to an ultra-wealthy clientele that exists all over the world.”

Is Dousset ready for that future? “I made peace with lab-grown diamonds as soon as they reached the level of polishing of their natural counterparts, as well as their growers not being so singularly focused on pitting one origin against the other,” he says.

“Natural or lab-grown is to each their own. Everyone should be able to get along. It is the same mystic and beauty, with a different origin."

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