Laboratory-grown diamonds and gemstones are the perfect alternatives to naturally mined stones. They can make the perfect, and affordable addition to your jewelry line - even sterling silver collections!
What are laboratory-grown stones?
Laboratory-grown stones are diamonds and gemstones created in a laboratory mimicking natural growing conditions. These exact processes can vary, but there are 2 main ones: High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). The "ingredients" for diamonds or gemstones are placed in a crucible and left to run through one of these processes until crystals have formed. This can take as little as 10 days or as long as a year! They have the same physical, chemical, and visual properties as a mined stone and to all but the highly trained eye will look no different than a mined stone. The main difference is usually seen in the price and/or color intensity. For some stones, the price difference between laboratory-grown and mined stones could be significant.
Creating laboratory-grown diamonds
There are 2 popular processes to create laboratory-grown diamonds: High-Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). HPHT uses extremely high amounts of pressure and extremely high temperatures to grow diamond crystals from diamond seeds. This combination of pressure and temperature mimics the Earth's internal processes that create natural mined diamonds by allowing molten materials to dissolve into a high purity carbon source. This carbon is then attached to the diamond seeds and precipitates a large diamond.
In the CVD process, scientists expose methane gas to high-energy plasma radiation. This energy breaks the atomic bonds of the methane (CH4) and allows the carbon to attach to the diamond seeds. In this method, diamond growth occurs under much lower pressures and over larger areas.
Comparison: CZ, lab-grown, mined natural, moissanite
The most popular alternatives to a mined diamond are laboratory-grown, cubic zirconia, and moissanite. When compared to CZs and moissanite, it's easy to see that laboratory-grown diamonds and natural mined diamonds are nearly indistinguishable.
Creating laboratory-grown colored stones
Scientists create laboratory-grown gemstones a little differently. They start with a naturally mined slice of crystal placed in a crucible chamber. A liquid mix of ingredients to feed crystal growth is put in the chamber then subjected to extremely high temperatures of at least 1,100 degrees Celsius. These chambers are then sealed for 6 months to a year under controlled conditions meant to simulate the conditions the stone grows inside the Earth. Barring any lengthy loss of power, the gemstone crystals are nearly identical to one found in nature; sometimes they may even have better color saturation.
How to describe and market laboratory-grown stones to customers
Some customers will already understand the benefits of a laboratory-grown diamond or gemstone. And some will actively seek out and only purchase laboratory-grown stones. For those customers who don't understand why laboratory-grown diamonds are beneficial compared to natural mined diamonds, here are some easy ways to explain why this choice matters.
Environmental impact of mining
Mining of all kinds have come under fire for destroying local environments and ecosystems and the diamond industry is no exception. Land that had previously been used for farming has turned into patches of abandoned mining pits. Soil erosion and deforestation have caused many local populations to relocate.
Pits used to mine diamonds can be up to a couple miles deep. It takes moving almost 2,000 tons of earth to find a 1ct rough diamond. Although some governments require a closed mine area to be returned to close to its original state once operations have ceased, it is nearly impossible to return the land and ecosystem completely back to normal. And remember that many areas have no regulations to even do this.
Laboratory-grown diamonds take up far fewer of Earth's natural resources and are far more likely to keep communities and ecosystems intact.
Mining labor conditions
Over half of the world's diamonds come from African nations. Many of these populations live in poverty, with some earning less than $1 a day - even while mining for diamonds. These miners often work in unsafe conditions without proper tools and safety equipment. The risk of accidents, such as landslides or collapses, is extremely high for these miners. In addition, it's been reported that many of the workers are under the age of 16 and have left school to help their families by working in the mines.
Since laboratory-grown stones are created in a scientific lab, the level of danger for workers is significantly lower. It would also be very unlikely to have child labor in the process.
Diamonds and stones from conflict zones
Many customers may have heard about "blood diamonds" or "conflict diamonds" but may not fully understand what this means. The profits from diamond mines in many countries is often used to finance rebel movements against governments. In reality, this also includes violence and human rights violations against many miners. The Kimberley Process was setup in 2003 to try and stop the trade of these diamonds by providing certificates for "conflict-free diamonds". However, counterfeit certificates have been found and this process only takes into account diamonds that are not used to fund rebel movements. The narrow definition of conflict has allowed diamonds from mines with violence and human rights violations to be certified as adhering to the Kimberley Process.
Laboratory-grown diamonds are one of the few ways to be absolutely sure that a diamond has not come from a conflict zone.
Transparency and full disclosure
Laboratory-grown diamonds and gemstones are able to provide full disclosure about a stone from start to finish. There are very few other ways for a jeweler to be 100% certain that a stone is truly conflict-free, created under fair working conditions, and as environmentally friendly as possible.
Beautiful heirloom quality stones
Don't fear that a laboratory-grown stone won't last as long as a naturally mined stone! In some cases, they can be even more durable since there are fewer inclusions in many stones. It's important for a customer to realize that just because a stone didn't come from the Earth and take many years to grow doesn't mean it's not a beautiful stone worthy of passing down. To an untrained eye, most laboratory-grown stones will look exactly like a mined stone. It takes training and equipment to be able to detect differences.
Alternatives to naturally mined stones, especially diamonds, are becoming more and more popular. As consumers realize the true price of their diamond, many are turning to guaranteed non-conflict stones. Don't be afraid to help them find a way to have their sparkle and enjoy it too!
Halstead is one of North America's leading distributors of quality jewelry supplies. Halstead specializes in wholesale findings, chain, and metals for jewelry artists.