Lab-grown diamonds are growing in popularity - but how do they compare to real ones?

Lab-grown diamonds are growing in popularity - but how do they compare to real ones?

  • Lab-grown diamonds have increased in popularity in South Africa over the years, and that’s because they look like premium diamonds but are more affordable.
  • Two ways to cultivate a lab-grown diamond include the high-pressure high-temperature, and chemical vapour deposition methods.
  • The difference is that mined diamonds appreciate in value while lab-grown diamonds don’t appreciate or retain their value, according to an expert.
  • For more stories, visit the Tech and Trends homepage


Over the years, lab-grown diamonds have boomed in popularity, and it's not difficult to see why: they’re physically and chemically identical to mined diamonds but cost a lot less.

Whether you are budget-conscious or looking for something environmentally friendly, lab-grown diamonds might be the better-value alternative to diamonds – and it’s not easy to tell the difference.

“A lab-grown diamond is essentially a diamond. However, natural diamonds are mined underground, and lab-grown diamonds are grown in a laboratory. The breakdown of both remains exactly the same," said founder of Grands Diamonds and Lab Diamonds SA Leandro Eckardt.

“In terms of its elements, hardness, look, and feel, there is no way you can identify the difference between a mined diamond and a lab-grown diamond. That’s what makes lab-grown diamonds so intriguing. It gives you everything that a mined diamond has, except paying far less money for it.”


Making lab-grown diamonds

There are two ways to cultivate lab-grown diamonds. These include the high-pressure high-temperature (HPHT) and chemical vapour deposition (CVD) crystal formation methods.

Both methods require a diamond seed from a synthetic or natural diamond to form the basis of growing the diamond.


Instead of using gas, during the HPHT process, diamond powder or graphite is placed into a reactor chamber on top of the diamond seed.

This is followed by the addition of a metal catalyst for growth. The chamber then "copies" the way that natural diamonds are made under the earth, subjecting carbon to the necessary high pressures and temperatures.

In the CVD method, hydrocarbon gas and hydrogen are put into a vacuum chamber at extremely low pressures and later heated. These conditions make it possible for the hydrogen to convert to atomic hydrogen, promoting diamond formation.

“The activated carbon-hydrogen atoms in the chamber attach to the diamond seed, bonding with its carbon atoms and replicating the crystal structure of the seed,” Cape Diamonds stated.

According to Eckardt, telling the difference between the two isn’t so easy. He said:

The main difference between rough CVD and HPHT diamonds is their formation. CVD diamonds grow into a cubic shape, whereas HPHT diamonds grow into a cuboctahedron. Only a carefully trained expert would be able to tell the difference, though.


An affordable alternative

Lab-grown diamonds cost far less than their counterparts, making them accessible to more people.

Eckardt said following the pandemic, more consumers are leaning towards lab-grown diamonds in efforts to cut costs and save some cash where they can.

“What the lab-grown diamonds have certainly done for the industry, they’ve opened a lot of doors. We, as retailers or jewellers, can offer somebody a one-carat of lab-grown diamond in a ring setting for approximately R20 000.

“If you compare that same size and specification on a mined diamond, you’re looking at between R80 000 to R100 000, and sometimes even more,” Eckardt told News24.

Personal preference

According to the expert, lab-grown diamonds are not here to compete with mined diamonds, and some customers still gravitate towards mined diamonds.

This is because mined diamonds either retain their value or appreciate in value. Lab-grown diamonds don’t appreciate or retain their value.

“Many people still want to make sure that they buy something that will ultimately have value and hold value.

“If you are very much looking for something that you’ve got a budget for, then the lab-grown option is best for you. It’s giving you a premium-looking product at a lower price,” he said.

Eckardt, whose business sells both lab-grown and mined diamonds, said appetite for lab-grown diamonds has grown over the years, and the stigma that they are fake diamonds is slowly fading away.

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