Probably every gemstone lover already came across the term “lab-grown” at least once in the past few years. And if you are one of them, you might have wondered what this term actually means? Is a lab-grown diamond genuine, or does it mean it’s a fake stone? Perhaps you also wonder about the prices of these lab-grown gems, as they are still pretty high?! We’re going to answer all these questions and show you the pros and cons of buying lab-grown gemstones as an alternative to natural ones.
What is a Lab-Grown Gemstone?
First and foremost, a lab-grown gemstone is a genuine, authentic gemstone, just like a natural one. It is created by replicating the creational process of natural crystals and mimicking conditions that exist below the earth’s surface. There is no difference, neither chemically, physically, nor optically to gemstones that grow subterrestrial. The most common variant of lab-grown gemstones is diamonds. The first synthetic diamonds were produced as early as the 1950s in a laboratory in Stockholm, Sweden.
How do gemstones form in nature?
Most of the natural gemstones are formed by a process called metamorphism. Simply put, it is when great pressure and heat, usually caused by seismic movement, force minerals together. The change can occur when rock melts into liquid magma and becomes solid again when cooling down. But metamorphism also occurs while the rock containing the minerals remains solid.
There are different types of metamorphism that result in different gemstones being formed. Surprisingly, scientists today believe that the one where diamonds crystallize might be the most common of them. But it probably occurs mainly in the magma below the earth’s crust. So diamonds may actually be one of the most common crystals inside the earth. They are just super hard to reach.
Of course, it depends on the type of gemstone and the size how long exactly it takes for a crystal to form naturally, but regardless of these factors, it is safe to say it takes incredibly long. - Thousands of billions of years. That is one of the main reasons that make gemstones so precious.
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How long does it take to grow a synthetic diamond?
Diamonds are crystallized carbon. You can grow them in a lab with the help of tiny diamond seeds, which can be either natural or synthetic. As said earlier, there’s no difference from the chemical side. This seed is placed in a piece of carbon and pressurized to about 1.5million pounds per square inch. Then it is heated up to a temperature of over 2.700 Fahrenheit. The carbon melts, and crystals grow around the diamond grain and let it grow. An alternative method is to put the seed into a sealed chamber, add carbon-rich gases, and heat it up.
Growing diamonds in a lab will take anywhere between 7 and 10 days for a 1 carat stone. And approximately a month for 3 carats. The process can be sped up even further, but this will cause the diamond crystals to fracture. Besides, that it is possible to grow a 1-carat diamond in only a few days is pretty awesome already. There’s no need to rush things even more.
The time other types of gemstone take to grow varies greatly. Quartz crystals, for instance, are growing very fast under lab conditions, and you can get a small gem within a day. Larger quartz crystals the size of several kilograms take a few months only to grow.
How to tell natural gemstones and lab-grown gemstones apart?
As mentioned before, there is no visible or chemical difference between synthetic gemstones and natural ones. They are completely identical. It would take a trained gemologist with professional equipment and great expertise to distinguish between the two. Authentic semi-precious gemstones used in jewelry usually will be naturally grown ones. They can be mined with a comparably small effort and are available in larger quantities. So unless it is explicitly expressed that a stone is lab-created, you can assume it is a natural one. The situation for precious gemstones is, however, a little different.
For high-grade precious gemstones like diamonds or sapphires, you usually will get a certificate with every purchase. Besides the general characteristics of stones like carat weight, clarity, cut, and color (also often referred to as the four Cs), the paperwork also includes their origin. If you plan on buying a larger expensive precious stone and a seller refuses to provide a certificate or tries to find excuses, don’t buy. The stone may be either mined unethically or not even real.
What are the advantages of Lab-Grown Gemstones?
There are a lot of benefits that make lab-grown gemstones an attractive choice. An essential effect is the environmental impact of man-made gems. It is multiple times lower than the impact of mining stones from the soil. It is a lot more sustainable, especially for stones like diamonds, where you have to dig deep below the surface and search through thousands of pounds of dirt to find a single one. And another big plus is, a gemstone that grows in a lab is always conflict-free. There is no need for ethical or humanitarian concerns. You have total peace of mind that no blood diamond trade is involved. Also, synthetic precious gemstones are more affordable, and you will get better quality for the price. For semi-precious stones, on the other hand, this is not that noticeable.
Why are people still buying natural gemstones?
If there is no visible or substantial difference between a natural and a lab-grown stone, plus it is sustainable and socially responsible, why are people still buying natural stones? For the same reason people buy designer shirts for $400. Even if a similar shirt of the same quality is available for a few bucks: For many of us, having the feeling of owning an original makes a difference. Plus, lab-grown gemstones essentially are non-resellable. When you buy a synthetic, precious gem, you have to calculate at least half, more likely three-quarters of what you pay for a natural stone. So it’s still a very exclusive piece of jewelry. However, once a lab-grown diamond changes from brand new to pre-owned, its value drops to next to nothing. So if you think about making an investment with a stable value, only natural stones come with that feature.
To sum it up, theoretically, there is absolutely no difference between a lab-grown and a natural stone, neither visually, chemically, or physically. And if you are looking for an exclusive, elegant, timeless piece of jewelry that you want to keep in your possession, lab-grown stones are a great choice. They are always sustainable, conflict-free, and excellent value for money. However, if you’re the type who’s always into the real deal, or you can’t rule out the possibility of wanting to resell the piece at a later point in time, a natural stone might be a better choice for you. But always make sure to buy conflict-free gems from a reliable source.