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A Jeweller’s Opinion on Lab Created Diamonds

I don’t want to belittle man made, artisan created or lab created diamonds (LCDs). What I would like to offer is a quick overview of these diamonds.

Natural Mined Diamonds x Lab Created Diamonds

First, LCDs are the same as natural diamonds in chemical composition. Do they look the same? Sort of! When I say that I mean if I happen to find an LCD that is well cut and doesn’t have a background color then the similarity is extremely close. However, most LCDs display a slight brown, grey or blue background color. To verify that a diamond is a natural or an LCD it requires testing with specialized equipment. The presence of a background color is the indicator that makes me suspicious that a gemstone could be an LCD.

What about Sustainability?

What I find interesting about LCDs is the discussion regarding sustainability. Of course, they can be more sustainable if you have a synthetic diamond seed and enough energy to create heat and pressure or laser and microwave energy.

I would ask, in cities such as Mumbai or Surat where energy is at the expense of coal burning plants, just how sustainable is that?

Or maybe at what cost to air pollution. And if the diamond manufacturers can pay more for energy than the poor, the poor must resort to other sources of energy for everything.

Look to UN studies to see how dangerous indoor pollution is in third world countries. There is a certain amount of culpability on energy use, especially in third world countries where most LCDs are produced.

Some may think, “well there can’t be that many companies making LCDs to affect energy consumption.”  I can only say that I average four new vendors a month (from India alone), contacting me to sell their production of LCD’s. The production and subsequent cutting and polishing of the grown LCDs is a major industry in India and while it employs a lot of people, it does have an environmental impact.  Something the LCD producers are trying to suggest is minimal.

Carbon footprint

The discussions comparing which leaves the larger carbon footprint, LCDs or naturally mined diamonds is controversial and somewhat clouded within the jewellery industry; often coming down on the side of which product is sold most often by the producer.

The edge has been going slightly in favor of LCDs but frankly, I don’t believe that. Of the numbers and reports I have seen, some critical omissions have been left out of the calculations. In one report I saw, the manufacturing of the equipment to make LCD’s was substantially under reported. To date, of the reliable and unbiased reports I have read, the difference is slightly better for LCDs but not a huge amount.

What about cost?

Let’s be clear that LCDs can be produced in huge quantities and rarity goes right out the window. As in any industry, producing man-made items, supply can increase with demand. As supply increases over the demand, the price drops. Simple economics. And that is precisely what has happened over the last five years.

I still see prices being further eroded for LCDs. To give you an idea of price drops, four years ago a 1.5ct round LCD diamond I found for a customer was $12,000. Today, I can offer the same quality of diamond, for about $5000 and prices are continuing to decline as more LCDs enter the market.

What about trade-in or resale value?

While talking about cost, what about trade-in or resale value? Simple. Virtually none or nil for LCDs. The vast majority of jewellers that sell LCD’s do not take them back, such as in an upgrade or even to buy outright. This may change soon. For now, the LCD a person buys is theirs.

Another point about rarity and especially larger diamonds, say over 2 carat. In nature, finding mined diamonds over 2 carat is rare and carries an exponential increase in price over two one carat diamonds of the same quality. Within the trade a grid is set up for pricing that reflects rarity based on several factors such as size. With LCDs, the pricing follows the same grid but a discount is given off of natural diamond pricing.

What I find, odd is that LCDs in larger sizes can be grown by leaving the growing crystal or plate to stay in the chamber for a few more hours. The cost is not exponential. For larger LCDs the application of following a grid based on natural mined diamonds is deceptive by the producers of LCDs.

Are LCDs as durable as natural diamonds?

I won’t say there is a huge difference but the diamond setters I use have said they feel the LCDs are more brittle. In the store, I have only had a small number of LCDs break. From our sales figures I would bet the difference is only about ½ of a percent point in difference.  That makes them almost identical.

What about companies that have changed their jewellery to be set with LCDs?

While I do believe there are companies that are honest and trying to make a difference in their environmental impact, let’s not kid ourselves, the rhetoric is that this is all about sustainability. But I call BS to many of these companies! Follow the money. This is about a higher margin that many of these companies can get using LCDs. The ease of getting the LCDs and the lack of necessary oversight for quality control or seeking out sources makes it easier to use LCDs.

Final Thoughts

I am not a snob about offering customers LCDs. I just like to lay out all the details as I understand them and allow the client to choose. Often, they are looking for a larger look or they believe that LCDs are easier on the environment or even think the technology is cool. Whatever is important to you, just be careful and informed about what you read.

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