How are lab-made diamonds made

Perhaps the most exciting day of his life began for Jerry Singh with a fake. The 30-year-old had long thought about proposing to his girlfriend. But now that the time had come, his knees were shaking. Not only could he not be 100 percent sure what his dream woman would answer. He had also opted for a ring with an artificial diamond - and anyone who knows what is made in the USA about size, appearance and price of the engagement gift will have an inkling of how high his pulse must have been. But Singh had made the right choice because he knew that his girlfriend rejects "blood diamonds" for ethical reasons. "She was thrilled with the ring," he told the Washington Post. And yes the young lady said too.

The prospective couple from New York represent a trend that is increasingly gaining ground among young Americans. Man-made diamonds not only look more and more similar to their naturally formed counterparts, they are also 20 percent cheaper on average and are considered more environmentally friendly. Above all, there is no risk of human rights being violated or war chests being filled by dictators during the manufacturing process.

The factory goods are still a niche product in the $ 14 billion rough diamond business worldwide. The US bank Morgan Stanley expects the market share to multiply from a good one percent in the past year by 2020 - to 7.5 percent for large and even 15 percent for small diamonds. The trend is so fast that the established jewelry retailers are startled: "There is a certain amount of panic," said Tiffany Stevens, President of the US Committee for the Monitoring of the Cleanliness of Jewelry (JVC).

The dealers are not only bothered by the new competition and the danger of being foisted on artificial diamonds as real. You must also realize that the enthusiasm for jewelry and gemstones has generally declined in many countries. Young people in particular often prefer to spend their money on electronics or travel. Adjusted for inflation, the prices for top diamonds have already fallen by 80 percent in the past 30 years.

For centuries, diamonds have been a status symbol and an investment

For centuries, natural diamonds were both an indisputable status symbol and an indestructible investment. The value of the stones resulted not only from their bewitching sparkle, but also from their rarity, the unusual circumstances in which they were created and the effort that has to be made to wrest them from nature. Rough diamonds are formed when pure carbon is compressed hundreds of kilometers below the earth's surface in extreme heat and high pressure over millions of years. Humans owe them to earthquakes and volcanic activities that they lie at depths where they can be mined.

Factory diamonds, on the other hand, are obtained in the laboratory by letting microwave rays, methane and other gases "rain down" on a fingernail-thick real or artificial rough diamond in a heat and pressure chamber. The resulting carbon layers allow the diamond to grow to the desired size. In the past, the artificial gemstones were mostly streaked with a milky yellow veil and were mainly used as cutting tools in industry. For some years now, however, they have been made so pure and colorless that they are even suitable for large diamond rings without restriction.

Differences to the original cannot be seen with the naked eye

Chemically and structurally, natural and artificial diamonds are largely identical. However, they differ in a few small details, as Emily Chin, assistant professor at the University of California's Institute of Oceanography, explains. This applies, for example, to nitrogen impurities, which exist in both cases, but whose characteristics are not identical. "The differences, however, are microscopic and invisible to the naked eye," says Chin.

Apart from the price, the manufacturers of laboratory diamonds advertise primarily with the supposedly better ecological and human rights record. That seems easy, since conventional gemstones often come from politically unstable countries such as Angola or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the rights, health, and sometimes even the lives of miners are neglected. The environmental damage caused by the industry is so enormous that it can even be seen from space.

And yet that's one of the things about the environmental friendliness of artificial diamonds: "Synthetic extraction, too, requires a lot, sometimes even a lot of energy, and leaves behind rubbish," says gemstone expert Chin. The term eco-diamonds is therefore only justified if the relevant laboratories rely on renewable energy sources. And even the partly oppressed workers in Africa are not helped - or at least not to a sufficient extent - if one of the very few sources of income in their regions is simply taken away from them.

It is questionable whether artificial diamonds are a good investment

However: The supply of natural diamonds is declining worldwide. Industry has to dig in increasingly inaccessible places, such as the Arctic or the seabed. This further worsens the ecological balance, increases costs - and strengthens the position of artificial stones. "Laboratory diamonds are already in the process of filling some of the void," said Chin.

It is highly questionable, however, whether artificial diamonds, like their natural counterparts, are also suitable for investment. Some experts even warn that a ring with laboratory gemstones, which costs a few thousand dollars today, may hardly be worth anything in ten years, because the production of artificial diamonds is likely to become significantly cheaper. The ring then fared like the first flat screen televisions, which were suddenly not for sale after the invention of better, cheaper devices.

If you ask professional Chin about her personal preferences, the answer is clear. "There is something very special about knowing that the diamond you are wearing is billions of years old and has come a very winding path," she says. Her current husband probably suspected this and accordingly carefully prepared himself for the marriage proposal: with a real diamond ring.