Synthetic Diamonds: How Real are They?

The debate over synthetic diamonds is still going strong.   While the cost of synthetic diamonds attracts many consumers, high-class jewelers are finding the growing popularity of these man-made gems annoying.  

Synthetic diamonds are also referred to as cultured diamonds, lab-created diamonds, and lab-grown diamonds.   These diamonds are processed to have the exact chemical structure as a natural diamond, and only diamond experts can tell the difference between the two types.   Special equipment is used to analyze the crystal make up of diamonds to determine which ones are the “real thing” and which ones are man-made.

The High Pressure High Temperature processing method for synthetic diamonds is the most commonly used today.   This involves presses that exert enormous pressures of up to 500,000 pounds on a microscopic diamond chip.   When the diamond grain is exposed to this pressure along with temperatures of around 3,000⁰F, the grain grows slowly into a synthetic diamond of about 2-1/2 carats.   This simulates the natural formation of diamonds, which requires carbon, extreme heat, extreme pressure, and time, up to millions of years.   The High Pressure High Temperature process can produce a synthetic diamond in as little as four days.

Another method for producing synthetic diamonds is Chemical Vapor Deposition, or CVD.   Introduced in the 1980’s the Chemical Vapor Deposition process introduces a chemical vapor into an atmosphere that supports the creation of carbon plasma.   The carbon atoms that are formed fall onto a surface where they continue to collect and eventually form a synthetic diamond.   This process normally takes from two to four weeks.

These synthetic diamond processes produce diamonds that appear to be identical to naturally formed diamonds.   These processed diamonds match the chemical and physical attributes of diamonds, making it difficult to differentiate before synthetic and natural diamonds.   The Federal Trade Commission requires a laser inscription for natural diamonds sold in the United States to decrease the number of synthetic diamonds promoted and sold as natural diamonds.

By introducing various elements, such as nitrogen, into the synthetic diamond process, manufacturers can create synthetic diamonds of varying colors.   There is a consumer demand for these synthetic diamonds, because colored natural diamonds are very rare and expensive.  

The Gemological Institute of America instituted the practice of grading synthetic diamonds with the same categories used for natural diamonds:   color, cut, clarity, and carat.   This sparked more interest in synthetic diamonds among consumers, but also led to protests from the higher class jewelers, such as Tiffany’s.  

Synthetic diamonds sell for much lower prices than natural diamonds do, sometimes more than fifteen percent lower.   They are an acceptable substitution for natural diamonds for those that cannot reasonably pay the price for a natural diamond.   Synthetic diamonds are a true find for consumers that are not concerned with authenticity and are satisfied with jewelry that has the look of a real diamond without the high price tag.  

Considering the chemical structure, physical properties, and appearance of synthetic diamonds, they are indeed “real.”   Whether or not the consumer believes they are real is purely a matter of personal taste.

Alternative Uses of Synthetic Diamonds

When you consider the possibility of creating inexpensive materials that have the remarkable properties of diamonds, it’s really quite amazing.   The scientific applications of diamonds is far reaching.   Scientist here in the United States have recently discovered a new use for diamond nanocrystals, which can be used in a microscope to see objects as small as   a single molecule.   This will lead to the ability to study a single atom.

Synthetic diamonds could also have a huge impact in the computer industry.   Diamonds consist of a rigid carbon atom crystal structure that makes it near impossible to destroy any of its single atoms.   This is what makes diamonds the strongest substance in the world.   This also helps in the dispersion of heat.   The end result is that some scientist feel strongly that we can someday run an entire computer processor and memory off a single diamond.   In other words, it’s quite possible that someday your iPhone 12.0 may be encased in, and comprised mostly of a single diamond.   That’s more bling than a Vertu phone.

This is just a couple of the great ways synthetic diamonds will make huge contributions to technology.   We haven’t even touched on the idea of inexpensive diamond dust.  

There are also social ramifications of synthetic diamonds.   What happens if consumers start to prefer the perfect nature of synthetic diamonds over organic diamonds?   Where does the leave the economy of some countries who rely greatly on the diamond export trade?   The idea of blood diamonds, or conflict diamonds is of course horrible, but there are plenty more people making legitimate money from diamonds that will now lose that revenue, or at least see it drop with lack of demand.   But that sounds like a whole other blog post.

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  1. I can’t imagine buying a real diamond right now. It would feel a little like investing in the current DVD format, if the Blue-Ray was 1/3 the price. It just doesn’t make any sense.

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