Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Real?

Distinguishing between natural, synthetic and imitation gems

Lab diamonds are identical to the more commonly known natural diamond, but are never mined - they're grown sustainably using the Earth's natural elements above-ground, without displacing land, wildlife or local communities.

"The short, official answer? Yes!"

The US FTC has officially defined a “diamond” to include all diamonds, irrespective of whether they come from nature or a lab. Both natural & lab diamonds are pure carbon organized in an FCC (face-centered cubic) crystal structure, have identical composition and optical/ chemical properties. Diamond “imitations”, like Cubic Zirconia or Moissanite however, are not considered diamond as they do not have the same structure or qualities.

Lab diamonds also follow the same "4C" grading criteria - color, clarity, cut and.. carat weight of course! The combination of these criteria - defined by the GIA - will define any diamond's value.

However, we know there’s a ton of gem types and terminology out there - we put together this handy little guide below which can help you understand the differences!

  • Natural gems

    Natural gems simply refer to gemstones that are found occurring in nature, and extracted by miners from the earth. They need to be mined and extracted from the earth and are often treated afterwards in a laboratory to improve their properties. For example, heat or irradiation treatment of sapphires is very common as it dissolves the impurities causing inclusions, resulting in a much more transparent & enhanced color. A natural, untreated stone with the equivalent level of color & clarity would be very rare – and very expensive!

    After the treatment, the stone is called an “enhanced” or a “treated” gem – so whilst it is still natural, it has undergone man-induced changes. If you buy a natural gem, your seller is legally required to disclose whether it has undergone treatment of any kind!

  • Synthetic gems

    The term “synthetic” is used very widely – but all it refers to is a gemstone created by technology,
    and not in nature. Sometimes they are called “created gems”, “cultivated gems”, “man-made gems” or of course, “lab-grown gems”. Because they are grown under carefully controlled & tested conditions, synthetic stones can be made with stronger colors and less imperfections than natural gems.

    Some synthetic gems are more easily differentiated from their natural counterparts due to coloration/ structural differences, whereas others – such as diamond – are very difficult to differentiate as the lab-grown versions are structurally and optically identical.

  • Simulant gems

    Not to be confused with synthetic! Simulant – long story short – is an imitation gem. Something
    that is meant to look like one thing, but in fact is not - it has different physical and chemical properties. They can immediately be told apart by a gemologist, or sometimes even by the naked eye.

    For example, cubic zirconia is a very popular simulant gem because visually it can look like a diamond, but it shares none of the actual properties – it is not as hard, durable, has different light-refractive properties, to name a few.

    Simulant gems can be natural, or lab-grown. Cubic Zirconia is a man-made substance, however Zircon is
    the naturally-occurring equivalent, often used as well to imitate diamond. 

  • Fakes

    This final one is, in a way, a sub-section of simulants, because while they are technically used to simulate gemstones, they are not actually classified as gems and are made of cheap, mass-produced materials – mainly glass, dyed glass, resin etc. Whilst simulant gems are designed to imitate, they still hold certain value depending on the exact gemstone in question.

    From a value perspective, "fake" gemstones are far inferior to even simulants, often worth next to nothing and will not retain any sort of resale value, and often will not have any durability. Typically they are found in lower-end costume jewelry.