Everybody loves diamonds. But how much do you actually know about them? Did you know that diamonds grow much like trees do but over millions of years? Did you know that scientists have figured out how to make lab diamonds with the same brilliance, clarity, and sparkle as a real diamond? The science behind both synthetic diamonds and the original ancient gemstones is fascinating. Let’s explore how both are created.
Tale as Old as Time
Natural diamonds are old. Millions if not billions of years old. They came from pure carbon floating in the molten plasma more than 1600km below the earth’s crust. That extreme pressure and heat caused molecular bonds to form between carbon atoms, causing them to have a tetrahedral shape. It’s that crystal molecular shape that makes a diamond distinct from other forms of carbon. After the high-pressure formed the carbon into diamonds, they were shot up to the earth’s surface in volcanic eruptions.
If the diamonds had risen to the surface in a slower and less violent manner then they would have cooled gradually and slowly. That would have caused them to revert to a more stable form of carbon like graphite. Because they were forced to cool quickly at the earth’s surface they maintained their beautiful gem quality.
Fast forward millions of years to when human beings first discovered these beautiful rocks and the diamond industry was born. People figured out that they could take these gemstones to cutters to have their impurities cut out to increase their value. Due to their rarity and the difficulty it took to retrieve mined diamonds from the earth, the price of these small rocks skyrocketed. These outrageous prices and the negative impact on the environment that mining was causing led people to wonder how hard it would be to make diamonds on their own.
Welcome to the Laboratory
Today, we have in fact figured out how to make lab created diamonds. Scientists can create diamond simulants in a gem lab through a process called Chemical Vapor Deposition. The process can result in different materials such as cubic zirconia and moissanite.
To start, gemologists take a small piece of a natural diamond called a starter seed to provide a pattern. Then, they place that seed into a sealed chamber. Next, they use high-pressure, high-temperature tools to turn carbon into layers of diamond on top of the diamond seed. These high-pressure tools retrieve their carbon source from methane gases. After several layers have been added to the starter seed the final result is a fully formed diamond with perfect gem quality.
So, What’s the Difference?
Diamond simulants are generally perfect. This means they lack some of the flaws and impurities one might find on a mined diamond. Gemologists have the ability to create different kinds of diamonds, from a colorless diamond to stones with more yellow or blue color to them. The difference between a synthetic diamond and a natural diamond is almost imperceptible to the naked eye. The biggest difference is in diamond cost and environmental impact. lab diamonds are drastically less expensive than natural diamonds. On top of that, diamond mining can be taxing on the environment and the local cultures it interrupts. Those problems are nonexistent with diamond simulants.
Two popular forms of the synthetic diamond are moissanite and cubic zirconia, but there is a third kind. The Agape diamond. Agape diamonds are much more durable than their counterparts and don’t lose their color over time like cubic zirconia or moissanite. Make no mistake, no matter what kind of synthetic diamond you buy, on a molecular level it is a real diamond. Diamond simulants and mined diamonds are the same kinds of stone, but with two very different stories.