Why Are They Called Lab Grown Diamonds When They Are Made in Factories Like This?
That’s a silly question; they are grown in a lab, aren't they? This answer may surprise you. In all the years I have been in the diamond business one of the most interesting, misunderstood, and misrepresented items I’ve seen are Lab Grown Diamonds. Stick with me and I’ll tell you why!
It all starts with the aura that surrounds Natural Diamonds. Natural Diamonds are rare, unique, and expensive. Whenever there is a scene in a movie involving the physical transfer of great wealth, it’s a safe bet a suitcase full of diamonds is involved. Traditionally, Natural Diamonds hold and increase in value over time. That’s because they are like gold; there is a very finite supply. Anyone that’s ever seen Antiques Roadshow on PBS knows, items that are rare and desirable bring lots of smiles to the faces of the owners because of their high value. When you hear the words “fairly common” it is known all around as "basically worthless."
Enter Lab Grown diamonds, or more accurately, man made diamonds. Why are they called Lab Grown Diamonds anyway? Technically, they were first grown in laboratories but once full-scale production started up in factories, the producers had a problem. Asking a person to spend the rest of their life with you and giving her a “man made” diamond as a symbol of your eternal commitment just didn’t sound very good. But, not to worry, some smart executive in a Madison Avenue ad agency had the answer: “Why can’t we still call them Lab Grown?” After all, it’s a much sexier name. Just imagine all those scientists in white coats working long hours in super clean rooms making your diamond. That sounds good to me...if it were true; but, more on that in a minute. The next trick was to get the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to approve that name, which they did, for who knows why. The truth is, the majority of “Lab Grown” diamonds are man made diamonds that are manufactured in huge, industrial factories in China.
So, why all the hype around man made diamonds? Man has always sot ways to replicate anything of high value. Paintings are forged, money is counterfeited, and the same is basically true with man made diamonds. Why? The answer is money. There are huge amounts of money to be made selling something worthless as something that has tremendous value. Now, man made diamonds are not in the same category as fake painting or counterfeit money and they are perfectly legal, however, the concept is the same. To successfully produce something that costs a lot less than the real thing, then equate it to the real thing is quite an effort, but watch all the money roll in!
One of the initial claims manufacturers made was to tell retailers and Internet companies that Lab Grown Diamonds are the “same” or “identical” to Natural Diamonds. The twist was that they cost less, and are “eco friendly” to boot. It sounded too good to be true, but merchants sold a lot of man made diamonds. We all know there is no misinformation on the Internet! Well, the grower’s friends over at the FTC had a change of heart, and when they got wind of what was going on, they really laid down the law. No pun intended! While man made diamonds are chemically the same as Natural Diamonds, and while they are just as hard and look the same, the FTC was adamant that Lab Grown Diamonds are “not the same or identical” and it is deceptive to say they are. The FTC got it; growing diamonds in factories, with giant microwave ovens filled with carbon-rich gas in China, is different than nature forming a diamond a hundred miles or more beneath the surface of the Earth. But wait...there’s more!
The chemical composition may be the same, but the growth pattern of the diamond is different. This is a bigger problem for man made producers than the name. When two items can’t be told apart, both take on the same value and that is what the growers were depending on all along. When counterfeit money is impossible to detect, it has the same value as regular currency. They are identical, so they are worth the same. Once it was clear this was a big-money business, scientists answered the call and made machines to detect when a diamond is man made and when it is natural. Not to be outdone, our friends at the FTC jumped in and told growers and retailers it was deceptive to simply refer to their product as a "diamond". Another word is required in front of a “diamond” that tells the public it’s man made. If you're confused, that is exactly the way many man made diamond producers want you to feel!
In all this confusion, retailers and Internet experts forget to mention that producing man made diamonds consume huge amounts of electricity. They’re not warming up chicken soup for lunch in these industrial microwave ovens; they are creating temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun. This goes on 24/7, for weeks at a time. Let’s not forget that the majority of man made diamonds are manufactured in China. Why? Because they can produce cheap electricity in coal-fired power plants that are banned in most of the civilized world.
One recent study put the amount of CO2 produced making man made diamonds at 40% more than producing the same size Natural Diamond. Once the FTC got wind of this, they ruled no more of those itsy-bitsy “eco-friendly” stickers on man made diamonds or in any advertising either. That doesn’t mean salespeople still don’t tell you that. Just because it’s not true, fooling people into thinking they are saving the planet when they are actually doing the opposite still sells a lot of man made diamonds to people that don’t know any better.
The final myth man made producers use is to imply that Natural Diamonds come with a stigma of those scenes of Leonardo witnessing horrible brutality in the movie Blood Diamond. Sadly, that did happen in 1990. The UN sure took notice and in 2000 they adopted measures to stop the abuses described in the movie. Today, 99.8% of all Natural Diamonds produced are certified conflict-free under the Kimberly Process set up by the UN.
What sellers of man made diamonds completely ignore is the tremendous amount of good that comes from the Natural Diamond industry. It provides $8 billion a year to producers, miners, and their families in poor African nations. Without this income, many people would literally starve. In a sense, it is a conduit of transferring wealth from consumers that purchase Natural Diamonds to poor counties that use the money for roads, schools, and other infrastructures. And remember, the majority of man made diamonds are manufactured in China and even today, China has a terrible record when it comes to honoring human rights.
So the answer to “Why are they called Lab Grown Diamonds?” is that it makes them sound a lot better than they really are. Watch for my blog on how man made diamonds produced!
There’s more to come...