Natural or lab-created diamonds — which is best in your engagement ring?

Lab-created diamonds are diamonds

This engagement ring features a 9mm lab-created moissanite (silicon carbide) with natural diamonds in the shoulders. Moissanite is a popular diamond alternative as it has the looks, is almost as hard (at 9.5 on Mohs scale) and is quite a bit less expensive than both lab-grown and natural diamonds.

The intangible differences

This gorgeous engagement ring features a trio of natural diamonds from one of the most environmentally conscious large-scale diamond mining operations on the planet, Rio Tinto’s West Australian-sited Argyle mine. The center stone weighs 1.0 carat and the ring is made with recycled platinum

Tangible differences between lab-created and natural diamonds

Alrosa’s massive diamond mining pit in the town of Aykhal, Yakutia, Russia. (Image via iStock Getty Images.)

Diamonds and the environment

Without knowing specifically which mine or factory your diamond comes from, it’s impossible to say whether its carbon footprint is big or small. Diamond production is a big energy consumer, and its where the electricity comes from and how efficient the facility is that matters. (This engagement ring features US-produced lab-created diamonds in a recycled platinum band.)

The carbon cost of diamond production

The social impacts of diamond production

Conflict diamonds are still a ‘thing’

Lab-created diamond production is (typically) socially responsible

This diamond cutting and polishing operation in India is relatively low-tech but nonetheless a safe and clean environment. Some are much more sophisticated and then there are those that are like sweat shops. (Image via Alamy.com)

Don’t overlook cutting and polishing

The value in diamonds

  • How much bang you get for your buck now; and
  • What might your purchase be worth sometime in the future, i.e., how much value might it retain.
The lab-created blue diamond in this embrace-style engagement ring wasn’t what most people would call ‘cheap’, but it was far more affordable and much easier to get than an equivalent natural diamond.

Coloured diamonds are a different ballgame

Let’s talk finances

  • Natural diamonds are a finite resource, and as the decades pass, they will inevitably become more and more scarce. In any other situation you might expect this to increase prices over time if there were no alternative — but the advent of lab-created diamonds is changing the market dynamics;
  • In most instances, the resale value of diamonds, lab-created or natural, will be determined by the wholesale value of ‘new’ equivalents, not what you paid retail. Generally, you’re far more likely to lose money when reselling a diamond ring than you are to make a profit;
  • As newly mined diamonds become more scarce, it’s possible that natural diamond resellers will start to tap into an obvious alternative source — secondhand diamonds — of which there are tens of millions around the world. This may result in an increase in prices for pre-owned diamonds as a more formal market develops;
  • As time goes by, it’s likely man-made diamonds will become much more common as production volumes go up. They’re also likely to get cheaper — particularly if they’re unbranded. That said, there will always be a meaningful minimum production cost, especially for quality stones, so they’re unlikely to ever be really ‘cheap’. (Not like diamond simulants such as CZs.); and
  • Lab-created diamonds are also highly valued in technology applications. What that means is the really high-quality product that would be ideal for high-end jewellery is also prized in industry because of its purity, reliable supply and low cost relative to suitable natural diamonds. This may prop up prices of quality man-made diamonds due to growing demand in industry and technology.
There is a third option when it comes to diamonds, and that’s to choose a recycled or vintage stone. The vintage rose cut diamond in this sweet engagement ring is an amazing performer in real life, it ticks all of the ethical boxes and it was very affordable.

So, which do you choose — man-made or natural?

  1. “Authenticity”: Lab-created diamonds are, by definition, not natural. Natural diamonds are a natural product. Physically they’re the same but it’s up to you decide whether this difference makes one better than the other or is relatively meaningless;
  2. Up-front cost: Lab-created diamonds are, like for like, significantly less expensive than equivalent natural diamonds — by up to 30–40% for relatively common sizes, cuts and grades;
  3. Retained value: Natural diamonds are more likely to retain at least some resale value over time, probably more than equivalent man-made stones;
  4. Environmental concerns: Man-made diamond production does less direct physical harm to the environment compared with diamond mining. But when it comes to carbon cost it’s a matter of production efficiency and the source of the energy used in the specific mine or factory that determines which is better; and
  5. Social concerns: Lab-created diamonds of unknown origin are less likely to be tainted by human rights abuses than mine-origin diamonds, but the only way to be sure either way is to choose traceable stones from a reputable supplier.

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