The History of Lab Grown Diamonds

December 5th, 2022

Lab-grown diamonds have transformed the diamond industry over the past few years. What was once a complex, expensive process is now clean, efficient, and fast. Previously diamonds could only be sourced from specific locations through a complicated, expensive, and labor-intensive extraction process. Now cultured diamonds can be precisely made in a factory nearly anywhere on earth. 

Since earth-mined diamonds were first discovered, the idea of growing diamonds has been part of the human imagination. While many may have claimed the ability to transform rocks into diamonds, it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that a series of innovations came together to create a reliable method for creating a synthetic diamond. 

Explore how the fascinating, economy-changing history of lab-grown diamonds has reduced the price of diamonds and improved stone quality.

Discoveries and Failed Attempts 

The answer to when did lab-grown diamonds start begins two centuries ago. The first step toward synthetic diamonds came in 1772 when a French scientist named Antoine Lavoisier discovered that diamonds were made of carbon. He put a diamond in a container with pure oxygen and then exposed the diamond to direct sunlight. He learned that the diamond was made of pure carbon when carbon dioxide was produced. His discoveries were later confirmed through experiments run by English scientist Smithson Tennant.

Nearly 100 years later, two scientists named James Ballantyne Hannay and Ferdinand Frédéric Henri Moissan became the first to apply this new knowledge to synthesize a lab diamond.

They heated a mixture of iron and charcoal in a carbon crucible to 3,500℃. Unfortunately, the material for their crucible was not advanced enough to convert the raw materials into a diamond, but their idea sparked later inventions that would create diamonds.

The First Lab-Grown Diamonds

The middle of the 20th century saw the first lab created diamonds. The preliminary breakthroughs came from American Nobel Laureate Percy Bridgeman, who made a hydraulic anvil capable of high pressure and temperature. 

Using a design based on Bridgeman’s machine, General Electric Company engineer Herbert Strong placed a mixture of carbon and iron and some small seed diamonds into a crucible and heated it to 1,250°C (2282°F). 

He then pressurized the mixture to 50,000 atmospheres and left it overnight. The following morning he discovered a lump of material that, upon polishing, was revealed to be the first artificially grown diamond in human history.

The First Lab-Grown Diamonds

Better Techniques and Better Quality

If you are wondering how lab-grown diamonds are made, the process, although successful, required some refining. While revolutionary, GE’s original diamonds were relatively small and unsuitable for jewelry or industrial applications. In 1971, after further refining their techniques, GE created the High Pressure/High-Temperature (HPHT) method that produced the first gem-grade stones. 

The HPHT method places a solvent metal mixture of iron and carbon in a press and heats the mix to 1,700 °C (3,092 °F). Small seed diamonds are added to help the metal form the correct crystalline structure, and a hydraulic anvil compresses the press to 6.5 GPa. 

This mimics the process of a natural diamond forming underground and turns the solvent metal into a gem-grade diamond. This method can also be used with a mined diamond to improve the clarity, color, and quality. 

The 1980s saw the invention of the Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) technique. This technique places seed crystals in a growth chamber. The chamber is filled with hydrocarbon gas and heated to 900 to 1,200°C. The chamber is then subjected to a microwave beam that forces the carbon to precipitate out of the hydrocarbon gas and grow on the diamond seed crystals. 

The chemical vapor deposition method is more precise, allowing technicians to customize a stone’s look and quality. It is now the more popular method for making lab-grown diamonds worthy of engagement rings. 

Revolutionizing the Diamond Industry

These diamond-making processes have profoundly changed the diamond industry, and consumers are starting to compare lab-grown versus natural diamonds when making a fine jewelry purchase. Many prospective diamond buyers wonder if lab-grown diamonds are as strong as real diamonds or if they are as beautiful.

The truth is that modern lab diamonds are identical to natural diamonds to the naked eye; even experienced jewelers struggle to answer the question of how you can tell if a diamond is lab grown without special equipement

If jewelers cannot tell you how to tell lab-grown diamonds from natural, it shows you how far this industry has progressed. And consumers are noticing. A study from BriteCo™ found that from 2020 to 2021, the number of lab-grown diamonds increased by nearly 10%.

Where Can I Buy Lab-Grown Diamonds?

Where Can I Buy Lab-Grown Diamonds?

With the advantages of lab-grown diamonds increasing compared to natural diamonds, many consumers are asking who sells lab-grown diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds are sold by numerous jewelry companies. Ask your jeweler the next time you are diamond shopping and they will be able to show you their lab-grown diamond options. 

Insure your Lab-Grown Diamond with BriteCo™

Lab-grown diamonds are precious stones, and you should protect your valuable jewelry with an insurance policy from BriteCo™. With a few clicks on our website, you can sign up for an easy-to-use policy that offers up to 125% of the appraisal value to replace lost stones with no cost out of pocket. Contact us today to learn more. 

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About the Author

Dustin Lemick is the Founder and CEO of BriteCo and a third-generation jeweler with over thirteen years of retail jewelry experience. He holds a Graduate Gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and has in-depth knowledge and expertise in appraisal systems, diamond and gemstone markets, retail pricing models, insurance replacement models, and jewelry quotation pricing systems.
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