How are lab-grown diamonds made?
There are two methods used to make diamonds in a lab, but both start with what’s called a seed diamond, which is essentially just a very tiny piece of already existing diamond. “From here,” explains Cullinane, “there are two methods for growing diamonds: High-Pressure High-Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD).”
The first, HPHT, replicates the intense pressure and temperature conditions necessary to create diamonds deep in the earth. “HPHT is the original method, where the pressure in the growth chamber exceeds 870k lbs per square inch and temperatures hit 1600°C,” says Cullinane. Though people have been attempting to grow diamonds in a lab since the late 1800s, it wasn’t until the 1950s that anyone found any real success. It was a Swedish company, Allmänna Svenska Elektriska Aktiebolaget (ASEA), that pioneered the HPHT method in 1953, but it was General Electric that first patented it in 1954.
The second method, CVD, was developed at roughly the same time but wasn’t reported until the ‘60s. “[For CVD,] instead of replicating nature’s exact high heat and pressure,” explains Cullinane, “gas with carbon is introduced to a chamber. As the gasses ionize, their carbon atoms deposit themselves on the seed diamond, layer by layer,” thus creating a larger and large diamond.
In either case, once a rough diamond has been formed it’s then cut, polished and graded, just like a mined diamond.
Are lab-grown diamonds really more sustainable or eco-friendly?
In the grand scheme of things, yes. However, there are a lot of factors to consider when talking about diamonds and sustainability. “Mined diamonds wreak environmental havoc in a number of ways in which lab grown diamonds have zero or minimal impact: waste creation, water usage and contamination, biodiversity destruction, wildlife degradation, air pollution and agricultural damage,” explains Cullinane. Not to mention human rights issues, like unfair wage, unsafe working conditions and unethical labor practices.
There are also multiple lab-grown diamond companies whose methods of production are carbon neutral, or in the case of Aether, even carbon negative. But as Cullinane points out, not everyone is so transparent about their energy usage. “There is a big push for lab growers to use sustainable energy sources and less energy overall. It can take up to 750-kilowatt hours to produce a rough carat in a lab. And we don’t know exactly what energy usage looks like for mined diamonds; companies don’t report the energy required to explore and locate mining sites, many of which are in very remote areas that require transporting entire mining operations very long distances.”