Should I choose a Natural or Lab-Grown diamond for my ring?

There is quite a bit of apprehension in the jewellery industry at the moment with the “en masse”arrival of synthetic diamonds - more sypathetically referred to as Lab-Grown or 'created'.  All of a sudden it is possible to own a very large diamond, for a fraction of the sum it’s natural equivalent would cost you.  Why would you even consider a natural stone now?

Maybe you can have that 10 carat diamond engagement ring after all..

Actually, there are lots of reasons beyond the cost of the stone – because if natural diamonds were are cheap as lab-grown than we wouldn't even be debating this.  This article looks at the merits of each to help you in your decision making.

Diamond Strengths

Natural Diamonds:

To be honest, natural diamonds have no environmental footprint – they just occur in nature


1. From Nature: Natural diamonds, formed deep within the Earth's mantle over millions of years, possess a unique charm that stems from their natural origins.

2. Rare & Unique: The geological conditions necessary for diamond formation now means diamonds are found deep under the ground, hence why they are uncommon. And like a snowflake, each natural diamond is a unique find with its own individual inclusions and flaws. And the larger the stone, the less there are in nature.

3. Investment Value: Demand for natural diamonds at larger sizes outstrips supply.  Natural diamonds often appreciate (in value) overtime, making them a reliable investment. Their scarcity ensures that they hold that value, and they are often used as a store of wealth.

4. Employment: Diamond mines are massive employers, particularly in countries in Africa and other parts of the developing world.  

5. Revenue Generation: Diamond mining contributes to national revenue through rights, taxes and royalties. Reinvested in public services and national infrastructure this greatly benefits the local population. Botswana is a great example. Mining in Africa in general pays 20-30% higher salaries than other forms of employment.

 The diamond industry is monitored globally (the most well known commitment being The Kimberly Process and by NGOs, which while not perfect, are still independent (rather than funded by the industry).


Natural Diamonds:

The media and NGOs rightly highlight the diamond industry with environmental damage, human rights abuses and financing conflict in certain regions. To be honest, natural diamonds have no environmental footprint – they just occur in nature.  The environmental cost starts adding up in mining them..

1. Environmental Impact: Mining is resource heavy, in energy used as well as the immediate environmental impact. Explosives can be used in excavation, other chemicals in extraction and running a mine requires 24 hour energy whether it is in use or not.

2. Wealth redistribution: A lot of diamond companies are also shareholder organisations. Some regions have never seen the wealth generation from diamond production because it does not remain in the country of source.

3. Conflict: Natural diamonds are also mined where revenues have been used to fund conflict, and oppressive regimes*.

4. Cost: Diamonds are expensive. Some of this is because of the cost of production, some of this is because of scarcity, and some is because the diamond industry has been culpable at times of withholding supply.

*It should be noted that in the UK – less than 0.4% of diamonds in the market are estimated to be from conflict areas.

Lab-Grown Diamonds:

Diamonds have been grown industrially for decades, but what has evolved is the technology to produce higher quality gems on a commercial scale.


1. Ethical and Environmentally Friendly: Lab-grown diamonds are the more eco-friendly production, grown under man-made conditions, eliminating some of the energy consumption and environmental impact of mining.  Mainly created in factories in developed countries there aren’t the ethical concerns associated with conflict stones etc.

2. Cost-Effective: Lab-grown diamonds are produced on mass scale, and so are generally more affordable than natural diamonds offering opportunities for those who want a larger diamond without the high price tag.

3. Customization: Lab-grown diamonds can be custom-designed to meet specific preferences. They offer flexibility in terms of size, shape, and even colour.

4. Quality and Purity: Lab-grown diamonds contain fewer inclusions, resulting in diamonds with excellent clarity.

5. Availability: Lab-grown diamonds aren’t new. Diamonds have been grown industrially for decades, but what has evolved is the technology to produce higher quality gems on a commercial scale.


Let's be clear here - 'when referring to 'Lab Grown' you are referring to synthetic diamonds which are mass produced in factories. If you are considering the environmental friendliness of these stones, don’t greenwash yourself:

1. Energy Consumption: The production of lab-grown diamonds typically involves high-temperature, high-pressure (HTHP) or chemical vapor deposition (CVD) processes. These require a significant amount of energy, primarily in the form of electricity. While consumption is currently lower than the energy required for diamond mining, it's not negligible even now.  As demand for these diamonds increases so will the energy required.

2. Carbon Emissions: As the majority of lab-grown diamonds are currently made in developed countries, renewables aren't enough to support production which comes from various energy sources, including fossil fuels where carbon emissions will result.

3. Water Usage: Water is used in the cooling and cleaning processes during lab-grown diamond production. It’s relatively low, especially compared to natural diamond mining, but will increase as the volume of diamonds produced increases.

4. Chemicals and Waste: The production of lab-grown diamonds involves the use of chemicals and gases, a lot of which aren’t the friendly ones.

5. Wealth distribution and ethics: Lab-grown diamonds do not generate the same type of economic benefits for countries and communities where they are produced. As they are made in factories, profit share typically remains with the company shareholders. And a lot of the factories these stones come from are in regions where employee welfare is not priority. As the market competes on costs, wages will decrease for workers and working conditions will be compromised.

Right now it is a bit like the Wild West as the Lab-Grown gem diamond industry establishes itself.  There is a trade body called the International Grown Diamond Association (IGDA) who help consumers identify diamonds produced with a focus on environmental and ethical considerations. It’s worth noting that the IGDA is funded by the companies that own the lab grown diamond factories – it's better than nothing but doesn't offer any watertight guarantees.

Lab Grown Outlook

Big retailers, like Walmart, Swarowski and Pandora have really got behind lab grown as the perfect offering for their customers, because of their durability as well as cache.  Which means that the mass market is going to really open up for consumers (get flooded with stones) and costs will keep going down as bigger stones get easier to fabricate en-masse.  In the industry, a lot of gem suppliers have already stopped offering lab grown stones, there being no cost benefit to them.

Ultimately I think this means there will likely either be a price war, or the big players collaborate to withhold supply – exactly what the natural diamond industry is regularly accused of.  Most production will move to developing countries where the stones can be made for lower overheads, with less care for the environment and this will result in more of the employment and human rights issues that the earth mined diamond industry has tried to address. How regulated the industry will be is anyone's guess right now.

The Value Factor

I recently saw a 6ct oval lab grown diamond in a jewellery store for £11k (Dec 23). Obviously, for a lot of consumers saving somewhere in the region of £100K - £200K on a diamond that size is a good thing.  Provided that you have £11k to burn.  I can source the same size for £2.5k now, and In another year that stone is going to be worth about £1.5k, and in 5 years if you’re lucky it will still be a few hundred pounds.  A 6 carat natural diamond will have appreciated in value. Even smaller natural diamonds will hold their value better than lab grown.

A diamond for an Engagement Ring

When buying an engagement ring – stone choice will depend on your values.  Lab grown is currently better for avoiding environmental and human rights issues - but we now know this isn't futureproof. Long term you have to be OK with owning a ring mount that is worth more than the stone – there is no other intrinsic value to it.  

Natural means for many mortals, on a £3K budget they are likely to be able to own a good 0.50-0.60ct diamond ring, or a larger one with more imperfections. Costs then rise, not particularly democratically.

In conclusion,

I think there are great arguments for and against both. However, in the world of jewellery - being the whole world as with so many things we can trip ourselves up on our values.

You have to decide what ‘ethical’ means to you to make an informed decision and also your long term purchase motivations.  Lab grown is currently better for the environment, earth mined for community support in developing markets .  Lab grown better for a bigger stone for less money, earth mined for long term investment value.  Both have their advantages, and also their drawbacks.

I sell both, however more ‘earth mined’ diamonds generally.  The calibre of craftmanship I access doesn’t produce cheap pieces.  So often for the client, it’s a better all round purchase with a natural stone. This is because actually the cost of a natural diamond absorbs more of the ring production costs – it all balances out.  Whereas for a lab grown stone, the cost is in the manufacturing of the ring itself.  

I’m not a big celebrity jeweller or famous brand, hence I aim to help my clients towards jewellery that is good value now and in the future.  I think lab grown works better with mass production in lower finesse metals (like 9kt or silver).  But there again, lower quality workmanship can still result in a piece of jewellery which looks decidedly shabby as it ages.  However, at least the customer can console themselves that it didn’t cost that much to begin with - hopefully anyhow!

Want to discuss an engagement ring with us?

Get in touch and let us know more about your budget parameters, and what you think she’d like.

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