Red glass or a rare pigeon blood ruby? Green glass or a hard-to-find flawless emerald? Fake or imitation gemstones have been around for centuries, and most of us can remember a beloved costume jewelry piece from childhood. But today, the science and technology exist to create synthetic gemstones that have all the same properties of mined natural stones. That’s changing the conversation.
As “lab created” or “lab grown” diamonds become a more frequent headline in the fine jewelry world, the Bario Neal team is discussing the topic too. We’re thinking about how those stones fit into what we do as jewelry designers and jewelry-wearers. We love the origin story of natural diamonds and gemstones — and that it takes geological forces and minerals unique to a specific place and time to create these treasured objects. As proponents of ethical sourcing, we seek to evaluate every aspect of a “new” material and its impact on places and people who depend on the material in its natural form. As the folks entrusted by our clients to guide them toward a wise and beautiful investment, we want to be sure that investment will be lasting.
We appreciate that lab created diamonds are a fascinating technology, don’t require diamond mining, and can be traced to their manufacturing facility. We don’t currently offer lab created diamonds in Bario Neal’s collections, but we do source created diamonds when clients request them for custom designs.
The Diamond Producers Association, which promotes the natural diamond mining industry, has responded to the rise in popularity of lab grown diamonds with a “Real Is Rare” marketing campaign that touts the idea that natural diamonds are a “luxury” product and created diamonds are not. Fans appreciate everything from the fact that they’re a scientific and technological achievement to the idea that they avoid the environmental impacts of extractive mining. Speculation abounds about their potential popularity.
All synthetic diamonds start with a “seed” diamond (a small natural mined diamond). That seed is then subjected to gases at a high temperature, and synthetic diamonds grow over the course of a few weeks. There are a few manufacturing methods. One requires high pressure to be applied through a press. Another uses chemicals to stimulate growth.
At Bario Neal, even though we don’t design our collections with lab grown diamonds, we welcome honest conversations with clients about all gemstone sourcing and that includes talking about synthetic stones. We love exchanging ideas, and our perspective may change over time. To start, here are a few thoughts on some of the questions people are wondering about lab created diamonds.
1. Why does Bario Neal design its collections with natural diamonds?
Diamond and gemstone mining have historically done a great deal of damage to some of the people and the places where those stones were mined. “Diamonds have the potential to create real economic benefit for the communities where they are mined,” says Anna Bario, Bario Neal Principal + Lead Designer.
Bario Neal feels a deep obligation to ensuring natural diamonds are a resource benefit in the communities that were negatively affected by them. “We think that’s a much greater priority than establishing an entirely new supply chain and whole other infrastructure for created diamonds,” Anna says. “Mining can be done in a way that creates jobs and economic activity. Mining is always unsustainable, but it can be environmentally sensitive and be done artisanally. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we can have traceable supply chains from mines to market for diamonds that create benefit along the way. That’s achievable.”
The big investment firms that are putting money into labs making diamonds stand to benefit financially from that model. (There are many uses for created diamonds besides engagement rings. Industrial diamonds are used as cutting tools and in electronics.) “Imagine if we had hundreds of millions of dollars — the capital invested in lab grown companies — to invest in creating new, responsible supply chains for natural diamonds that empower local miners and provide for environmental remediation,” says Anna.
2. Are lab created diamonds better for the environment?
Here’s what we do know: Mining can pollute our air and water and strip the earth of nutrients, but growing gemstones in a lab is very energy intensive, which makes its own environmental impact. Synthetic diamond manufacturers have to build a machine (which itself requires mining for materials) and then heat that machine, and employ chemicals in the process. So far, we haven’t seen a good analysis of the footprint of lab grown diamonds.
If a Bario Neal client wants to use lab grown diamonds in a personalized ring design, we’ll offer stones from a source that aligns with our values as much as possible. For example, there are companies making lab grown diamonds that power their operations with renewable energy like solar power, and support nonprofit organizations that work to make mining more safe and sustainable for miners. Those are pluses in our book.
P.S. There’s a choice behind door #3. We love using recycled diamonds, which don’t require new mining or energy-intensive manufacturing. Their purchase underpins a secondary market that, in turn, enables natural diamonds to hold more of their value.
3. Are natural diamonds higher quality than lab created diamonds?
You can grow flawless diamonds in a lab, and many are created with very high-quality materials. They can have the same shine, hardness, and durability as natural diamonds. Some in the industry feel they don’t have the emotional value or energetic charge of mined diamonds.
At Bario Neal, we find a lot to appreciate about what natural diamond formation brings to jewelry. What some call “inclusions” or flaws, we see as unique characteristics. “We love to imagine the billions of years it took natural forces to create diamonds,” Anna says. “As jewelry designers, we see the imperfections as part of what makes natural diamonds beautiful.”
4. Are natural diamonds more valuable than lab grown diamonds?
This will depend a lot on how the lab grown diamond market evolves in coming years. Right now, lab created diamonds cost on average 25% to 30% less than mined diamonds.
Bario Neal is watching the market’s pricing stability because we want to be responsible retailers. “Natural diamond and gold prices fluctuate, but they are relatively stable. Lab grown diamonds are so new that it’s hard for us to know if their value as a significant investment will hold in the long run.”
However, Anna notes, for smaller, more accessibly priced diamonds this might not be a big concern for clients. Companies making lab grown diamonds can also provide origin documents or value guarantees with their stones. Bario Neal has used lab created colored gemstones from time to time in custom designs. We also use colorless moissanite (and white sapphires too!) as a diamond alternative. Moissanite are made in a lab — though it isn’t a stone that exists naturally in the earth so creating it doesn’t diminish potential benefits for artisanal miners. “Moissanite is significantly more affordable than lab grown and natural diamonds,” Anna says. “So, for me, when a client wants something beautiful and affordable and colorless, I think moissanite and white sapphire are great options. We do want to provide those alternatives.”
The Bario Neal team is happy to provide our clients with ring design prices with different diamond types. We can tell you what a custom ring will cost with a traceable origin mined diamond, a lab grown diamond, and a recycled diamond. Beyond that, we’re happy to keep this conversation going with all clients interested in our ethical sourcing and give you all the details you need to make a fully informed purchase of our handcrafted jewelry. Contact us today to make an appointment to work with us from afar, or to visit our Philadelphia or New York City showrooms.