Buying jewelry is a serious investment and sometimes, it can be seriously confusing to figure out. How do you know if you’re buying the best quality diamond? What’s the difference between lab-grown and natural? Are they the comparable in quality? Do they cost the same? We set out to tackle all the tough questions with the help of CEO and founder of KBH Jewels, Kimberly Berry Haisch (who counts Ashley Graham, Ali Larter, Molly Sims and Kate Mara among her celeb clientele).
KBH only uses environmentally and socially conscious diamonds in every piece created and Haisch gave us a full run-down of what a lab-grown diamond actually constitutes. So before you (or your significant other) make your next big jewelry purchase, be sure you know all the facts about lab diamonds and why eco-friendly is the diamond of the future.
PEOPLE: What is the correct term to use when referring to lab-grown diamonds?
KBH: Lab-made is appropriate for discussing diamonds grown by man. Mined diamonds is the appropriate way to discuss diamonds found in nature.
Is there a noticeable difference when looking at a natural vs. lab-made diamond?
KBH: No. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just rewrote their guidelines in July and changed the definition of what constitute as a diamond. They ruled that lab-grown are not synthetic and are physically, chemically, visually identical to mined diamonds. Mined diamond are made from carbon. And carbon is an element. And a diamond forms because the carbon starts to crystallize. So now, the definition of a diamond is crystallized carbon. And that’s exactly what we do when making lab-grown diamonds — crystalize carbon.
What’s the process of making a lab-grown diamond?
KBH: A lab grown diamond starts with carbon the way it would start with carbon underneath the surface of the Earth. Then, it’s put under the same environments in a greenhouse lab. They put it in the same pressure and temperature, and they add in the same chemicals to have the reaction for the carbon to crystallize. And the more it crystallizes, the diamond gets bigger. It starts with what they’re calling a baby diamond seed, which is carbon. It’s almost like a tomato that is grown in a greenhouse from a seed, versus a tomato that naturally grew out of the ground, when that seed fell on the ground.
Can you visually tell the difference between lab-grown and mined diamonds?
KBH: The technology in lab-grown diamonds gets better every day, and there is no way to tell the difference. In different parts of the world, different carbon is exposed to different chemical reactions. No one place is the same, so no one mined diamond has the exact same lattice.
Is it faster to make a lab grown diamond?
KBH: Yes, it’s much faster. Using advanced technological processes they’ve been able to duplicate the conditions under which diamonds naturally develop beneath the earth’s crust, and create them at a faster rate in a highly controlled laboratory. One carat cut diamond takes about three months. Once it’s grown, then it goes under the same process as any mined diamond does, through the four C’s, cut, color, clarity, carat. And the better it’s cut the more it shines. They are graded with that system by the same agencies and governing bodies that grade all of the mined diamonds. You know, IGI or GIA, they all come certified as well.
What’s the environmental impact of mined diamonds?
KBH: To mine about one carat stone, one has to dig down upwards of 1,700 tons of soil. They have to go down the equivalent of ten city blocks into the Earth for one carat. Environmentally, to have to unearth 1,700, almost 2,000 tons of soil for one carat, is not sustainable.
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Do you think lab-grown diamonds will completely disrupt the mined diamond industry?
KBH: If you want to get technical, if you look at Morgan Stanley’s report, they’re saying that right now lab-grown diamonds account for about one percent of the jewelry industry. I think it’s actually even less than one percent. But they’re saying in two years, by 2020, it’s going to be 15%. They’re also saying that mined diamonds are continuing to decline, drastically. And I think that accounts for two things.
First, large diamond mines have been mined dry. Argyle is the largest diamond producer in the world by volume, although due to the low proportion of gem-quality diamonds it is set to close by 2020. Second, consumers are becoming educated about how bad it is to mine for diamonds. And they now know there’s another option that’s identical without the devastation. It’s kind of this necessary trend. The idea of clean luxury needs to be the future.
How did you get involved in the lab-grown diamond business?
KBH: My mom was in jewelry, we used to call her Dr. Diamonds. I grew up going to the Diamond District in N.Y.C. with her and always setting stones and going to the shows. She was the one that actually told me about lab-grown diamonds first. Before having kids, I worked for Bobbi Brown, then I took a little break from working when I had my children, but I always knew that I wanted to go back and do something. And I was back on 47th Street, resetting my original engagement ring, when heard about lab diamonds again.
I started to talk to my mom about it, and I started doing all this research. And I began to think about the traditions and modern heirlooms my mom and dad always gave and we passed on to one another. Then I thought about what I was doing differently for my children. What was I passing on that they were going to remember? And there was the option out there to have a socially conscious version that is 100% real, that’s grown without the environmental devastation, why wasn’t that option available? Why didn’t people know about this? The plan and the hope is that we continue to pass down pieces to the next generation that are environmentally conscious and beautifully made.