A 3-minute brief history of lab-grown diamonds

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If you’re just stopping by for the key points, here they are:

When Did Lab-Grown Diamonds Start: Based on Google data, interest in lab-grown diamonds began around December 2014, although the concept has been around since the 1940s.

Early Development: Rumors of diamond cultivation exist from 1879 to 1928, but General Electric successfully grew the first batch in 1954. Initially, the quality was not suitable for jewelry.

Improvement in Quality: By the 1990s, labs had improved the quality of lab-grown diamonds, making them suitable for engagement rings and jewelry.

Invention of the Growth Process: H.Tracy Hall created the first testable process in the 1950s. Techniques have since advanced, allowing up to 12 carats for diamond engagement rings.

Past Manufacturing Methods: Early attempts included heating charcoal to high temperatures, leading to failures until the discovery of successful lab methods, including the pioneering of the belt press by H.Tracey Hall.

Synthesizing Changes Over Time: Methods have evolved from high pressure and high temperature (HPHT) to more efficient processes like chemical vapor deposition (CVD).

Modern Methods: Today, HPHT and CVD stand out as key techniques for crafting diamonds suitable for jewelry. While CVD is favored for mass production due to its efficiency, HPHT excels in creating superior colorless E-D grade diamonds. To compensate, labs often employ a post-treatment process to enhance the color of CVD diamonds, making them brighter and more colorless.

Market Impact: The popularity of lab-grown diamonds surged primarily in 2014, driven by a desire for budget-friendly and environmentally responsible alternatives. Esteemed and reputable companies such as Blue Nile and James Allen have played a significant role in ushering lab-grown diamonds into the mainstream market. Their reliability makes them highly recommended choices in this field.

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Table of Contents

When were lab diamonds first created?

Based on Google data, the world started to show interest in lab-grown diamonds around December 2014. However, we’ve known this alternative product for years. In this article, we’ll go over the history of lab-grown diamonds and see how they reached their popularity as we know them today.

When were lab diamonds first created?

Some claim that lab-created diamond cultivation was there from 1879 to 1928. However, none of these rumors have been confirmed. What we do now is that lab-grown diamonds have been around since the 1940s.

It’s important to remember that diamond is the hardest known material to date. For that reason, many companies saw the potential of diamonds for cutting and drilling tools usage. The first company to discover how to grow diamonds can win this vast market. And so the race began.

Records show that General Electric was the first to grow a batch of lab-created diamonds in 1954. However, this product became available only in the 1970s and commercially accessible in the 1980s. That being said, none of the diamonds had been nice enough for jewelry purposes.

Jumping 10 years into the 1990s, the labs finally figured out how to improve their product quality and grow better diamonds that can be used for engagement rings and jewelry.

By the way, word on the street has it the Swedish Electrical Group took part in that “cold war race” to lab-grown diamonds. Somehow, they managed to keep it a top secret until the 1980s.

The more you know 🙂

Who first invented the lab diamond growth process?

General Electric chemist known as H.Tracy Hall came up with the first testable process to manufacture lab diamonds in the 1950s. This has been an aim for centuries for chemists, alchemists, physicists in the lab-made diamond history.

The first lab cultivated diamonds were characterized by being very small, low quality, and almost invisible. By then, the type of lab-made diamonds was perfect for industrial use. Over the years they have evolved to make what man-made diamonds are today.

H.Tracy Hall - lab grown diamonds history
H.Tracy Hall changing the history with lab-grown diamonds

Technology and technique advancement has facilitated the creation of lab-grown diamonds. Today up to 12 carats of a lab-made diamond can be used to make diamond engagement rings. Over the years the size and quality of lab-created diamonds have improved. Man-made diamonds are now accessible and available in different quality ranges having cuts, color, and clarity similar to those of mined diamonds.

How were lab diamonds previously made in the past?

Henry Moissan, an early inventor of the lab-grown diamond manufacturing process, claimed he had made a single diamond successfully. He added heat to charcoal in a carbon crucible, increasing the temperatures to 3,500 degrees Celsius. There were various attempts to copy his success by many, but not all were confirmed. For many years diamond producers tried to make diamonds like other stones. This was a total failure until they discovered a way to grow lab diamonds.

Since then, lab procedures and processes have greatly improved to make quality diamonds fit for jewelry and engagement ring use. Later H.Tracey Hall pioneered the belt press. The Hall Belt press in 1954 produced high pressure and temperature to dissolve metals like iron, nickel, and cobalt to turn them into diamonds.

How did lab diamond synthesizing change over the years?

Over the years, many people have claimed to have successfully synthesized diamonds, but no reproducible or documented process accessible for duplication until recently. The first success of synthesizing diamonds was done by copying nature using the method of high pressure and high temperature (HPHT diamonds). Over the decade, other ways like chemical vapor deposition (CVD diamonds), split-sphere presses, modern cubic, and belt press were introduced. The additional methods are more efficient and extensive compared to the initial method.

Rows of lab grown diamond seeds that will become lab-grown diamonds
Rows of diamond seeds that will become lab-grown diamonds

How are lab-grown diamonds made today?

CVD vs. HPHT

HPHT diamonds

HPHT is an acronym for high pressure and high temperature. HPHT is a method invented in the 1950s to produce lucrative diamonds. Genuine diamonds can be produced from scratch using the HPHT technique in a controlled environment. Additionally, we can also use HPHT to enhance the color grade of natural diamonds, for example, from K to D.

Unlike diamonds in nature, diamond formation through the HPHT method takes only 2-4 weeks. The process includes the following steps.

HPHT growth process:

  • A tiny seed of diamond placed into pure carbon is used to start the HPHT diamond creation process.
  • From there, the diamond seed is subjected to extreme heat and pressure.
  • The conditions make the carbon melt, and a diamond builds around the seed.
  • The resulting substance is then cooled to create a diamond.
  • Finally, the rough diamond is ready for cutting and polishing, to be set into jewelry like the mined diamond.

CVD diamonds

CVD means a chemical vapor deposition system used to form lab diamonds. The CVD system starts with a diamond seed, a small part of a natural diamond fit, undergoing high pressure and temperature conditions. This makes it a critical step for the CVD process, which requires choosing the highest and strongest natural diamond to create a lab diamond.

The seed is placed in a vacuum chamber, filled with high content carbon gases, and then heated to over 1000 degrees. The high temperatures make the gases turn into plasma. Plasma is a vital ingredient that enables the diamond layers to build. The result of the CVD process is a lovely stone.

Read my full comparison between CVD vs. HPHT diamonds here.

A rough lab grown diamond emerges from the CVD plasma reactor - Picture by Lightbox
A rough lab grown diamond emerges from the CVD plasma reactor - Picture by Lightbox

Lab-grown diamonds and the jewelry market

As we’ve seen on Google Trends, lab-grown diamonds started to gain popularity mainly in 2014. It didn’t happen by accident: New consumers worldwide started looking for affordable and eco-friendly diamonds. In fact, over 70% of millennials admit to considering buying lab-grown instead of mined diamonds. 

Large companies like Brilliant Earth and James Allen saw the demand and took it by the horns. They decided to make lab-grown diamonds accessible to the broad market. At the start, the diamond industry stood against the entrance of this alternative product. However, due to large market demand, even the GIA (gemological institute of America) decided to join this new wave. 

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Author: Yaniv Hadar

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