What are synthetic diamonds (man-made diamonds) and will they affect natural diamond trade or value?

Synthetic diamonds is one topic which is not going away from the news or diamond trade discussion for the last few months.  Since the big announcement in early June by De beers that they are creating their own synthetic diamond jewelry line and then the second big announcement by US Federation Trade Commission’s (FTC) decision to remove the word ‘natural’ from its definition of diamonds they are thousands of articles discussing as to how this will affect the natural diamond trade.    So, in today’s blog post I wanted to discuss what synthetic diamonds really are, how to check for synthetics and finally my personal opinion on how synthetic diamonds will affect the overall natural diamond trade.

What are synthetic diamonds?

In very simple layman terms, synthetic diamonds are the same as natural diamonds in terms of chemical composition (pure carbon), crystal structure and physical property (hardness & durability); however, they are made by man and not formed inside earth like natural diamonds.

The process of making natural diamonds usually takes billions of years through an environment of ‘high-pressure high temperature’ (HPHT) deep inside the earth’s crust.  Coal and graphite, like the diamond, are also pure carbon however because they both were not exposed to the same HPHT environment, these pure carbon elements didn’t form and become a diamond.  So, for all the science geniuses out there who don’t want to spend their hard earned money on a diamond, why not propose to your girlfriend with a nice piece of coal or graphite?

In the 1950s, large labs like General Electric created machines which simulate the same environment (HPHT) and successfully created synthetics in their labs.  However, this process did require very expensive equipment and a lot of energy and the final results was not satisfactory as most synthetics were either too ‘yellowish’ or ‘brownish’ in color.

There is, however, a newer and cheaper process called ‘CVD’ (Chemical Vapor Deposition) which has now been hitting the market in the last 5 to 6 years.  Initially, CVD synthetic diamonds had the same issues like old HPHT diamonds by producing only brownish color diamonds, but now after a lot of trial and error, producers they have found ways to make these diamonds look almost colorless and almost impossible to detect without sophisticated machinery.

If you would like to read more about both processes I do recommend checking this GIA article, which summarizes it pretty well: https://www.gia.edu/gia-news-research-improved-quality-identification-challenges

How to check for Synthetic Diamonds?

rough-synthetic-diamond-500x500
Rough Synthetic Diamond sold by Surat Dealer – © Jenu Jewel

Unlike synthetic color gemstones (a future topic we will introduce in the next few weeks), synthetic diamonds are a lot more difficult to detect as most don’t have any internal inclusions, eye visible indicators and most are very clean.

GIA has actually been trying to detect synthetic diamonds from the beginning and has a very strong incentive to make sure they can detect these man-made substitutes as grading ‘natural diamond’ is their largest cash cow or bread earner.   They actually do have the most to lose, if people start distrusting their ability to detect synthetics as the labs business is all about peoples trust.

So, after taking samples and doing hundreds of testing they found the following characteristics as to how synthetic diamonds differ from natural diamonds:

  • Large labs like GIA use spectral analysis, which can distinguish whether the diamonds were created by CVD or are natural diamonds.
    • Spectral analysis can see what exactly is the chemical composition of a diamond.
  • Grain patterns are different between natural and synthetics.  All diamonds have graining but the ‘pattern’ seen in nature is different from man-made ones.
  • Ultraviolet reaction is also different between synthetic and natural diamonds.  These can be seen by GIA’s DiamondView

How will synthetic diamond affect the natural diamond trade?

As synthetic diamonds have the exact same property as natural diamonds, there is a lot of panic in natural diamond trade that this will reduce the value of natural diamonds.  While it is true they are ‘near’ perfect substitutes, we do have to remember that there is ‘unlimited’ supply for synthetic diamonds (carbon is abundant and everywhere) while natural diamonds are limited to what is being mined or the ones already existing in the market.

So based on a simple economic principle, when a resource has unlimited supply there is actually no limit as to how low priced it can be as any person or lab can produce an additional unit.  Synthetic diamonds have this issue while natural diamonds don’t. Therefore, synthetics in long-term won’t really have any value while natural diamonds will retain theirs.

To prove my point I want to provide two examples as to what happens when you have an unlimited supply of something compared to limited supply.

In history, we have seen multiple times in the currency market that when a country prints an unlimited supply of money their currency soon becomes worthless.  Famous examples include, what happened to German Papiermark after World War I or most recently Zimbabwe Dollar in the 2010s. To retain value even for the paper money you do have to limit the supply.

Zimbabwe Trillion_3_CROP
$100 trillion Zimbabwe bank note, couldn’t buy a candy with it.   Credit: Marianian/Creative Commons

Also, another closer example is what happened in color gemstone trade.  Synthetic rubies were invented in the 1880s (more than 100 hundred years ago) and can be produced in tons.  They are also perfect substitutes to natural rubies in terms of color (actually better than natural) chemical composition, crystal structure, and physical property.   However, in today’s market synthetic rubies have no value – the only cost is labor for cutting the stones – while highest quality unheated & untreated rubies have shot up in value as they are very limited in supply.   The same can be seen for synthetic VS natural emeralds and sapphires as well.

Now another issue which is worrying the diamond trade is how the new generation consumers are becoming more aware as to how rough diamonds are being sourced and traded – movies like blood diamond helped – and are now wanting only 100% guarantee conflict-free diamonds  as they don’t want to sponsor the horrible acts due to financing diamond or environment-impact.   This is one issue, I do agree with and has to be tackled by natural diamond trade.  But, with new technologies like ‘nanoparticle’ technology being introduced in Zambian emeralds, I am sure in the near future we will be able to trace exactly where a natural diamond source is from.  Once this becomes established, this will bring trust back in the natural diamond business and eliminate this very important issue.

Therefore long-term I do believe natural diamonds will be a better investment and natural diamond trade has nothing to worry about synthetics taking over.

Thai Native Gems – Conflict free diamond clause –

We at Thai Native Gems try our best to check the companies we deal with, have a clause, mission statement, or manifesto stating that we deal only in ‘conflict-free’ diamonds and strictly follow the Kimberly Process.  As we truly believe in eradicating these horrible acts from the diamond trade we will strive to the best of our ability and knowledge to make sure we will not trade or acquire any conflict or blood diamonds.

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Thai Native Gems Diamond search service:
If you are in the market looking for the best diamond in Bangkok, Thailand contact us and let us know what your budget is and what you are looking for.   From this initial information, we will swiftly find and email you 4 to 5 diamond options to choose from that we feel fits your needs best.  Unlike other traditional or online dealers, I am not looking to sell you anything, but will provide you honest, frank and objective opinion in what we think is best in the budget you offer.  This service is free, and there absolutely no commitment to buy any of our suggestions.  The only thing you have to do is not respond to our email and you won’t hear from us again! So, you truly have nothing to lose!

How do we compile this diamond list?  Our search process is provided below:

1) We first will contact our local diamond supply network and check if there are any stones that fits your requirement in Bangkok, Thailand.  We have over 50 contacts in Bangkok and will check ALL to make sure we can provide you the best deal.

2) If not satisfied, we will then check online through our extensive global network sifting through over 900,000+ diamonds and will find you the best diamond.  The only setback when choosing the diamond from this global list is, it can take one week to two weeks to arrive to Bangkok. 

Example of diamond we sourced:

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Contact us today to get all your wholesale gemstones, diamonds and jewelry needs.  We can Source, Search and Supply anything you require.   

What will you get if you contact us

  • Get wholesale and highly competitive prices of gemstones & diamonds from anywhere through our extensive network of contacts around the world
  • All stones sold by us is verified in house by our GIA Graduate Gemologist or certified
  • We provide personalized service and NOT the same old “One Size Fits All” Approach

You can learn more by clicking here or image below

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