A new generation of jewelers sells factory-made gems that look just as good as their natural counterparts—but are way easier on the planet and your pocketbook.
By Michella Oré
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So you’ve met the one and feel ready to pop the question. If you’re traditional, you’re going to want a ring. And if you’re really traditional, any old ring won’t do—you’re probably going to want a diamond. But before you spend a couple month’s rent on a rock you can see with the Hubble telescope, it’s worth considering where, exactly, that diamond should come from. “Factory-made” might not sound all that sexy, but lab-grown diamonds are catching on with a cohort of style-conscious couples, and the best of them are worth a second look. So in an effort to make your journey to nuptial bliss as smooth as possible, GQ Recommends did some digging (sorry) and called up a few of the biggest names in the industry to get you the lowdown. Here’s what you need to know.
Lab-grown diamonds have started to gain traction for a few reasons: they’re ethically-sourced, they don’t wreak havoc on the environment, and they’re often significantly cheaper than their “natural” counterparts. (If you thought the term was just a cute industry catchall for sparkly materials that have zero connection to actual gems, you might be thinking of cubic zirconia—but more on that later). And yet, stigma surrounding lab-grown diamonds persists. What’s the deal?
What Is a Lab-Grown Diamond?
Although they may seem new, lab-grown diamonds have been around since the ‘50s—and they’ve been fighting an uphill battle to gain market traction ever since.
“Natural diamonds and laboratory-grown diamonds have nearly the same chemical, physical, and optical properties,” says Dr. Sally Magaña, a research scientist and manager of diamond identification at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). The key difference between the two boils down to origin. Natural diamonds are composed of crystallized carbon and take billions of years to form; lab-grown diamonds can be produced in a matter of days by extracting atmospheric carbon and processing it through either chemical vapor deposition (CVD) or a high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) environment. And just like their natural counterparts, lab-grown diamonds are measured against the “4 Cs”: clarity, color, cut and carat weight.
Go Figure! Anything Else I Should Know?
For many shoppers, the appeal of lab-grown diamonds is a matter of principle—buying a factory-made gem sidesteps the diamond industry’s disturbing history of egregious human rights violations. It’s why Alexander Weindling, a third generation diamond jeweler who worked as a supplier for brands like Zales and Kay, decided to leave the family business before branching out on his own. Weindling says he can make excuses for his grandfather and for his father, who had limited options as an immigrant navigating an unfamiliar country, but, he says, “there's no excuse for me.” So, after witnessing firsthand the debilitating effects diamond mining has on the the environment, and noticing the dearth of lab-grown options in the fine jewelry space, he co-founded Clean Origin in 2017.