Beautiful Science: The history of lab-grown diamonds
7th May 2020
Over a hundred years ago, a story was written about recreating the conditions inside the Earth’s crust in order to create diamonds. What was then a sci-fiction story has since become a reality, and in recent years lab-grown diamonds have become a popular choice for those looking for conscious beauty.
Lab-grown diamonds have more history than you might expect. Beginning in the late 19th to early 20th century, scientists have been attempting to create diamonds with science. However, all initial attempts were unsuccessful and the idea of lab-grown diamonds was largely disregarded by the scientific community. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that the next wave of significant attempts began to revive some interest. At this time, various scientific groups across the world began to crop up in quick succession with diamonds that had been made from their own methods.
It began in 1952 when William Eversole created the first lab-grown diamonds to have ever existed. He used a method called chemical vapour deposition, which created tiny brown-coloured stones. The following year, a Swedish company called ASEA created similarly small stones using a high pressure-high temperature method which recreates the basic elemental forces of the Earth’s crust. However, it was Tracy Hall and his team of scientists at General Electrics (GE) who announced that they had discovered a way of producing lab-grown diamonds with greater impact and consistency. They did this by adding carbon flux to their method (which, at its basic principles, is the method we largely use today).
These initial diamond growths were wonderful feats of science but they were not yet pure enough for jewellery use. For more than a decade, it seemed as though lab-grown diamonds would only be used for industrial purposes – until GE pushed the boundaries again. In 1971, a number of their diamonds (ranging from 0.26 – 0.30 carats, and J – F in colour) were sent to a diamond firm in New York. The fruits of their labour were by far the largest diamonds to have ever been produced by man, and the shock waves were felt across the diamond industry.
Many companies – ranging from Sumitomo Electric Companies in Japan to the Gemological Institute of America – strived over the next few decades to create the perfect lab-grown diamond. The search continued onwards into the early 2000s, and then (as if by fate) many of these groups perfected the process near-enough simultaneously. Lab-grown diamonds became identical to their earth-mined counterparts. Since then, laboratories from across the world have been able to create diamonds that are so perfect that gemologists are unable to separate them from those mined from the Earth. In fact, lab-grown diamonds might be a rare example of science out-doing nature. Only 20% of diamonds from the ground are of a requisite quality for jewellery, whereas near enough every single lab-grown diamond matches up to the standard. However, it isn’t just assurance of quality and the identical composition of lab-grown diamonds that have people talking.
The ethical process of diamond production in laboratories puts diamond mining and its immortalities under a large microscope. In every aspect, from the rights of workers and communities to the welfare of the planet and reduction of pollution, lab-grown diamonds prove themselves to be the superior stones. Aside from these ethical benefits, there is also an advantage to the wallets of the customers. Regardless of them being physically identical to earth-mined diamonds, lab-grown versions are less expensive. It is perhaps the price that people and the planet have to pay when they purchase mined-diamonds that has seen lab-grown diamonds become one of the fastest-growing sectors in the entire jewellery market.
From the attempts of 18th-century scientists to the success of a global industry – via a sci-fi book in between – lab-grown diamonds are ready to change the jewellery market forever. These beautiful creations go to show the ability of man to turn bad to good, and dreams into reality.