|From engagement ring with only lab-created diamonds|
Lab-created diamonds have been used for decades for industrial purposes, and a few companies have been working on gem-quality lab-created diamonds for several years. Only in the last few years, however, did it become easier to purchase such diamonds, and only very slowly so far has it become easier to find lab-created diamonds above 1 carat. Finding and purchasing lab-created diamonds is still much harder than buying natural diamonds. Thus, I thought it would be good to share the results of the reading and research I did for the benefit of others who may be interested. (Note that I don't plan to post to this blog regularly---Blogger was just a convenient place to host this page.)
This page includes a couple photos of our ring, plus a video of it sparkling in sunlight. For more pictures, including higher-resolution versions of the ones here, see the separate page with several captioned photos.
Our Ring: Basics
As you can see from the pictures, our ring consists of a big yellow/orange diamond surrounded by a pair of smaller white diamonds in turn surrounded by a slightly smaller pair of blue diamonds. Without going into specific weights, the big stone is between 1 and 2 carats, and each of the 4 smaller stones is under 1/2 carat but more than 1/5 ct.
- The big diamond is a fancy vivid orange yellow emerald-cut from Adia Diamonds, a joint venture between Pearlman's jewelers, in Michigan, and a Canadian company, AOTC. Adia appears to have changed its name to D.NEA Diamonds, but is still associated with AOTC. One used to be able to find Adia loose stones on Pearlman's website as well as the Adia website, but this may not be true for D.NEA.
- The two white stones come from Apollo Diamond, in the Boston area.
- The blues are from Chatham Created Gems and Diamonds, a San-Francisco based company.
- The ring itself is platinum, and the design and production were done by a local jeweler.
The yellow/orange and blue stones were produced by the more established and common synthetic diamond process known as High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT). The white stones were produced by a newer process known as Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD). Apollo was the only manufacturer producing gem-quality diamonds using CVD at the time.
HPHT makes it relatively easy to produce colored diamonds, but harder to produce white/clear stones. CVD allows the production of white diamonds more easily than HPHT. Thus, Apollo concentrates on white stones and most of the other manufacturers have concentrated on colored diamonds, though Adia says it has made and sold, and will make more, white stones. Most of the jewelry that I saw with colored synthetic diamonds contained either just colored stones or a mix of colored synthetic diamonds and white
natural diamonds. Most of the jewelry I saw from Apollo contained only Apollo white synthetic diamonds. I haven't seen, nor seen any mention of, any jewelry that contained both colored and white lab-created diamonds. Nor have I heard of any that contained both HPHT and CVD created diamonds. I wonder how many other pieces currently exist that combine these things, like ours. Could ours be the first such ring?
Why Lab-Created Diamonds?
Lab-created diamond chemically are diamonds. As one might expect, they look just as beautiful as natural diamonds. They are not the same as diamond substitutes, which have different chemical and visual properties. There are several reasons one might prefer lab-created diamonds to natural, mined diamonds:
- No chance of them being "conflict" or "blood" diamonds.
- No/low negative environmental consequences.
- Easier to get colored diamonds: Lab-created colored stones are much cheaper than mined equivalents, and there is much greater selection to find the exact color and specs you want, which is particularly important when looking for matched pairs or larger sets.
- No involvement from DeBeers, a company many regard as evil for its long-time monopolistic manipulation of the diamond industry prices and its manipulative advertising, as described in the classic Atlantic article, "Have you ever tried to sell a diamond?".
- More important than the issue of conflict diamonds, natural diamonds help keep millions of people in poverty through the "natural resource trap" (aka "Dutch disease"), as described in Chapter 2 of Paul Collier's excellent book, The Bottom Billion. In the case of other natural resources (gas, metals, etc.) that fetch high prices due to the value they provide to societies through the power or raw materials they provide, one can argue that the natural resource trap at least has a small silver lining. But since the value of diamonds is largely an artificial result of monopolistic price manipulation (see previous bullet point), the poverty that results is particularly sad in this case.
- Lastly, buying synthetic diamonds supports the technology likely to play a key role replacing silicon in next-generation computers, as described in the now-famous synthetic diamond article from Wired, "The new diamond age". (It should be obvious that next-generation computing platforms will bring countless benefits and improvements to the world.)
The Diamond Purchasing Process
There are 4 main companies of which I am aware that produce gem-quality synthetic diamonds for sale in the US---the 3 mentioned above plus Gemesis Cultured Diamonds, located in Florida. Each company has a slightly different story and a slightly different purchasing process. (I'm not including any discussion about where to buy non-diamond substances that are commonly used as diamond substitutes. Such things are much easier to find and buy than real lab-created diamonds.)
Gemesis and Apollo are perhaps the best known, having been featured in the Wired article linked above (see the article for more background on each). Thus, I started with these companies. Armed only with the constraint of an emerald-cut shape, initially I sought to purchase a single loose white stone. Apollo made whites but none big enough for what I wanted in a main engagement ring stone---basically none bigger than 3/4 of a carat. Also, Apollo only made round and princess cuts. Supposedly, size was increasing slowly over time and other shapes would eventually follow.
Gemesis focussed on yellow diamonds, some with a bit of orange color. Gemesis produces the rough and then distributes this to one of a handful of partners (listed on its website), which in turn cut and produce the finished stones and then distribute them to individual retailers, which can be found listed on the websites of the partners. Pure yellow was not desirable to us, but orange or orange-yellow seemed like it might work. I checked the closest retailer to me, a retailer of the partner Solaura Jewelry, but they had no Gemesis stones of any shape above 1 carat, though they had seen some occasionally and knew Gemesis had made some as big as 2 carats.
|From engagement ring with only lab-created diamonds|
At some point during all that, I learned about Chatham. Chatham is a family-owned and evidently somewhat secretive San-Francisco-based company that has been producing synthetic gemstones (other than diamonds) for many years. In recent years, they added synthetic diamonds to their lineup. They focus on colored stones, but with more selection than Gemesis, offering blues and pinks in addition to yellows. Their website indicated stones up to 1.2ct, and hinted that bigger stones were available, but I was not able to locate any 1+ct stones, and in blue, only small stones appeared to be
Chatham sells through retailers, but with a slightly different process than Gemesis. Chatham's process is more awkward, but possibly has a greater chance of you finding something you want if such a thing is available. One can find a list of retailers on their website. Then you contact the retailer and describe what you want. The retailers don't carry any (or much) inventory in their stores, but when you call, they'll call Chatham. If Chatham has something within the parameters given, they'll tell the retailer the specifics. The retailer then calls you back with the details and asks if you want to look at them. If you do, Chatham sends the stones to the retailer and you make an appointment to go look at them. If you want them, you buy them. If not, they get sent back to Chatham.
Since I liked the blue and white colors, but could only get small stones in either, I decided to buy a matching pair in each color to possibly use on either side of the main stone. I figured they could always be made into earings if they didn't end up getting used in the ring. I went through exactly the above Chatham process to buy our blue pair from a local jeweler. The jeweler said he didn't know any details of where Chatham diamonds are actually grown, where they are cut, or whether Chatham cuts them or outsources the cutting, due to the secrecy of the company. The stones came loose, completely loose---just wrapped in white paper. We really like the deep blue color they have.
Apollo had 2 websites, one for the company and one for their on-line store, with several jewelry pieces featuring their diamonds, but very little specific info on any of the stones. To really buy anything from the store you had to phone. I had initially determined that all the stones were small, but on deciding to buy a pair of smaller whites, I re-contacted them. At some point the phone conversations turned into e-mails. Throughout these conversations my contact was helpful and friendly. He explained that they produced the rough, had it cut, and then sold the diamonds directly.
From their website, it appeared that they only sold jewelry but not loose stones. I let them know by e-mail that they would get a lot more buyers if they let people buy loose stones and not force them to be extracted from undesired jewelry and was told that they had just decided to sell loose stones as well---great timing. After getting a list of what they had available in the desired size range, I ordered a roughly size matched pair of rounds with good clarity. The two stones came in a nice jewelry case suspended between two layers of stretchy cling-wrap so that they could be examined top and bottom without opening the case. Each stone came with a certificate from Apollo's own lab, but not from an independent lab---they aren't really big enough to justify
sending them out for independent grading. Each stone is proudly engraved with Apollo's name and a serial number---these guys aren't trying to pass their products off as something else. (The Chatham stones aren't engraved---perhaps they are too small for Chatham to bother. I wonder whether Chatham's larger stones are engraved?)
Adia (now D.NEA) was the last of the 4 companies that I discovered. After looking around their website, I was shocked I hadn't discovered them earlier. They list their entire in-stock inventory directly on their website, complete with prices, pictures of each individual stone, and all the specs---not just the normal Cs, but right down to precise sizes in mm and a very specific color description that can be looked up elsewhere on their site for comparisons with similar colors (for example, their are half a dozen or more different shades of yellow-orange combination). I liked their website for other reasons too---it was the only website of any of the lab-created diamond manufactures that worked in a non-flash-enabled browser (an old Mozilla version on an old Linux machine).
Not only did they have yellow/orange stones, but also blues. They claimed they could make whites, though none were listed as in-stock on the website. I was very impressed that they listed actual prices with detailed specs for each stone right on the website. This might be attributable to the fact that it was a joint venture between AOTC, who produce the diamonds, and Pearlman's Jewelers, a large retail chain. This made it possible for me to compare the prices vs. comparable natural diamonds from other reputable on-line stores. Very roughly, the large yellow Adia diamonds were similar in price (maybe a bit
less) vs. the lower end of the prices for equivalently sized and graded white diamonds at Blue Nile. I didn't do detailed comparisons for the smaller sizes, but since there are more of the smaller lab-created stones relative to the larger ones, they might be cheaper relative to the natural stones. The Adia website almost made it seem like you could even order a lab-created diamond without making a phone call since there is a "purchase this diamond" link, but that just led to a page with a phone number and a link to Pearlman's website. Pearlman's site listed the same stones but wouldn't let me order them either---I had to call the number.
Lucky for me, they had one large orange yellow emerald cut in the perfect size and with just enough orange in it for our tastes. The person I dealt with was great---he talked straight with me and was happy to communicate by e-mail as well. We even had a bit of a frank discussion about the other players in the lab-created diamond industry. I had been afraid that when I called I would find out that the stone I saw on the website that I liked wasn't actually available, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the website was accurate. I ordered the stone. It arrived in an impressive case, with similar display between two clear stretchy sheets as the Apollo case. Later, we would put all 5 stones in this same case to see them all together (see the pictures page). It came with an independent grading report from the EGL. As with the Apollo stones, it was engraved with a serial number and "AOTC Created".
Ring and Setting Design
Once we had the stones and had finished the task of telling family that we were getting married, we made an appointment to go see a jeweler a friend had used to design her engagement ring after another diamond-only proposal. There was also a brief trip to a mall jewelers, but it was off-putting. We spent the evening before our appointment looking at settings and ring designs on Google Image Search, at Blue Nile, and anywhere else we could think of. We decided we both liked a relatively simple setting with the main stone and either one or both pair of side stones around it, with relatively simple prongs.
Click this link to go to the YouTube page for the video.
The whole ring design and buying experience at the jewelers was thoroughly enjoyable and interesting. We weren't really sure how well all 5 stones would fit on a single ring. We proceeded to the jewelers. First, a few minutes were spent examining each of the diamonds in jewelers loupes and under a microscope, right in front of us. Each was also weighed, with the weights very closely matching the specs I was given when I bought each. The designer let each of us see each stone under magnification. She said she was in the final stages of studying for a gemological degree and that it was the first time she'd had an opportunity to examine lab-created diamonds close-up. Under 10x or 30x magnification she was able to notice a slight difference between the white Apollo diamonds created with the CVD process and natural diamonds (something I'd heard mention of once or twice before). This difference is apparently not noticeable to the naked eye, nor could my untrained eye see the difference even under magnification. We recorded the serial numbers of the Adia and Apollo stones from the laser engravings on the girdles.
She then used an awesome substance called "gem gel" to temporarily mount the stones on a plain band. When all 5 stones were put on, the result looked splendid (see for yourself on the pictures page). We immediately loved it. She then made a colored pencil sketch of what the ring would look like with prongs. We liked the sketch (also on the pictures page) very much.
From the sketch, The jeweler created a detailed 3D model using CAD software. From the computer model, a physical wax model was created with exactly the dimensions our platinum ring would have. So a couple weeks after our initial visit, we returned to try it on. Oddly, the wax is purple in color, so doesn't look at all right, but once the 5 diamonds were carefully placed into the prongs it still looked really nice, in an odd sort of way (again, pics on the pictures page). Everything seemed to fit and none of the prongs got in the way of anything. Several more weeks later the final ring was ready.
We're both very happy with the ring. Of course, my wife's opinion counts most, and she liked both me and the ring enough to go through with the wedding. She is genuinely happy with both the colors and the fact that the diamonds are lab-created. I'm glad about this, and I had also decided I did like all of the stones when I first saw them, and also love the finished ring.
The ring is a good conversation piece so far. Many people notice it and seem to take an interest in how unusual it is. They are generally curious about what types of stones the colored stones are and seem interested in hearing a little bit more about lab-created diamonds when told.
After creating this page I stumbled upon an article by Ivan Solotaroff titled "COUNTER Cultured", apparently from a publication called Modern Jeweler. The old link I had broke, but this seems to be the article, which gives a good overview of the current state of the synthetic diamond industry as of the last time I looked around, covering history, the big players including the 4 mentioned here, and current penetration levels and trends. It's much more up-to-date and comprehensive than the now-classic Wired article linked above. For example, it discusses D.NEA rather than just Adia. This article makes it clear that while supply is clearly increasing, demand is also increasing and is still outpacing supply. If that link breaks you might be able to find another link by searching for the title and/or author. Several other interesting pages with largely overlapping content (and possible more up-to-date, but I haven't checked lately) can be found by searching Google for various combinations of the names of the companies involved (Apollo, D.NEA, Gemesis, Chatham, etc.) and the synonyms for synthetic diamonds (lab-created, laboratory-grown, cultured, etc.).