This present article is aimed to document my latest journey with Lab Grown Diamonds which are also called synthetic diamonds. Personally I prefer calling them Man Made Diamonds simply because humans are involved throughout two whole production chains eventually responsible for bringing them to life.
Human involvements are an integral part of Lab Grown diamond roots. I just hope a new and fair nomenclature will be discovered soon enough!
Table of Contents
Lab Grown Diamonds – The start of a Journey
My journey into the Lab Grown Diamond (LGD for later reference) arena started by chance late last year (2019) when I was approached by a jewelry company as a consultant to assist in designing and crafting signature cuts for their future LGD jewelry collections.
To be able to take such a task with some sort of responsibility (never had a LGD experience), I was first required to research this new substance called Lab Grown Diamonds.
There are quite a few similarities between LGD’s and natural diamonds, but at large, they are both very different as far as their crystal growth, structures and internal/external irregularities etc. This requires different thinking as a base but more importantly different handling in the preparation for and the cutting & polishing process itself.
For myself, the most efficient way to go about it was to completely handle a few rough LGD’s manually from start to finish. I believe in order to learn, you must start from the roots, and what better way than to overcome all the planning, preparing, cutting and polishing limitations in a few, albeit strenuous tryouts.
Lab Grown Diamonds – general information
Learning thoroughly carries many benefits, I am very familiar with where and how natural diamonds occur but didn’t have a clue how LGD’s come to life. We all know machines create them but that is just like saying mother nature creates natural diamonds deep below the earth.
Well, just as there is much more to it in the natural arena, in the LGD arena there might even be more to it as humans with much curiosity are involved.
From the little I have learned thus far, I can say with certainty that just like in nature no two diamonds are alike…, I would say that presently no two LGD roughs are alike either. Different minds create different things and so different growers grow their diamonds differently. (opinion: in the near future they might be closer alike I suspect but we are definitely not there yet).
As an analogy, I would even dare to say, diamond growers or actually the scientists and engineers behind the diamonds can be viewed upon as types of chefs. Actually an alternative name I have adopted for the diamond grower profession is “chef du diamant”, after all it’s their intellectual ingredients that will be standing behind the diamond dishes they offer. Hmmm, some thinking materials here perhaps?
Researching and living the material for a few good months picked my curiosity. In my nature I am a designer and diamond cutter who always try to look above my horizon. Getting to know different growers allowed me to learn their differences in materials and choose the ones based on attributes and qualities that resonate with my future vision requirements.
Lab Grown Diamonds – realizing an opportunity
A few months forward and here we are presently. Still very intrigued with its potential, I chose to jump the LGD waters for numerous reasons, for one I believe it will allow me more intellectual freedom down the road as I have quite some ideas I might want to try to materialize.
Secondly, natural rough diamonds will not allow such freedom, primarily because of their volume, shape limitations and inherent values etc.
Thirdly, to try and service my clients who keep hinting they want to see more of my works offered in man made diamond options.
For starters, I decided to design, cut and polish one of our more complicated signature cuts, the Octavia Diamond. A square emerald cut designed to a unique 3D optical symmetry show of lights.
The journey to a completed natural Octavia Diamond is a long rigorous one, this fact doesn’t change with LGD’s, actually it might even amplify its complications in the beginning until I swim better with this new material curios. I will elaborate more on the diamond design and cutting journey later.
Lab Grown Diamond – searching for the one
My search for a high quality LGD rough candidate began. Reality in my working environment was not a welcomed one, unfortunately the diamond industry (at large) does not accommodate this practice in general (subtly speaking). World Federation of Diamond Bourses put numerous by-law obstacles for members at members requests, and so do relevant government offices to accommodate membership federations.
But luckily for me, there is a underground LGD industry slowly developing under the radars and quite a few people started exploring the LGD segment.
Ironically, due to the current Covid-19 crisis, I am lucky some rough brokers took upon themselves to broker between LGD rough growers and the new potential manufacturers/cutters. Those are currently breaking the consensus which has been in place since LGD’s became a worrying issue for the industry.
A few months ago, A rough broker which has been supplying me with natural rough diamonds for decades visited my office and surprised me by offering LGD rough from a unique grower specializing in CVD (chemical vapor deposition) grown diamonds.
Unique in a few ways but for now I will touch upon its material growth and the reason I decided to jump the waters with this grower specifically. (more on the specific grower in a separate blog).
The broker presented me with a small parcel consisting of 5 larger sized LGD’s (6 carats+). A perfect size for my experiment. I was happy to notice the five rough LGD’s underwent a novel and effective cleaning process to rid of the polycrystalline material surrounding the contour of the rough diamond during the growth process (see figures 1 and 2).
Prior to this cleansing, each of the diamonds probably weighed 2-4 carats more (e.g. 8-10 carats including polycrystalline).
Figure 1 – Lab grown diamond appearance after the growing process
Figure 2 – Dark polycrystalline surrounding CVD diamonds
This polycrystalline material, an integral part of the CVD growth process carries quite numerous effects, a main obstacle is limiting key planning necessities such as estimating surface size, internal & external clarity assessment and material color or lack-of-color estimations (see figure 3 and 4).
Polycrystalline cannot be physically or manually cut on a diamond cutting wheel (scaife). It requires pre & advanced preparation in order to allow such LGD material deemed cuttable or quite simply be visually assessed.
Figure 3 – Dark polycrystalline penetrating the diamond material which cant be manually cut out
Figure 4 – Same LGD as in figure 3 after an exclusive polycrystalline cleansing treatment
From the five LGD’s offered to me, I selected just one which seemed to my eyes of great water or what is better known as transparency. It should be noticed that most lab grown rough diamonds possess secondary hues which commonly require an additional HPHT (High Pressure High Temperature) treatment in order to get rid of them.
I chose not to go that route and try to use my expertise and carefully select LGD rough displaying either no color or if yes, they must be interesting and beautiful secondary hues and still remain in the colorless or near colorless range.
I dont believe LGD’s carry any natural diamond rarity factors except for human intellect and craftsmanship which at the end of the day create a beautiful product through their added values. Hopefully future technology will allow more controlled color growth possibilities which will with no doubt impact current jewelry design limitations.
In the meantime, I concentrate on selecting the more interesting and beautiful specimens for my works while not compromising on all other factors mentioned above.
The LGD I selected seemed different from all the other LGD rough stones I have seen or assessed before (see figure 5), firstly it was properly pre-cleaned (separation of the polycrystalline border from diamond) by an exclusive process allowing me a clearer internal view showcasing their high quality material growth.
Figure 5 – My lab grown diamond selection
One reason for its selection, it was free of any major irregularities reaching deeper into the material ending up as internal inclusions. Secondly, it possessed a very subtle colored hue ranging from a very light and pleasantly warm brownish tone which in certain lighting environment changed to a nicely dirty orangey or pinkish hue. In any event, it got my curiosity going and I chose this specimen as my first tryout.
Next came the actual planning of our signature Octavia Diamond, I quickly found out that the majority of LGD’s are planned and grown to accommodate generic cuts (for now), again mainly round brilliants. This translates to unconventional planning possibilities for anyone attempting to think out of the box (see figure 6). Hopefully one day there will be custom growth options, to my understanding we have still a way to go.
Figure 6 – Out of the box thinking requires out of the box planning
In order to successfully plan a Octavia Diamond, I needed to plan a unique position in order to realize a precise planning allocation (see figure 7), this in turn forced me to re-identify grain directions allowing physical and smooth cutting journey not similar to common grain directions for mass round brilliant cutting.
All this while avoiding any deeper reaching inclusions originating from the polycrystalline surrounding the diamond, those I remind are extremely complicated to cut and polish through or out. (see green inclusions in figure 7)
Figure 7 – Final Octavia planning inside the rough
All of the above led me to research and select a grower which seems to be very proud of their diamond growing capabilities and product offerings.
The Diamond Design – my chosen challenge
Now, let’s go back a bit and touch upon the intricacies of my chosen diamond cut for this unique journey, the Octavia design. Since execution of the physical design is exclusively handcrafted by our specialists, the key to its success lies in the smaller details limited by current technological solutions.
The general saying that there are no two diamonds alike is so very true. Firstly, this is correct for both natural diamond and LGD material qualities (yes…, presently each category is considered exceptional). Secondly, diamond craftsmanship in general where “precise cut repeatability” is non-existent.
I will be touching on the latter as this is where we attempt to break this consensus. In order to successfully complete such a complicated cut, near-perfect repeatability becomes a necessity.
In short…, the exclusive play-of-lights Octavia Diamonds offer which captivate their viewers lies within its “formulated” three dimensional optical symmetry precision for each one of the 57 facets incorporating this design.
A few words on three dimensional optical symmetry, almost all manually cut diamonds contain broad facet angle ranges between their corresponding facets. For the standard round brilliant, precision level requirements are more constricted thanks to relative new “cut grades (see 4.1.) “developed by laboratories for grading reports (circa 2000’s).
To successfully complete an Octavia Diamond, each one of its 57 facets must be coordinated precisely as possible otherwise its signature play-of-lights simply won’t come to life! This actually translates to the lack of tolerances where most other cuts including round brilliants have, Octavia’s don’t leave any room to game the system.
Such limitations are already very complicated in natural diamonds, current lab grown diamond complexities are just amplified. Not surprising it took 14 full working days to successfully complete just one.
The cutting process and its complexities
As mentioned earlier, I started with one personally selected diamond weighing approx. 6.50 carats (after polycrystal cleaning, see above). My first step was to physically feel the material frictions on the cutting wheel, this would allow me to understand its structure and locate its unique grain directions making diamond cuttable (see figure 8).
After identifying grain directions, I can finally begin planning the Octavia design within the LGD rough, (Please remember, no wiggle room as I can’t afford to find myself stuck on a non-polishable facet angle further down the process).
Feeling the material on the cutting wheel
Because Octavia Diamonds possess unique proportions, a unique position was required for the planning and allocation.
This translated to greater weight loss which I decided to cut away manually instead of utilizing a laser cutting/shaping process (see figure 7). In the video, we can notice the actual allocation for the Octavia model inserted in the LGD rough, laser marks showing both the excess material and the outline of the cut. in short, all the diamond material surrounding the Octavia design will be lost forever.
Lab grown Octavia diamond planned and marked for the cutting process
Our next stop was reaching a preliminary position of proportions, until this stage a majority of diamond weight-mass was cut away as the process moved rather fast and efficiently, From this point on, it’s where we start positioning facets according to its exclusive design, where things start getting complicated.
Figure 8 – Preliminary position, proportions and shape of the Octavia lab grown diamond
Lab grown Octavia diamond as shown in figure 8 but in motion
The base of the cut. At this point, the table and all 8 girdle facets are precisely in place and point out the final position for the shape (4 main & 4 corner girdle facets) , their precise divisions and proportions. If the girdle is not precisely positioned and cut, this will negatively affect the craftsmanship overall.
On this base we then start positioning and cutting the step-facets. At this stage, we have a single row of crown facets and 2 pavilion step-facets which all will split further as we move forward.
Figure 9 – Octavia lab grown octagonal shape (outline) is cut to its precise position
Figure 10 – Eight girdle facets precisely in position, on this base we can move forward
As we further place and polish step facets onto their correct positions and angle configurations, we can already notice how even in its preliminary state, the cut already plays the lights in a wonderful but atypical display. This is thanks to the high levels of precision already present in this stage. See figure 11 & 12
Figure 11 – Azimuth angles on C1 crown facets are already in place
Figure 12 – Azimuth angles on P1 pavilion facets are already in place
Controlling the lights, this is where the process loses its pace for ultra precision works. As we continue to add and polish the step facets, the diamond internal reflections and obstruction begin to position themselves according to our design plan. It looks good but we are still quite far from completion at this stage.
In figure 13, an ASET ( Angular Spectrum Evaluation Tool) image portraying the light performance at this stage, in figure 14 the virtual facets are evenly divided across the diamond. A video is added to view its slow advancement.
Figure 13 – An Aset image reflecting its current light performance, virtual image, courtesy of Octonus
Figure 14 – A wire frame image showing precise virtual facets arrangements, virtual image, courtesy of Octonus
Video showing current cutting stage
After positioning and placing of the 3 step facet rows on the pavilion side, we now needed to precisely fine-tune the 8 minuscule triangular facets surrounding the culet point (P3’s). To polish such small areas into very precise angle configurations is one very complicated and sensitive task, and probably the most critical off all.
Figures 15 – 18: Showing precise azimuth angles in sequence for all pavilion step facets (P1 – P3)
When we finally thought we were on the clear path to a smooth finish, I suddenly noticed a tiny discrepancy on two of the tiny triangular facets surrounding the culet, the remedy was to re-polish them by 0.2 degrees steeper.
This unfortunately required a whole re-polishing of the entire pavilion section to get precisely right. For some a huge headache…, for me personally, a challenge!
Final weight, 2.53 carats – The first Octavia Lab Grown Diamond
Originally, the pre-cutting plan was to yield a 2.784 carat Octavia Diamond, some unexpected hurdles lowered that reality to an estimated 2.60 carat which then required more fine-tuning minimizing the final completion weight to 2.53 carat.
At the end, I was extremely pleased by the finished results on both our craftsmanship and the material quality which surprised me further by displaying a superior quality which I have not yet seen in other Lab Grown Diamond materials.
As estimated, the diamond displayed superior water/transparency and clarity, I graded it as a VS clarity, and the color…, wow, that baby pink surprise was the cherry on the top. Although hardly noticeable in its face up position because of the nature of its play-of-light, when viewed from its side or profile, the subtle baby pink really held its own.
This Octavia Diamond was sold in the middle of the process, The buyer enjoyed the opportunity to be part of this interesting journey, she was involved throughout the crafting process and underwent all the bumps we encountered during this unique journey. In the end, she was very happy with her decision, I was happy too.
The 2.53 carats Octavia cut Lab Grown Diamond – Completed
To summarize this incredible experience, for many years the subject of Lab Grown diamonds was hidden in the shadows by the diamond industry itself, unfortunately in some sense it still is
I would like to suppose, a natural instinct for such an old school industry! Kind of if you don’t talk about it, it will simply disappear…, well it didn’t, and in my opinion the faster it is embraced by the industry the less damage it will sustain!
Embracing Lab Grown diamonds is the only way to wake up this very generic industry. As an industry we already lost out at its first significant decade, let’s not miss the next decade!
I personally discovered opportunities, most important an opportunity to educate myself and explore further, and not of less importance, an opportunity for creative freedom which both are quite limited with natural diamonds.
I truly believe there are still plenty of opportunities waiting to be discovered as growing capabilities evolve. One thing is for certain…, what will happen in the diamond & jewelry industry in the near future will be based on Lab Grown diamonds and human capabilities. I promise it is going to be very interesting.
I would like to take this opportunity to share with you all a recent PriceScope thread written by the happy owner of this first Octavia lab grown Diamond.