Diamonds, the hardest naturally occurring substance on Earth, can take up to 3.5 billion years to form – a considerable portion of the planet’s 4.5-billion-year age.

In a lab, technicians can create a diamond within days.

And when it comes to buying a diamond for an engagement ring or other piece of jewelry, the human-made counterparts are available at a fraction of the cost.

Without the aid of specialized equipment, even a trained gemologist can’t tell the difference.

Unlike cubic zirconia and other imitations, lab-grown diamonds are chemically identical to those that come out of the ground.

Nevertheless, the lab-grown gems are expected to make up only about 15% of diamond sales by 2020, according to a Morgan Stanley article.

That discrepancy leaves many wondering: Are lab-grown diamonds better than Earth-grown diamonds?

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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