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Lab-Grown Diamonds: A Savvy Shopper's Best Friend

LOS ANGELES ( — Shopping for diamond jewelry can be complicated.

Buyers have to consider quality, determined by the four C's: carat, color, clarity and cut - and cost, which can easily jump into the tens of thousands.

There's now a new option for consumers who want the brilliance of a diamond while being sure their gem doesn't come from a conflict zone or take a bite into their savings.

Lab-made or synthetic diamonds are cultivated over six to 10 weeks and replicate the earth's process of crystallizing carbon. A carbon chip is placed in a microwave chamber, then electrical energy and gases are used to create a molecular reaction. The result is a stone that looks surprisingly similar to a natural diamond.

Jeremy de la Garza and his girlfriend, Jennifer Stratton, were shopping for a diamond engagement ring, and the Burbank residents found it a bit nerve-wracking.

"I was really overwhelmed. I mean, there are tons of choices," de la Garza said.

Stratton says: "The ring has to reflect my personality and fit me perfectly."

With more choices than ever, finding the perfect diamond engagement ring can be confusing.

"They're going to have the diamond for the rest of their lives, so it's important that they have options," said diamond consultant Anthony Rodriguez at Robbins Brothers in Glendale.

He showed CBS2/KCAL9 three stones: a natural diamond, a simulated fake, like cubic zirconia, and a lab-made diamond.

Can you tell the difference?

"A synthetic diamond is going to have the same physical, chemical and optical properties as a natural diamond," according to Brenda Harwick, an instructor at the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad. The nonprofit organization created the four C's, an internationally recognized system of rating diamonds.

"A synthetic will be grown in a laboratory, and a natural diamond is our little treasure from Earth," Harwick said.

Synthetics cost as much as 40 percent less than natural diamonds.

The Federal Trade Commission has strict guidelines for diamond retailers, which includes disclosing to the consumer if a diamond is synthetic.

Harwick suggests buyers research for qualified jewelers "just like you would choose a lawyer or a doctor" and "do the research. Familiarize yourself with four C's." She also recommends getting an independent appraisal, which is needed to purchase insurance.

Most importantly, she tells shoppers that they should "buy a piece of jewelry that you love and know why you love it."

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