"At the time, diamonds were a rarity and were reserved for royalty and the upper elite class. Over time, it was adopted by the other classes, and became a Western tradition."
One of the first questions people ask when they visit the collection at the Smithsonian is who the previous owners of the gems were.
"It ties us to the people who might have owned it in the past, and the stone becomes more than just a stone -- it's a connection," Post said.
Today, synthetic diamonds rival natural ones in terms of looks; jewelers offer them as a cost-effective alternative, especially the colored versions, where the cost difference can be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
"For people who just want the bling and to be able to say, I have a big flashy diamond that's bigger than yours, synthetic diamonds will fulfill that need just fine," Post said.
Because they are grown under controlled conditions, laboratory-grown diamonds can have high color and clarity like naturally-formed gem diamonds, Batson said, "and are often used in technological applications where high purity is required."