Raw Diamonds, Lab Diamonds, Natural Diamonds – What are the Differences?
Diamonds have been an enduring part of so many of our lives for over one hundred years. We get so many questions about diamonds and diamond jewelry that we wanted to take some time time to share everything about these special stones that have enchanted us for generations.
Where do Diamonds Come From & What are Diamonds Made Of?
In short, raw diamonds or natural diamonds come from 100-150 miles under the earths surface. They form over eons of time, literally billions of years. They are composed of carbon, crystallize under extremes temperatures and pressure, and actually form to become the hardest gemstones available. A diamond can only be scratched by another diamond which is one of the characteristics that makes them a durable option for the fine jewelry that you wear every day.
Lab diamonds are produced in a factory. Lab diamonds are chemically, optically and physically identical to natural diamonds, but are grown in a lab using methods that replicate much of the process that happens under the earth’s surface to form a natural diamond. In that respect, lab diamonds are synthetic, made by man.
There are two methods for creating a lab diamond. One is the HPHT (high pressure, high temperature) that exposes a diamond seed, carbon and a metal catalyst to to those enormous temperatures and pressure. The GIA in a fun fact, likens the pressure to a “jet airliner being balanced on the tip of one’s finger.” The other method is known as CVD (chemical vapor disposition) and it involves the use of carbon gas combined in a chamber with lower heat and pressure than HPHT.
Diamonds come out of the ground and the lab in rough, uncut form. How they take form as gemstones we will discuss shortly. But first a note about vintage diamonds and recycled diamonds.
Vintage diamonds we define here at MRK as stones that come from older jewelry pieces that are fifty or more years old. There is no formal definition of when the word “vintage” applies, but we think of stones from that age range as different than recycled diamonds. One hallmark of the vintage diamonds we use is their cut. We look for old mine cut or European cut diamonds. We will revisit these cuts later in this article. Over the past years we have bought jewelry as old as 135 years and removed the “vintage” diamonds, repurposing them to make new special edition, modern locket and charm necklace styles.
For us, recycled diamonds are those that come out of pre-owned jewelry styles that are generally less than fifty years old and have a more traditional cut than the mine cut or European cut pieces. These recycled diamonds allow us to create a circular product life cycle for the stones and return them to a new use for a new generation. We use recycled diamonds as part of our “diamonds reborn” collection.
How are Diamonds Made?
Diamonds are “made” by being cut from the “rough” mentioned above. In the case of natural diamonds, the raw diamond material may come in many different qualities. The better quality material has few, if any imperfections within it, and can be cut and polished into the finest finished diamonds.
Lesser quality natural, raw diamonds have become popular in recent years as a more fashion oriented approach to diamond jewelry. They appear in a variety of shades of grey and cognac for example, and are cut into irregular shapes and slices that make more unique, non-traditional fine jewelry pieces.
Lab diamond rough is treated the same way as natural diamond rough and is then cut into traditional diamonds shapes and sizes. So finished lab diamonds are “made” in the same types of cutting facilities one might find for natural diamonds.
How Do I Know if My Diamond is A Natural Diamond or Lab Diamond?
Ultimately the best way to know what type of diamond you are buying is to rely on the retailer, brand or designer you are buying from. Feel free to ask that question as everyone should have procedures in place to ensure the quality of what they sell and represent. There are extensive options in high quality equipment now that can be used to scan any diamond to confirm if it is natural or man made. At Monica Rich Kosann we use this equipment at various phases in our supply and production process to ensure that all our natural diamonds are exactly what they should.
Explaining the 4 C’s of Diamonds
The quality of a diamond is defined by the four C’s – Carat, Color, Clarity and Cut. These standards are used worldwide when it comes to diamonds. The value of a diamond is derived from the combination of all of theses elements. Let's explore the four C’s, but before we do another note about lab diamonds. While lab diamonds use the same standards, the choices of stone qualities are more limited than those outlined below that are created by nature.
When one purchases a natural diamond of .15 carats or above, it is common to receive a report – usually from the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) - that communicates the results of the four C’s. These reports are highly respected throughout the jewelry industry and can reassure the buyer about the quality level of their diamond. The GIA did not historically issue quality reports for lab diamonds, but more about that later.
Diamond Carat Weight
Carats quite simply are a measurement of the weight of a diamond. A carat is measured as 100 milligrams in weight and carats are also divided into 100 points. So, a tiny diamond that weighs .01 carat for example might be describes as a 1 pointer. .02 a 2 pointer etc. When you see a diamond weight listed on a site like ours it will tell you the carat weight of the diamond, or diamonds, in a style as a number like .25 carats (equivalent to a quarter carat, or 25 points).
The carat weight system actually evolved from gem traders who centuries ago used carob seeds as a unit of measurement on the scales they used to weigh their diamond stones.
The irony of using color to measure the quality of a diamond is that less is more. The less color the better. The best quality diamonds are actually colorless, lacking any hue or shade.
There is a universal grading scale for measuring color that was developed by the GIA. It uses a grading system that ranges from D-Z. While the grading system technically goes to Z this does not really apply to the range of what the average consumer might expect from a traditional clearer “white” diamond. Once diamonds start to pass the M-N range then they will have lost their clearer shade and start to appear yellow to the naked eye.
At MRK all of our natural diamonds are F-G in color, delivering a truly superior color quality in our diamonds.
As we explained above, the nature of how natural diamonds are created under the earth’s surface allows for certain imperfections and inclusions within the diamond. It is the nature of these inclusions that define the clarity of a diamond. Here is where it gets a bit more technical. The clarity of a diamond is also measured on a scale. All of the standards constitute that scale, and are measured when looking at a stone under a 10x magnification.
- Flawless (FL) - No inclusions and other imperfections visible
- Internally Flawless (IF) – Inclusions are not visible
- Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1, VVS2) Inclusions so minimal they are difficult for a skilled gemologist to see
- Very Slightly Included (VS1, VS2) Inclusions are visible to a skilled observer, but would be characterized as minor
- Slightly Included (SI1, SI2) inclusions are visible
- Included (I1, I2, I3) Inclusions are clear to the observer, and the imperfections seen affect the appearance of the stone.
As a point of reference all natural diamonds used by MRK are VS-2 in clarity.
The cut of a diamond is the fourth element to define diamond quality. It is one of the more complicated elements of quality as the superior level of cut defines the refraction of light and brilliance within the stone.
The cut in this instance has less to do with the shape of the stone and is more geared to the faceting within the stone and the dimensions of the various parts of the stone as seen in the diagram below. In looking at that image, you will see that, measurements and proportions like crown height, pavilion depth, table diameter and crown depth all serve to enhance a diamonds brilliance.
A note about diamond cut as it relates to vintage stones. Earlier, we mentioned mine cut and European cut stones from the 1800’-early 1900’s. Old mine cut stones are generally over a century old. European cuts developed from the late 1800’ through 1930’s as a bridge between the mine cut and the precision of modern cutting techniques. Mine cut and European cut stones were cut by hand, precision cutting equipment would come later. As a result, the faceting of the stones was more irregular, and old mine cuts had open culets (the point at at the bottom of a diamond), the table of the diamond was smaller and the girdle unpolished. To understand some of these characteristics better, this might be a good time to examine the different parts of a cut diamond and the terms that describe them.
Here is a basic diagram of a finely cut diamond.
The table is the flat top facet of the diamond. In modern round, brilliant or ideal cut diamonds the table size is 54-63% of the overall width of the stone. In old mine cut stones, the table size might have been two-thirds of that percentage. (A note – for the purpose of this discussion of the diamonds structure, we will consider round diamonds for reference).
The crown is the angled section between the table and the girdle (we will get to that next). A crown at a 32-36 degree angle is one step – among others factors of course - that allows for a more fiery, brilliant diamond. The height of the crown (between girdle and table) also plays a part in the finished diamonds brilliance.
In old mine cut diamonds, the crown might have been angled at 40 degrees or greater.
The girdle is the edge of the diamond where the crown ends and the lower pavilion begins (up next). In today's diamonds, the girdle is expertly cut, polished and finished, while in older mine cut stones the girdle was thicker and often unpolished.
The angled bottom half of the diamond below the girdle and descending to the bottom tip – or cutlet is known as the pavilion. The depth and angle of the pavilion are essential elements into a diamond’s sparkle, brilliance and play of light. Cutting the pavilion too short or too deep will both detract from the brilliance of the stone. Today’s modern cutting techniques have allowed for these pavilion measurements to be best engineered to create the highest quality stones.
The bottom tip of the diamond is the culet. Smaller culets are preferred in better cut stones as too large a culet can negatively affect the appearance of the stone when viewed from the table.
Because of the hand cutting used in older mine cut stone, the culets on these stones were open. When looking through the stone table, one can literally see the “open” hole. It is part of the wonderful charm of these older stones.
The companion to all of the above are the facets (or geometric cuts) on the surfaces of the diamond. The typical brilliant cut diamond has 57 facets. These facets control how light is reflected within the stone. The overall brilliance of the stone is controlled by the proper cutting, symmetry and proportions of all the parts mentioned above.
The Four C’s and Lab Diamonds
As we mentioned, all of the above was a system designed to evaluate natural diamonds. Lab diamonds were marketed by those who also made them to follow these same type of grading standards, even though the range of qualities was not as broad and diverse as natural diamonds. The GIA recently announced that they will issue grading reports for lab grown diamonds above .15 carats, but the reports will be in a digital only format, rather than the printed reports we are accustomed to for natural diamonds.
A Final Note on the 4 C’s of Diamonds
So, after considering the above pertaining to carat, cut, color and clarity it inevitably leads to the question, what is the best combination of factors in the ultimate perfect diamond? While this can always be subject to differing opinions and interpretation, let us have some fun and offer you one take on that question.
As far as clarity goes, the best stone in the class would be FL or flawless. There are no imperfections visible under a 10x magnification. As for color, while a D isn't a great result at an American institution of education, it is a perfect result for diamond color. A grade of D means the stone is colorless. And regarding cut, one would want a stone the GIA grades as excellent. So, a D-FL Excellent stone is the best one can get, at which point it's just a matter of size and carat weight that one prefers. How much would such a stone cost? As of this writing we checked out such a stone at Blue Nile and the price for a 1.5-2 carat stone like this ranged from $35-40,000.
Why are Diamonds Used for Engagement Rings?
The diamond engagement ring is actually a relatively modern phenomenon. The first diamond engagement ring actually dates to 1477, when the Archduke Maximillian of Austria had a ring commissioned for his engagement to Mary of Burgundy. But the trend did not actually catch on for close to 500 years. In 1947, De Beers, the worlds largest diamond mining company, launched what may have been one of the most effective marketing and advertising campaigns of the 20th century. Using the slogan “A Diamond is Forever”, De Beers responded to declining diamonds sales throughout the 1930’s with a campaign that would link the enduring quality of a diamond with the enduring goals of a perfect union. It was a campaign that shaped the acceptance of the diamond ring as a rite of a couples’ engagement journey for decades.
Diamond Cut as it Relates to Diamond Shapes. If You've Looked at Diamond Shapes for Engagement Rings
While diamond cut does not technically refer first to shape, it is commonly thought of that way when discussing diamonds. In fact, there are ten basic shapes into which diamonds are cut. For anyone who has considered buying an engagement ring, these diamond shapes for engagement ring choices will seem very familiar, but for others who are considering the choice among other diamond jewelry styles, they offer a strong range of options for other diamond jewelry styles.
Listed below are the ten most common diamond shapes.
The workhorse of all diamond shapes. Whether as a large center stone for a diamond ring, or an accent stone for a myriad of other jewelry styles, the round diamond is the one you will undoubtedly find most often across fine jewelry. In many of our own jewelry styles, you will see us commonly using diamond accent stones, or melee as these small stones are known, and 99% of the times these are rounds. Even in our styles using vintage and recycled stones, the round is the stone shape we find most often.
We find the cushion to be one of the more romantic diamond shapes with a rich history. The cushion for us has that timeless, old world feeling, and given how vintage has always inspired our brand it is a shape that truly resonates with us. The softened corners imply a certain femininity and elegance (is it any wonder that Steve Jobs insisted that the original iPhone design had softened corners). Additionally, other than rounds, cushion shaped diamonds are the ones we find most often in old mine cut diamonds and European cut stones. Because they were cut by hand there is usually a touch of irregularity to the shapes of those older stones, but the charm of that handwork is something we try to bring out when creating a new jewelry design.
Because the oval shape is the most common among our lockets, we have a special soft spot for the oval shaped diamonds. It is a classic, timeless shape that can be a perfect focal point or accent to an everyday diamond jewelry style.
Emerald Cut Diamonds
We see the emerald cut as a more modern, statement type take on the cushion cut. Again, the softened edges give is a classic elegance, and in an engagement ring it makes a bold statement. It's broad table allows for a diamond look that is uniquely its own. We love how it also draws upon a classic look that we often see in precious gemstones like blue sapphires and emeralds.
Asscher Cut Diamonds
Maybe the most Art Deco cut of diamond shapes. The Asscher has a series of step cuts, parallel and right-angled lines that allow for an Art Deco inspired geometry. They are reminiscent of a cushion cut on first glance, but won't give the same type of sparkle given the more linear cuts and facets.
Princess Cut Diamonds
The square corners of the Princess cut give it a modern look that is uniquely its own. Additionally, the overall square shape of this cut, coupled with its faceting, makes it a great choice for both engagement rings and other jewelry styles. Many have identified it as a second most popular choice among engagement ring cuts.
Pear Shaped Diamonds
The pear shaped diamond offers a romantic teardrop shape. We love them as the heroic shape in a diamond ring or other style, but also think they make wonderful accent stones. The shape evokes many vintage inspirations for us, as the teardrop “jewelry” shape has been used in a number of our favorite styles over the years.
The slender taper of the marquise diamond shape makes for a great deal of versatility. The length and width of this shape can vary greatly from stone to stone, so there are lots of possibilities in their design.
Baguette diamonds have elongated rectangular shapes. We love them. The shape offers so many fun opportunities to be used as accent stones. We find baguettes in many of the vintage jewelry styles we deconstruct and redesign into new pieces, and they add a wonderful old-world sensibility to a modern style.
The World’s Five Most Famous Diamonds
Diamonds of course have always held a fascination for so many. Over the past centuries, certain diamonds have emerged in history to take a place in our popular imagination and folklore. If we are examining everything you need to know about diamonds, we felt no writing would be complete without a word about history’s five most famous diamonds. These, of course, are just our humble offering and opinion. We recognize that others might have their five favorites.
The Hope Diamond
This is one of the few famous stones we've actually seen in person at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. It is a 45.52 carat blue diamond that has a history spanning more than four centuries. The stone originated in the 1600’s from the Golconda mine in India. It was eventually owned by Louis the XIV, but was stolen in 1791. After being recut it eventually made its way to a London family named Hope. From there it journeyed to a Washington DC socialite named Evelyn Walsh who sold the diamond to famed jeweler Harry Winston in 1949. Winston toured the stone around the United States before donating it to the Smithsonian and the American people.
The Koh I Nor Diamond
Dating back to the thirteenth century the Koh I Nor diamond weighs in at 105.6 carats. After changing hands various times on the Indian and Asian sub continent, the stone was “surrendered” (we will let historians opine on how that took place) to England's Queen Victoria. At that time, the stone was much larger, 186 carats, but Prince Albert had the diamond recut in order to enhance its brilliance and appearance. The stone made it through various phases of British royalty and came to rest in Queen Mary’s (the mother of current Queen Elizabeth) crown. It was placed on her head at her funeral in 2002. The stone, and crown, is available for viewing at the Jewel House at the Tower of London. Monica visited it there with her daughters almost twenty years ago. The stone remains a point of contention with various countries like India and Pakistan having asked for its return.
The Tiffany Yellow Diamond
Possibly the most famous yellow diamond in history, the Tiffany Yellow Diamond was discovered at the Kimberly mine in South Africa in 1878. Weighing in at 287 carats as a tough stone, the diamond was purchased by Tiffany shortly thereafter and sent to its Paris studios for cutting. The evaluation for the best approach went on for a year, and it was cut into a 128.5 carat stone by a twenty-three-year-old cutter entrusted with the task. The final cut was a modified antique brilliant cushion cut. The stone has only been worn by three women in its lifetime and is still owned by Tiffany. The last two women to wear it were Audrey Hepburn at a promotional event for the film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Lady Gaga at the ninety first Academy Awards in 2019.
The Wittelsbach Diamond
Here is a blue diamond story to rival the Hope Diamond. The Wittelsbach Diamond, a 35.6 carat stone, also originated from the Golconda region of India during the same period as the Hope Diamond. It made its way to King Phillip IV of Spain in the late 1600’s wherein it began its journey through a variety of royal houses before making to home among the Crown Jewels of Bavaria. After WWI, Bavaria became a republic and the diamond was put up for sale. It's journey during the 1900’s was somewhat mysterious, and it disappeared from view before ending up in private hands to emerge at auction at Christie’s in 2008. At that time, it was bought by famed diamond expert and dealer Laurence Graff for a record $23.4 million. Graff took the bold step of cutting 4.5 carats away from the historic stone, but in turn increased its stature which GIA recognized by upgrading the stone from a “fancy grayish blue” color to a more valuable “deep blue” and its clarity from a VS1 to IF (internally flawless). Fittingly the stone became referred to as The Wittelsbach Graff Diamond.
The Orlov Diamond
For the last of our diamonds we turn our eye towards Imperial Russia. Again, hailing from the Golconda region in the 1700’s, the stone that would become the Orlov diamond found its way to the court of Catherine the Great when it was purchased by Count Grigorievich Orlov. There is a legend that it was stolen from the eye of an Indian deity statue by a French soldier (shades of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark!) The Count, who had been romantically involved with Catherine, was involved in dethroning her husband, and helping her rise to power. The diamond eventually moved into Catherine’s possession and she had it set in 1774 into a sceptre, that became known as the Imperial Sceptre. Estimated at 189.6 carats (the stone has not been weighed in years), the Sceptre resides to at the famed Kremlin Armory in Moscow.
Popular and Essential Diamond Jewelry Styles
We wanted to spend some time on the most popular and classic diamond jewelry styles. After all, we are all about essential jewelry pieces. Pieces that have endured, and will endure, for generations. While we have our own collections of diamond necklaces, diamond bracelets, diamond rings, diamond lockets and diamond charms, these are not necessarily styles we even offer here at MRK. They are the classic diamond jewelry pieces that women wear everyday with our designs. To give it an interesting twist, we asked Monica to share her insights on just a few of these jewelry box essentials.
Diamond Stud Earrings
“I think a woman always remember when she gets her first pair of diamond studs. I remember it so clearly when my husband bought them for me early on in our marriage. I have since given them to my daughter, and I was able to acquire another pair for myself. Something about a simple pair of diamond studs…they are so classic that you can put them on and never take them off. You can wear them to the office, dinner, sweats, you can exercise with them and also wear them to an elegant affair. You forget sometimes that they are on your ears. I used to sleep with mine on all the time. The best part is putting them on and not thinking about what to put on your ears in the morning…they are just there!”
Diamond Hoop Earrings
“Hoops are essential in every woman's jewelry box. Most of us have many pairs of hoops. They are just one of those classics that always looks cool and modern. Diamond hoops are still classic but give a bit more bling for your style. You will see diamond hoops on the red carpet so often and in so many different ways, but diamond hoops can always look good. They never fail us! They don't need to be continuous diamonds all around either, enough stones to add just the right amount of sparkle will do just fine. Diamond hoops are a go to in any woman's wardrobe. Maybe if you want to feel just a tad more dressed up, you choose your diamond hoops versus the gold or silver ones for the day.”
Diamond Tennis Bracelet
“The never take off bracelet. There are so many versions of a woman’s diamond tennis bracelet. I have two that are super thin, but they are vintage and I wear them 24/7. Over 100 years old and I bought them at a stall in Portobello Market in London. To me the main reason these are worn by so many women is because they are a classic thing to keep on your wrist and never take off. Layer them with a watch or statement bracelet. Or with just a stack of other petite bracelets. Mother and daughters wear them. They are timeless and ageless, all generations love a beautiful tennis bracelet. They add a bit of sparkle to your wrist party, with all the layers we wear now on our wrist the classic tennis bracelet can become the anchor.”
Diamond Solitaire Necklace
“I have met so many women and helped them create their own jewelry style, but so often when I am helping women create a neck mess, one of the first pieces they have on and start with is their solitaire diamond necklace. Its not about the size of the diamond but rather it is the start of a woman’s story. It is a true classic that never goes out of style. Quite often it is a gift from a parent or a partner and it sits on a woman’s neck so elegantly. I think Elizabeth Taylor had one from each husband…they kept getting bigger and bigger with each marriage. :) “
Diamond Rings (not engagement)
“Every woman loves a diamond. A woman should not have to be engaged to wear a diamond ring. It is an empowering staple for your wardrobe. A great layering piece for your hand. The size of the stone doesn't matter. It's the look and feel, it might be multiple small stones. It is very empowering for a woman to wear a diamond on her hand, they bring courage and confidence to the woman wearing them. A diamond is truly a girl’s best friend!”
Diamonds in Movies, Books and Music
When you combine the glitter, romance, rarity, money, and glamour that diamonds have come to represent, it is no surprise that diamonds have become a part of our popular culture. We thought it would be fun to share some fan favorite films where diamonds played a starring role.
Four Favorite Movies with Diamonds In the Story
To Catch a Thief – Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, 1955.
To Catch a Thief is a classic where diamond and jewels play the supporting to role to these iconic actors and director. Mix in a dose of the French Riviera with the Mediterranean sun and the lavish lifestyle of dome grand hotels and you have everything you need for a classic caper. Grant plays a retired jewel thief and cat burglar, who finds his style of thievery being copied by someone else, and must emerge “from retirement” to clear his name. When he turns his attention to a Kelly and her Mom knowing their jewels might be the next target, the valuables do in fact go missing and the fun begins as Grant sets out to Catch a Thief. 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Diamonds Are Forever – Directed by Guy Hamilton, Starring Sean Connery and Jill St. John, 1971.
Hey, it's Jame Bond. And Diamonds are part of a plot to take over the world. We couldn't leave it out. The 7th installment of the Bond films, the most well-known British spy plays the role of a diamond smuggler to stop arch rival Blofeld and Spectre from using the precious stones to build a space based laser weapon designed to destroy Washington DC and threaten the globe. Jill St. John plays the Bond Girl, her name in the film? Tiffany, of course. 64% on Rotten Tomatoes.
A Fish Called Wanda – Directed by a Charles Crichton, Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin, Kevin Kline, John Cleese, 1988.
This classic comedy about a planned major diamond heist brings together some of the famous actors from the Monty Python franchise. Not surprisingly, the robbery goes awry and the zaniness ensues. Kevin Kline won best supporting actor for his part. 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Directed by Howard Hawken, Starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, 1953.
The musical comedy is a classic. Russell and Monroe star as two showgirls, Dorothy Shaw and Lorelei Lee. Lorelei has a passion for diamonds and is determined to marry a rich husband. Her Fiancé is just the right man, but his father suspects her intentions might be more money than love and hires a private detective to trail Lorelei on a transatlantic cruise. We’ll let you take the story from there but the musical number Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend makes an appearance. 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.
A Diamond Resource Guide
5 Websites to Learn more about Diamonds
We put together this resource guide to help those who might want to learn about diamonds in more detail. Whether it's technical issues, history or just plain fun facts, here are some sites we’d recommend to learn more.
GIA – Gemological Institute of America – this is the first place we recommend you visit to learn more about diamonds. “GIA is a nonprofit institution committed to protecting and educating the public in the field of gems and jewelry. Since 1931, GIA created standards used in gemstone evaluation around the world by creating the 4Cs of Diamond Quality.”
Smithsonian Natural History Museum – Gemstone Galleries. This is not only a great place to visit with your family, the fabled Institution also offers a variety of educational resources on diamonds and other gem stones.
Jewelers of America – this site has some useful resources on diamonds and the diamond buying process.
American Gem Society – another great resource to learn about diamonds and other gemstones. “The American Gem Society (AGS) is a nonprofit trade association of fine jewelry professionals dedicated to setting, maintaining and promoting the highest standards of ethical conduct and professional behavior through education, accreditation, recertification of its membership, gemological standards, and gemological research.”
The Cape Town Diamond Museum – While it will take some travel for most to visit this museum in person, the web site offers a wealth of information about diamonds and their history.
More to Explore