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Buying lab-grown diamonds can be overwhelming. There is a lot to learn, and it’s easy to make the wrong purchase decision. On the other hand, if you know how to inspect and evaluate diamonds, you will undoubtedly both save money and end up with a much better product.
That is why we have used our decades of experience as diamond buyers to write this step-by-step guide to buying a lab-grown diamond. Now you can buy the perfect lab-grown diamond! We’ve written it in sections so you can skip steps if you are already well-versed in some aspects of the diamond-buying process.
When you’re ready to buy, make sure to check out our list of current sales and discounts on lab-grown diamonds and jewelry.
Our updated 2023 Guide to Buying a Lab-Grown Diamond features our top tips for finding the perfect diamond and saving. Keep reading and start saving!
- Step 1: Learn the essentials – the diamond 4Cs
- Step 2: Set your budget and expectations
- Step 3: Choose a setting and shape
- Step 4: Choose preferred diamond origin – mined or lab-grown
- Step 5: Decide where to buy
- Step 6: Set a carat weight
- Step 7: Chose your cut grade
- Step 8: Decide on the clarity grade
- Step 9: Pick the color grade
- Step 10: Revisit your budget
- Step 11: Compare options
- Step 12: Check the certificates
- Step 13: Double-check return policies and terms
- Step 14: Be excited
- Need more help?
- Shopping for an engagement ring?
3 of our favorite places to buy a lab-grown diamond
SALES ALERT! See the best diamond deals (terms apply):
Step 1: Learn the essentials – the diamond 4Cs
The first step in our guide to buying a lab-grown diamond is learning about the diamond 4Cs. We have written an easy-to-read intro to lab-grown diamonds and the diamond 4Cs that we recommend you read first. But if you are in a hurry or just want to brush up, you can read our step-by-step guide to buying a lab-grown diamond below.
The first thing you need to know is that diamonds are all about the sparkle – also referred to as brilliance or fire in the diamond industry lingo. The sparkle is what makes diamonds so unique and why you should buy them. So if you just take away one thing, let it be this: Do not buy a large stone with poor brilliance. Always, always maximize fire – size comes second. So don’t worry, if you follow our steps below, that’s exactly what you will do.
Next up in our guide to buying a lab-grown diamond is diamond carats.
Didn’t you just say that carat comes last? Yes, and it does. But your starting point will likely be carat. So what is it? It’s actually the weight of the stone and not the size. The key things to understand with diamond carat are:
- Weight is correlated with size but not one-to-one. The depth and surface ratio may vary, so you can have a very deep, heavy stone with a smaller surface area (the surface is which is what you can see once in a jewelry setting). Don’t worry too much about that as long as you pay close attention to the diamond cut grading.
- If possible, go just below the popular (“round”) weights, such as 0.5, 1.0, etc. Choose 0.46-0.49 or 0.96-0.99, for example. Many people are vain, and being able to show off a full-carat stone matters more than diamond quality. You are, luckily, smarter.
Diamond cut is the number 1 diamond feature and the number one thing you should note in this guide to buying a lab-grown diamond.
Diamond cut is the diamond C that you should care most about and never compromise on. Since the cutting process happens after diamond creation (whether deep under Earth’s crust or in a lab), there is absolutely no difference between cutting or grading mined and lab-grown diamonds. The same best practices and guidelines apply.
Diamonds are cut to maximize brilliance, and it’s a labor-intensive and demanding process highly dependent on the cutter’s skills. How a diamond reflects light is a complicated matter, and even the slightest inaccuracies significantly impact the diamond’s sparkle.
This is why you don’t compromise on diamond cut. A smaller stone with a better cut will always appear “bigger.” Conversely, no one will be impressed by a large, dull stone. In that case, you might as well go for cubic zirconia.
Diamond cut is graded by laboratories and varies between Ideal and Excellent (best) and poor (worst). A few laboratories have an Excellent+ or Ideal+ grade, such as “hearts and arrows” (GIA, the inventor of the 4Cs, does not). IGI, the leading grader of lab-created diamonds, uses Ideal as the highest diamond cut grade.
Ideal and Excellent cut diamonds reflect almost all light through the stone’s surface, which is what you can see when in a jewelry set. That is why excellent cut diamonds look so amazing. Conversely, less light exits through the table (surface) with lower-grade cuts, and they’ll appear much less sparkly.
Diamond color is another important aspect of buying a lab-grown diamond. The lab-grown diamond color refers to the absence of color unless it’s a fancy-colored diamond. With white diamonds, “color” means that the diamond has a yellowish or even brown tint which you want to avoid. Color impacts diamonds negatively in two ways.
First, the presence of color can be visible to the naked eye, and most would want a “clear” diamond, not a yellow-tinted one. Second, and more importantly, it impacts the light reflection and thus the “fire” (which is what really matters).
However, color generally has less impact on brilliance than cut (dollar for dollar). Also, the jewelry setting will impact color appearance, so you can downgrade even more on color in some cases. Finally, the diamond shape also affects how visible the color is, and so does cut grade (brilliance tends to over-shine color, quite literally).
Color is graded between D (colorless), which is both rare and very expensive, to Z (most colored). On the other hand, fancy-colored lab diamonds are graded Z+ and along a three-dimensional scale (more on that in our guide to diamond color). Thus, it is almost impossible to distinguish between two adjacent color grades, which is actually to your advantage.
The last diamond C in our guide to buying a lab-grown diamond is diamond clarity.
Clarity refers to how “clean” a diamond is. More precisely, clarity is the absence of any inclusions (internal flaws) or blemishes (external). Inclusions emerge during the diamond creation process, and there are slight differences between mined and lab-grown diamonds when it comes to how the inclusion has formed. Even in the sterile lab, flaws cannot be avoided entirely. This is why clarity also matters for lab-grown diamonds, and clarity is graded similarly.
Very few diamonds have no flaws, and if they do, they are rare and costly. Luckily, most flaws are so minor that they are not visible to the naked eye and have a limited light reflection. However, very low-clarity grade diamonds do have imperfections that are both visible and have a detrimental impact on light reflection, so you generally want to avoid these.
Clarity is graded from flawless (F) and internally flawless (IF) to Inclusions 3 (worst). The grades in-between are the most common and where we suggest you look. You can go into much more detail in our diamond clarity guide.
Knowing what clarity grades are acceptable and how you can inspect diamonds yourself present an excellent opportunity for you to save money and secure a better stone. We’ll teach you how in the following.
Step 2: Set your budget and expectations
An essential step in our guide to buying a lab-grown diamond is price and budget since many people might have unrealistic expectations of what they can get – usually an overestimation. But, with the advent of lab-grown diamonds, prices have fallen dramatically, and more buyers are now able to get what they have set their sights on.
Many people have a specific carat weight in mind and are willing to pay x dollars for it. However, as you have just learned above, there are 3 more Cs, and they are more important than carats. To get you started, here are a few current example price ranges at our recommended sellers for the following typical 4C-grades:
- Carat weight: 1.0 (plus or minus a little)
- Cut grade: Excellent or Ideal
- Color grade: “I”
- Clarity grade: VS2
- Shape: Round brilliant (the most popular)
- Origin: Lab-grown (of course)
▸ Example diamond search.
Clean Origin: $800 to $1,500
▸ Example diamond search
James Allen: $1,300 – 2,000
▸ Example diamond search.
Brilliant Earth: $1,000 to $2,000
▸ Example diamond search.
Step 3: Choose a setting and shape
First, decide what the diamond is going to be used for. For example, are you shopping for an engagement ring or a casual ring (with no strings attached)? Or a pair of earrings (studs or pendant?). Or a necklace? The jewelry type and design will often restrict your choices. For example, diamond studs will often be paired with round or maybe square diamonds. At the same time, elongated shapes such as the oval or marquise are popular with rings (one reason could be that they can make the owner’s finger appear thinner).
The most popular shape by far is the round brilliant. The shape has been perfected to reflect as much light as possible and is the shape that has the most “fire” of all shapes. However, due to (popular) demand, it is also the most expensive shape.
Read our complete guide to diamond shapes and learn how much you can save by not choosing a round brilliant (and why maybe you still should).
Next, decide on what metal the setting will be made of. The metal’s color fluorescence impacts what cut, clarity, and color grades you should go for.
If you are buying more than one diamond, for example, two diamonds for a pair of earrings, then go through the same steps to find a matching pair. Make sure it is as similar as possible, and note the diamond’s surface size and depth. They should not differ very much. In this case, you may need to ask for assistance.
You can ask the seller what you have decided on. James Allen, Ritani, Brilliant Earth, and Clean Origin all have exceptional customer service, and they will provide you with expert guidance and happily help you pick a matching set.
Build your own or choose a set?
For most people, we recommend building your own set. That is, you pick your own diamonds. This way, you can ensure that the diamond(s) you decide on is the best for you and your needs. Just keep following this guide.
However, there may be cases where you are overwhelmed and just need to get the purchase over with. In that case, you may rely on the pre-selected jewelry sets that the sellers have on offer. If you choose to go down that route, it’s even more critical that you choose the right seller (see above for tips or read our seller reviews here).
But – even if you are overwhelmed, the best sellers will offer to guide you and propose diamonds fitting your specific needs. If they are professional, they will not try to sell you a lemon. But, again, we urge you to take matters into your own hands and carry out your own inspection too. If you choose to rely on a seller’s advice, make sure you go through a reputable seller.
Step 4: Choose preferred diamond origin – mined or lab-grown
Well, we think this is a no-brainer. Go with the lab-grown diamond to save at least 30-40% (more if you shop during a lab-grown diamond sale), and to lower the environmental and social burden. It’s a win-win-win.
If you need more convincing, read our article on 3 reasons you should consider a lab-grown diamond and our in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of lab-grown diamonds (versus mined).
Step 5: Decide where to buy
This is perhaps one of the most important steps (and why we have decided to review lab-grown diamond jewelers). Ideally, you want to check out the inventory and prices at a few sellers. However, we highly recommend buying online for the following reasons.
- Inventory will be almost infinitely bigger.
- Prices will almost always be significantly lower.
- Your buying experience is almost guaranteed to be better.
- And most importantly – your final purchase will end up being a cut above (sorry, bad pun).
That said, we definitely don’t recommend any online jeweler. They vary surprisingly much in price, inventory, and service, and you should be picky about where you buy – it’s a significant investment, after all!
Make sure that the seller offers the following as a minimum:
- 30-day (or more) money-back guarantee, free returns, and exchanges.
- Delivery should include fully insured and require that someone signs off on the delivery.
- HD-resolution and magnified 360-degree images with which you can easily inspect inclusions and blemishes, sparkle, and dark patterns (e.g., bow tie). Color should be clearly visible.
- Support must be responsive and guidance professional. Try asking a few questions using their chat or email.
- Must have excellent reviews at Google, Trustpilot, and similar sites, as well as at specialist sites like LabGrownCarats.com (read our reviews here).
To help you out, we have reviewed jewelers selling lab-grown diamonds. However, to save you time, we recommend you start with any of the below top-rated places to buy lab-grown diamonds and jewelry. You will be sure to get the best price and quality and end up with the perfect diamond for you at any of the below retailers.
- Clean Origin: For the best prices on lab-grown diamonds, the biggest lab-grown diamond inventory, and the best lab-grown diamond service.
- James Allen: For a truly unique and unmatched buying experience and next-level service and guidance.
- Ritani: For the largest inventory of the best diamonds and the lowest prices available, and the best after-sales care.
- Brilliant Earth: For the most ethical and environmentally-friendly diamonds, including sustainably graded lab-grown diamonds.
Step 6: Set a carat weight
Note that this is only a starting point. You’ll likely revisit and probably downsize later. If you or the person you are buying for have a carat preference, start with that. Otherwise, you can more or less arbitrarily set a carat and come back to this step when you have a price indication.
You can take the above price ranges from each of the three sellers for a 1-carat diamond as your starting point.
Step 7: Chose your cut grade
This is perhaps one of the easiest steps. In particular for any brilliant-like shape such as the round brilliant. You want to choose either excellent or ideal. Do not go below. For brilliant-type fancy cuts, you should also limit your search to excellent/idea cut grades. For a few fancy-shaped diamonds (step cuts), you can consider downgrading a little on the cut quality.
Once you have decided on one or more diamonds, compare their cuts visually by inspecting the HD 360-degree images. If you are buying a set, make sure that the table (surface) is of nearly equal size (ask the seller to confirm the match or have them suggest one to begin with).
Tip: Many jewelers offer an extra high grade called “Hearts and Arrows” (or True Hearts at James Allen), sometimes referred to as super-ideal. They make up less than 1% of gem-quality diamonds, and they are cut with such precision that hearts and arrows appear at a certain angle. However, they carry a 10-40% premium, and we generally think you are fine sticking with a regular ideal cut grade, but if the money is burning a hole in your pocket, go for it.
Step 8: Decide on the clarity grade
First, start with whittling down your choices by disregarding flawless and internally flawless. Next, we recommend that you narrow your range between VS1 and SI2 for the optimum ratio between clarity and price when shopping for a round brilliant-cut diamond (for all other shapes, read our guide here).
The ideal clarity grade for your particular diamond does depend on the shape, cut, and color. Some cuts show inclusions more than others, and if you are going with an excellent or ideal cut, the chances are that the stone will out-sparkle slight inclusions. You can go in-depth with our guide to diamond clarity grades and learn much more.
Once you have narrowed your selection, it’s time for some manual labor. Compare the diamonds and look out for any inclusions or blemishes visible to the naked eye – looking at HD 360-degree images, that is. This is best done online for obvious reasons, and any seller you consider should offer this feature. James Allen probably has the best online imagery, with Ritani and Clean Origin as runner-ups.
Step 9: Pick the color grade
The last C you should decide on is color. As with clarity, the acceptable color range depends on the other factors and the metal color of the jewelry setting. Both mined and lab-grown diamonds exhibit color due to “foreign” matters present during their formation (in lab-grown, this is typically nitrogen or boron). Only very few diamonds are graded as colorless, and you pay dearly for this rare attribute (so don’t).
To optimize other aspects of the diamond, you should downgrade past the colorless grades of D, E, and F and start at the near-colorless grades of H to J/K. If you have picked an excellent or ideal cut (and we know you have if you follow this guide), then the brilliance will shine through the very faint color of the H to J grades. This is particularly the case with the fiery brilliant-type cuts. So to maximize bang-for-the-diamond-buck, pick grades I or J.
If the jewelry set is either gold or rose gold, then the yellow fluorescence of the metal will slightly color the light reflected by the diamond. For that reason, you may also pick a slightly lower color grade, and we recommend aiming for a J or K color grade.
Learn more about lab-grown diamond color grades.
Step 10: Revisit your budget
Now that you have narrowed down your search and likely have a decent shortlist, it’s time to check in on your budget. Did you go over it? Or under? In the following, we assume you went over your budget. That is probably the most common. If you went under, then just do the opposite.
- Adjust carat weight down until you’re within your budget
- If you can’t compromise (enough) on weight to meet your budget, then downgrade using the following priorities:
- First, downgrade one or two steps on clarity.
- Second, downgrade one or two steps on color.
Are we there yet?
If still outside your budget, you need to revisit the carat weight. Or your budget. Don’t be tempted to downgrade further on clarity or color – and never on lab-grown diamond cut.
Step 11: Compare options
Compare the diamond that you have found with close alternatives and see if any of the other stones have an edge on your chosen one. Ideally, use a website where you can compare two or more stones side-by-side (e.g., at James Allen or Clean Origin).
This is also the time when you want to compare price and quality across a few more jewelers. Now that you know the ballpark range of your 4C grades, it should be quick to find similar diamonds offered on other sites.
Step 12: Check the certificates
When you have decided on stone(s), check the grading certificates. Most grading laboratories grade lab-grown diamonds, but IGI is currently the leading lab, so your lab-created stone will likely be graded by them (which is excellent).
If the seller does not have the certificate available, run away as fast as possible (or close your browser tab). However, you should always be able to access the certificate, and the best sellers have a direct link to it online.
Step 13: Double-check return policies and terms
You are now just about to pull the trigger on what may be the biggest jewelry purchase you have ever made. So make sure that you have double-checked the return policy (should be a minimum 30-day money-back) and all other terms. Also, read a few more reviews of the seller, such as ours, and at Google, Trustpilot, Yelp, or similar review sites. Finally, maybe throw a few more questions at the seller to check their consistency and responsiveness in replying.
Step 14: Be excited
Not really an active step of the buying (we know we promised you 13 steps only), but sit tight and wait for your diamond(s) or jewelry to arrive (refresh the carrier tracking page obsessively). If you have followed all the above steps, expect to be very pleasantly surprised by your purchase!
Need more help?
Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about this guide or your planned purchase. We’re here to help and will happily answer any questions you may have.
3 of our favorite places to buy a lab-grown diamond
Shopping for an engagement ring?
We’re here to help. Read the below guides for buying a lab-grown diamond engagement ring.