Lab-Grown Diamond Colors – What you need to know before buying
Learn everything you need to know about lab-grown diamond colors before you buy! Our expert tips and key facts can save you thousands while getting you a much better diamond. So keep reading.
- Lab-grown diamond colors 101
- Where does diamond color come from?
- Lab-grown diamonds and diamond color
- Fancy-colored lab-grown diamonds
- Why you don’t want colored white diamonds
- Why you probably do not want (to pay for) a completely colorless diamonds
- Grading of white diamond color
- Fancy-colored diamond grading
3 diamond jewelers we like better than Pandora Jewelry
Lab-grown diamond colors 101
Diamonds can be either colorless (white) or fancy-colored (colored). And here starts the confusion. When considering a white diamond, you are looking for the absence of color rather than presence. When looking for a fancy-colored diamond, it’s the presence of color that is key. Fancy colors include yellow, pink, blue, and more.
Diamond color is a product of the diamond creation process. And for that reason, differences exist between lab-created and mined diamonds. For the average consumer, these are good to know (so please read on), but you should be aware that color origin does not in any way lessen the quality of lab-grown diamonds over mined.
In nature and jewelry, the most common “color” is white. Or rather, they are not really white but colorless, which is the desirable trait of non-fancy colored diamonds. So when someone typically speaks about diamond color, it’s actually the absence of color they are referring to. The less color, the better.
That is the case for white diamonds. When it comes to fancy colored diamonds, color is intentional. They are very rare in nature and very expensive, and in this case, the more vivid the color, the better. However, fancy-colored diamonds have become more widely available due to lab creation.
Where does diamond color come from?
If diamonds were made out of pure carbon atoms and their structure was completely flawless, you would have a diamond with no color and perfect clarity. But nature rarely works like that, and even in the controlled environment of the laboratory, it is nearly impossible to avoid impurities.
So let’s dive a bit deeper into what causes diamond color and why it matters. First, diamonds are divided into two main groups, with each a sub-group.
The first group, Type 1, contains nitrogen impurities that were present during growth. The presence of nitrogen gives diamonds a yellowish tint, and if you are looking for a white diamond, you do not want a yellow tint. This is by far the most common diamond type in nature, as also common when diamonds are grown using the high pressure, high temperature (HPHT) process that imitates the natural growth pattern.
This group is further sub-divided into how the nitrogen atoms are clustered. In nature, the diamonds have had millions of years to form, and during that time, some of the nitrogen atoms have slowly found partners and have clustered in pairs. Quite romantic, really. These are Type 1a. Lab-grown diamonds are grown over the course of weeks, and nitrogen atoms are still single and are referred to as Type 1b. This is one of the ways HPHT diamonds can be identified, though it requires advanced equipment and it’s not 100% accurate.
The second group, you guessed it, Type 2, contains no nitrogen atoms. This is extremely rare in nature, making up less than 2% of all mined diamonds. In fact, they are so rare that they have usually been reserved for the royal and very rich. No longer. Almost all diamonds created in the lab using the chemical vapor deposition (CVD) methodology are type 2, while HPHT-created diamonds mostly fall into Type 1b.
The second group is also subdivided into two. Type 2b contains boron which colors the diamonds blue. This can be highly desirable if you want a fancy-colored blue diamond, but otherwise not. Type 2a is the most desirable as they do not contain measurable amounts of boron and are either colorless or near-colorless.
Except if you want a blue diamond, of course. Other colors—such as pink and red—can be produced by post-growth treatment processes that involve radiation and heating.
So why are not all lab-grown diamonds completely colorless? Let’s dive into that next.
Lab-grown diamonds and diamond color
We have learned that lab-grown diamonds differ from mined diamonds in that they don’t contain nitrogen atom pairs and, unlike mined diamonds, often are completely nitrogen-free. However, they often still do contain some color.
One reason is that while growing colorless diamonds is possible, it’s a prolonged and demanding process that translates into prohibitively high production costs. So that’s usually not a feasible option, and some color is accepted. However, which color and how it’s dealt with differ between production methodologies.
High-pressure, high temperature (HPHT)
Most HPHT diamonds are type 1b which contains nitrogen. Even in the laboratory, it’s almost impossible to avoid nitrogen since removing it may results in imperfections in the growing process. So it’s usually not completely removed. As a result, it takes much longer to grow high-purity colorless, requiring a longer production time and tight control of pressure and temperature. So with HPHT diamonds, it’s like the case with mined diamonds in that less nitrogen and hence less color entails higher cost.
Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)
It is easier to produce colorless diamonds using the CVD methodology since they most often are type 2a, but they require a longer time to grow. Still, they often turn out with a brownish hue. The reason for this is fairly complex but is generally thought to be the result of non-diamond carbon inclusions or defects such as dislocations. What is more important to know for you as a consumer is that it is possible to remove the brown tint. It’s actually done using a process similar to the HPHT treatment, and it permanently removes virtually all of the brown color.
Fancy-colored lab-grown diamonds
When it comes to fancy-colored diamonds grown using the HPHT method, they are usually yellow, orange, or brown. If boron is introduced during the diamond growth, blue color can be obtained, while other colors (red and pink) require the stones to be treated post-production. Yellow, pink, orange, and blue colored diamonds can also be created using the CVD method if nitrogen or boron is introduced into the chamber during growth.
More importantly, since colored diamonds are scarce in nature and thus also very expensive and since the lab-creating process, including coloring, can be controlled, growing colored diamonds in the lab is highly beneficial.
In fact, lab-grown fancy-colored diamonds are 70-95% cheaper than mined! Keep in mind that for white diamonds, the saving is “just” 30-40%, so if you’re looking for fancy colors (and you’re not made of money), lab-grown diamonds are clearly the way to go. Do note that resale value is similarly lower, but we don’t believe in diamonds as an investment vehicle anyway (and think that neither should you).
Why you don’t want colored white diamonds
When speaking about diamond color, people most often refer to white diamonds and how they are not colorless. Colored white diamonds are quite the contradiction, but we’ll ignore that for now.
There are broadly two reasons why you want to avoid a colored white diamond. First, if the color is too prevalent, you will see it as a yellow or brownish tint. So purely for aesthetic reasons, less color looks better.
Second and perhaps more importantly, the coloring affects the diamond’s ability to reflect light, and when less light is reflected, the diamond sparkles less. As we have learned, diamond brilliance is what it’s all about, so when possible, avoid color. However, nothing comes for free and colorless diamonds especially do not. So you probably want to sacrifice a little on color, and we’ll explain why in the next section.
Why you probably do not want (to pay for) a completely colorless diamonds
Whether mined or lab-grown, colorless diamonds carry high costs because they are rare in nature and difficult to produce in the lab. Unfortunately, this also means that they are expensive for the consumer to buy. Luckily, in most cases, you don’t need a completely colorless diamond.
First of all, if you ensure that you find a diamond with an excellent cut with a high level of brilliance, the diamond will quite literally outshine any light coloring. And, unless money is no object, there will always be a trade-off between the 4Cs. Color is one of the Cs where you can afford to downgrade a little without any noticeable impact – especially when you upgrade on cut. If you have picked a round brilliant-shaped diamond or one of the brilliant types, you’ll further increase brilliance and the diamond’s ability to drown out the color.
Second, any diamond in a jewelry setting will take some light from the surrounding metal. So if you are planning on setting the stone in colored metal such as gold or rose gold, you can safely slide a bit further down the diamond color scale. In the following, we’ll explain more about what these grades are, and in our step-by-step guide to buying lab-grown diamonds and our overview of diamonds shapes, we recommend specific diamond color grades.
Grading of white diamond color
As we have learned, in nature and with the HPHT lab-creation process, white diamonds mostly get the coloring from the inclusion of nitrogen gas during growth. However, other hues such as brown or grey can also appear, particularly when diamonds are created in the lab using the CVD method, and structural imperfections most often cause it.
Because the coloring and its causes differ between mined and lab-grown diamonds, not all grading institutions grade color exactly the same way, GIA being one example. IGI does, and that is one reason why they have become the leading lab-grown diamond grader.
In the following, we’ll explain how white diamonds are graded regardless of origin, and you can refer to the same coloring scheme when you evaluate and inspect lab-grown diamonds.
The color grading scale
Grading laboratories grade diamond color on a scale from D (the best grade), which together with grades E and F are deemed “colorless.” Grades G, H, I, and J are called “near-colorless,” while K, L, and M are said to have a “faint tint.” Anything below M is usually unsuitable for jewelry. The lowest grade is Z, but you’ll not come across that grade at any respectable jeweler.
Wait, what happened to A, B, and C? There’s actually a legacy explanation to that. When GIA instituted the 4C grading regime, several other systems already existed, and both competed and confused consumers. GIA to the rescue to clear up matters but to avoid confusion with other grading scales, they left out A, B and C, which were commonly used.
With that out of the way, let’s look at what these colors look like in diamonds. Below are examples of each color in GIA’s grading scheme, and while you can see a clear progression, it’s much harder to distinguish between two adjacent colors. In fact, even the grading laboratories struggle, and in some tests, they have graded the same diamond two different (albeit adjacent) colors.
So, if even the grading institutes sometimes struggle to make out the exact color, you as a consumer are probably also fine to skip one grade. However, if you jump 3 or 4 grades, the difference becomes noticeable, as seen in the chart.
As we called out above, you would likely be better off choosing a diamond further down the grading scale. We would never recommend a “colorless” diamond unless it’s huge, has a shape that shows color clearly (like emerald), and is set in platinum or white gold (if you tick all of the above, then perhaps get an E or F). For anyone else, start your journey at G and make your way down following our buying guide and find your shape in our in-depth diamond shape article.
Fancy-colored diamond grading
While the most important C for white diamonds by far is cut, for fancy-colored diamonds, it is, you guessed it, color! Therefore, when choosing a fancy-colored diamond, you choose it for exactly that – it would not make sense to skimp on color grade and maximize cut or clarity. In that case, you’ll end up with a poorly colored white diamond.
Fancy-colored diamonds are graded differently than their white cousins. They even have their own grade reserved just for them: Z+. Admittedly, that’s a little confusing. And it gets worse.
While grading white diamonds is binary (color or not), it’s much more complex with fancy-colored stones. Fancy diamonds are graded by not one but three features. Hue (the color name or mix), tone (light or dark color), and saturation (how intense or strong the color is). Some examples are faint (low grade), fancy intense (good), fancy vivid (better). However, it all depends on what you need the diamond for, the particular setting, and your own preferences.
So if you are looking for a fancy-colored diamond, we recommend that you visit GIA’s website to find the exact color you are looking for (this is a good pdf guide). Further, it’s imperative that you purchase your diamond at a jeweler where you can easily compare colors by inspecting detailed, high-quality images and rotate the stone so you get a complete and accurate sense of hue, tone, and saturation.
James Allen is our recommended place to buy fancy-colored diamonds since they offer the best visuals that you can inspect while chatting to their team of gemologists. However, their inventory is somewhat limited, so also head over to our other favorites Clean Origin or Ritani and ask their knowledgeable team to help you pick the exact right diamond for you.
Diamond color buying tips
Since colorless white lab-grown diamonds are both rare and expensive to grow, and since the difference from lesser color grades is not noticeable in a natural light setting, you can safely start at the G or H color grades.
Diamond shapes like the round brilliant and brilliant-type stones have an immense sparkle that will outshine colored light, so you’ll often be just fine with an I or J grade.
If set in gold or rose gold, search for a J or K color graded diamond. Then, instead, spend your savings upgrading to a better diamond cut.
Read more tips in our guide to buying lab-grown diamonds.