The Ultimate Guide to Natural Diamonds

Everything you need to know about going "al naturale."
Two diamond engagement rings and a thin white gold wedding band
Photos: Stephanie Gottlieb Fine Jewelry,Design: Tiana Crispino
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Lauren Whalley
lauren whalley headshot
Lauren Whalley
Fashion Editor, Beauty & Inclusivity
  • Lauren writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a specialty in fashion, beauty and size inclusivity.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Lauren worked in wedding editorial for Brides, Style Me Pretty and Enaura Bridal.
  • Lauren studied public relations and advertising at the University of Central Florida.
Updated Jul 10, 2023

Natural diamonds are a classic choice for engagement rings, wedding bands and bridal jewelry. I truly don't know anyone who wouldn't love to receive diamonds. It doesn't even matter if you're a minimalist who wants a little bit of sparkle on their wedding day or a glam bride looking for as much bling as you can possibly get; there is something out there for you, but it does come with a price tag, so you may, understandably, have a few questions before you swipe your credit card. What is a natural diamond? How are diamonds made? What's the difference between natural and lab grown diamonds? We get to the bottom of all your questions with the help of renowned jeweler and diamond expert Stephanie Gottlieb, who's owned Stephanie Gottlieb Fine Jewelry for nearly 10 years. And with a cult following of over 460K on Instagram, she knows a thing or two about a girl's best friend.

What Is A Natural Diamond?

"A natural diamond originates deep inside the Earth and is made up of carbon," says Gottlieb. The word diamond actually comes from the Greek word adamas, which means "indestructible." The name rings true, as diamonds are considered the hardest substance on earth (fun fact: the only thing that can scratch a diamond is another diamond!) and are 58 times harder than anything else found in nature.

How Are Natural Diamonds Formed?

"Natural diamonds are formed within the Earth over a period of one to three billion years, under natural conditions of high pressure and high temperature," Gottlieb tells us. "These diamonds are transported from as deep as 800km and brought close to the earth's surface by natural magmatic eruptions, forming kimberlite rocks. Diamonds are brought along for the ride, rising up from deep within the Earth's crust."

Are Natural Diamonds Ethical?

Unknown to most, ethical diamonds and conflict-free diamonds have two different meanings. Conflict-free diamonds are natural diamonds that are not connected to illegal trading to fund war-torn areas. Ethical diamonds focus on conflict-free initiatives as well as fair pay, safe labor conditions, environmentally sound practices and no human rights violations.

To ensure the diamond journey is regulated, over 70 countries in the United Nations, including the United States, enforce the Kimberly Process (KP), which is a commitment to removing conflict diamonds from the supply chain. This requires all diamond retailers to have documentation warranting that their gems were obtained through legitimate channels, and it actively enforces these requirements when diamond shipments enter American ports. Thanks to this enforcement, the countries involved actively prevent 99.8% of the worldwide trade.

Don't be afraid to talk to your jeweler to learn more about where and how your diamond was sourced. Many online retailers also have online statements and policies that clarify their ethical and conflict-free diamond policies. Regardless of whether you shop at a local jeweler or online, they should be able to educate you as to where your diamond is sourced from, along with proper certifications and documentation to certify this information.

How are natural diamonds certified And graded?

Guide to understanding the 4Cs of diamonds
Photos: Stephanie Gottlieb Fine Jewelry,Design: Tiana Crispino

"Most natural diamonds of a certain size and quality will be sent to a diamond grading lab, the most esteemed of which is the GIA (Gemological Institute of America)," Gottlieb says. "Here, a diamond is assessed for its quality based on the 4C's: Carat, Color, Clarity and Cut. "There are several different types of certifications and reports that can be issued, including a Diamond Grading Report and, in some cases, an Origin Report." To help you better understand the 4C's of natural diamond engagement rings, here's a brief overview of what each grading category means:

  • Carat: Refers to the weight of the diamond. As the diamond's carat weight increases, so does its rarity. However, the weight of the diamond doesn't always equate to its size.
  • Clarity: This measures the amount of inclusions or imperfections in a diamond, with the priciest of diamonds being referred to as internally flawless.
  • Color: Refers to how white or yellow a diamond is. It's graded on a scale of D to Z. With D being completely colorless to Z, which is a light yellow to brown.
  • Cut: The cut determines the brilliance, fire and sparkle of your diamond. Many will argue that this is the most important of the 4Cs.

Always make sure when you purchase a diamond that you receive a copy of the report, most commonly the industry stand GIA diamond certification or IGI diamond certification. We highly recommend taking a deep dive into understanding the 4Cs here, before you start shopping so you can make an informed decision when browsing different stones. A reputable jeweler will always be able to walk you through it, plus they're experts at knowing how to tell if a diamond is real.

How Much Does A Natural Diamond Cost

According to Gottlieb, the cost of a natural diamond is determined using the 4Cs as benchmarks. "The Rapaport Price List, also known as the "Rap List", is the diamond industry standard for the pricing of diamonds. The Rap List takes into account the ongoing sales activity of diamonds within the industry and is used by jewelers and professionals to gauge and price their inventory." The average 1-carat natural diamond currently averages between $2,000 and $16,000, so it's important to set a budget whether you are picking out an engagement ring, wedding band or any other piece of jewelry.

Natural vs. Lab-Grown Diamonds

With advances in technology, you may be deciding between mined diamonds and lab-grown diamonds. "The main difference lies in their origin," says Gottlieb. "Natural diamonds are a miracle of nature; they were created by a natural process that takes Billions of years, deep within the Earth under high temperatures and high pressure. Lab grown diamonds are created by machines that replicate the natural diamond formation process in a matter of weeks by creating conditions that force carbon to crystallize." And while Gottlieb says that the end results share the same physical and visual properties as the human eye, they can be distinguished through professional testing. "Natural diamonds are a finite natural gemstone; this rarity is what gives them their inherent value. The price of natural diamonds continues to grow year over year, while the influx of manufactured lab-grown diamonds has caused the prices to fall by more than 70% in just the last 7 years."

At the end of the day, your diamond purchase is up to your personal preference. Do your research, meet with your local jeweler and ask questions so you can make the best informed decision when finding your dream natural diamond engagement ring.

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