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The lowdown on the different types of diamonds

By Stephanie Dore

Look, you’re here, so clearly you’re curious. But perhaps you’re thinking, how many different types of diamonds could there really be? Isn’t a diamond just a diamond? Oh, my sweet, sweet darlings, I truly hate to burst your bubble, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are, in fact, many different types of diamonds out there, along with plenty of lookalike simulants. And, surprise, a diamond can be more than one type at the same time! Oy. So here we go—what you need to know about different types of diamonds before you wring out your wallet.

A carbon atom

Keep ‘em Carbonated

Ahhh, carbon. One of the most abundant chemical elements in the universe, this complicated little guy (or girl, to be fair) can realign its atoms in myriad ways. That’s how we end up with everything from graphite (like some old school pencil lead) to diamond. Trees need carbon to photosynthesize. You’ve even got carbon in you. In fact, all life on Earth does. But diamonds, diamonds are something pretty dang special. They’re pure carbon—and nothing else.

Okay, science 

Now here’s where it gets cool. Diamonds are carbon, but they can also hook up with some other natural elements like nitrogen or boron during growth, which can influence a diamond’s color, inclusions, or even its crystal shape. And this is where the fancy gemological diamond “type” classifications come in. Pay close attention now…

  • Type Ia – the most common type of diamond, chillin’ with some nitrogen all clustered up, typically in the yellow body color range (not necessarily visible to the naked eye), the majority of what you’ll find on the everyday market.
  • Type IIa – no nitro to be seen, these are the rarest and most expensive because they’re uber-pure and therefore uber-sparkly. Most lab-grown diamonds fall into this category.
  • Type Ib – pretty rare, with individual nitrogen atoms (not clusters), often intensely yellow, orange, or brown in color.
  • Type IIb – pretty rare, no nitrogen, but these lil babies are hanging with some boron. They conduct electricity (whoa!) and may have a subtle bluish or blue-gray color. Fun fact – the presence of boron can make a diamond test as negative on a cheap diamond tester.

This is what you came for

I know, that was a lot. And you didn’t jive with science class back in high school. It’s ok. We know what you’re looking for. The real vs. the fake. The natural vs. the man-made. How to know you’re not getting scammed into buying a pretty piece of glass. All very, very important. So let’s get down to business.

Natural emerald diamond
with marquise cluster side stones
in custom Frank Darling setting

Natural diamonds

Good ol’, straight outta the Earth, colorless, sparkly diamond. This is the majority of what you’ll find out there at any reputable jeweler online or in person. These types of diamonds are usually accompanied with a certificate of authenticity. No certificate? That’s a red flag.

Treated diamonds

Mined from the Earth like natural diamonds, “treated” means that they’ve been enhanced (warning, warning) with some real mad scientist ish. This might include filling a diamond’s inclusions or artificially improving its color. You want to be careful here, because treated diamonds are usually much cheaper than natural ones, and that’s the only way they can legit be sold. Treatment doesn’t always mean permanent, either. So, if something seems fishy, beware. 

A heavily included emerald diamond
may be enhanced to improve its clarity
Rose cut lab grown diamond
in custom two tone setting

Lab grown, AKA created diamonds AKA man made diamonds AKA cultured diamonds

Yep. As in man made. With hands. Sort of. These used to be referred to as “synthetic,” until a bunch of folks won the argument with some straight up facts. Lab grown diamonds are chemically and optically the exact same thing as natural diamonds, legit, like, 100% real, real. Just… made in a lab. It’s like making ice in your freezer instead of trekking to the North Pole to drag some home. And diamond growing technology has made some major advances in the last few years, making lab grown diamonds more widely available in better color and clarity and shape options than ever before. They’re getting pretty popular, and are a great affordable option.

Fancy colored diamonds

Like, literally every color of the rainbow, baby! Also called fancy color diamonds, these include red, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, violet, oh my! Plus, gray, white and black diamonds. And almost every criss-crossed mashup of the aforementioned you can imagine. You can definitely find some affordable fancy colored diamonds if you’re into them. You can also find some not-so-affordable ones if they happen to be superb examples of their color and size. To make things more complicated, both natural, treated, and lab grown diamonds come in facy colors at various pricepoints. If you’re thinking fancy, you’ll probably want help navigating the colorscape as these types of diamonds can get pretty complicated.

Fancy intense yellow
oval diamonds

Fake it Til You Make It

From synthetic to simulant. See, here’s where it goes askew. See, simulants are the real stand-ins. The stones that get away with looking like diamonds, but are really something else. This might include cubic zirconia, white sapphire, Moissanite, glass… or some other things with strange names. Really, it refers to anything that’s flashy and convincing enough to look like a diamond from afar. But when it comes down to it, diamond simulants have completely different physical, chemical, and optical properties than the real thing and can easily be sussed out by a gemologist. 

Moissanite — a diamond simulant

But Are Simulants Bad?

Inherently, no, simulants aren’t bad. It’s only bad if they’re being deceptive, i.e. being sold as something they’re not. If you know what you’re buying, and how to care for it, and it’s priced appropriately, then you do you. Take Moissanite, for example. Due to its rarity, Moissanite today is created in a lab. It’s silicon carbide, rates a 9.25 on the Mohs scale (meaning it’s definitely suited for everyday wear), and is way, way sparkly. And affordable. Is it a diamond? No. But as long as you know what you’re buying, it’s not a bad option. Can you tell the difference?

You’re Just My Type. On Paper.

Look, no matter what type of diamond you think you want, the one you actually pair up with might surprise you. They each have their benefits and drawbacks and you just have to decide what’s important to you and your partner in the long run. 

But not to worry, our diamond geeks are here to help you out. Whether it’s a natural mined diamond, a lab-grown one, or something altogether different, we’d love to help you hunt down the perfect diamond for your person. You can start your search in our collection of over 20,000 certified, ethically sourced natural and lab grown diamonds. Or, let us curate a selection just for you. Just hit us up at hello@frankdarling.com