Cross-sectional structural characteristics of the CVD diamond coatings deposited on the tungsten carbide (WC-Co) substrates were analysed using Raman imaging technique. The grain size of the nanocrystalline diamond (NCD) coatings was observed to deviate from the nanocrystallinity with increasing thickness and exhibited the surface characteristics of microcrystalline diamond (MCD). However, thick diamond coatings with surface nanocrystallinity is the key requirement for load-bearing tribological applications. Tribological tests have clearly indicated the significance and need for the top-layer nanocrystallinity. Graded composite diamond coatings with an architecture of NCD/transition-layer/ MCD/WC-Co are potentail candiadates to realize thick diamond coatings with top-layer nanocrystallinity. Residual stresses along the cross-section of the graded composite diamond coatings were analysed using Raman imaging technique, which confirmed the improved interfacial integrity of the graded composite diamond coatings. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.