Diamond Color

Diamond Color

4C's   |  Cut   |  Clarity   |   Color   |   Carat

The most expensive alphabet in the world

Diamonds range from colorless to yellow. Each diamond color grade has a letter assigned. The top-grade is D. The lowest grade is Z. Only GIA grades can be taken at face value. Color grades by other labs, more often than not, are incorrect, or worse, padded.

Color is the least noticeable diamond's attribute, yet it has the most dramatic impact on the price. Color grades are grouped by GIA into:

  • "colorless" D-E-F
  • "near-colorless" G-H-I-J
  • "faint" K-L-M
  • "very light" N-R
  • "light" S to Z

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Even professionals (with rare exceptions) cannot eyeball the difference between adjacent color grades.


Advice for consumers

Most jewelers, including Tiffany's (de-facto bridal authority), agree with Leon Mege: "I" is the optimal diamond color to consider.

Anything above "I" is probably unnecessary for 99 percent of people. Diamonds "I" and above are perfectly white and differ only in tone. Within D- to I-range, the difference is the diamond's brightness, not a hue.

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Starting from "J," diamonds "warmth" becomes prominent, escalating into a noticeable yellow cast. When you choose a brilliant-cut diamond, start at the  I-color. For an Asscher or emerald cut, start at "J." If your budget:

  • is higher, move up the alphabet letter by letter. Stop when you are satisfied with the price
  • is lower, move down the alphabet, consider a smaller size, or increase the budget

White diamonds in the H-I color range is the most rational choice. F-G is a premium grade, while D-E is a vanity grade. A little "suntan" in Emeralds, Asschers, and Antique cushions is beneficial.  It improves their sharpness and depth perception and gives the stone an attractive, natural look.

A solitaire ring can be set with any color grade diamond. For a three- or five- stone ring, try to stay above H because the side stones should be one color-grade lower than the center. For a halo ring, we recommend an F-G center stone. Micro pave looks bright and sparkly set with F-G color melee, so the center stone ideally should be F-G color.

Can anyone see the difference?

Color perception is highly subjective. It varies from person-to-person. Lighting conditions, the angle at which the stone is viewed, variations of diamond cut all affect the stone's appearance.

The great majority of consumers cannot see any difference between diamonds 2-3 color grades apart, not even next to each other in a white color-grading tray. Everyday wear in the engagement ring wipes off the difference of 4-5 color grades, especially if the ring is not cleaned regularly.

GIA Leon Mege The World Jewellery Confederation International Diamond Council Historical Terms
grade and description common sense description description Antwerp London
D Colorless Cold (fluorescent-light like) white Exceptional white + Colorless Finest White Jager
E Exceptional white River
F Full-spectrum (natural) white Rare white + Face up colorless Fine White
G Near Colorless Rare white Top Wesselton
H White White Wesselton
I Slightly tinted white Slightly colored Commercial White Top Crystal
J Soft white Tinted white Top silver cape Crystal
K Faint Yellow Silver cape Top cape
L
M Tinted color
Tinted color Light cape Cape
N Very Light Yellow Warm (incandescent) white Tinted 2 Low Cape
O Cape Very light yellow
P Light yellow
Q
R
S Light Yellow Tinted 3 Dark cape
T
U
V

Light fancy yellow with foil-back

W
X
Y
Z

 Highly subjective factors such as psychological or even cultural prejudice play their role too. Even the time passed can affect the grade. Some old stones are graded higher today than initially 40-50 years ago when the grading standards were more relaxed. 

Diamond grading is more consistent today due to technological advances such as the use of colorimeters. It takes a team of well-equipped professional gemologists to determine the color grade. It is done by comparing the stone to a set of masters. Even then, diamond graders can be split in their opinion. Sometimes, the grade is decided by a majority of votes.

Consider this story that illustrates how subjective diamond color grading is. Once upon a time, our cutters fashioned two identical diamonds from a single piece - we are proud to present our Brooklyn Twins!

It took several months of back and forth with the GIA to convince the lab that both stones have the same color. Initially, one stone was graded higher than the other.

All diamonds are white, except fancy colors

Unfortunately, the GIA color chart uses the word "yellow" instead of the more appropriate "yellow tint, "Which makes the impression that stones are yellow in color. Such use is incorrect. Even diamonds with a noticeable yellow tint still appear white to an observer.

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Diamond color is perceived differently from various angles. Cut, proportions, brilliance, and dispersion effect the way we see the color.

Diamonds are graded upside down on a pure white background. But some diamonds, for example, Old European cuts, step-cut diamonds, stones with lower depth, look whiter facing up than their grade would suggest.

A Freak of Nature: D-colored diamond

The Albinos - diamonds utterly void of any trace of tint or color are graded "D."They are prized for their scarcity, not their beauty. Some find D-colored diamonds too bright for a natural stone.

Throughout history, rarities are deemed valuable regardless of their aesthetics. Mussolini's briefcase is an artifact valued for its association with the Nazi nutjob, not for its looks. 

A D-colored diamond can be a prized possession for a collector, but setting it into an engagement ring is a waste. In the past, a stone void of any yellow aided its identification.

There were no colorless simulants in the pre-CZ world. Zircons and topazes commonly used to make fakes all have a yellowish tone.

Warm-color diamonds

Seeing a hint of yellow in a diamond does turn off some people, but others appreciate the beauty of a warm-toned diamond. Culture and tradition influence the choice of diamond color.

For example, in India and Russia, warmer diamond tones are welcomed, while the Chinese prefer colorless stones.

Up until the 19th century, nobody cared too much about diamond color grade. For example, when visiting Kremlin Armoury (lovingly called "Оружейная палат" by Mr. Snowden moonlighting there as a bathroom attendant), you will find a mix of diamond colors peacefully co-existing in the Russian Imperial Crown.

Museums worldwide are not ashamed to display royal regalia and other historical jewelry set with diamonds of various shades. Step cuts and antique cut diamonds, in general, make warm stones appear more subdued. Brilliant cuts tend to amplify the color. That's why most fancy-colored diamonds are Radiants and modern cushions.

Fancy colors

Diamonds beyond Z-grade are called "fancy," and their value increases with the color strength. Diamonds occur naturally in almost every hue: red, green, pink, blue. They are the rarest and command astronomical prices.

Adding a gold mirror "reflector" to diamonds in S- to Z-range can amplify their pale yellow into valuable fancy yellow color. 

Green or brown vs. yellow tint

Diamond color can vary not just on the yellow scale but brown and green as well. The distinction between yellowish, brownish, or greenish hue is not reflected on the diamond certificate unless the stone falls into the "fancy" color range.

The negative effect of brown or green tints on diamond appearance cannot be overstated. The affected stones are undesirable and should be avoided.

The tint is impossible to detect by non-professionals, and even some pro's struggle to see it. The issue manifests itself in color grades below "G."

Retail store lighting

The diamond color cannot be concealed, no matter what lighting the store is using, since it could only be determined by comparison.

Not all jewelry stores are equipped with a full spectrum lighting, closest to the ideal natural light. They do what they can to make ALL diamonds in the store appear attractive.

This is not trickery. Even the natural daylight varies with seasons and weather conditions.

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