Diamond Color: Everything You Need To Know

Diamond Color – Basics

Diamond color influences price the most after carat weight, so this page can help you (a) save a lot of money without sacrificing appearance, or (b) justify your desire to spend more on icy white rarity.

diamond color scale

PriceScope Pointer: The most purchased diamond colors are F-G-H or I, set in white gold or platinum. Well-cut round diamonds can “face-up” with better color than their lab grade if extremely well cut.

Before going on: Check out the PriceScope Diamond Buying Guide

Basics-1

Diamond Color Described

A diamond’s color was caused by chemicals in the earth where it formed. Most of the world’s diamonds are yellow or brown. Those diamonds are graded on a scale ranging from D, which has the least color, all the way to Z, which is light yellow or possibly light brown.

D-Z Color Chart

D-Z diamond color chart, courtesy of GCAL
D-Z color chart, courtesy of GCAL

Other colors, and stronger levels of yellow and brown, are classified as fancy colored diamonds, and are graded on a different scale.

Color Categories

Diamonds graded DEF are considered colorless. GHIJ are near-colorless. Colors K through Z go from faint to very-light and light shades of yellow or brown.

PriceScope Pointer: Top diamond color grades D-E-F are ‘collection colors,’ valued for icy-appearance and rarity. 

Categorical Color Chart

Categorical diamond color chart
Image courtesy of IGI

Basics-2

Let’s get practical.

Most people cannot detect a difference of 2-3 color grades unless the diamonds are placed next to each other, especially in the colorless (D-E-F) and near-colorless (G-H-I-J) ranges. With that said, taste comes into play. For those who love the icy appearance and rarity of a colorless diamond the extra spend may be worth it.

  • D color, E color and F color are extremely hard for the untrained eye to separate, even next to each other.
  • G color, H color and I color are great values, appearing bright and white, with no color apparent to the untrained eye unless scrutinized next to a diamond of higher color.
  • J color is extremely budget-friendly and most people won’t notice the near-colorless yellow tone unless placed next to a diamond of higher color.

PriceScope Pointer: A difference of 2-3 grades is hard to detect unless you hold the diamonds next to each other.

PRACTICAL ANALOGY: D-J color is like choosing a shade of white

Have you ever gotten one of those huge paint fan samples? A thick fan of literally hundreds of shades which seem like white? When they are right next to each other you can tell that one is bluer/colder and one is a bit warmer and another is much warmer, but really, they are all white.  Then you pick one after agonizing over this white or that white and when it’s on the walls people are like: “Oh. You painted again. And it’s still white. Great…” And you say “But, it’s blue-white.” Or “It’s this white now, it used to be that white. It’s TOTALLY different. (Credit to PS member Gypsy for this analogy)

Paint color examples on fan deck
Diamond color chart metaphor

At the top of the D-Z scale, color context is much like that. Shades of white. E is cold. H is warmer and J is warmer, still. But they are all white.

What color is right for you? Our elite list of vetted vendors like James Allen and Blue Nile are experts at listening and helping you determine which combo of the 4Cs is perfect for you – and nicely in budget. Call or chat now, and get help today.

Color Chart: 23 Shades

D-Z color chart for diamonds
Image courtesy of IGI

Basics-3

Real World Information

Unlike carat weight, which is standardized, color and clarity grading are subjective human estimations. Moreover, some laboratories have softer standards than others: The diamonds seen in many chain stores, malls and discount outlets have observable tint at higher grades, unlike diamonds sent to top-tier laboratories. This can give shoppers a false and negative first impression about warmer color.

mall standards

Sub-par cut quality can also cause a diamond to show more color face-up than its lab grade, as we will illustrate below. There is an enormous range of appearance for diamonds of any single color grade, based on the variables.

  • Diamond color grading is a subjective judgment
  • Standards also vary, so diamonds graded G or H color in a chain store might be judged J color from GIA or AGS
  • Cut quality influences everything: Light escaping through the pavilion or bouncing around inside the diamond illuminates body tone
  • Diamonds with sub-par cut quality can even face-up with more color than their laboratory grade
  • Diamond fluorescence can also influence color, as we will cover below.

Basics-4

Can I choose color online with confidence?

YES.

Successful online sellers like our recommended PriceScope vendors, have methods of reliably classifying and communicating the quality of a diamond’s cut, whether you’re examining it in-person or purchasing online. They also offer liberal inspection periods and free returns so you can make your purchase with complete confidence

  1. Start with diamond grading reports: Diamonds over 0.25ct should come with a full report (or certificate) issued by a gemological laboratory. Color and clarity grading are subjective so tolerances among labs vary – even between a single lab’s various locations – but the accepted standard among reputable institutions is +/- one grade.

PriceScope Pointer: GIA, AGS, IGI and GCAL all grade loose diamonds with strict, reliable standards. Read more about these laboratories on our diamond certification page.

  1. Ask for photos and videos: First things first. Camera and monitor settings make diamonds look different screen to screen, so you can’t make nuanced decisions with images. With that said, videos and images are useful. And when a seller’s in-house images are consistently made, in one setup, then head-to-head comparisons within that seller’s inventory are practical.
  1. Ask the seller directly: If you have questions beyond what a diamond grading report and supplemental videos and images can communicate, pick up the phone, chat or email and get in touch with the vendor. It’s in their best interest to communicate transparently with you. After all, they don’t want the expense of shipping a diamond, only to have it returned on their dime as well.

Get fast answers to any question: Ask our community of unbiased independent helpers.

Ready to find your diamond?


Intermediate Diamond Color

The appearance of diamond color in normal viewing may be influenced by factors beyond the basics, starting with colors in the environment, particulars of the color grading process, the weight of the diamond and the possible presence of unreported undertones.

PriceScope Pointer: Don’t go diamond shopping in a yellow sweater – diamonds reflect back what’s around them.

Analysis-1 | Reflection

Diamonds reflect-back your shirt’s color.

  1. Diamonds absorb and reflect back colors in their surroundings. Even D colored diamonds will seem to have a tint if you’re in a room with yellow walls or happen to be wearing a yellow shirt. Shades of off-white, yellow and brown in the environment can make color seem more tinted than it is. Alternately, shades of blue in the environment can reduce the appearance of yellow tint and make a diamond seem to have less color than it does.

Reflections in glasses on man with beard

  1. Diamond appearance can also be influenced by the color temperature of lighting. Normal daylight has a color temperature near 5000K. “White” indoor lighting has a color temperature between 3500K-4500K. Lighting at lower Kelvin temperatures (2700K-3000K) emits yellow light and lighting at higher Kelvin temperatures emits bluer light. When shopping in jewelry showrooms be aware that the store’s lighting could be designed at high Kelvin temperatures to reduce the appearance of yellow tint.

For these reasons, diamonds are professionally assessed in neutrally-colored environments by graders wearing white tops, seen under diffused light sources with white color temperatures.

Analysis-2 | Upside-Down

Color is graded upside-down.

You read that correctly. Gemological laboratories perform D to Z color grading with the diamond upside down and viewed through the side. Why through the side? To permit a neutral view. Viewing a diamond from the top is not neutral because of three factors which may influence color appearance in the “face-up” position:

  1. The diamond’s shape.
  2. The way the diamond was cut.
  3. The presence of diamond fluorescence
Diamond color grading, courtesy IGI
Color grading, courtesy IGI

A. Shape and “face up” color.

“Face up” is the way we normally view diamonds, looking down on the diamond’s top.

Fancy shapes may reveal more color than round brilliant cuts in the face up position because they have broader facet arrangements. This is largely a non-factor in diamonds graded DEF. The potential for more visible color appearance or color concentration increases the more you consider diamonds graded GHIJ and below.

  • Round brilliant facets are adept at masking color.
  • Princess cuts display color slightly more than rounds due to the depth and body. However, they are still good at masking color due to their faceting style.
  • Step cuts have long, flat facets so they cannot rely on sparkle or light-return intensity to mask color.
  • Elongated shapes with points such as pears, marquis or hearts will display more concentrations of color, when present, in the points and curves.

Diamond color chart: Different shapesdiamond shapes visual

Face-Up

B. Cut quality and “face up” color.

In well-cut diamonds light gets in and out on shorter ray-paths with greater intensity. This can cause the appearance of less color when the diamond is seen from the top.

Diamond color chart: Color reduction

Short ray paths traveling through a diamond

Top cut quality can help diamonds appear more colorless: Cut focused brands like A CUT ABOVE® from Whiteflash have been reported to benefit from face-up color reduction in PriceScope testimonials.

Alternately, if the diamond is cut so that light escapes through the bottom – or bounces around inside – the color within that diamond may be exaggerated when seen from the top.

Diamond color chart: Color exaggeration

Long ray paths traveling through a diamond

C. Diamond fluorescence and “face up” color.

Diamond fluorescence, present in approximately 30% of diamonds, is caused by trace elements within the crystal structure which emit visible light when excited by ultraviolet light or x-rays. Blue is the most common shade of fluorescence and can theoretically cancel some yellow color in environments with ample sunlight. Diamond fluorescence can, therefore, sometimes make a warmer colored stone appear more colorless. The effects of fluorescence on color should be judged on a case-by-case basis, as the impact varies from stone to stone.

Diamonds showing fluorescence

Fluorescent diamonds trade at a discount so fans of this phenomenon may enjoy more diamond, potentially facing up with less color than the laboratory grade, for less money. However, the long-term value of diamonds with fluorescence is in question, as certain world markets avoid dealing in them entirely.

Analysis-3 | Size

Larger diamonds show more color.

As diamonds increase in carat weight the presence of color becomes more noticeable, simply because whatever color exists throughout the diamond occurs takes on more mass. The presence of color in diamonds graded K and below becomes especially noticeable at weights above 2.50 – 3.00 carats.

  • D-E-F colors remain colorless, even at the highest weights.
  • G-H colors continue appearing bright and white at high weights, with no color apparent to the untrained eye unless scrutinized next to a diamond of higher color.
  • I color continues appearing bright and white at high weights, with some warmth evident once seen next to a diamond of higher color
  • J color is still near-colorless at high weights and most people won’t notice the yellow tone unless seen next to a diamond of higher color.
  • K colors and below show notable evidence of color in diamonds weighing 2.50 – 3.00 carats and above.

Analysis-4 | Undisclosed

Be aware of undisclosed undertone.

Are you seeing diamonds which seem inexplicably low priced? There are a few reasons this might be the case and one of them is a subtle or not-so-subtle brown, grey or green undertone which influences overall color appearance. Another may have to do with undisclosed clarity issues. The endgame here is to always ask the seller why the diamond is discounted so much, but let’s arm you with some color facts first.

  • A brown undertone is not necessarily a deal-killer. Stones with enough brown saturation to reach fancy colored diamond status have been successfully marketed and sold as “champagne” or “cognac” diamonds, with a color appearance many people find beautiful, especially when mounted in yellow or rose gold settings. So, depending on your preferences, a diamond with brown undertone may be a budget-friendly option. Just be sure you go into the purchase with advance notice from the seller.
  • Diamonds with grey or green undertone trade at even lower values, for several reasons. Many people find those undertones distracting or unpleasant. Green undertone, specifically, indicates the diamond likely came from the Marange fields of Zimbabwe and may be associated with human rights violations.

Where is this reported?

These issues are disclosed among traders. Wholesale suppliers are being asked to declare a diamond has “No BGM” (brown/green/milky) in business to business comments, but those notes are not typically passed on from diamond sellers to consumers.

Screen shot of wholesale search declaring "No BGM"

The world’s largest wholesale loose diamond trading platform has now added the ability to include or exclude “milky” diamonds (as a diamond clarity supplement) along with undertones of different shades, including brown, green and grey (as a diamond color supplement).

Screen shot of wholesale search with Milky and Shade options

The situation is fluid, complicated by assessment thresholds and resistance to disclose, from miner to supplier to retailer to shopper. Much of the wild variability in diamond pricing is attributable to undisclosed elements such as these.

The number of diamonds coming to market with undertone other than yellow has increased as long-standing mines reach their gem-quality limits, and green-tinted rough from Zimbabwe flows into India and China.

What’s the solution?

  1.  Revisit our advice above: Can I buy Diamond Color online with confidence?
  1. Start with diamond grading reports, look for seller-provided photos and videos, look for standardized imaging and, most importantly, ask the seller directly: If you have questions beyond what a diamond grading report and supplemental videos and images can communicate, pick up the phone, chat or email and get in touch with the vendor. It’s in their best interest to communicate transparently with you. After all, they don’t want the expense of shipping a diamond, only to have it returned on their dime.

Get fast answers to any question: Ask our community of unbiased independent helpers.

Ready to find your diamond?


Advanced Diamond Color

Evaluation-1

Taste Alert

Anything in this section can be overruled by personal taste and preference. If your beloved aunt buys a 3.00 carat D color diamond and mounts it in a rich, buttery gold setting – that colorless diamond will take on a colored/tinted appearance, since diamonds absorb and reflect-back the colors in their surroundings.

Honestly, if her heart was set on that rich yellow setting, she could have chosen a 5.00 carat J color instead – since it would have the same end-appearance when mounted. We all love our aunts and respect their personal tastes and preferences, but when making your own decisions the tips below are something to be aware of.

funny aunt wearing crazy clothes

Evaluation-2 | Philosophy

Color Philosophies

There are a lot of preconceived notions about diamond color. These may have to do with where someone grew up and what they learned about diamonds. Whatever the case, it’s a good idea to know how the wearer feels about color and, in some cases, it may be enlightening to share this information with that person.

A. High diamond color and bad information.

Many people are under the false impression that diamonds with higher color sparkle better. This is false. A diamond’s observable brightness, fire, sparkle and contrast are all attributable to its cut quality. Diamonds with identical cut geometry will sparkle identically at any color from D-Z. As color descends from K to Z there is more tint in the body, coupled with spectral absorption dynamics, but the intensity and quality of sparkle is no less at Z color than it is at D.

B. High diamond color and value.

Collection quality diamonds are those with color and clarity combinations which trade for the highest values and continue to hold that value best over time. Combining a non fluorescent D color, E color, or F color with Flawless, Internally-Flawless, VVS1 or VVS2 clarity gives a diamond collection quality status in the eyes of diamond professionals and enthusiasts. Some people choose high color and clarity combinations for this reason.

C. High diamond color and symbolism.

Depending on culture and philosophy, diamonds may be seen as reflections of the relationships they symbolize. In such cases higher clarities and colors may be chosen, out of personal preference, to symbolize the perfection and purity of the union.

Evaluation-3 | Metal

Color and precious metal recommendations.

white-gold, yellow-gold and rose-gold settings
Image courtesy of Whiteflash

Round Brilliant Diamonds

  • Brilliant cuts benefit from kite-shaped facets which promote sparkle.
  • White metal settings are highly recommended for F color and above.
  • White metal settings are very complementary to J color and above.
  • White metal settings might work for K color which “face-up” well due to cut-quality.
  • Yellow metal settings complement G color and below.
  • Yellow metal settings are very complementary to J color and below.
  • Yellow metal settings are highly recommended for M color and below.
  • Rose-gold settings work for any color but are highly recommended for brown undertone.

Cushion, Princess, Pear, Oval, Radiant and Marquise cut Diamonds

  • These shapes promote sparkle, but less so than round brilliants
  • White metal settings are highly recommended for F color and above.
  • White metal settings are very complementary to H color and above.
  • White metal settings might work for I color and J color which “face-up” well due to cut-quality.
  • Yellow metal settings complement G color and below.
  • Yellow metal settings are very complementary to J color and below.
  • Yellow metal settings are highly recommended for M color and below.
  • Rose-gold settings work for any color but are highly recommended for brown undertone.

Asschers, Emerald cuts and other diamond shapes

  • The shape aesthetic of these diamonds is more important than sparkle
  • White metal settings are highly recommended for F color and above.
  • White metal settings are very complementary to G color and above.
  • White metal settings might work for H color and I color which “face-up” well due to cut-quality.
  • Yellow metal settings complement G color and below.
  • Yellow metal settings are very complementary to J color and below.
  • Yellow metal settings are highly recommended for M color and below.
  • Rose-gold settings work for any color but are highly recommended for brown undertone.

Get fast answers to any question: Ask our community of unbiased independent helpers.

Ready to find your diamond?


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