Understanding Diamond Color
The basics of diamond grading are the “Four Cs”: Carat, Cut, Color, and Clarity. As part of Secrète Fine Jewelry’s expanded guide through the 4Cs, we’re dedicating this post to color.
This amazing wedding band features light pink and white diamonds together in white and rose gold. Available at Secrète in Washington, DC.
There are two main categories of color grading in diamonds. The first, and most common, is for white diamonds. This is actually a grading of the absence of color. The second is for “fancy colored” diamonds which means diamonds that are rainbow colored yellow, pink, blue, green, orange, purple, brown, black, gray, etc.
The diamonds in this custom engagement ring by Secrète are graded F color. They are very white! To make it even better, this now belongs to one of the kindest couples we've ever met!
White diamonds are graded on a scale of D to Z. Why they didn’t do it A to Z is beyond me, but that’s the way it is. In the 1940s, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) established the first universal grading system for diamonds with the 4Cs.
Since the system of evaluation was created, diamonds that are graded D are certified to be completely colorless, under controlled lighting and with the most refined tools, they are completely without any shade of gray or brownish undertones. Diamonds graded Z are a dingy dishwater color-- not pretty or intense enough to be considered yellow or brown diamonds. So what about the middle?
Color is a tricky thing, and of course, completely colorless diamonds are rarer than diamonds tinged with a little undertone. Diamonds are natural things, formed under tens of thousands of years of pressure inside the earth, and the rarity of a completely clear stone demands a high price tag. Most people, unless they are investors, don’t need a D color stone. Its perfection is something that gemologists and geologists can appreciate, but there is room in the color scale for diamonds that appear white and gorgeous in engagement settings and other jewelry without holding the price for the rarest colorless stone.
Let’s break it down. Diamonds graded with D, E, or F are considered “colorless.” The vast majority of people, including many jewelry professionals, would have trouble distinguishing between D, E, and F diamonds with the naked eye when set in a ring or other piece of jewelry. They are white white white!
Diamonds graded G, H, I, and J are considered “near-colorless,” but you start to see a little bit less perfection as you edge towards J. G, H, and I diamonds are great options for most jewelry applications, including engagements where they diamond takes the center stage.
Because G-I colored diamonds are less rare than D colored, you can get a little bit more bang for your buck price wise by compromising a little on color. Most brides-to-be would rather have a larger “near white” diamond than a microscopically small, microscopically perfect diamond for the same price.
K, L, and M are considered “very light” colored diamonds. These colors have some personality-- here at Secrète where we often custom reset family heirloom diamonds, we see many beautiful antique diamonds in this color range. It’s not that they don’t look as good as the clearer diamonds, it’s that they have a little be more visual interest, a moodier or smokier undertone. We actually think it looks good, especially in stones with good clarity in vintage cuts like Old European or Old Miner.
This ring features a family heirloom stone set with a gorgeous, timeless pave setting. We were happy to reset this old Euro diamond at Secrète, and we even took the diamond to GIA's lab to have it certified for the first time in its long life (it's a K color).
When we get beyond M and go into the N-Z territory, it’s a little different. Most people don’t prefer the look of N - Z diamonds if they’re looking for a “white” diamond, and would be better suited compromising on size or clarity (the other Cs) to get a less brownish diamond. However, jewelry is personal. Maybe you already have the diamond and it carries memories of a beloved family member, maybe you purchased it together on a trip overseas-- if you do choose a diamond in this color range, for whatever reason, a skilled jeweler can work with you to create a design that’s just right. At Secrète, our designer Elyahu might try incorporating colored gems or modern designs or choices that emphasize the unusual color of the stones rather than trying to camouflage it, or pair it with bold black diamonds to create contrast. No matter what color your diamond is, you deserve expert care in the design.
These rings by Secrète feature internally flawless diamonds. The interplay between white and fancy colored (champagne and fancy light yellow) is a striking look.
While the GIA invented the D-Z color grading system, these letter codes have become almost universal in the diamond and jewelry industry, and GIA is not the only diamond-grading institute. In fact, there are a number of reputable diamond-grading institutes in the United States and around the world. Not all labs will give the same grade to each diamond, however. As scientific as the process is, requiring expensive tools, controlled lighting, and rigorous graduate-educated professionals, there is a little bit of subjectivity.
Some people believe that GIA is the strictest and therefore the best, but this might not be true. An independent study that sent the same diamonds to both GIA and IGI for certifications and compared results found that most of the time, both labs came up with identical listings, and in the instances that there were differences, IGI was the stricter lab as often as GIA was,
In the rainbow-spectrum of colored diamonds, a diamond’s color is determined by more than just a linear scale, and the C for Color far outweighs the other 3 of the 4 Cs with colored diamonds.
Colored diamonds receive a “fancy grade” and a “color description” (see GIA).
The fancy grade refers to the intensity of the color. Ranging from faint to very light to light to fancy light to fancy to fancy intense, then fancy deep then fancy dark, the scale represents the represents the combined effect of tone and saturation on the color of a diamond. Basically, a colored diamond is graded from pastel hues to vivid bright colors to deep dark colors.
The color description is broken into 27 hues, with separate charts for light and deep colors. For the color description, you’ll normally see words like “greenish yellow” or “gray-green.” These may not sound specific, but they refer to a strictly enforced standard of descriptions. Think of it like Pantone for diamonds.
With colored diamonds more so than white diamonds, what’s desirable is subjective. Obviously the more rare the color, the more valuable the diamond. For example, a fancy vivid pink diamond called the “Pink Star” was actually the most expensive diamond ever to be sold at auction, and its price came from a number of factors, including its internally flawless clarity, it’s massive 59 ct size, and not least of all, its uniform, rare pink color. But for the average consumer, especially in the fine jewelry and engagement market, what you want may not be a rare red diamond or a bright blue diamond. Maybe you’d prefer a subtle springy “fancy light” yellow diamond for your engagement ring. Maybe you think the mysterious smoky gray diamonds would look great as earrings. Maybe you want green diamond earrings because your wife’s eyes are green. It’s a little more complicated and personal than choosing a shiny white diamond.