Before you go engagement ring shopping, it is crucial to understand the 4Cs, particularly, diamond color. Most diamonds have small traces of color within their crystal structures, and though it may not garner as much attention as carat or cut, a diamond's color impacts the price and value of the diamond in a noteworthy way.
What Is the Diamond Color Scale?
The diamond color scale is a standardized grading system that assesses the absence of color in a diamond. Created by the Gemological Institute of American (GIA), diamonds are graded on a scale of D to Z, with D representing colorless diamonds.
Colorless diamonds, often referred to as "pure," are very rare and expensive, which is why many people opt for diamonds that show little to no color. Thankfully, even if your diamond does have color, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to tell. "It's important to note that color is often hard to assess with the naked eye and without gemological training," explains gemologist Anubh Shah, co-founder of With Clarity.
It's important to remember that diamond color impacts more than just the look of your engagement ring. From understanding the color chart to knowing how it plays into your budget, here's everything to know about diamond color.
Understanding the Diamond Color Scale
"When the color scale was developed, the GIA intentionally skipped the letters A, B, and C as grades, choosing instead to begin the scale at D," Kwiat CEO Greg Kwiat explains of the unique D to Z scale. "This was done to differentiate the diamond grading system from other existing uses of the alphabet as a grading scale."
The letter scale is broken down into five subcategories: colorless (D-F), near colorless (G-J), faint (K-M), very light (N-R), and light (S-Z). "Diamonds that fall beyond Z on the color scale are considered fancy colored diamonds, which actually are the rarest to find in nature and are extraordinarily expensive," Shah adds.
Most couples search for G, H, I, and J grade diamonds, which are near colorless. Shah continues, "This provides a good balance of budget and visually beautiful diamonds. While color can be slightly visible with a J color diamond, some couples opt for it as it allows them to maximize on other factors like size and cut."
When in doubt, work with a gemologist to assess the quality and the color of the diamonds you're looking at. Be sure to review the diamond's certificate and ask for high definition images and videos of the stone before making a purchase.
However, the difference from one grade to the next is often imperceivable. According to Kwiat, "Many people don’t see noticeable differences in diamonds that are one to two color grades apart. In the range from D to J, diamonds will most often still appear 'white' when face-up in jewelry."
Diamonds are also judged quite scrupulously on the color scale. Although they are worn face-up on engagement rings, diamonds are graded face-down. Because of this, fine jeweler Thelma West says, "Diamonds that are well-cut appear whiter than their real color when worn in a piece of jewelry."
How Color Impacts the Cost of a Diamond
Because colorless diamonds are extremely rare, they're usually the most expensive. As you move down the scale and the tint becomes more noticeable, the price also goes down. "This changes, however, once we hit the fancy color grades," West explains. "Their rare occurrence carries a lot of weight. Red, blue, pink, and green are incredibly special for that reason. We then also consider the depth of hues and saturation of a specific fancy color in the stone."
For Kwiat, it's not always about seeking the highest level of color, either. "In considering the budget, size, color, and clarity, you may opt for a diamond in the FGHI range, which can be a sweet spot for balancing the trade-offs," he notes.
Other Factors That Affect Diamond Color
Regardless of a diamond's color grade, some diamond cuts highlight color more than others. Kwiat explains, "Because of the different styles and nuances of diamond cutting, the various diamond shapes will show color differently. For example, round diamonds, emerald cuts, and Ashokas face up quite white even as you move into the KL color range. On the other hand, diamond shapes like radiant cuts and ovals tend to show color more readily and may start to appear slightly tinted in the HIJ range."
While diamond color is an important aspect to assess, cut and carat have more of an impact on a diamond's sparkle.
While it can be tempting to focus on the whitest and brightest diamond possible, West encourages you to admire every color. "It’s fun finding new and interesting ways to set a low color diamond in a way that makes it stand out," she says. "It helps that people are more open-minded to the wide range of tints and hues, understanding that there are beautiful stones to be discovered. Diamonds in the Y-Z range for example can be set to look fancy. The possibilities are endless."