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Diamond Education

Understanding Diamond Color

Diamond jewelry may look white to the naked eye, but diamonds come in a variety color qualities. Learn what all the jewelers know about evaluating the color of your diamond jewelry.

While most people think of diamonds as being white or colorless, they come in every color of the rainbow. The body color of a white diamond can range from colorless to light yellow.

As one of The Four "C"s of judging diamond quality, color refers to the presence or absence of color in white diamonds. As a rule, the whiter the stone, the greater its value. Even a slight tinge of yellow or brown could have a negative impact on a stone's value. Most diamonds are graded on the GIA color scale that begins with "D" for colorless and continues all the way down to "Z," with the yellow tint becoming more visible as you move down the alphabet. The best way to see the true color of a diamond is by looking at it against a white surface.

Stones in the D-F color ranges are considered the most valuable because they are the rarest. Here are the color ranges for white diamonds, based on how visible its body tint is to the naked eye:

  • D through H - If a trace of color is present, it is visible only to a trained eye.
  • H through L - Small stones are colorless; larger stones are tinted.
  • L through Q - Stones show an increasing yellow tint, even to an untrained eye.
  • R through W - Stones appear yellow, even to an untrained eye.
D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Colorless Near

Colorless
Faint

Yellow
Very Light

Yellow
Light

Yellow
Yellow

Even though stones in the D-F color grades are the most valuable, you can still obtain great value (and save considerable money) with diamonds graded G-H, since no color is visible to the untrained eye. Even stones in the J-M range, which have a very faint hint of yellow visible to the untrained eye, can appear colorless in the right jewelry setting. As a rule, yellow metal (gold) hides traces of color in a colorless diamond, while white metals (white gold, platinum, silver) will enhance it.

Although the great majority of diamonds come in shades of white, there are also "fancy" natural colored diamonds in red, pink, blue, green, yellow, brown and other colors. Fancies are valued for their depth of color, just as white diamonds are valued for their lack of color. They vary in color richness or saturation from "faint" to "vivid," with the latter grade reserved for stones with the deepest saturation.

The value of a fancy diamond depends largely on the rarity of its color (for instance, reds and greens are rarer than yellows and browns); the saturation of the color; and the purity of the color (whether the color is bright and clear or clouded by tinges of other underlying colors). Top grade fancy diamonds are extremely rare and can command tremendous prices.

Though fancy colored diamonds rarely occur in nature, laboratories can easily create them through irradiation and heating. This process can permanently turn a natural colorless diamond into a fancy in a wide range of colors. Treatments have also been developed to make lower-color white diamonds whiter. Irradiated colored diamonds have a significantly lower value than natural fancy diamonds and can be detected in a gem laboratory.

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