Diamond Color: What to Expect and How to Shop

Diamond color and its effect on gemstone quality...

While most professionals agree that a diamond’s cut and clarity are the most important qualities, you should still research diamond color when choosing a new stone. Even a diamond with an ideal cut and flawless clarity can sometimes look off, and it may be a result of the gemstone’s color. 

While cut and clarity dictate brilliance and shine, a diamond’s color can greatly affect its overall appeal, controlling how clear or yellowish the stone may seem. So, how can you find the right diamond color for your needs?

Inspecting Diamond Color With a Tweezer

In this article, we will discuss:

  • What is diamond color?
  • How gemologists grade color in diamonds
  • Other factors that affect diamond color  
  • How to choose the best diamond color for your budget

What is “diamond color”?

Diamond color is an important characteristic of the 4Cs that measures the colorless nature of a particular gemstone. This color can affect the hue of a diamond’s shine, so it is a crucial element in finding the right diamond for your budget.

While colorless diamonds are the most prized and garner the highest price per carat, commercial stones have a color scale due to nitrogen impurities in natural diamonds.💎

If a diamond is not colorless, it may have hints of yellow or brown within it. Although these colors may go unnoticed by consumers at higher grades, the changes become significant as you move down the scale. In fact, even a slight tint of yellow or brown can negatively impact a diamond’s price.

Colored diamonds

Although most buyers seek white diamonds, these gemstones come in every color of the rainbow. Known as “fancy” diamonds, the most popular hues are pink, blue, orange, purple, green, and red. However, yellow and brown fancy diamonds are the most common options. There are also black and gray diamonds as well as “fancy” whites, which have an opalescent shine.

Examining the Color Saturation of a Colored Diamond

How do gemologists grade diamond color?

The GIA’s color scale rates diamonds from D to Z, with D grades appearing colorless and Z having more color. 💡Additionally, there are no A through C grades: the scale starts with D!

To discern a diamond’s color, graders first require a white backdrop to properly view varying shades. Diamonds sit face down in a white grading tray, as color is concentrated in the pavilion. Next, graders use UV lights to simulate daylight for a proper grading environment.

Then, they use master stones to compare the diamonds to known color variants and determine their hue. These master stones make finding the differences between individual colors much easier, as most people cannot even tell the difference between diamond colors above a certain grade!

To grade diamonds as precisely as possible, graders locate the two master stones between which a diamond’s color may fall and work from there. For example, if the diamond falls between H and I on the color scale, it will be graded as H. Diamonds always receive the higher grade when stuck between two colors, as the master stones are the brightest specimens in each grade.

Although the GIA scale of D-Z is the most common color scale, you may find variants in your search. The AGS scale rates diamonds from 0 to 10, with 0 being colorless and 10 having plenty of color. The numbers increase in 0.5 increments, so the scale is extremely similar to the GIA scale if it ranged from D to X.

Diamond color chart

When it comes to color, each diamond grade falls into a broader range of color or colorlessness. Here is a diamond color scale to help you determine where your chosen diamond may rank:

CategoryGradePictureDescription
ColorlessDColor D Round Diamond - James Allen 10217437
SKU*: 10217437
The best diamond color, D grades are as colorless as you can get and appear icy white to buyers. They are much more expensive than other diamond grades, and they’re the rarest on the market.
EE Grade Round Diamond - James Allen SKU 9377350
SKU*: 9377350
E diamonds are almost as white as D grades, with the slightest differences in body color visible to trained jewelers. Although somewhat less valuable than D grades, they still garner a high price.
FColorless F Grade Diamond - James Allen 9870881
SKU*: 9870881
Still extremely close to D and E grade diamonds, F grades are just slightly more tinted. However, any differences would only be visible to an expert jeweler under magnification and proper lighting.
Near ColorlessGNear Colorless G Grade Diamond from James Allen 8171675
SKU*: 8171675
“Near Colorless” grades are colorless to the naked eye, and G grades are the most colorless in this category. They are more affordable than the “colorless” range and can fit most budgets.
HH Color Grade Round Diamond from James Allen (10189968)
SKU*: 10189968
Although colorless to casual observers, H grade diamonds do have a minor yellow tint. For diamonds with a large table, this is the minimum color grade necessary to avoid any visible hue.
IColor I Grade Diamond (James Allen SKU 10193145)
SKU*: 10193145
Slightly colored, I grade diamonds are barely recognizable unless placed next to diamonds of a higher grade. They’re an affordable option, and they’re the minimum suggested color grade for a princess cut diamond.
JJ Grade Diamond Color (Stone From James Allen 5619326)
SKU*: 5619326
The color becomes a bit more visible in J grade diamonds, but it would still require bright light or magnification to see it. If you’re trying to find a price-friendly option that still appears white, J is most likely the last grade at which you will see little color in your diamond.
FaintKFaint Category K Color Grade Diamond - James Allen 9766711
SKU*: 9766711
“Faint” diamonds have a minor yellowish hue that may be visible to buyers, but the K grade has the slightest color in this category. K grade diamonds are much more affordable, and they’re perfect for a round brilliant cut diamond that can conceal color differences.
LL Diamond Color Grade Example - James Allen 10225707
SKU*: 10225707
L grade diamonds have a yellow tint that can be seen even without magnification or bright lighting, so be careful when selecting this diamond color. They are still an affordable, lovely choice when purchased in the right shape and with the proper setting.
MM Color Grade Diamond (James Allen - SKU 10075579)
SKU*: 10075579
Typically the lowest grade you will find available in retail locations or online, M grade diamonds have a visible yellow hue. If you select an M grade, make sure you choose round diamond shapes and yellow settings to avoid the stone appearing yellow in white metal.
Very LightN-R-While N-R grades are affordable, they are not recommended for jewelry. They carry a significant yellow or brown hue, and they are much less appealing than the higher grades.
LightS-Z-S-Z grade diamonds are also not recommended for jewelry, as they are visibly yellow or brown.

Note: *Diamonds in the chart are from James Allen; these diamonds have the same carat, cut and clarity gradings: 1 carat, Excellent (Ideal) and VS1.

Fancy Diamond Grading

Fancy colored diamonds do not have the same grading criteria as white diamonds. In fact, their grades are not driven by specific letters, but rather categories that describe their saturation.

Here are the fancy diamond color grades:

  • Faint
  • Very Light
  • Light
  • Fancy Light
  • Fancy
  • Fancy Intense
  • Fancy Deep, Fancy Dark, and Fancy Vivid

These grades describe the intensity of a fancy diamond’s color, ranging from a tinted stone to those with a vibrant, drastic hue. Although Fancy Deep, Dark, and Vivid share a category, they are rather different. Fancy Vivids have a bright, illuminated color that is more striking than Fancy Deep or Dark. Overall, Fancy Intense and Fancy Vivid stones are the most desirable, as they have the most sought after range of color saturation.

Diamond color grades and the price differences

While differences in color grade may be imperceptible with the naked eye, their price differences are definitely noticeable. There are a few areas where prices increase significantly, and it’s important to recognize where you can save money on a diamond’s color.👇🏻

For instance, while D, E, and F diamonds are nearly identical, the price jump between D and E grades is one of the largest differences in the entire scale. Similarly, the second-largest increase is between F and G diamonds. While these grades are technically in different categories, the color changes are so insignificant that taking the step down in color grade is a perfect way to get a quality diamond for less.

The “sweet spot” of affordability and quality tends to be G and H grade diamonds. These two grades are just slightly more tinted than F grade diamonds, which means they appear bright white in casual settings. These affordable grades are the most versatile options for those who want quality without high prices.

Fancy stones are another area where you may want to watch price tags, as the vivid colors of fancy diamonds make their prices skyrocket. If you want a colored diamond but do not have the budget for Fancy Vivid stones, consider something in the mid-range of quality, or try yellow and brown diamonds as they tend to be less pricey.

Factors that impact our perception of a diamond’s color

The higher the color grade, the whiter the diamond.

However, while the color grade may indicate how colorless a diamond is, elements such as setting, metal color, etc. can influence the perception of your diamond.

Take a look at these 5 factors that can influence diamond color.

Metal Color

Be sure to coordinate your chosen diamond’s color with the setting’s metal color. Metal rings, chains, and prongs can greatly impact how bright a diamond appears to buyers.

For instance, the D to H grade diamonds look best in white metals like white gold, platinum, and palladium. Their icy tones enhance the colorless nature of higher grade diamonds. In contrast, as color increases at grade I and below, yellow and rose gold may be better options as settings. These metals make yellowish diamonds appear whiter with their sunny color.

Metal Color's Impact on the Perception of Diamond Color

Many jewelers will also mix metals for pieces with diamonds of different color grades. For example, you may find a yellow diamond set in yellow gold with a halo of white diamonds that are set in white gold.

Pro Tip
Mixed metal settings allow diamonds to look their brightest without sacrificing the color of one diamond for another.

Setting

In addition to the metal used for the body and prongs, how a diamond sits within its setting can impact how much it will sparkle.

Some settings are designed to make a diamond look as brilliant as possible. Prong, tension, cathedral, and three-stone settings as well as the famous Tiffany setting offer more space for light to reflect through a diamond, enhancing its white glow.🙂

However, there are also some settings that conceal less than desirable color. Bezel, channel, cluster, and some antique settings allow buyers to purchase a lower grade diamond or smaller stones of less desirable color without sacrificing the piece’s beauty.

Some settings include side stones or other accent diamonds that will have their own GIA grade. If you choose a setting with side diamonds, make sure they’re within one color grade of your center stone. Buying anything more than one color grade away from your center stone may cause the piece to look mismatched!

Shape and Cut

While shape and cut are important factors in a diamond’s brilliance, they can also impact how much of a gem’s yellow hue you will see when staring deeply into the stone. 💡Although diamonds are color graded while face down for proper measurement, their tables where the light shines through will be the first thing you see when looking at them!

Diamond cuts and shapes that aren’t brilliant cut typically have more depth, and this impacts how color will shine through. As such, larger shapes and step cuts like Asscher, emerald, and others will reflect a diamond’s yellowish hues if you purchase a lower quality color stone. However, this depth is ideal for saturated fancy colored diamonds, so consider a shape with a larger table for colored diamonds.

For some cuts, there are even suggested ranges of diamond color.

For instance, when purchasing a princess cut diamond, it is recommended that you purchase a gem with a grade of I or higher to avoid any yellow tint. Overall, round brilliant diamonds are great for hiding less desirable colors, so select a round diamond if you have a smaller budget to work with.

Size

Size can impact how noticeable a diamond’s color appears, so it’s important to find the right carat to project your gem’s color.

Typically, if a diamond is one carat or larger, you’ll want to stick with D, E, or F color grades to ensure your diamond is as white as possible. In contrast, if you purchase a diamond smaller than one carat, you can get away with an I, J, or K colored stone without too much yellow shining through. 

Just remember: the larger the diamond you choose, the more important its quality will be.

Adding a halo to your piece is a great way to make a smaller diamond appear larger. By adding multiple smaller diamonds around your center stone, you increase the diamond’s perceived size. Doing so allows you to buy a higher grade stone by shaving off a bit of carat weight!

Fluorescence

Diamond lab reports include information on whether a diamond fluoresces or not. Gemologists grade fluorescence on the following scale: None, Faint, Medium, Strong, and Very Strong. Medium to Very Strong grades have a color noted as well, since diamonds can fluoresce blue, yellow, or even orange.  

Fluorescence can have some positive effects for lower grade diamonds. Some experts believe blue fluorescence can improve the white color of I to M grade diamonds under UV and natural light.  

However, D to H grade diamonds may experience negative effects when they fluoresce. Blue fluorescence is considered less desirable in white diamonds, and some believe a heavy blue fluorescence can make higher quality diamonds appear oily or murky.  

Understanding how fluorescence will impact your diamond’s color is crucial to making the right decision during your purchase!

How to choose the best diamond color (with recommendations)

Typically, buyers want to spend less while still purchasing a good quality diamond. Overall, the best diamonds aren’t always those with the highest color grade, and we should make multiple considerations when shopping for a new gem. 

In fact, finding a good diamond often comes down to understanding the right balance of the 4Cs and other elements for your needs.👇🏻

Start with diamond shape/cut and make that your focus

Overall, shape and cut are the most important characteristics to consider, as they dictate how each of the 4Cs will manifest in your chosen diamond. As such, the shape and cut of your diamond will dictate the color and clarity your stone will require.  

If you choose a brilliant cut stone with a smaller table, you will be able to get away with more imperfections, such as inclusions or a yellowish tone to your diamond. However, step cut diamonds with larger tables, such as emerald cut stones, will leave you staring at all of your gem’s issues every time you look at it.  

Consider how shape and cut will affect your budget during your search. Those who are worried about color should search for round, princess, radiant, oval, heart, or pear-shaped diamonds. If you have a smaller budget, these shapes will conceal problems while still looking fabulous!

Start With Diamond Shape and Cut and Make That the Focus

Choose the right setting

A diamond should always look as white as possible in relation to its setting, so choose a setting that will highlight your stone’s best qualities.

Because metal has a stronger color than mostly colorless gemstones, a diamond’s setting will reflect through its white surface. As such, yellow and rose gold are perfect for concealing a lesser grade diamond, whereas white metals are perfect for higher grade diamonds as they amplify their white sheen. The amount of metal used in the setting will also impact how much of the setting’s color will shine through your diamond.

Remember to match your side stones to your center diamond! Any diamond within one color grade of your center stone should work.

Consider diamond carat weight

Everyone hopes to buy the largest diamond they can for their budget, but keep in mind how much quality you may have to sacrifice for a larger stone. The larger the stone, the more you will see color and clarity issues!

Consider carat weight when searching for the right size and shape diamond, as certain shapes can appear larger than they are. For instance, round diamonds are great for hiding color or clarity problems, and they can appear larger without having to spend a ton of money on a stone with a higher carat weight.

🙌🏻These are all general recommendations, and the right diamond color is often chosen on a case by case basis. Make sure you account for every factor of your personal situation before making a final decision on a diamond!

The tricky nature of diamond color

While not as highly scrutinized as diamond cut and clarity, color can mean the difference between a bright white diamond and a yellowish hue. It’s important to do your research and understand which grades suit your needs while not breaking the bank.😄

If diamonds with higher grades are not in your budget, consider creating the illusion of a whiter diamond with the right metal color or stone shape. Or, go for something extravagant and choose a brightly colored fancy diamond instead!

Although diamonds of all colors are beautiful, some sparkle more brightly than others.  Take a look at our article on diamond clarity to understand the factors that influence a diamond’s sparkle.

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