Diamond Color Guide

Kate Miller-Wilson
Yellow and White Diamonds

Whether you love the amazing sparkle of a colorless diamond or the exciting flash of a fancy-colored alternative, it's important to understand the details of diamond color and how it affects pricing. In addition to making you an educated diamond buyer, knowing about the various colors of diamonds also helps you learn which tones appeal to you and how much value you place on the color of your special gem.

White Diamond Color Scale

Most people believe that all diamonds are colorless. In reality, however, supposedly "colorless" diamonds vary from clear to different shades of yellow and brown. A diamond's color rating refers to its degree of coloration, and the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has developed a grading system using alphabet letters D to Z that compares the color of a diamond to the color of pre-selected gems. Later letters indicate deeper colors.

Diamond Color Scale
  • Colorless (D-E-F): These stones are considered colorless and are the most valuable.
  • Nearly colorless (G-H-I-J): These are nearly colorless stones, often appearing colorless to the naked eye.
  • Faintly tinted (K-L-M): These diamonds are faintly tinted, usually with a yellowish cast that may appear gray or brown.
  • Lightly tinted (N-O-P-Q-R): Expect these to be lightly tinted, yellowish stones. The stone's tint is visible to the naked eye, but careful settings can keep it from being noticeable.
  • Heavily tinted (S-T-U-V-W-X-Y-Z): These diamonds are heavily tinted, usually yellow progressing to brown. Tint is visible even when mounted.

Colorless

Grades D, E, and F are the most valuable. For these colorless stones, most jewelers recommend a platinum setting. This is because the yellow in a gold setting can reflect on the surface of the stone and give it a yellow tint. Since a colorless gem comes at a premium price, it's important to allow it to shine in a setting that doesn't interfere with its beauty.

Nearly Colorless

According to Lumera Diamonds, a nearly colorless diamond typically costs less than half the price of its colorless counterparts. Even so, you may need a magnifying loupe to see that it has any color tint at all. This makes white diamonds in the nearly colorless range some of the most popular choices for engagement rings and other jewelry.

Faintly Tinted

Faintly tinted diamonds are a good value, especially if you choose a yellow gold setting to show them off. Against the yellow metal, the stone's yellow or brown tint will appear nearly colorless. If you want a white diamond but having a truly colorless stone isn't especially important to you, this range is a good choice.

Lightly Tinted

Diamonds in this range are noticeably tinted, which means they are among the least expensive options. However, if they are set in yellow gold and placed with brown or other warm colored companion stones, their color may not be as apparent.

Heavily Tinted

Heavily tinted diamonds are not really considered "white" or "colorless." Instead, they are part of the fancy-colored diamond spectrum, usually falling in the yellow or champagne range.

Fancy-Colored Diamonds

Although many people love the simplicity of a clear diamond, there are lots of other exciting options. Fancy-colored diamonds are a fun and beautiful alternative, and they have captured the imaginations of many of today's jewelry designers. If you're looking for something a little different, try one of these pretty colors.

Yellow Diamonds

Yellow diamonds are a hot choice for engagement rings and other jewelry. These gems, also called "canary diamonds," range from pale yellow to an intense, deep gold. The deepest, brightest shades are the most valuable for jewelry. According to Langerman Diamonds, a one-carat yellow diamond costs just slightly more than a white diamond, all other factors being equal.

Yellow diamond ring
Yellow diamond ring

Blue Diamonds

One of the very rarest and most valuable shades of fancy-colored diamonds, blue diamonds are also extremely popular. Ranging from very light blue to dark steel blue, they are gorgeous in many different jewelry settings. Some blue diamonds have undertones of green or red, giving them a teal or violet appearance. Generally, the darker the shade of blue, the more valuable the diamond will be.

Light blue diamond ring
Light blue diamond ring

Pink Diamonds

Another very rare option is the pink diamond. They are a great choice if you love this feminine tone but want a diamond for your jewelry. These gems, which almost exclusively come from the Argyle Diamond Mine in Australia, range from very pale pink to a deep shade of fuchsia. The darker the color, the more you can expect to pay for the gem.

Pink diamond ring
Pink diamond ring

Champagne Diamonds

Champagne diamonds come in every shade from a soft tan to a deep, dark brown. The darkest, called chocolate diamonds, are an understated and elegant choice for engagement rings and other jewelry.

In general champagne or chocolate diamonds are less expensive than blue, pink, yellow, or colorless options, according to Langerman Diamonds. The deeper chocolate shades tend to be a bit more expensive than the pale tan examples.

Champagne diamond
Champagne diamond

Understanding Diamond Color Treatments

It is possible to improve a diamond's natural color through various laboratory processes. The stone's certificate should note whether the color is natural or has been enhanced, and reputable jewelers will mention such treatments. For many consumers, artificially enhanced diamonds are a better value because the stone's cost is primarily set by its natural condition. After treatment, it may appear to be a better grade of stone but the cost will remain significantly lower. These treatments are controversial and should always be noted on the diamond's certificate.

High Pressure High Temperature Treatment (HPHT)

Subjecting diamonds to high pressure and temperature can change their color. According to the Gemological Center Incorporated, this technique is especially popular for low-grade brown or yellow diamonds. In some cases, the treatment can make the diamond appear nearly colorless. In others, it can enhance the tone and make the diamond into a fancy-colored gem.

This color treatment is permanent, and stones that have undergone HPHT do not need special care. However, it's important to note that HPHT can have a negative effect on diamond clarity, causing inclusions and flaws to become more apparent to the naked eye.

Irradiation for Color Enhancement

Sometimes diamond companies also subject gems to high levels of radiation to change their color. This is often the way that black diamonds are made, and the technique is also popular for various other fancy colors, according to Prism Gem. It's common to see pink, yellow, blue, and brown fancy-colored diamonds that have been irradiated.

Irradiation is permanent, so you don't need to be especially careful of these gems. Depending on the irradiation method used, these diamonds may have inconsistent color throughout or small defects in their clarity. Often, these flaws are only noticeable under magnification.

Color Coatings

Some fancy-colored diamonds are also coated to enhance their shade, according to the Accredited Gemologists Association. This process involves applying a dye, a colored film, or a thin layer of synthetic diamond to the surface of the natural gem.

Color coatings are much more fragile than other treatments, and they do require special care. If you purchase a diamond that has a color coating, you should avoid subjecting it to chemical cleansers and beauty products, as well as any type of abrasive. These products can scratch or erode the surface treatment and remove the color of the gem.

Color Tips for Shopping

Whether you're shopping for a white or fancy-colored diamond, it's important to have some basic information and ask the right questions. Diamond color is an important part of value, and there are a number of considerations that can affect your choice.

Compare the Diamond's Color to a Reference

You should compare color of the diamond with a 'reference set' of stones having known color available at the jewelry store. The jeweler should place diamond in question face down next to the reference stones on a white piece of paper. The best match would reveal the correct diamond color.

If possible, compare the shades under natural sunlight; jewelers may have a special lamp available for this purpose. As a lay observer, however, you may not be able to tell the difference between subtle shades and should compare your estimate with the stone's certificate.

Consider Your Setting and Cut

The setting you choose can dictate the color of your diamond, or you may want to select a setting that shows off or disguises the color of your gem. Similarly, the diamond's cut can enhance or minimize its color. Keep these ideas in mind:

  • Highly-faceted cuts, such as the traditional round diamond or other brilliant cut stones, reflect more light than simple cuts and can create enough sparkle to hide subtle yellow tints.
  • High engagement ring settings can also hide a yellow tint, while channel and other sunken settings bring out the stone's natural color.
  • Accent stones of a higher quality may also help lighten a stone's color. However, if the grades are too disparate, the center stone may appear more colored than it really is.
  • Yellow gold can impart a yellow tint to colorless stones, but it can disguise the yellow tint of gems that are lightly colored.

Examine the Certificate

The diamond's certificate is very important, especially when it comes to color. The certificate will display the exact color rating of the gem, and it will also reveal any color treatments the stone has received. Since these factors can affect the diamond's value, it's very important that you be aware of them before you make a purchase. The color grade and treatments are also crucial information when appraising the stone for insurance purposes.

Let Your Personal Preference Guide You

Color is a matter of personal preference. When it comes to white diamonds, many people may not notice slight shades of color. Lower grade stones are less expensive, even when the difference isn't immediately noticeable. For fancy-colored diamonds, you may prefer a gem with a pale shade, even though a darker shade is more valuable. It's all about what you love.

Wise Shoppers Understand Color

For some people, it's very important to have a diamond that is completely colorless. For others, a fancy shade is a fun and creative alternative to the more common white diamond. Either way, understanding color is an important part of being a wise diamond shopper. If you know what you're purchasing, you can rest assured you'll have a diamond with sparkle and color you'll enjoy for decades to come.

Diamond Color Guide