Does Color Matter In a Diamond?

How much color a diamond has affects its rarity and price, so knowing what to look for in a diamond report and the diamond itself can make a big difference.

If diamonds were all manufactured in a factory, they’d have uniform color, but Mother Nature isn’t as exacting. Diamonds form when carbon is put under intense pressure and heat deep in the earth and they mix with other elements. These trace elements — as well as damage to the diamond’s atomic crystal structure — can create a whole range of colors. Think of it as a paint store on steroids.

In a clear case of “less is more,” however, the less body color a diamond has, the rarer and more valuable it is.

See the difference

A completely colorless diamond looks bright white. All diamonds, however, come in three tints — yellow, brown and grey that can range from nearly imperceptible to quite obvious. A colorless diamond will cost a boatload more than a slightly yellow one, even if everything else — cut, clarity and carat weight — are exactly the same.

To see the differences, visit a jewelry store and ask to see a colorless diamond alongside two with varying degrees of yellow. Now separate them and look at them individually. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How important is the concept of purity in our relationship and the diamond that represents it?
  • Would I (or my fiancée-to-be) prefer the radiance of a colorless diamond or the warmer tone of a slightly yellow diamond?
  • Will the design of the jewelry affect the perception of color? A yellow tint is more detectable in a large diamond in an engagement ring than in small accent diamonds in a wedding band. In that case, do I want to select a diamond with less color for the engagement ring and less expensive accent diamonds for the wedding band?
  • Will the metal that holds the diamond play a role? Yellow gold tends to make a yellowish diamond look whiter by comparison, while platinum or white gold makes it more apparent.
  • What is my spending power for this purchase? Because colorless diamonds are rare, they cost more. However, even diamonds with a slightly yellow hue will have that unmistakable “wow” factor if they have good cut and clarity.

How color is graded

Before you make a decision, it’s really helpful to know how color is graded to understand where different degrees of yellow , brown or gray fall on the scale. In the early days of color grading, there were different systems with different terms. That made it almost impossible to compare the systems or to know how to value a diamond that was cut and graded in one country but sold in another.

The Gemological Institute of America eventually developed a color grading system that standardized the process with an alphabetical scale. In the GIA system, trained graders gemologists assign a color grade letter based on how a diamond compares to a set of master stones. That letter is what you’ll see on the grading report you receive with your diamond. The GIA system begins with D (to eliminate any confusion with a previous system that assigned grades of A, B and C) for colorless diamonds to Z for very yellowish, brownish or grayish diamonds.

What grade is right for you? Most diamonds used in jewelry today range from D to J, however, it really depends on your preference and budget. As noted, diamonds with a grade of D are colorless. Diamonds in the E-F range have minute traces of color that are very difficult for anyone other than a trained gemologist to detect. Diamonds in the G-H-I range have color that you’ll only notice if you see them side by side with diamonds of better color. Diamonds in the J range have color that is slight but detectable. You won’t have any trouble noticing the color in lower grades.

Fancy colors

The D-Z grading scale isn’t all there is to color diamonds, though. Yellow or brown diamonds with color more intense than Z, as well as diamonds of other colors, are called fancy-color diamonds. One of the most famous examples (though not the largest or most valuable) is the Hope Diamond, a deep blue stone now on display at the Smithsonian Institution after a storied — and sometimes mysterious — history that has taken it around the world.

Fancy-color diamonds are most often brown and yellow (Le Vian Chocolate Diamonds® are brown (or you may see others marketed as champagne diamonds), but there are also shades of red and green (the least common), orange, pink, blue, purple and gray. There are even black diamonds. Of note, pink diamond engagement rings have become popular as brides-to-be follow in the footsteps of celebrities.

Fancy-color diamonds are graded differently than white diamonds, with factors such as the hue, tone and saturation (purity of the color) are taken into consideration. Natural fancy-color diamonds are rare, but laboratories can create them easily with irradiation, and heat and pressure. Fancy-color diamonds are less valuable if their color is lab-induced rather than natural. If you buy a color-treated diamond, make sure the process used to color the diamond is permanent.

Why you should care

So, to sum up, since a diamond’s color — whether you’re looking for the whitest diamond or a color diamond — directly affects its price, it’s definitely something to consider when choosing the perfect diamond for your engagement ring. Now that you know what the color variations are and how they’re valued, you can make a more informed choice in your diamond shopping. Ultimately, let your eyes decide what the perfect diamond color is for you.