What is diamond colour?
When we think of diamonds, we tend to think of white diamonds, ranging from completely colourless to those with a slight tint (usually light yellow or brown). However, there are also fancy coloured diamonds. Even rarer than white diamonds, these are most often found in shades of yellow and pink, though blues, greens and reds can also be found.
A diamond in its purest form contains only carbon and, in this form, is completely colourless. However, most diamonds contain traces of other elements in addition to carbon, and the presence of these other elements creates at least some colour in most diamonds.
The diamond colour scales and chart
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) created the industry standard scale by which white diamonds are graded for colour.
It is an alphabetic scale, starting at D (completely colourless), and running through to Z (light coloured). As you move from D to Z along the diamond colour scale, the stronger the colour in the diamond.
The GIA chose to start the scale at D to avoid confusion with other competing colour scales that already used A, B and C as colour grades.
Diamonds with more colour saturation than Z on the GIA diamond colour scale are known as fancy coloured diamonds and are graded on a different scale (more on this below).
The GIA groups diamond colour grades into five bands:
- Colourless (D-F)
- Near colourless (G-J)
- Faint (K-M)
- Very light (N-R)
- Light (S-Z)
Colourless (colour grades D, E and F)
A D colour diamond is the highest grade on the scale and has no visible colour. While an E has just the faintest of colours in it and an F just the faintest bit more, the colour is barely discernible under normal conditions, and most people would struggle to see the difference between these three grades.
Near colourless (colour grades G, H, I and J)
When placed next to a colourless diamond, you may detect a slight hint of colour in a near colourless diamond. At the top end of the near colourless range, a G colour diamond, when examined on its own, looks more or less colourless. However, at the other end of the spectrum, with a J colour diamond, you can see a slight tint in the stone.
At Ingle & Rhode, if you want a bright white-looking diamond, we recommend G colour or better. Even at H or I colour, particularly when set in platinum or white gold, you may well notice a slight hint of yellow or brown in the stone.
Through our website, we only offer diamonds of I colour or better, though we are always happy to source other colour grades on request for clients who specifically want a tinted stone for aesthetic reasons.
Faint (colour grades K, L and M)
A diamond in the faint range typically has a subtle brown or yellow hue.
Very light (colour grades N, O, P, Q and R)
The yellow or brown hue becomes more apparent in the very light category.
Light (colour grades S through to Z, E and F)
Diamonds that fall under the light category on the GIA colour grade scale are very noticeably light brown or yellow in colour, making them less desirable for most.
The importance of the colour scale
Diamond colour is one of the four main factors (the 4Cs) that determine the value of a diamond, the others being carat, clarity and cut. Carat is a measure of a diamond's weight (and therefore size), whereas colour, clarity and cut are all measures of diamond quality.
Being a critical factor in determining the value of a diamond, having an agreed scale by which diamonds can be graded for colour plays a vital role in being able to value diamonds accurately and consistently.
However, on its own, having an agreed diamond colour scale is not enough. We also need to be able to rely upon the people responsible for assessing a diamond to be confident that it has been graded reliably. Unfortunately, this is an area which is abused by less honourable members of the jewellery industry, who will "over grade" diamonds, for example, telling potential customers that a diamond has a higher colour grade than it really does.
As the price of a diamond increases the higher up the colour scale you go (and with a significant spike in price for D colour diamonds due to the prestige associated with these stones), consumers need to take care to ensure that the diamond they are considering has been graded by a reputable authority such as the GIA, AGS, IGI or HRD. Grading by lesser-known labs or the jeweller selling you the diamond should be treated with extreme caution.
Fancy coloured diamonds
Although diamonds are formed from carbon, it is the presence of trace amounts of nitrogen that is responsible for producing a yellow colour. Meanwhile, the presence of boron is responsible for blue diamonds, and the presence of sulphur is responsible for green diamonds.
Pink and red diamonds are an interesting exception to this rule since trace elements have never been found in these stones. Instead, their colouration is caused by a distortion in their crystal structure created by intense heat and pressure after these stones were created.
Unsurprisingly, given their rarity, natural fancy coloured diamonds tend to be much more expensive than natural white diamonds, with their value increasing with the scarcity of their particular colour.
While all fancy coloured diamonds are very rare in nature, reds are the rarest of all. In fact, only about 30 natural fancy red diamonds have ever been found! Natural green diamonds are the next most rare, followed by blue, then pink and finally yellow.
Fancy coloured diamonds are graded on a different colour scale to white diamonds. To learn more, ready our guide to fancy coloured diamonds.
Diamond colour buying tips
Diamond colour will matter more to some people than others, and there is always a degree of personal preference. While most people looking for a white diamond will be keen to get the "whitest" diamond that their budget will allow, others may be keen to find a tinted stone.
- Your choice of metal may impact your choice of diamond colour. A platinum or white gold setting will complement a colourless diamond, whereas a yellow gold or rose gold setting will better suit a diamond further down the colour scale.
- Fancy shapes (diamonds other than round diamonds) tend to "show" colour more than round diamonds. Pear cut, oval cut and marquise cut diamonds exhibit colour at their points and edges. In contrast, princess cut, emerald cut, Asscher cut, radiant cut and cushion cut diamonds reflect more colour in their body. This may mean that if you choose a round brilliant cut diamond, you could opt for a slightly lower colour grade than if you go with a fancy cut diamond.
Why does the diamond colour scale start at D?
The GIA chose not to use the letters A, B or C and to start their scale at D instead, to avoid the risk of confusion with other older competing scales that had used A or AAA or A+ as their top colour grades.
What is the real colour of a diamond?
A diamond in its purest form is usually colourless (though a few are pink and a tiny number are red due to distortion of their crystal structure). However, most diamonds contain traces of other elements that create colour in the stone.
What is the best colour for a diamond?
Amongst white diamonds, the colourless grades (D through F) are the most sought-after. However, 'the best colour' is based on personal preference. Some people like the warm hue of diamonds lower down the colour scale.
What's the rarest colour of a diamond?
The red diamond is incredibly rare. In fact, only about 30 natural red diamonds have ever been found, and they tend to be relatively small, less than one carat in weight.
Does the precious metal you choose affect diamond colour?
Platinum or white gold are excellent choices for diamonds higher up the colour scale, as these metals show off the absence of colour in these stones. In contrast, if your diamond is even very slightly tinted, this will be more obvious if it's set in a white precious metal. Yellow gold and rose gold are better choices for diamonds with a light brown or yellow hue. The colour of the gold helps to "mask" the colour in the diamond, as relative to the colour of the metal, the diamond will look more white.
Diamond colour is one of the "the 4Cs" that determines the value of a diamond (the others being carats, clarity and cut). White diamonds are graded for colour on an alphabetic scale from D through to Z, with D being completely colourless. Fancy coloured diamonds are graded for colour on a different scale, from Fancy Light through to Fancy Deep.
We always advise our clients to try to take a balanced approach to get the most for their budget. If you prioritise colour too much, this may mean overly compromising on carat weight, clarity or cut. Generally speaking, most people find it difficult to see any colour in a white diamond graded G or higher. So if you've found a stone that meets or exceeds this threshold, it often makes sense to shift your focus to whether you're happy with its size, clarity and cut.
When choosing which diamond colour grade you would like, it makes sense to consider the colour of the metal that you will be setting the stone in. Platinum and white gold will "show" any colour in a diamond more than yellow gold or rose gold.