The term “color” in white diamonds actually refers to the lack of color present in a diamond. Diamonds composed of pure carbon are colorless and extremely rare and costly. Most diamonds contain nitrogen, boron, or hydrogen all of which impact color. A majority of white diamonds sold on the market today contain traces of nitrogen, which causes slight shades of yellow or brown. Small, subtle differences in color can make a substantial difference in a diamond’s value.
Diamond Color Grading System
In a effort to eliminate confusion related to diamond color, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) implemented the color grading system in the 1950s which is still being used industry wide today. Diamonds are graded on a scale beginning with the letter D (colorless) and ending with Z (light yellow or brown). When creating the new color scale GIA chose to start with the letter D as a means of starting over. Prior to GIA implementing the D-Z scale, other systems all of which were inconsistent and inaccurate, already used the letters A-C, numbers 0-3, and the Roman numerals I-III.
Choosing a Diamond Color
Diamond color is largely a personal preference. Some people prefer a colorless diamond while others prefer the warmth of a diamond having a trace of color. If you do not have a specific color choice in mind, you should always choose the highest color grade within your budget.
As mentioned above, diamonds are graded on a scale from D-Z. Z colored diamonds should not be confused with fancy colored diamonds. While slight color variations in the colorless and near colorless ranges may not be that noticeable, diamonds graded beyond H may be noticeable to some with the unaided eye.
Diamond Color Grades
Colorless D – F
D – colorless and rare. D colored diamonds are completely colorless to the unaided eye
E – almost completely colorless. E colored diamonds have microscopic traces of color which can only be seen by a trained expert.
F – almost totally colorless. F colored diamonds have small traces of color which can only be seen by a trained expert. F colorless diamonds are at the end of the colorless range and offer a great value to someone looking for a colorless diamond
Near Colorless G – I
G – nearly colorless and an excellent value for you money. Color will not be seen with an unaided eye.
H – I – slight trace of color that can only be seen to the unaided eye next to a colorless diamond
Faint Yellow J – M
These diamonds have color that is visible to the unaided eye. These offer a great value for someone that is not looking for a colorless diamond.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Diamond Color
Many factors should be considered when deciding on color. You should always look for a diamond that is as white as possible within your budget.
- When a diamond is well cut the diamond’s refraction and dispersion will often disguise certain degrees of color and may make a darker diamond appear whiter when viewed with the unaided eye (without magnification).
- The size of the diamond will also affect the appearance of its color. Color can easily be seen in larger diamonds as opposed to smaller diamonds. Often times it is difficult to see color in diamonds under a 1/2 carat with the unaided eye. Gemologists use magnification to determine the difference in color of two otherwise similar diamonds that may be two or three color grades apart. In larger size diamonds it does become easier; however while there may be a very fine disparity between one color grade to the next, the cost can be significant. If a larger diamond is a priority, you should consider sacrificing slightly on color.
- The shape of the diamond will affect its color as well particularly step cut diamonds such as the Asscher and Emerald that have large open facets and do not display the brilliance of other cuts. The center of these diamonds display a “window effect” where some of the color in the diamond can appear washed out and make it appear whiter then its actual color grade. The shallower the cut of the diamond the more apparent this will be.
One additional factor in grading the color of a diamond is fluorescence. Fluorescence is the emission of visible light by a diamond when it is exposed to ultraviolet radiation. Approximately 10% of all diamonds on the market today exhibit fluorescence. Years ago, these diamonds were referred to as blue white diamonds. Today, fluorescence on a diamond certificate is divided into five different categories: none, faint, medium, strong, and very strong. Most diamonds that do fluoresce do so in a blue color; however, yellow and other colors are possible.
Fluorescence can be both a negative and a positive. In the strong and very strong range a diamond may appear oily or cloudy which will greatly reduce the attractiveness and value of the diamond. However, diamonds of I color and lower can actually look whiter with some fluorescence which; enhances their value. Better quality diamonds with fluorescence generally sell at a discount to similar ones without. The usual reason is not that it is less beautiful, but that the general public is under the opinion that fluorescence is a negative. It is easier for a jeweler to sell a diamond without fluorescenc than it is to try and explain it.
To learn more about diamond color, visit our diamond education section