The Guide to Diamond Color

Most people understand that diamond color means the whiteness, or absence of color, of a diamond. But after that, it can become quite confusing about what diamond grades mean for how the diamond will look in person, and how to make a decision about diamond color that results in a diamond you love. Determining the subtleties of diamond color can take years to master, but thankfully you don’t need to do that. As we discuss diamond color, we’re going to show you exactly what you need to know to get the most out of your diamond choice.

What Is Diamond Color?

Diamond color evaluation is based on the absence of color in the diamond. To get a diamond color grading, the level of discernible color, or colorlessness, is measured by comparing a stone under controlled lighting and very precise viewing conditions against a set of masterstones on a white folded card. These masterstones are a group of diamonds that have been verified with an established color value on the grading scale.

Every diamond will be different with a different level of colorlessness. Natural diamonds are made up of carbon atoms arranged in rigid triangular pyramids called tetrahedrons. Pure diamonds will be completely transparent and colorless, but they are extremely rare and incredibly valuable. Diamonds that exhibit color do so because of the tiny presence of trace elements that interact with the carbon during the diamond’s creation.

Diamond Color Grading Scale

The diamond color grading scale was developed by the GIA in the early 1950s. At the time, there were many different terms in the marketplace for describing a diamond’s color, and they were all subjective. The same diamond may be called white or blue white, or be designated with an A-C letter rating or 1-3 number designation.

In the creation of the scale, the GIA began with the letter D to represent colorlessness in a diamond. They did this to have a completely fresh start since there was already a loose system based on applying an A, B, or C as a grading. They started with D and continued with increasing presence of color, ending with the letter Z representing easily noticeable light yellow, light brown, or light gray tint.

In total, there are 23 color grades on the GIA diamond color chart. They’re then subdivided into five distinct categories:

Colorless (D-F)

These three color grades are considered colorless because, to anyone other than an expert gemologist viewing the diamonds under magnification, there would be no visual difference in color. D color diamonds have absolutely no color, while E and F color diamonds have the smallest amount when viewed under magnification. All of these color gradings are rare to find, especially in larger carat weights, and carry a significant premium for price.

Near Colorless (G-J)

In the near colorless range, G color diamonds have some tints of color, but it’s imperceptible to the naked eye. H color diamonds are colorless to the naked eye, but have a faint yellow hue that can be visible under magnification in bright lighting. I color diamonds have a slight yellow tint that’s usually only visible when viewed next to another diamond of a higher color grade. J color diamonds have a faint yellow hue that’s easy to notice under bright lights and magnification.

Faint (K-M)

The first in the faint tint range, K color diamonds have a slight yellow tint that’s visible even to the naked eye. L color diamonds have a yellow tint that’s visible to the naked eye, and M color diamonds have a definite yellow tint that’s visible to the naked eye. M color grade is typically the lowest color grade offered by diamond vendors. Diamonds in this color range are also much better suited for a yellow or rose gold setting due to the warmth of the tone of metal. It complements the yellow tone of the diamond whereas white gold or platinum would greatly enhance the yellow tint due to the stark contrast with a cool metal.

Very Light (N-R)

Diamonds in the N-R color range display very light, noticeable yellow, brown, or gray tinting to the naked eye. These diamonds are typically never used in engagement rings and rarely for any other type of diamond jewelry, UNLESS the buyer specifically wants a diamond with yellow hue. These diamonds are also known in the market as ‘Champagne diamonds’.

Light (S-Z)

Diamonds in the S-Z color range display light, easily noticeable yellow, brown, or gray tinting. These diamonds are never recommended for jewelry and it’s unlikely that you’d even see any of these grades in circulation with professional jewelers. Unless again, the buyer specifically wants a diamond with yellow hue. These diamonds are also known in the market as ‘Champagne diamonds’.

The Difference Between White Diamonds and Fancy Colored Diamonds  

Natural diamonds occur in a rainbow spectrum of colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, black, and everything in between. Only 1 in every 10,000 mined diamonds possess naturally occurring color. The more intense the color, the more rare and valuable the diamond. For that reason, fancy colored diamonds are graded on their own color scale and not given a letter grading – the letter grading scale is only for white diamonds based on the level of yellow, brown, or gray tint that is present.

Colored diamonds are given grades on a scale that describes the level of color as Faint, Very Light, Light, Fancy Light, Fancy, Fancy Intense, or Fancy Vivid/Fancy Deep/Fancy Dark. The highest level of Fancy Vivid/Fancy Deep/Fancy Dark features three equivalent grades that differ based on the brightness of the color. Fancy Vivid diamonds have a brighter hue than Fancy Deep or Fancy Dark diamonds.

White oval diamond rings

Fancy yellow diamond ring

Tips for Considering Diamond Color When Buying  

When considering which diamond color is going to be the best for you, our best advice is to consider what you will most likely notice about a diamond when you see it in a ring on your finger. Cut and size are the most easily distinguishable features of a diamond. The next would be the clarity since that can directly influence the brilliance of the diamond. Lastly, we consider color.

So, why is color last? Well, color or colorlessness in a diamond can really only be detected by comparing diamonds side by side. This is exactly the process for determining colorlessness in a diamond in the first place during the grading process – each diamond is compared next to a set of masterstones with distinct color grades in order to reach a determination.

To give you an example of this, let’s take a look at these two round diamonds side by side. They are extremely similar in cut, clarity, and carat weight, but one is a G color grade and the other is a J color grade. That is a significant difference – one is at the top of the near colorless category and the other is at the bottom. When viewing them side by side, you’re likely to notice some slight yellow tint in the J color diamond. However, view them separately on their own, and they are both absolutely lovely, sparkling diamonds with clear color.

G color round diamond

G color 1 carat diamond (VS1, excellent cut)

J color diamond - round

J color 1 carat diamond (VS1, excellent cut)

What that tells us, is that most of the color distinctions between grades are far too subtle for the naked or untrained eye to detect. So when worn as a single diamond and enhanced by the metal used for the setting, the color of a diamond becomes a very workable feature.

Color is more noticeable in larger diamonds, so it may be worth it to consider higher color grades. However, much can be diminished about color when you pair it with certain diamond shapes and settings. Round cut diamonds are by far the best diamond shape for hiding color in the stone. Aside from round cut, princess cut diamonds also hide color well. Fancy shapes like oval, pear, and marquise show more color due to their shallower cuts and weight distribution.

For the setting, choosing a cool metal such as white gold or platinum enhances colorlessness or creates a stark contrast when there is color present in the stone. Opting for yellow or rose gold introduces a warmth to the ring that can be a lovely complement to the warmth of the color tone in the diamond, making it appear clear and vibrant.

Lastly, if you’re considering an engagement ring with side diamonds, like a three stone ring, they should match the color grade of the center stone or be slightly darker to accent the higher grade of the center stone. Since the accent stones are smaller, color will be less noticeable in them anyways.

As with every quality grade category, significant jumps in per carat cost of a diamond will occur when moving up and down the color grading scale. Focusing on a setting that helps the diamond look white in comparison will set you up for optimizing your budget for other diamond features with no negative impact on the diamond’s color appearance. And as always, viewing diamonds from all angles and in different lighting will give you the fullest picture of a diamond’s beauty.

Have questions? We're happy to help.