What Are Gray Diamonds?

Gray diamonds are a stunning colored diamond that have been flying under the radar for quite some time. They’re having a moment as a subtle, sophisticated, and unconventional choice for an engagement ring for the person seeking an unusual and striking center stone. But the language of gray diamonds can get confusing with terms like salt and pepper or galaxy that describe some types of these diamonds. So what should you look for with gray diamonds?

The Different Types of Gray Diamonds

There are a few types of “gray” diamonds out there, but the language around them can be a bit murky.

Fancy gray diamonds

Technically speaking, a fancy-colored gray diamond is the only one to be considered a gray diamond. It will be graded by the GIA, or another certification lab, along the same lines as a colorless diamond. Skip to the section on the 4Cs to understand how to evaluate cut, color and so on of fancy gray diamonds.

Salt & pepper, galaxy diamonds

There are other non-fancy gray diamonds - you may have heard them called salt and pepper diamonds or galaxy diamonds. Salt and pepper diamonds are diamonds that have a particular body color – most often dark or light gray or milky – and then feature an array of black and white colored inclusions. Most of the color of salt and pepper diamonds comes from the presence of these inclusions. The spotted and speckled nature of the diamond is the base of its appeal and the source of its name. Galaxy diamonds are the rarest form of salt and pepper diamonds. They have a darker body color and feature inclusions that look like stars and planets in space.

When searching for a gray diamond, differentiating between these types of diamonds will be important to make sure you’re getting the stone you want. Most importantly, this range for what can commonly be considered gray diamonds does not stretch into the realm of a black body color. There are fancy-colored black diamonds and they are considered independently from gray diamonds, although natural gray diamonds without black inclusions are very rare.

How Are Gray Diamonds Created?

Fancy-colored gray diamonds are the result of increased levels of hydrogen or boron encased in the crystal structure as the diamond is being formed deep in the Earth’s crust. The amount of gray color that the diamond exhibits will depend on how much the hydrogen or boron has managed to integrate into the crystal structure. So the amount of these elements affects the hue, tone, and saturation of the gray color.

The hue is the shade of color of a diamond. Most diamonds are considered white or colorless, so they’re typically valued for their lack of a hue. But for fancy-colored diamonds, the presence and level of intensity of the hue creates its value. Which leads us to saturation, or the intensity of the hue color found in the diamond. For gray diamonds, the saturation can span from light and faint to deep and vivid.

The final element of color is tone, or how light or dark the diamond appears. Tone and saturation tend to work very closely together to impact how the hue is exhibited. So the darker the tone and higher the saturation, the deeper and more vivid the hue will look. Alternately, the lighter the tone and lower the saturation, the fainter the hue will look.

Salt & Pepper Diamonds

The 4Cs of Fancy Gray Diamonds: What to Look For

The most important quality factor to consider for gray diamonds is color. Fancy gray diamonds are similar to yellow diamonds in that the faintest hues are still considered to be part of the colorless diamond spectrum and not fancy-colored gray diamonds. What we mean by that is the diamonds need to have a certain amount of saturation and tone in them before they are considered to be a fancy color.

Gray diamonds follow the same intensity chart as other fancy-colored diamonds:

- Faint
- Very Light
- Light
- Fancy Light
- Fancy
- Fancy Vivid, Fancy Deep or Fancy Dark

Those diamonds that fall within the Faint to Light range are considered to be colorless diamonds with very noticeable gray hues. This is because gray is a natural secondary hue that appears in colorless diamonds, just like yellow or brown. The fancy-colored gray diamond range begins at Fancy Light where you’ll notice a stronger saturation and tone in the diamond.

Gray diamonds can also have secondary hues, most commonly green, brown, blue, or violet. The secondary hues of blue, violet, and green are the most complementary and desirable, so they are also the most valuable. Those diamonds with brown secondary hues are not as desirable and worth less. But as with every diamond, personal preference is the most important aspect of choosing color.

When it comes to clarity, fancy-colored gray diamonds offer a lot of great benefits due to their darker body color. It is entirely possible to find lovely, eye-clean gray diamonds in the SI clarity range, especially if you’re looking for a darker hue of gray.

As for the other class of gray diamonds – salt and pepper and galaxy diamonds – see our guide to understand how the 4Cs apply to this class. Just keep in mind that this class of gray diamonds is quite often available in rose cuts or rough cuts. This means they aren’t usually fashioned as brilliant cuts that seek to maximize sparkle.

For salt and pepper and galaxy diamonds, the appeal is their unique look, and a brilliant cut simply doesn’t contribute to that. Of the thousands of gray diamond rings you may come across, 99.9% of them will be of the salt and pepper diamond variety. It’s exceptionally rare to be able to source a fancy gray diamond, but the variety of colors and unique patterns present in salt and pepper diamonds more than makes up for that.

white and gray pear diamond rings
white and gray diamond rings

Designing a Gray Diamond Ring

Gray diamonds achieve the clear iciness of a colorless diamond while adding a level of non-traditional chic beauty. They’re quite an unexpected choice and are incredibly versatile, looking great in any color metal and any style of setting. But, we of course have some favorites.

For our Charleen - Pear, we pulled out a lot of vintage appeal, designing a setting to feature delicate, handcrafted milgrain. Then, we chose a 2 carat salt and pepper diamond to use for the setting, nestling it between two smaller round cut diamonds that lead into a partial pavé band, all set in rose gold to match the warmth of the diamond.

To really help enhance the uniqueness of a gray diamond, setting it in a bezel will make it pop. We incorporated this feature in our Shielalynn, which features a simple and elegant yellow gold ring set with a kite-shaped galaxy diamond in a bezel setting. This geometric piece is the epitome of modern and minimalist style.

The natural range of gray hues you can find in a diamond is the perfect opportunity to explore a nature-inspired setting. In our Amani, we’ve used white gold to create a sculptural look of twisting branches coming together in a split shank and adorned with small white diamonds. A bezel-set rough cut gray diamond completes the look.

Salt and pepper diamonds are an excellent opportunity to get a colored diamond without the premium price. They typically go for about $1,600-$2,000 a carat, compared to about $3,000/carat for a fancy gray diamond, and $6,000 to $12,000 for a colorless diamond. They’re only rising in popularity, so demand will begin to shift cost upward, but for now, if a gray diamond speaks to your unconventional, chic and minimalist heart, they make a show-stopping choice for an engagement ring!  

gray diamond ring stack

Rustic Gray Diamond Ring

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