The 4 C's - Diamond Color
By Bryan Boyne (g.g.) , Tuesday, August 23, 2016
A diamond’s color impacts both its appearance and its value. The color grading of diamonds is based on a scale which is a continuum of color intensities ranging from colorless to obviously tinted. The color grades are very small increments along this continuum starting at D and progressing to Z. This is known as the “normal range” of diamond color. Colors beyond Z are referred to as “fancy colors” and are graded in a completely different way. In general, diamond values fall through the normal range and then abruptly begin to increase once color strength hits the fancy range. For the purposes of this article we confine the discussion to color grading in the normal range.
Diamond Color Grading Scale
In the normal range the most important portion of the grading scale is the “colorless” (DEF) and “near-colorless” range (GHIJ). Colorless diamonds are just that – devoid of body color- and consequently they appear icy-white. Near colorless diamonds have small amounts of body color but do not give an impression of color to most observers. They appear white, especially in face-up view and particularly if they are cut for optimal light return such as ideal cut diamonds.
The concept of diamond color is sometimes confused with the prismatic effect called “fire” - the dispersion of white light into spectral colors due to refraction. In lighting environments conducive to the display of fire, small flares of distinct rainbow colors can be seen. This effect is separate and largely independent of the diamond’s body color (color grade).
The question is often asked, ‘why does the alphabet scale of diamond color start at “D”?’ At the time that GIA (Gemological Institute of America) developed the grading scale that is used throughout the world today, there were already a few simplistic systems in the market for communicating color grades that used nomenclature such as A, B & C or A, AA and AAA. In order to avoid any confusion with such terminology, GIA elected to start their scale at D.
Below are the individual diamond colors along with a short description and links to more information on the attributes of each.
Diamond Color as seen from the side
D - perfectly colorless. The D color diamond is the ultimate color grade in the normal range and appears icy white.
E – colorless. Only when compared to a D color in a clinical environment does a very slight body color become vaguely noticeable in an E color diamond.
F - colorless. An F color diamond will look icy white and not show any apparent color from any viewing angle, except when compared to master diamonds by a trained grader.
Near Colorless Diamonds
G – top of the near colorless range. The G color diamond is virtually indistinguishable from colorless in real world situations.
H - solidly near colorless. An H color diamond looks white, even when viewed from the side and even in larger sizes.
I – solidly near colorless. The I color diamond looks white enough to be set in white gold or platinum without creating any significant contrast.
J – near colorless. The J color diamond “faces up” white, particularly if it has optimal light performance.
Face Up Diamond Color
Whiteflash deals primarily in diamonds in the upper color (J and above) and clarity ranges (Si1 and above) with top cut craftsmanship. While a K Si2 Ideal can be a very pretty diamond, most of our customers are looking for better gemological qualities. It should be noted that some customers do express an actual preference for the “warmer” colors beyond the near-colorless range.
Any meaningful discussion of diamond color assumes a grading report from a top gemological laboratory like AGSL (American Gem Society Laboratories) or GIA. Only an ethical lab with a highly trained staff of experienced graders utilizing the most modern gemological equipment and techniques, and one with a history of accuracy and consistency, can be relied upon for trustworthy diamond grading.
Automated color grading instruments are employed in the lab as part of the process. The Colorimeter is very useful in getting a quick baseline assessment of a diamond’s color, but it has limitations. Ultimately, final color grades are determined by highly trained professional graders.
Color grading of fancy shape diamonds is done somewhat differently. Because fancies tend to have lengths and widths that are not equal, grading the diamond in one direction or the other might reveal different amounts of body color. Fancy shapes are therefore graded at a diagonal in order to get a balanced assessment of color.
CHOICE OF METAL
When diamonds are set in jewelry our perception of them changes as compared to when they are viewed as loose diamonds. So the choice of setting can be of strategic importance. White metals like white gold and platinum tend to reveal body color in a diamond, while yellow gold or rose gold tend to conceal it. Shoppers with yellow gold settings in mind can therefore compromise slightly on the color grade, thereby saving some money and /or getting a slightly larger diamond. On the other hand, shoppers who are looking at diamond that is lower near-colorless or slightly tinted should probably avoid white metal in order to minimize the extent to which the body color of the diamond can be observed.
CHOICE OF STYLE
Since diamond color is most easily perceived when looking at the diamond from the side (through the girdle), diamonds that are set in mountings that allow a clear side view, such as a classic four prong solitaire, will be more revealing of diamond color. A six prong mounting or bezel setting will obscure this view and may be a good strategic option for a diamond with a bit more “warmth” of color.
IMPACT OF SIZE
Size matters when it comes to diamond color. Bigger diamonds with their greater “body” tend to show more body color. Again, this is particularly true from the side view perspective. So shoppers with sensitivity to color, and especially those that want a white gold or platinum setting that will permit a profile view of the diamond, might want to aim for the middle of the near colorless range rather than going into the warmer colors.
IMPACT OF SHAPE
Shape matters as well in whether a diamond will exhibit obvious color at a certain grade. Some fancy shapes, by virtue of their facet arrangement, tend to concentrate color in certain areas of the diamond. This is why you will see fancy color diamonds often cut into radiant, cushion or oval shape. An ideal cut round on the other hand tends to diminish the appearance of color, at least from the face-up view which is the vantage point that most people will be observing the diamond when set. So, shoppers looking for fancy cuts should keep that fact in mind, particularly if they are considering lower near colorless diamonds in larger sizes. That is of course, unless they are in that group that actually prefers the warmer look.
In conclusion, it is important to understand that diamond color grading is very nuanced. The differences between gemological grades are extremely small. Colorless diamonds are “icy” white, and near-colorless diamonds do not show any obvious body color to most observers. Ideal cut diamonds appear whiter than average cuts and diamond color is more noticeable from the side where the influence of light return does not impact your perception of color.
Last but not least, everyone has different sensitivity to color and a different sense of what appeals to them the most. Most shoppers find their best ‘bang for the buck’ is in the near-colorless range (GHIJ), but there are those that only want colorless and those that actually prefer diamonds with a bit of warmth.
Enjoy the following video about Diamond Color: