What a Diamond Color Chart Won’t Tell You
Diamond color charts have you confused? We’re breaking down everything you need to know about diamond color grades so you can shop diamonds and save money.
By Stephanie Dore
When it comes to diamond color, most of us aren’t talking fancy pinks and vibrant blues—though those are certainly out there and worth exploring—but rather, a range of 23 subtle shades of, well, subtle. So subtle that there are three different versions of “colorless” darling, and that’s just the start! But let’s face it, that’s not particularly helpful. And the color chart? Talk about confusing. But we’re here to break it down for you. What does that diamond color chart really mean? And what won’t it tell you about picking the diamond of your dreams?
A Very Good Place to Start
What is diamond color, you ask? In layperson’s terms, it’s the body color of your diamond. Most frequently, this is a very faint yellow, gray, or brown tone. For both natural, mined diamonds and lab created diamonds, this color is the result of trace elements found in the diamond’s chemical makeup. Yellow, for instance, is caused by the presence of nitrogen during diamond formation. This causes the diamond to absorb blue light and transmit yellow back to the eye. In the same way, a bit of boron can create a blue diamond, and some friendly radiation can create a green one!
But Why are Some Diamonds Yellow?
For both mined and lab created diamonds, body color is caused by the presence of certain chemicals. Yellow, for instance, is caused by trace amounts of nitrogen present during the diamond’s growth. This causes the diamond to absorb blue light and transmit yellow back to the eye. In the same way, a bit of boron can create a blue diamond, and some friendly radiation can create a green one!
Making the Grade
Now, In gemology terms, color grade is actually a measure of a diamond’s lack of color. And the less color a diamond has, the higher the color grade. Diamonds are graded alphabetically, on a scale that starts with D (totes colorless) and ends with Z (definitely noticeable color). Until quite recently, most high-end jewelers only sold diamonds in the D-J range, as beyond that, color really starts to be noticeable with your naked eye. Though, today the market for diamonds all the way through M has opened up quite a bit, and honestly, we love that K-M range to give you a warmer diamond look. Why does it start with D? See, old school grading systems used the good ol’ ABCs and 123s, so when GIA set out to set a new industry standard, they just wiped the slate and started over at D. The more you know.
Can You Tell the Difference Between Diamond Color Grades?
Well, sometimes. If you look at a D and an M side by side, you’ll definitely see the difference. But a D and an E, or an H and an I, well it gets quite a bit harder to tell. While people with superb color acuity might be able to see it, the difference between a grade or two is a hard distinction to make, and even trained gemologists use color comparison samples to make the determination. Let’s break it down a bit.
The Big World of Diamond Color Ranges
The GIA color grading scale, which is the industry standard, is made up of 23 lettered color grades, subdivided into five categories: colorless (D-F); near colorless (G-J); faint (K-M); very light (N-R); and light (S-Z). Each letter grade has a clearly defined narrow range of color appearance. And anything with more body color than Z (or that is any color other than yellow or brown) is considered a fancy color diamond, but we’ve got a different post for that. Anywho…for most jewelry applications, we recommend staying in the D-M range.
Colorless (D-F) If you are just solidly in the colorless camp, and don’t ever want to even think you see a flash of color in your diamond, this is the range for you. We don’t often recommend going with a D color, unless you’re ready to pay the price for something you can’t see. Really. You won’t see the difference between a D, E, or F, especially once it’s set in a piece of jewelry.
Near Colorless (G-J) This near colorless range is considered by most of the industry to be the real sweet spot of quality and price. But that doesn’t mean you can willy nilly choose from G to J and not see the difference. Because you probably will. Put a G and a J next to each other and the average human can probably determine which is which. But if you’re going for a “colorless” look, a G will still serve you well at a more reasonable price tag. And if you don’t mind a hint of warmth, or you’re setting your stone in yellow gold, then please, please, please, consider the lower range of color here. A I or J color diamond in yellow gold will honestly face up very bright and you’ll save loads of cash.
Faint (K-M) Now, the faint color range is one we’re pretty darn fond of these days, for a few reasons. First off, it’s super affordable if you’re open to it. Second, have you seen these stones? They’re crazy pretty. This is the range where you’ll definitely start seeing some faint color (hence the name) and you can go two ways with this. One: show off the warmer hues in yellow and rose gold that really give you that overall sunny look. Or, two: show off the warmer hues by contrasting them in a white gold or platinum setting. See what we did there?
Very Light (N-R) and Light (S-Z) This is pretty much where you’re shopping for colored diamonds, and in fact, you won’t find too many of these in retail sales as they’re often left for other industrial applications.
Why Would you Want a Less White Diamond?
Sometimes, a little shade is a good thing. Think warm, glowing undertones or even champagne diamonds for a unique look. After all, we never turn down bubbles. But, mostly the answer here is cost. The less color, the more cost. So, if you can go down a few color grades, you can save big time. But how much are we talking about, really? Well, M diamonds are about 60% less than D. That’s how much.
So, we Mentioned a Diamond Color Chart
When referencing a diamond color chart, our best advice is to understand its limitations. Many factors, like the size of the diamond, its shape, the setting, the lighting, or even your skin tone as you wear a piece of jewelry, can affect the appearance of a diamond’s color. One of the biggest factors is a diamond’s cut. And in fact, because brilliance (aka sparkle) can actually disguise color, diamonds are color graded face down! With all of these contextual factors, it’s important to know about color grade and have a general reference but to see beyond that cute little flash card to determine what is most appealing to you.
Shape and Diamond Color: In-Depth
Speaking of context, diamond shape is another major factor for color, especially when it comes to fancy shapes (anything but round brilliant). We’ll let you in on a little insider knowledge. See, fancy shapes like Asschers, cushions, or radiants are often cut with more depth than a round brilliant, which just happens to accentuate their body color. It’s why fancy-colored diamonds and precious gemstones are often cut into deeper, fancy shapes—much more often than white diamonds. And shallow shapes like rose cuts can appear bright white at a very low color grade. So what’s good for round, well, might not be what you love in another shape and vice versa.
We’ve talked about metal color a bit, but it’s important to know just how your engagement ring setting can affect the color of your diamond. How so? All those tiny diamond facets literally act like little mirrors, reflecting what is around (and under) your stone back to your eye. That means that setting your diamond in yellow gold can make a D color look like a J. And make your wallet sad for spending money on something that doesn’t matter. So think about what you really want, and shop accordingly. Love yellow gold but want a colorless stone? A two-tone setting with white prongs can be the perfect fix to keep that D shining bright. And the opposite is also true. Want a white gold ring but a yellow diamond? Reverse it with yellow gold prongs, or bezel, or anything else, on a white gold or platinum band. Our custom jewelry designers can help you pick out the perfect piece to make your dream ring come to life.
Diamond Color Chart Perfect Match
If you’re shopping for any style ring that includes side stones — be that a three stone ring, a toi et moi two stone style, or a cool cluster for instance — you’ll want to think about how multiple stones look together, including their colors. If you want everything to match, make sure to choose accent stones within one color grade (either direction) of your showstopper. That way, it will all look cohesive and nothing will distract from the sparkle. If you like a more contrasting look, however, consider setting stones of different colors together in the same ring. We love a two-stone style with different color stones, or a cluster with an ombre effect.
Ready to Choose your Diamond Color Grade?
Start with your personal taste. Learn your partner’s preferences, as well as your own—often people can have a strong and surprising opinion about it. And then look at some in person. Hold them against your hand, and try on a few different metals to see how they’ll actually appear.
Check out our diamond search where you can view 360-degree images of more than 10,000 diamonds and compare diamond color grades, or book a virtual or offline appointment at our New York salon to view certified lab-grown and natural diamonds in person.
Not finding what you’re looking for? Email us with what you’re looking for at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll curate a list of 5-7 exclusive stones that are just right for you.