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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, nothing much. After all, how many different versions of “colorless” do we really need? Apparently the answer is three! But when you’re shopping for diamonds, 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

The beginning. The simple stuff. The softballs. What is diamond color, you ask? Simply put, it’s the body color of your diamond (which typically appears as a faint yellow hue, but it can be gray or brown too). But of course diamonds are never really that simple. If you want to know how gemologists really think about diamond color grading, you should know it’s actually the official measure of a diamond’s lack of color. The less color, the higher the grade.

A white diamond
with a pretty pink glow

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!

A D color oval lab grown diamond the whitest grade on the diamond color chart
A colorless lab grown diamond with a very faint blue tint that makes it face-up whiter than it would normally.

Making the Grade

We’re not in school anymore, but still have plenty of appreciation for the fact that a diamond color chart starts with D. That’s right, D is the highest, most colorless grade you can find. It runs D-Z, though most retailers only sell D-K color grades (as beyond K, you can start to notice body color with your naked eye), though as low as M can be good for an engagement ring. What everyone is wondering: Why does it start with D? See, old school 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.

D Color Round Diamond
K Color Round Diamond

Why Would you Want a Less White Diamond?

Well, cost mostly. 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.

  • Natural Round D VS2 1.0 ct ~$6,500
  • Natural Round K VS2 1.0 ct ~$2,500
  • Lab Grown Round D VS2 1.0 ct ~$3,000
  • Lab Grown Round K VS2 1.0 ct ~$1,250
A champagne diamond next to a white diamond in a custom setting design

Can you Tell the Difference Between the Diamond Colors?

Look at a D and an M side by side and you sure can. But a D and an E, or an H and an I, not so much. While people with superb color acuity might notice 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. Other factors, like the size of the diamond, the shape, the setting, the lighting, or even skin tone, can have more effect on the appearance of color in a diamond.

And 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.

F Color Emerald Diamond
H Color Emerald Diamond
G Color Emerald Diamond
I Color Emerald Diamond

Metal Matters

The metal color you choose for a diamond setting reflects your own style. It also reflects in your diamond. All those tiny facets literally act like little mirrors, which means setting your diamond in yellow gold can make a D color look like a J. And make your wallet look like a fool for spending money on something that doesn’t matter. So think about what you really want, and shop accordingly. Love yellow gold but want to go colorless? A two-tone setting with white prongs can be the perfect fix to keep that D shining bright.

Mason No. 1 shown in yellow gold. Bezel and half bezel settings reflect more color than their prong set counterparts.

Shop Two Tone Engagement Rings

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Once you’ve decided on a diamond color and your fave metal, if you’re considering a three-stone (or really any number beyond one) setting, make sure to choose accent diamonds within one color grade of your showstopper. That way, everything will look cohesive and nothing will distract from the sparkle.

Speaking of sparkle, it’s one of the best ways to disguise a lil bit of color. Brilliant facets (rather than step-cut or vintage) can help distract from and mask body color (I mean, don’t expect miracles, but anything helps, right?).

Shop Three Stone Engagement Rings

An I Color Rose Cut Diamond

Ship Shape

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. To show off their bold hues. And shallow shapes like rose cuts can appear bright white at a very low color grade.

A diamond color chart

So, we Mentioned a Diamond Color Chart

Still wondering how to use a diamond color chart the right way? Our advice: understand its limitations. Diamonds are actually color graded face down, but they’re usually viewed from the top, where all that light and sparkle is going to be the first thing you see. That’s why you want to focus on a good cut grade before color. With many other factors like metal color, lighting, and context having a significant impact on a diamond’s actual appearance, there’s more to consider than that cute little flash card. But the chart is still useful to understand the relative differences, and get you looking in the right general direction.

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 hello@frankdarling.com. We’ll curate a list of 5-7 exclusive stones that are just right for you.