Diamond Colors Explained: GIA color scale + fancy scale diamonds

by Sasha t on Mar 14, 2023

Diamond Colors Explained: GIA color scale + fancy scale diamonds - Jack Weir & Sons

It can sometimes feel overwhelming to shop for a diamond or diamond jewelry. Between the 4Cs, the expense and the emotion, there is a lot to juggle to ensure that you are taking the absolute perfect piece home. While the expense and the emotion are pretty personal, one thing we can help you with is navigating the 4Cs - the fixed elements of ensuring the diamond you are purchasing is, on paper, what you are looking for. 

Now, if we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times - it is not only about what’s on paper, what the insurers see - it’s about what makes your heart skip a beat and what makes the recipients heart skip a beat too. Diamonds are highly personal and emotional - so though we can help you ensure you are making a good investment based on industry criteria, it is important to equally trust your heart and your gut. What’s on paper is only half of the equation. Just like a potential partner, it could look very good on paper and be an absolute dud (to you) in person. It will find its true mate, but it just isn’t you. 

Today we’re going to talk in depth about one of the four C’s: Color. Before we dive in, let’s do a quick reminder of the other four C’s so you can contextualize as we go. 

The four C’s is the Gemology Institute of Americas (GIA) grading system for diamonds, introduced in the early 1940s by the founder of the GIA, Robert Shipley who was a great advocate for standardizing and professionalizing the industry. Part of the GIA was its education program and Shipley came up with the four C’s mnemonic as a way for students to easily remember the four key characteristics of a faceted diamond - Color, Cut, Clarity and Carat weight. Prior to this, there was no consistency in language outside of carat weight. 

Richard T. Liddicoat, Shipley’s successor added onto the 4Cs by creating specific scales for both color and clarity. The color scale goes from D-Z, with D being the top grade (colorless), used specifically because of the existing negative connotation with the letter D. Liddicoat thought that since D was usually used for something poor, there would be no misuse of it accidentally. Before this there was no consistency in communicating the quality of color to consumers. Sellers used a multitude of different systems to describe color  from A, B, and C (used without clear definition), to Arabic (0, 1, 2, 3) and Roman (I, II, III) numbers, to descriptive terms like “gem blue” or “blue white.”  The problem with the lack of consistency is that there was no room for evaluation or comparison, so the ratings became fairly meaningless to a buyer. 

Liddicoat had the foresight enough to not only create a consistent color scale, but also formalized the methods for objectively grading a diamond. These included determining the type of lighting and neutral background with which a diamond should be evaluated, prescribing precisely how the diamond should be held and viewed, and developing master stones: sets of diamonds of predetermined color value against which the subject diamond is carefully compared.

Today diamonds are either categorized on this  D (colorless) to Z (light brown or yellow) grading scale or if the intensity of color in a diamond is stronger than a Z, the fancy color grading system is utilized instead. We’re going to start with the D to Z scale for white diamonds. 

In nature, diamonds are found in almost every color and hue you can possibly imagine; grey, white, yellow, red, green, pink and brown. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually very rare to find a diamond that doesn’t have any color at all.

When it comes to grading color, GIA had devised a system of describing diamonds in the normal range with letters from D (colorless) to Z (light brown or yellow). If the intensity of color in a diamond is stronger than a Z, then the fancy color grading system is utilized instead.

White Diamonds 

Colorless - D, E, F

The GIA scale is based on the presence or absence of color in a diamond and the hue, tone, and saturation of that color. A diamond with a grade of D, E or F is colorless and the closer you get to a Z on the scale, the more yellow or brown tint the diamond has.  A DEF-colored diamond is rare and highly valued precisely because of its lack of color. When cut and polished properly, a DEF-colored diamond will reflect light in a way that enhances its brilliance and sparkle  Because they are so rare and sought after, DEF-colored diamonds are also more expensive than diamonds with lower color  grades. DEF-colored diamonds are investment worthy diamonds. 

2.45 carat triangular step cut diamond on a 18k yellow gold solitaire band

Near Colorless - G, H, I , J

A diamond with a grade of G, H or I on the diamond color scale is considered to be near-colorless. This means that it has a very slight yellow or brown hue that is not easily noticeable to the average person. These are still high quality, brilliant and sparkly diamonds and a great choice for those who are looking for a balance of cost and quality. Compared to their colorless counterparts, a near colorless diamond is more affordable. 

It's important to note that the color of a G-colored diamond may become more noticeable when it is set in yellow gold, so white gold or platinum may be a better choice for those seeking a colorless appearance. Overall, a G-colored diamond is a great choice for those looking for a high-quality diamond that offers good value.

Art Deco 4.06 carat emerald cut diamond on a platinum setting
Tiffany & Co Art Deco GIA 2.77 carats old european cut diamond on a platinum setting

Faint Yellow - K, L, M 

A diamond with a grade of K, L or M on the diamond color scale has a noticeable yellow or brown hue. Diamonds with a K grade or lower on the scale are considered to be in the lower end of the near-colorless to faint yellow range.

While a K-colored diamond is not as highly valued as a diamond with a higher color grade, such as D or G, it can still be a good choice for those who are looking for a cost-effective option. In some cases, the yellow or brown hue may not be easily noticeable in a K-colored diamond, especially when it is set in jewelry, and it can still have good brilliance and sparkle.

It's important to note that the yellow or brown hue of a K-colored diamond may become more noticeable when set in a yellow gold setting, so white gold or platinum may be a better choice for those seeking a more colorless appearance.

Overall, a K-colored diamond may be a good choice for those who are on a tight budget and are looking for a diamond that offers good value. However, it is important to keep in mind that diamonds with a lower color grade may not have the same level of brilliance and sparkle as diamonds with a higher color grade. As with all diamonds, it is hard to judge a stone solely by one characteristic. Sometimes a faint yellow diamond is the exact perfect diamond for you and your beloved.

Edwardian 2.27 carats old european cut diamond on a platinum filigree setting
4.29 carats round brilliant cut diamond on a platinum setting


Fancy Colored Diamonds

Fancy colored diamonds are diamonds that have a hue other than the typical yellow or brown hue found in white diamonds. Fancy colored diamonds are graded differently than white diamonds. Instead of using the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) diamond color scale, which ranges from D (colorless) to Z (light yellow or brown), fancy colored diamonds are evaluated based on the depth and quality of their color.

Fancy colored diamonds can be found in a variety of colors, including pink, blue, yellow, green, and red, among others.These diamonds are rare and highly valued, with The value of a fancy colored diamond is determined by the intensity of its color, the saturation, and the hue. The more intense and pure the color, the more valuable the diamond. The color of diamonds is not based on a specific era or time period - their color is determined by the type and amount of impurities present within the diamond crystal. Natural occurring processes within the earth and factors like the  presence of nitrogen, boron, or other elements cause diamonds to have different hues. 

Fancy colored diamonds are known for their exceptional beauty and are considered some of the most valuable diamonds in the world due to their rarity and the intensity of their colors. They are highly sought after by collectors and investors and there are some fancy colored diamonds that are  considered to be some of the most important and iconic diamonds in the world. Take for instance, the pink star - a 59.60 carats pink diamond, the largest known pink diamond in the world and sold at an auction for $71.2 million dollars. Or The Oppenheimer Blue, a 14.62 carats blue diamond, sold at auction for $50.6 million.  

Vintage 1.13 carat fancy yellow diamond on a 18 karat yellow gold setting
3.20 carats fancy color oval brilliant diamond on a 18k rose gold setting
Like all other diamonds and jewelry in general, trends come and go in the fancy diamond world. Yellow diamonds, or canary diamonds, were very popular a few years ago and now pink diamonds are becoming more of a desired stone. However, like all important jewelry investments, it is important that you are not only thinking about what’s popular, but what you love and what speaks to your heart. Fine jewelry is a financial investment, yes, but for most of us, an emotional one as well. Find someone you trust to ensure you’re getting what you’re paying for, but trust yourself to know it when you see it. 

Here at Jack Weir & Sons we’ve spent the last 40 years traveling to Europe and all over the world, curating extraordinary estate jewels. JWS is where the old world meets the new world. Celebrate life, preserve history, discover your own priceless heirloom jewel. We are extremely grateful for our clients and the ability to help people to celebrate their special moments through one of a kind jewelry. To share that gratitude and our strong family values, we chose to partner with Baby2BabySince the beginning of the partnership, we've donated $125,000. A portion of every sale goes towards children living in poverty to provide them with diapers, clothing, and all the basic necessities that every child deserves. 

We offer in-person and Virtual Appointments and are happy to answer any questions about your favorite jewel. 

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Sasha our director of sales and marketing
Reach out directly to me, Sasha, for any questions you might have or to schedule an appointment today!

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