Diamond Color

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Bottom Line Recommendation:

As long as you follow our guidelines, there is no reason to overpay for color. Take a look at this I color diamond compared to this G color. Once mounted, these diamonds will look identical color-wise. Without sacrificing any visual quality, you are saving 17% on the diamond.

    • White Gold / Platinum Ring
      • Round: H-J – higher than H and you’re paying for a feature you won’t be able to appreciate
      • Princess, Emerald, Asscher: G-I
      • Everything Else: F-H
    • Yellow Gold Ring
      • Round: K-M – the yellow color of the gold is absorbed into the diamond’s color, so anything higher than K is going to look slightly yellowish anyway
      • Princess, Emerald, Asscher: J-K
      • Everything Else: I-J
    • Pave or Side-stone Settings
      • Round, Princess, Emerald and Asscher: G-I
      • Everything Else: F-H
    • Halo Settings
      • Everything: F-H

(This article is about the color scale that describes white diamonds. If, however, you’re looking for information on fancy color diamonds, then see the series of articles under the appropriate heading in the menu bar.)

According to Blue Nile, color is the 2nd most important characteristic of diamond quality. In fact, they claim that “When looking at a diamond, the human eye notices the diamond’s cut first and its color second.”

The truth is, this statement is ridiculous.  As I have mentioned time and again, you cannot trust the person trying to sell you a product to provide you with an objective opinion about that very product.

I believe James Allen says it much better in their article about Diamond Color.  According to them, “Most people find it very difficult (if not impossible) to tell the difference from one color grade to another.  The difference in price, however, can be significant.”  And the better a round diamond’s cut is (for example, a Brian Gavin Signature Hearts and Arrows Diamond, which is the best there is), the harder it is to discern color.

Lets try to understand why Blue Nile’s claim is not true.  First of all, it’s simply preposterous to suggest that your eye first notices one of the 4 C’s, and then moves on to the other, as if somehow the light that is bouncing off the diamond and into your eye first bounces off the cut, and then bounces off the diamond’s color.  A diamond is an organic whole.  What your eye perceives is a balance of many factors and characteristics, including, but most definitely not limited to, the 4 C’s.

If you’re thinking, “well, it’s just a matter of semantics – what they probably mean is that when balancing out all the factors and characteristics that describe the diamond, Color, after Cut, has the most influence in the beauty of the diamond.”  But even that’s not true.

Nobody Can Tell the Difference Between G and H

To get into the subject a little deeper, we need to differentiate between the different shapes of diamonds.  The different facet arrangements of the different shapes can greatly affect how much light is captured inside the diamond.  If I had to rank the importance of color on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the least important, and 10 being the most important) for the most common shapes, this is what I would come up with:

  • Rounds – 3
  • Princess – 5
  • Emerald & Asscher – 6
  • Oval, Marquise, Pear, Heart – 7
  • Radiant, Cushion – 8

So for most of you (Round buyers) the truth about Color is that if you showed just about anybody, excluding people who look at diamonds all day, an I or even a J colored diamond they would think that it is colorless.  And that’s only talking about loose diamonds.  If you’re going to set the diamond in a yellow gold setting, you could easily go down a few notched to a K, L, or even M color, and the diamond would still look fantastic. Even white gold or platinum engagement ring settings mask the diamond’s color somewhat.

To see a clear example of this, have a look at Zoara’s Color Tool.  This is a great demonstration of just how slight the variations are between the color grades between D and J on a Round Brilliant diamond.

Especially for Rounds, but also for other shapes, Color is primarily a relative characteristic.  What I mean by this is that an I-colored diamond really only looks like an I-color when it’s placed next to a higher-colored diamond for comparison.  In fact, this is how even expert diamond dealers and gemologists grade color — they place the diamond to be graded on a white folded card next to a master diamond to compare it to.

Nobody can reliably assess a diamond’s color simply by looking at the diamond in question.  So unless your bride to be plans on walking around with a set of GIA Color Samples in her pocket to take out and constantly compare to her ring, then you have nothing to worry about.  This will become relevant, though, if you’re purchasing an engagement ring with side diamonds, or perhaps a Three Stone Ring.  It is recommended that side (or accent) diamonds always either match the color of the center stone, or be slightly darker to accent the higher color of the center stone.

If you’re buying just a classic solitaire engagement ring setting with no accent diamonds, then don’t waste your money on a feature you will never be able to derive benefit from!

Another aspect to consider is Fluorescence and how it interacts with color.  Strong or Medium Blue Fluorescence will generally dull the brilliance of a colorless diamond (D-F, and even G, better to stay away from Strong Fluorescence), but will often make a diamond with a lower color appear whiter. So if you were really looking for great bang for your buck, look for a J or K color with Strong Blue fluorescence.

If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below.  I will usually respond within 24 hours.

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1085 Comments

  1. Heidi     Reply

    Feeling better as I recently walked into a local jeweler to browse and he commented on my new studs that are EGL international certified F color (so I call them J color) and he just says hey those like J-K color. So he can really tell from across the room without putting them next to D color stones. I’m over it. Love my earrings don’t care what they truly are.

  2. Juan Herrera     Reply

    Thank you!
    Your article help me to make the right decision. I got her an excellent round cut and J color. If I were to buy it again I wouldnt hesitate to buy a J. She loves it!

    • Mike     Reply

      Thanks so much for the kind words. Enjoy the ring!

  3. Aaron     Reply

    Hi Ira,

    Great website.
    I was hoping to get your opinion on purchasing a diamond mens wedding band in platinum. The band is 6mm and Im looking for a princess cut. What color and how many carats would you recommend for the diamond while still keeping the aesthetics of the ring masculine?
    Thank you in advance for your thoughts!

    • Mike     Reply

      Hi Aaron,

      That is more of a question of style and fashion. I am wholly unequipped to deal with that question. I’d be happy to help guide you through the technical aspects diamond purchasing, but I can’t advise you on that. Sorry.

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