The Diamond Pro

Diamond Color Chart & Buying Guide: Understand Grade Scale

By Michael Fried
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Along with cut, clarity and carat weight, color is one of the four Cs that play a role in a diamond’s appearance and beauty.

After the cut quality of a diamond, color is the second most important factor to keep in mind. Diamonds come in a range of colors, from totally colorless to lightly or quite noticeably yellow tinged.

While we don’t believe there’s any reason to overpay for color (something we’ve explained in more detail below), you’ll want to choose a diamond of a high enough color grade that it looks clear in relation to its setting.

Below, we’ve explained how to do this, as well as how diamond color works. We’ve also shared our expert diamond color recommendations for different diamond shapes and setting types to help you choose the best diamond for your tastes and budget.

What is Diamond Color?

A diamond’s color refers to how clear or yellow it is. In general, the highest quality diamonds are totally colorless, whereas lower quality diamonds can often have a slight yellow tint.

Diamond color is measured using a scale from the Gemological Institute of America, or GIA, which goes from D (colorless) all the way to Z (light yellow or brown in color). Between D and Z, there are numerous diamond color grades, ranging from near colorless to slightly yellow.

When you’re looking for diamonds to purchase, the diamond color is one aspect of the buying process that you shouldn’t overlook. Diamonds can vary hugely in price based on their color, meaning that picking the right color for your specific needs could help you save a lot of money without affecting the appearance of your fiancé-to-be’s ring.

Distinctly colored diamonds are prized pieces and are available in colors such as blue, pink and yellow. In white diamonds, however, a yellow tint is generally not seen as desirable.

This is because when slight coloring is present, less natural color of the light is reflected back to the eye. The more colorless a diamond is, generally the more radiant, valuable, and rare it is as well.

Colorless diamonds are definitely scarce and rank much higher on the color grading scale than a diamond that has even the softest touch of yellow.

A Few Things to Know About Diamond Color in General

  • The overall value of a diamond rests, in part, on the absence of color.
  • The color grade of a diamond should always be determined by a grading professional.
  • The grade and value of diamonds differs between colored and colorless diamonds.
  • Diamond colors are graded from D to Z, with most diamonds used in jewelry falling somewhere into the D to M range.
  • The setting of the ring can play a role in the perception and view of the color.

Before we go further into the specifics of diamond color, let’s cover a few things.

First, you don’t need to be an expert in diamond color to choose a good diamond. While we’ve covered the basics of diamond color below, we’ve also provided our own recommendations, which you can use to limit your search to diamonds of an acceptable color for your preferred shape and setting type.

Second, the difference between one color grade and other grades (for example, a G color diamond and an H color diamond) are very small, so much so that they’re largely impossible to perceive with the naked eye.

However, the difference between one color grade and another that’s three or four above or below it (for example, a G color diamond and a K color diamond) are often easy to see when the diamonds are side by side, especially under bright light and with magnification.

Third, like with everything else related to buying a diamond, there’s no need to choose the best color grade. Unless you have a massive budget, buying a D color diamond is unnecessary when a well cut G, H or even I color diamond will look just as good once it’s set in a ring and worn on your fiancé-to-be’s finger.

Fourth, a diamond’s shape and the type of metal you choose for the setting both affect which color grade is best. For example, the round brilliant cut is great at hiding color, while the emerald cut isn’t. This means that you’ll need to pick a color grade that’s appropriate for the diamond’s shape.

When it comes to metals, some, such as yellow gold and rose gold, can hide the faint yellow color of a lower grade diamond better than platinum and white gold.

Just like cut quality, clarity and carat weight, color is one slice of the pie to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a diamond. The better you are at balancing color with the three other Cs, the better the value for money you’ll be able to get when you buy a diamond.

With this out of the way, let’s look at the GIA’s diamond color chart and how it relates to shopping for a diamond.

Diamond Color Chart

The GIA (Gemological Institute of America) is a renowned and well-respected diamond grading entity that issues reports for diamonds.

When you’re in the market for diamonds, it’s advisable to seek a GIA certificate for every diamond you view due to the varying degrees of color that you may come across.

The GIA grades Diamond Color on the following scale (See here for the GIA’s Diamond Clarity Chart)

Diamond Color Grade:Description:
DD is the highest color grade, meaning it has nearly no color. Under magnification and to the naked eye, a D color diamond will appear colorless.

D color diamonds are usually set in platinum or white gold, as yellow gold and other jewelry settings detract from the diamond’s uncolored beauty. Diamonds with a D color grade are the most rare and expensive on the market, with a significant price premium over other color grades.

EE color diamonds look almost identical to D color diamonds. Most of the time, the differences in color between a D and E diamond are only visible to an expert gemologist when the two diamonds are viewed under magnification.

Like D color diamonds, E color diamonds are usually set in platinum or white gold to avoid the color of the jewelry detracting from their near flawless color. Although these diamonds are less expensive than D color diamonds, they still command a hefty premium.

FF color diamonds are almost identical to D and E color diamonds, with nearly no visible color. Even under magnification and side by side, a D, E and F diamond will look almost identical to anyone other than an expert gemologist.
GG color diamonds exhibit nearly no color and appear primarily colorless to the naked eye. The G color grade is the highest, best grade in the “Near Colorless” range of the GIA’s scale, which covers diamonds graded G to J.

Although G color diamonds have some tints of color, they’re almost impossible to detect with the naked eye. Like D-F diamonds, these diamonds should be set in platinum or white gold to reduce any effects of color reflection from yellow or rose gold.

HH color diamonds appear primarily colorless to the naked eye but have a faint yellow hue that’s often visible under magnification in bright lighting, especially when they’re compared to diamonds of a higher color grade.

Like G color diamonds, these can be set in platinum or white gold without any issues. H color diamonds are slightly less expensive than G color diamonds and significantly more affordable than diamonds in the colorless range. This is the minimum color grade we recommend for diamond shapes with a large table, such as the radiant and cushion cuts.

II color diamonds offer a great combination of near colorless looks and value for money. These diamonds have a slight yellow tint that’s usually only visible when they’re viewed next to diamonds of a higher color grade.

An I color round brilliant cut diamond can look fantastic in a platinum or white gold setting, as well as alongside metals such as yellow or rose gold. As you’d expect, I color diamonds are less expensive than G or H color diamonds. This is the minimum color grade we recommend for princess cut diamonds.

JJ color diamonds look mostly colorless to the naked eye, but usually have a faint yellow tint that’s easy to notice under bright lights and magnification. In diamonds with a large table, the color might also be visible with the naked eye in certain lighting conditions.

From a value for money perspective, J color diamonds can be fantastic choices. We recommend this color for round brilliant cut diamonds set in platinum or white gold (solitair setting), as the cut of the round diamond is great at concealing color. However, the J color grade is not recommended for diamond shapes with a larger table and fewer facets.

KK color diamonds are classed as “faint tint” on the GIA’s diamond color scale, meaning they have a slight yellow tint that’s visible even to the naked eye.

Diamonds in this price range can be found for significantly less than those in the G to J range. Set in a beautiful yellow gold setting, a K color round brilliant cut diamond can look gorgeous. However, diamonds of this color grade should generally not be set in platinum or white gold.

LL color diamonds have a yellow tint that’s visible to the naked eye in normal lighting conditions. Diamonds with this color grade are much more affordable than those in the G to J range, making them a good value for money option.

Because of the yellow tint, we don’t recommend the L color grade for non-round diamond shapes. We also don’t recommend it for diamonds set in platinum or white gold. However, L color round brilliant cut diamonds can still look great in yellow gold solitaire rings due to the warm, yellow tone of the metal.

MM color diamonds have a definite yellow tint that’s visible to the naked eye. Like K and L diamonds, M color diamonds offer fantastic value for money when compared to near colorless or colorless diamonds.

The M color grade is typically the lowest color grade offered by online diamond vendors. Although M color diamonds can look warm and beautiful in antique yellow gold settings, their color is quite easy to notice even with the naked eye.

N-RDiamonds in the N to R range have noticeable yellow or brown tinting. These diamonds are available at a much lower price point than faintly tinted or near colorless diamonds. We do not recommend diamonds of an N-R grade.
S-ZDiamonds of an S-Z range have easily noticeable yellow or brown tinting. For this reason, We do not recommend S-Z diamonds.

The diamonds typically used in engagement rings tend to be of the near colorless variety, and you will find that they may contain small hints of yellow or brown in the diamond. The type of setting that is used can also change the perception of the diamond’s color as well as the lighting that the diamond is being shown in as described in the chart above. Keep all of these in mind when looking at the color of the diamonds.

What’s the Best Color for a Diamond?

The D color grade is the highest quality color grade a diamond can receive, and can reasonably be called the “best color” for a diamond.

However, it’s a little more complicated than that. While a D color diamond is undoubtedly the best in terms of color, the difference in price between a D color diamond and a diamond with a lower color grade but near identical appearance can often be huge.

For example, look at this 1 carat, VS2 clarity, excellent cut, D color round brilliant cut diamond from James Allen. There’s no question that its color is fantastic, but it costs $6,000.

Now, look at this H color diamond that’s identical in carat weight, clarity and cut quality. While you might be able to notice a very slight different in color between the two diamonds when they’re viewed under 20x magnification, the color difference is almost imperceptible to the naked eye.

If you choose a yellow or rose gold setting, there’s a good chance that the color of the setting will give the two diamonds an identical appearance anyway, negating the higher color grade.

The difference in price between these two diamonds is $1,080 — money that you could spend on a larger carat weight, a beautiful setting or simply save for your wedding and honeymoon.

On the whole, the best color for a diamond is the color that best fits your personal tastes and preferences, the shape of the diamond, the metal used for the setting and your budget.

Below, we’ve shared our recommendations for diamond color based on the shape of diamond you choose. We’ve also given our expert advice on the color grades that are best suited for each metal, from platinum and white gold to yellow and rose gold.

Diamond Colors, Shapes and Settings

When looking at a range of diamonds, it’s important to pay close attention to a diamond’s coloring. In addition to the GIA Color Grading, be sure to review the diamond yourself or have an expert assist you to give you a better idea of its value instead of relying on your untrained eye.

When examining the diamonds, look for any noticeable tinting and note its interaction with both white light and colored light reflection.

Most importantly, ensure the diamond looks white in relation to its setting. The diamond you’re choosing should stand out as the bright, white focal piece of the jewelry. It is, after all, the most renowned part of the ring.

Based on diverse types of settings, here are our recommendations for diamond color based on diamond shape:

White Gold / Platinum Solitaire Ring

Round: H-J If you choose a grade higher than H, you’ll be paying for a feature you won’t be able to notice or appreciate with the naked eye.

Princess, Emerald, Asscher: G-I Grades.

All other Diamond Shapes: F-H Grades.

Yellow Gold Ring

Round: K-M Grades.

The yellow color of the gold is absorbed into the diamond’s color, so any grade higher than a K will look slightly yellowish anyway.

Princess, Emerald, Asscher: J-K Grades.

All other Diamond Shapes: I-J Grades.

Pave/Side-stone or Halo Settings

Round, Princess, Emerald and Asscher: G-I Grades.

All Other Diamond Shapes: F-H Grades.

All Diamond Shapes for Halo: F-H Grades.

Let’s take a closer look by examining the two Diamond Color charts below. The same nine diamonds are displayed on the right side and the left side of the chart. On the right, the nine diamonds are face down and arranged in order by Color. On the left, the order has been randomized.

By looking at the pictures on the left, are you able to place them in the correct grading order?

Diamond Color Comparison Grid

(Answer (on the left side) – First Row: G, L, E. Second Row: F, J, D. Third Row: H, K, I.)

As you may have noticed, it’s difficult for the eye to pick up on any one particular element of a diamond.

What Your Eye Perceives About the 4 C’s of a Diamond

A diamond is an organic whole. Diamonds were formed from carbon hundreds of feet below the earth’s surface, and the carbon that formed the diamonds was also subjected to intense pressure and heat. This pressure and heat subsequently caused crystallization.

The 4 C’s (Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat Weight) combine to determine the beauty and brilliance of the diamond. For this reason, the naked eye will have a challenging time differentiating between just one aspect such as the color or the clarity of the diamonds.

Therefore, instead of focusing on one element such as color, it’s better to judge a diamond’s beauty as a whole.

How Different Settings Can Mask a Diamond Color

The type of setting you choose can either mask or enhance the color of a diamond. For example, even white gold or platinum engagement ring settings can mask the diamond’s color somewhat.

From this example, we can see just how slight the variations are between the Color grades of D and J on a Round Brilliant diamond. Especially for Rounds, but also for other shapes, Color is a primarily relative characteristic.

In other words, an I-colored diamond truly only looks like an I-color when it’s placed next to a higher-colored diamond for comparison. In fact, comparison between two diamonds 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 and determine the Color.

Matching Center Diamond Color with Side Stones

Even for diamond experts, it’s difficult to assess a diamond’s Color simply by looking at the diamond in question. Unless your loved one will be carrying around a set of GIA Color Samples to constantly compare to their ring to, then you should worry little about Color.

Color grade does become relevant, though, if you’re purchasing an engagement ring with side diamonds, or perhaps a Three Stone Ring. We recommend that side (or accent) diamonds always either match the Color grade of the center stone, or are slightly darker to accent the higher Color grade of the center stone.

If you’re buying a classic solitaire engagement ring setting with no accent diamonds, use your budget in areas other than Color to avoid spending on a feature that you won’t derive benefit or beauty from.

Try Out Our Diamond Color Matching Game

At the bottom you’re presented with diamonds from D to K viewed on their side (the way graders grade color) and at the top you have a pool of those 8 diamonds but viewed face-up. Go ahead and try to match them up and see how well you can tell different color grades apart!

Are you considering paying more for a higher color diamond? Let's see if you can even tell the difference between these real diamond images of different colors!

Play Game

Drag and drop to match the colors. Score: 36

Do you have any unanswered questions about diamonds? <Click here> to ask.

Invite your friends to beat your score:

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What Color Diamond Should You Get?

Searching for the perfect diamond is all about finding the elements that most heavily influence the diamond’s beauty and brilliance.

In general, color isn’t the most important factor in a diamond. Choose the specific diamond shape you want first, then make sure you’re getting the best cut quality, as this will affect how brilliant the diamond looks once it’s set in a ring. Then, use the information above to choose the right color.

As long as you follow our guidelines below, there is no reason to overpay for color. Take a look at this I color diamond from Blue Nile compared to this G color. Once mounted, these diamonds will look identical color-wise. Without sacrificing any visual quality, you’re saving about 18% on the diamond.

The trick is to make sure the diamond looks white in relation to the setting. Here is a stunning K color Oval diamond in a yellow gold solitaire setting. Likewise, here is a stunning J color diamond in a rose gold solitaire setting.

Normally a J or K color could have a yellowish tint. However, since it’s contrasted to something darker (the yellow or rose gold) it appears clear and vibrant. On the other hand, here is a similar K color diamond in a halo setting. As you can see, the result is underwhelming.

In one case, the K graded colored diamond gives you fantastic value (allowing you to get a larger diamond for your budget with no negative impact on the diamond’s appearance). In the other instance, the result is an undesirable ring that will leave you disappointed.

Still not sure which color to choose? If you want to make sure you’re navigating the diamond buying minefield properly, feel free to contact us for personal help. Our experts are here to do all of the heavy lifting and bring you only the very best diamonds to choose from.

About the author
Mike learned the diamond business from the ground-up at Leo Schachter Diamonds - one of the world's top diamond manufacturers. He has been recognized as a diamond industry expert by Time, PeopleMoney, The Daily Mirror, NerdWallet, The Times Herald, Yahoo Finance Australia, The Art of Charm, The Washington Diplomat, The Next Web, and more. See more
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