Diamond Color Chart & Buying Guide: Understand Grade Scale

By Michael Fried

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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 are 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 J 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.

If you’re currently in the market, take advantage of James Allen’s ongoing 25% off (the setting) holiday sale before it goes away! 

If you want to make sure you are navigating the diamond buying minefield properly, feel free to contact us for personal help.

When looking for diamonds to purchase, the diamond color is an aspect of the buying process that should not be overlooked. While it’s not necessary to know every detail about diamond color, having a foundational knowledge of diamond color and the diamond color chart helps prevent overspending on diamonds that may not offer you much in the area of additional beauty or value.

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 as desirable.

When slight coloring is present, less natural color of the light is reflected back to the eye. The more colorless a white 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
  • The setting of the ring can play a role in the perception and view of the color

When shopping for diamonds, knowing more about diamond color will help you better understand the quality of what you are looking at and will help you understand exactly how different types of diamonds are valued and priced so that you can get the best value.

Diamond Color Scale 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.

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

Colorless

D is the highest color grade, meaning it has nearly no color. Under magnification and to the naked eye, it appears colorless. E and F ratings look almost identical to the naked eye, and only an expert gemologist is able to note the differences between D, E, and F grades.

D-F diamonds are usually set in platinum or white gold, as yellow gold and other jewelry settings detract from the diamond’s uncolored beauty.

Nearly Colorless


G-J color grades exhibit nearly no color and appear primarily colorless to the naked eye. While some tints of color exist, these diamonds should still be set in platinum or white gold to reduce any effects of color reflection from yellow gold.

Less rare than D-F diamonds, G-J diamonds are found at a lower price point. Within this nearly colorless range, price tends to reduce by 10-15% per grade and may make no noticeable difference to the naked eye.

Faint Tint

K-M diamonds show a slight yellow tint even to the naked eye. Some prefer these warmer colors set in a beautiful yellow gold setting.

Because of their slightly perceivable color, diamonds of this range are often found for 50% less than those of the G-J range.

Very Light TintDue to their noticeable yellow or brown tinting, N-R diamonds are available at a much lower price point.

We do not recommend diamonds of an N-R grade.

Light TintDiamonds 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.

Diamond Clarity

Diamond clarity is simply referring to the absence of any inclusions or blemishes. If you are looking at round diamonds, then the inclusions may not be as noticeable which means the clarity isn’t going to be as important as the color grade of the diamond will be. For example, a cushion cut diamond will retain more of its color making the color grade of pivotal importance in the selection process.

Diamond Color Buying Tips

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 or Side-stone Settings

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

All Other Diamond Shapes: F-H Grades.

Halo Settings

All Diamond Shapes: F-H Grades.

Understanding the Color Scale of White Diamonds

While some diamond dealers claim Color is the second most important characteristic of a diamond’s beauty and quality, this statement is nothing less than a well-refined sales tactic. We share this important pointer with you so you don’t spend your money in an area that offers no additional beauty or value to you.

To be sure, Diamond Color does play a role in the aesthetics and brilliance of a diamond, but the differences between the Color grading scale are usually small or completely unnoticeable to the naked eye. For example, the color differences between diamonds ranging from the G-J grades are hardly perceivable to anyone outside of experts with magnification tools.

You may have thought it wise to purchase a diamond in the highest possible Color Grade. But with our years of experience looking at thousands of diamonds, we know your money can be better spent in other areas such as a diamond’s Cut Quality.

The Difference Between Adjacent Diamond Color Grades

James Allen says it well in their article about Diamond Color, stating:

“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.”

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.

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?

(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.

The combination of the 4 C’s provides the overall radiance and appeal of a diamond. Your eye does not perceive one aspect individually—it notices the entire collaboration of the 4 C’s.

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

Ranking Color Importance by Diamond Shape

To assist in the process of comparing diamonds based on their color, it’s best to review color recommendations by Diamond Shape.

Because of the unique structure of each shape, color plays a varying degree of importance in its overall aesthetic appeal. The different facet arrangements can also greatly impact how much light is captured inside the diamond (instead of reflecting back to the eye).

On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being the least important and 10 being the most important), we rate the significance of color in these Diamond Shapes:

Round: 3
Princess: 5
Emerald & Asscher: 6
Oval, Marquise, Pear, Heart: 7
Radiant, Cushion: 8

What Round Diamond Buyers Need to Remember

As the leading diamond shape in terms of popularity, the Round Brilliant Cut represents over two thirds of the diamonds sold.

When shopping for Round Cut Diamonds, Color plays a small role in the attractiveness of the diamond. For instance, if you show a Round Cut Diamond to nearly anyone (except for diamond sellers and gemologists), an I or even a J colored diamond will appear colorless to them.

And this is in regard to the loose diamonds only. If you’re placing the diamond in a yellow gold setting, you can easily go down a few notches to a K, L, or even an M Color. The diamond will still look bright and uncolored to viewers.

Its never easy juggling all the different qualities and characteristics you need to look out for. If you want more personal help, feel free to contact us. We’ll be happy to help you find the right diamond and avoid any issues.

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.

How Fluorescence Interacts With Diamond Color

One additional aspect to consider is Fluorescence and how it interacts with a diamond’s color. Fluorescence refers to how a diamond responds when subjected to ultraviolet light. UV light is what makes your whites look whiter, your teeth seem bright white, and your black-light posters glow.

Strong or Medium Blue Fluorescence will generally dull the brilliance of a colorless diamond, but will often make a lower Color graded diamond appear whiter. For grades D-F, and even G, it’s best to avoid Strong Fluorescence.

If you’re looking for a stunning diamond at a lower price point, look for a J or a K color with Strong Blue Fluorescence.

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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Conclusion

When searching for the perfect diamond, it’s all about finding the elements that most heavily influence the diamond’s beauty and brilliance.

Once you’ve selected your Diamond Shape and Cut, aspects like Color can be brought into consideration. As we warn in this article, be sure that Color does not take a front seat to your diamond purchasing decision.

If you want to make sure you’re navigating the diamond buying minefield properly, contact us for personal help. We’ll 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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