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Fancy Color Diamonds: Guide to 4 C’s, Quality, Grade and Price

By Mike Fried,

Fancy colored diamonds refer to any diamond that has a hue other than white. While white diamonds are graded on a color scale from colorless (D) down to pale yellow (Z), fancy colors are graded based on the saturation of a specific hue. The most common fancy color diamonds are yellow, while the rarest color is red.

While the more common fancy yellow diamonds are priced in the same range as white diamonds (or a bit more), rare colors such as pink, red, blue, etc. can cost millions of dollars per carat if they have a vibrant color. These diamonds are incredibly rare, gorgeous, and in strong demand for luxury jewelry pieces or investment purposes.

Fancy colored diamond rings from Abe Mor
Fancy colored diamond rings from Abe Mor
To help you with the diamond buying process we lean on our expertise and experience. The author of this article, our CEO, Mike Fried has over 20 years of experience in the diamond industry. Mike started from the bottom, sorting and evaluating hundreds of thousands of diamonds to learn every facet (pun intended) of diamond quality and value. Mike followed that up by spending years buying and selling diamonds on the wholesale market as well as selling tens of millions of dollars worth of diamonds to diamond retailers.

What we cover in this article:

What are fancy color diamonds?
Natural vs. treated fancy color diamonds
The four Cs of fancy color
How are fancy diamond colors graded?
How to buy fancy color diamonds
Where to purchase fancy colored diamonds

Or read more on a specific color diamond:

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What are Fancy-Colored Diamonds?

First off, let’s start with the basics. Most of you probably already know that there is a scale of diamond color from D to Z.  D, of course, is the best diamond color while Z is heavily tinted with yellow.

But all along that scale from D to Z, the discussion is still about what are categorized as “white diamonds.”  A Z color diamond is a heavily yellow tinted white diamond.

The world of diamonds, though, is not limited to this scale.  Diamonds falling off this scale are commonly called “Fancy Color Diamonds” or “Fancy Diamonds.”

Which Diamonds Are Considered “Fancy Color Diamonds”?

Diamonds can either fall off this scale because they’re tinted with a shade other than yellow, or because the yellow color inside the diamond is so strong that the diamond is no longer considered a tinted white diamond, but rather a full fledged yellow diamond.

Diamonds can come in a variety of colors.  The chart below (from Page 12 of “Forever Brilliant: The Aurora Collection of Colored Diamonds”) is an excellent graphical display of the variety of colors in which diamonds can be found.

Chart of Fancy Color Diamonds

Each of the major colors has a different level of rareness (and of course the price level reflects that rarity).

While color is generally considered a negative quality in white diamonds, a strong color can become an asset for a fancy color diamond. As the GIA explains:

“Diamonds in the D-to-Z range usually decrease in value as the color becomes more obvious. Just the opposite happens with fancy color diamonds: Their value generally increases with the strength and purity of the color. Large, vivid fancy color diamonds are extremely rare and very valuable. However, many fancy diamond colors are muted rather than pure and strong.” Gemological Institute of America (GIA)

Natural Fancy Color Diamonds vs. Treated Color Diamonds

An important distinction must be made here before we continue with our introduction of fancy color diamonds.  When shopping for fancy color diamonds, it’s crucial that you buy from a reputable dealer and verify that the diamond you are interested in is a natural fancy color diamond.

One of the most common lab treatments performed on diamonds is taking cheap brown-colored diamonds and treating them with high pressure and high temperature in order to change their color to a wide variety of copies of natural fancy diamond colors. Other techniques include irradiation (exposing a diamond to high-energy electron saturation) and annealing (low-pressure heat treating).

If you do buy these diamonds, know that they are much cheaper than natural fancy colors precisely because they are created from the cheapest of the cheap diamonds.

Telling the Difference Between Natural and Treated Fancy Color Diamonds

It’s fairly easy to tell the difference between a natural fancy color diamond and a treated colored diamond.  The saturation of color in the treated diamonds is so strong that most of them look like semi-precious colored gems.

The Four Cs of Fancy Color Diamonds

Buyers of white diamonds are always taught that the most important of the “Four Cs” is the diamond cut (as I do on this site).

The reason is simple – white diamonds are treasured precisely because of their radiance and fiery brilliance and it is the diamond’s cut quality that determines, more than any other factor, just how brilliant the diamond is.

The Exception of Fancy Color Diamonds

It’s not so with Fancy Color Diamonds.  In the Fancy Color market, only one thing matters – the quality of the diamond’s color.

So, in reality, cut is important for Fancy Colors.  But it is the cut that brings out the stone’s color that matters, not the cut that maximizes symmetry and light return.  And most often, these two approaches are diametrically opposed.

Flipping through the book “Forever Brilliant: The Aurora Collection of Colored Diamonds,” one sees many diamonds with cuts that would simply be unsaleable on a regular white diamond.  One finds oodles of open culets, an abundance of asymmetry, and loads of large tables.

Considering Clarity

The same is true for diamond clarity. For a white diamond, one should be very careful to only buy a diamond whose inclusions are clean to the naked eye.

Take a look at these stones that are a part of the “Aurora Collection” as referenced in the above mentioned book.  Keep in mind that the Aurora is one of the most prestigious collections of fancy color diamonds in the world.

If any of these stones were white, I wouldn’t be able to recommend purchasing it.

Inclusions on Fancy Color Diamonds

As you can see in these pictures, the stones are still quite beautiful – the inclusions don’t really detract from the beauty of the diamond’s color. These would be low quality and very cheap indeed had they been white diamonds.

The Cost of Fancy Color Diamonds

Of course, the “fifth C” – Cost – is also completely different between white and fancy color diamonds.  As I explain in my article about Diamond Pricing, regular white certified diamond prices are all grounded in the Rapaport price list.

What this means is that for white diamonds, the underlying fundamental basis for a diamond’s price is universally agreed upon between buyers and sellers.  All that is negotiated is the percent discount below (or in rare occasions, above) the Rapaport list price.

Such is not the case with fancy color diamonds.  There is no price list. Prices are established the old fashioned way – through a fluid market reaching an equilibrium between buyers and sellers.

Understanding the Difference Between the Fancy Color and White Diamond Markets

Because of this difference, many people with little to no real diamond knowledge have entered the white diamond market in the past 10 years – many of them quite successfully.

After all, when the spread between buying and selling is simply a matter of a few percentage points, and prices are relatively stable and fixed, it’s not hard to learn at what price to buy and at what price to sell.

But throw a novice into the fancy color diamond market, and he’ll get killed in a matter of days.  Each stone has its own value that is determined by so many factors (shape, certified color, actual color, modifying colors, size, clarity, etc) that pricing fancy colors is more of an art form than anything else.

Choose Verified Expertise

It follows, then, that it is crucial that you make sure to buy your fancy color diamond from a company with a verified expertise in the fancy color market – otherwise, you are sure to pay far more for your diamond than you should.

How is Diamond Fancy Color Graded?

Universe of Diamond Colors

Fancy diamond color is graded along three different axes.  They are hue (the actual color  – i.e., red, blue, green, or anything in between), tone (the relative lightness or darkness of the color), and saturation (how strong or weak the color is).

Hue is most often described as a combination of two or more colors.  When the first color is listed in an adjective form and the second color in a noun form (ie, Orangy Yellow), the first color is the modifying color and the second color is the primary color.

Fancy Color Diamond Hues

In this example, the stone is primarily yellow with a slight orangy tint. Occasionally, color is a 50/50 split between two hues.  In such a case, the color will be listed as two nouns (ie, Orange Yellow).

Stones with pure colors without any modifiers are generally considered more rare and therefore more valuable.  According the the GIA, there are only four publicly known pure Fancy Red (without any modifying colors) diamonds in existence in the world.

People often mistakenly believe that there is one axis of color strength in which fancy color is graded – Fancy Light, Fancy, Fancy Intense, and Fancy Vivid.  This is a very simplistic way to view things, and is mostly true only in reference to Yellow Diamonds.

Universe of Diamond Color (In Color)

The Universe of Fancy Diamond Color

The charts presented here graphically represent the entire universe of fancy diamond color.

The North-South Pole represents Tone.  Going around the circumference of this globe represents changes in Hue.

And finally, distance from the center of the globe represents the color’s saturation.

Fancy Light, Fancy, Fancy Intense and Fancy Vivid

Fancy Light implies a stone with both weak saturation and a light tone. Fancy implies a stone with either a slightly darker tone, or a slightly stronger saturation, and perhaps both.

For colors that are best displayed in a lighter tone (ie, colors that are generally “brighter”) such as yellow, and pink, Fancy Intense implies a relatively lighter tone with a significantly stronger saturation.

Fancy Vivid also implies a relatively ligher tone, yet coupled with the strongest possible saturation.  For “darker” colors such as blue, Fancy Vivid can only refer to diamond with a fully saturated darker blue.

Fancy Deep and Fancy Red

With other hues, lighter or darker tones take on completely new names.  In general, the darkest tone of a color will full saturation is usually called “Fancy Deep.”

When Fancy Deep Pink gets just a bit more dark and a bit more saturated, it becomes Fancy Red.  Darker yellows become modified with the “Brown” hue, and darker Blue or Green often becomes “Grayish.”

How to Buy Fancy Color Diamonds

In the not too distant past, people looking to buy fancy color diamonds really only had one way to buy them.  Until recently, these precious and rare diamonds were sold only through the highest end retailers throughout the world.  Tiffany and Graff are but to name a few.

The problem with these high-end stores, as is the problem with most bricks-and-mortar jewelry stores of the classic mold, is that their profit margins much be exceptionally high in order to offset their very high cost of maintaining a very expensive inventory.

All of this is discussed in my article about James Allen & Blue Nile.

Discovering Fancy Color Prices

But with fancy colors, it’s even worse.  You see, with white diamonds, all it takes is a quick internet search to quickly discover what a competitive price is for any given carat weight, color and clarity.  Not so with Fancy Colors.

With the exception, perhaps, of fancy yellow diamonds, every fancy color diamond is completely unique.  So it’s very difficult to compare prices between different stones.

But furthermore, and this is the crucial point, there is very little competition in the fancy color diamond market.  For ever 100 wholesale white diamond vendors, there might be 1 or 2 wholesale fancy diamond vendors.

Lack of Competition

For every 1,000 retail white diamond stores, there might be 1 or 2 stores that carry fancy color diamonds. So this utter lack of competition and basis of comparison of prices leads most dealers of fancy color diamonds to greatly inflate their prices.

It is therefore of utmost importance that you do your due diligence thoroughly about whatever source you plan on buying a fancy color diamond from.

Online Stores Selling Fancy Diamonds

Nowadays, however, the fancy color diamond buyer has a bit of an easier time.  In the last few years, there have arisen a small number of online stores selling fancy colors.

Most of them are run by reputable wholesale operations that specialize exclusively in fancy color diamonds.   Most of these, unfortunately, fall short of what you’d like to see from a full service online diamond vendor.

There are two exceptions, though: Leibish & Co., and James Allen, which along with introducing their new “Diamond Display Technology,” introduced a robust line of Fancy Color Diamonds.

Diamond Display Technology

This technology allows a view of the stone that is truly unparalleled.  In many ways, it’s even better than seeing the diamond in person.

The Best Places to Buy Fancy Colored Diamonds

Leibish & Co

Leibish Polnauer is one of these colorful (pun intended) figures that everyone in the Diamond industry knows and loves. Leibish & Co. is one of the most highly respected fancy color dealers in the world.

Leibish is the guy everyone calls when they need a hard to find fancy color diamond at a great price. But not only is Leibish & Co. well known and respected throughout the diamond market.

They are one of the primary suppliers of some of the largest and biggest names in the high-end luxury retail world.  Additionally, they supply most of the wholesale color diamonds dealers in the world.  Leibish & Co. is as high up on the supply ladder you can go in the fancy color diamond market.

Leibish & Co. Venturing Online

A number of years ago, they launched their website with the intent on it being a convenient way for their wholesale clients (retail stores, other dealers, major collectors, etc) to peruse their inventory.

Suddenly, the response from regular clients was overwhelming, so they decided to open their site to the public.  As they say, the rest is history. Leibish & Co has simply become the premier site on the internet for buying fancy color diamonds.

The beauty of Leibish is that they do not discriminate between their wholesale and retail clients.  Everyone receives the same price.  So when you shop at Leibish & Co, you get a full service retail experience, yet you get the absolute lowest prices on fancy color diamonds in the world.

James Allen

James Allen is the leading online diamond jeweler overall.  Since starting this website in the Summer of 2009, we have literally helped thousands of readers happily buy their engagement rings from them.

So when they announced in the beginning of 2013 that they would be adding Fancy Color Diamonds to their inventory, we were thrilled to be able to offer another source to our readers looking for Fancy colors.

Limited Supply of Fancy Color Diamonds

One of the main problems facing Fancy Color buyers is that supply is so limited, it’s often rather difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for.

James Allen, with their huge vendor base is able to offer an inventory of Fancy Colors that nobody can compete with.  Plus, because they’re not invested in their own inventory, they are able to offer their fancy colors at truly bargain prices.

Any buyer of fancy colors would be crazy not to check out both of these vendors before making a decision.

Leibish & Co Leibish & Co is the industry leader in the world of Fancy Color Diamonds. Their inventory size and prices are the best in the business, and their expertise in this highly specialized field will ensure that your diamond is set in a way to maximize its color.
What we love about them:
  • Largest and best inventory of fancy color diamonds
  • Best prices for fancy color diamonds
  • Industry leading expertise will ensure the color of your diamond is maximized in its setting
  • Leading bidders in the annual Argyle auction
  • Highest quality jewelry available online
  • Free shipping
  • Free resizing within first 2 years of purchase
  • Items comes with professional appraisal for insurance
  • 30 day no questions asked free return policy
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About the author

Mike Fried Mike Fried Mike Fried has over 25 years experience in the diamond industry working with Leo Schachter Diamonds, Moshe Namdar Diamonds, and joining The Diamond Pro in 2007. He is recognized as an industry expert and has been quoted in publications such as Us, People, Page Six, The Next Web and more.

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