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Diamond Color and Grade Buying Guide

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The Jewelry Hut
Jewelry and gems
The Buying Guide

Diamonds

Gem Body Color.

Color is one of the most important factors to consider when selecting a diamond because one of the first things most people notice is whether or not the diamond is white, or, more accurately, colorless.  It is also one of the most significant factors affecting value.
Color refer to the natural body color of a diamond.  The finest and most expensive, “white” diamonds are absolutely colorless. Most diamonds show some trace of yellowish or brownish tint, but diamonds also occur in every color of rainbow.  Natural colored diamonds are called “fancy” diamonds.

How to look at a diamond to evaluate color?

In white diamonds, color differences from one grade to the next can be very subtle, and a difference of several grades is difficult to see when a diamond is mounted.  Keep in mind that it is impossible to accurately grade color in a mounted diamond.  When looking at an un-mounted stone, however, even an amateur can learn to see color differences if the stone is viewed properly.
Because of diamond’s high brilliance and dispersion, the color grade can not be accurately determined by looking at the stone from the top, or face-up, position.  It is best to observe color by examining the stone through the pavilion with the table down.  Use a flat white surface such as a white business card, or a grading trough, which can be be purchased from a jewelry supplier or the Gemological Institute of America, GIA. Next, view the stone with the pavilion side down and the culet pointing toward you.

The Following figures sow the best way to view loose diamonds:

  • Place table side down and view the stone through the pavilion facets.

  • Table side down, view the stone through the plane of the girdle.

  • Place the pavilion down with the culet pointing toward you. View the stone through the girdle plane.

  • Place table down in a grading through and view the stone through the girdle plane.

  • Place pavilion down in a grading trough, with the culet pointing toward you. View the stone through the pavilion facets.

What is diamond body color?

When we discuss diamond body color we are referring too much yellow or brown tint can be seen in a white (colorless) diamond. We are not referring to rare natural colored diamonds, which are called “fancy” or “master Fancy” in the trade.
Today, most colorless diamonds in the United States and in an increasing number of other countries are graded in alphabetical scale beginning with the letter D, which designates the finest, rarest, most absolutely colorless diamond, and continuing down through the entire alphabet to the letter Z.  Each letter after D indicates increasing amounts of yellowish (or brownish) tint to the body color.  It’s easy to understand the color grade, if you just remember: the closer the letter is to D the Whiter the diamond; the closer the letter to is to Z, the more yellow (or more brown) the diamond.
This grading system, with its letter designations, is part of a diamond grading system introduced by the Gemological Institute of America, often referred to as GIA, and is used extensively in the diamond trade around the world. Grades E - F are exceptionally fine and diamonds in this range can be referred to as “colorless,” although technically, E and F are not colorless since they possess a very slight trace of yellow; the tint is so slight, however, that the trade agrees they may be referred to as colorless.

Colorless

D

E

F

Loose diamonds appear Colorless.

Near Colorless

G

H

I

J

When mounted in a setting, these diamonds may appear colorless to the untrained eye.

Faint Yellowish Tint

K

L

M

Smaller diamonds look colorless when mounted.  Diamonds of 1/2 carat or more show traces of color.

Very Light Yellowish Tint

N

O

P

Q

R

These diamonds show increasingly yellow tints to even the untrained eye, and appear very “off white.”

Tinted Light Yellowish

S

T

U

V

W

X

Y

Z

These diamonds show increasingly yellow tints to even the untrained eye, and appear very “off white.”

What color grade is most desirable?

The diamonds colors, D, E, and F can all be grouped as exceptionally fine and may be referred to as “colorless,” “exceptional white.” or “rare white” as they are often described by diamond dealers.  G and H may be referred to as “fine white” or “rare white.”  These grades are all considered very good. I and J colors are slightly tinted white.  K and L show a tint of yellow or brown, but settings can often mask the slight tint.  Grades M - Z will show progressively more and more tint of color, and will have a definite yellowish or brownish cast; diamonds with a strong yellowish tint are often referred to as cape stones in trade.
Diamond grades D - J seem to have better resale potential than grades K - Z. This does not mean that diamonds having a more tinted color (grades below J) are not beautiful or desirable.  They can make lovely jewelry and, depending upon other quality factors and “overall personality,” color.  Remember: color is important, but it’s only one of four factors you must learn to weigh as you judge the whole stone.

To what extent does the color grade affect value?

To an untrained eye, discerning the difference in color from D down to H in a mounted stone, without direct comparison, is almost impossible.  Nevertheless, the difference in color greatly affects the value of the diamond. A one carat, flawless, excellently proportioned D color diamond might sell for a much higher price than the same stone with H color.  The same stone with K color might sell for much less price.  And if the stone were not flawless, or well cut, it could sell for much less.
In diamonds over one carat, the more white the stone, the more critical it becomes to know the exact color grade of its effect on value. On the other hand, as long as you know for sure what color the stone is, and are paying the right price, choosing one that is a grade or two lower than another will reduce the cost per carat, and there will be little, if any, visible difference when the stone is mounted.  Therefore, for the difference in cost, you might be able to get a larger diamond, or one with a better clarity grade, depending upon what is most important to you.

What is Fluorescence?

If the diamond you are considering is accompanied by a diamond grading report, it will indicate whether or not the diamond has some degree of fluorescence. This is a property that some stones posses which causes them to appear to be different colors in different lights.  A diamond that fluoresces might light whiter than it really is in certain light.  This is one reason why the color of any fine diamond should always be verified by a qualified gemologist.
If a diamond fluoresces, it normally will produce a bluish, yellowish, or whitish glow when viewed in sunlight or daylight type fluorescent light ( those long tubes you see in the ceiling of many stores and office buildings).  To ensure that the true body color is being graded, a professional will always test for fluorescence with a special ultraviolet lamp prior to color grading.  Blue Fluorescence is more common than yellow or white.  Some white diamonds that produce a blue fluorescence may actually look “blue-white” in the right light. Normally, however, you will not really notice fluorescence with the naked eye
It is also important to know whether or not a diamond fluoresces to prevent any unpleasant surprises.  For example, if you buy a “fluorescent” diamond because it seems so “white” when you purchase it (resulting from exposure to fluorescent light in the jewelry store, which, except in the case of fluorescent stones, is the proper light for viewing diamond color), you might be disappointed by its yellower appearance in the evening light where the stone won’t fluoresce.
A white diamond can also fluoresce yellow, and look yellower than it really is.  But remember, whatever color is produced by fluorescence, it occurs only in the daylight or fluorescent light.

Does fluorescence affect value?

Generally, the presence or absence of fluorescence has little, if any effect on value. However, if the stone has a strong yellow fluorescence it may sell for 10% to 15% less, since this will make the stone appear yellower in some lights than another stone with the same color grade.
The presences of blur fluorescence may be considered an added benefit, a little bonus, since it may make the stone appear whiter in some lights; and yet there may be no difference in cost. You must be careful, however, to look closely at stones with very strong blue fluorescence, some will have an “oily” or “murky” appearance. If the stone appears murky or oily in daylight or fluorescent light, it should sell 15% to 20% less than comparable stones without the murky cast.
If a diamond fluoresces, its true body color can be mis-graded.  Knowledgeable jewelers or appraisers will always test a diamond to see whether or not it fluoresces, and to what degree, in order to color grade accurately.

What is a “Premier”?

At this point we should mention a type of fluorescent diamond that is not encountered often, but which occurs frequently enough to warrant a brief discussion. It is called a premier.  This does not mean the diamond is better than others. In fact, it should sell for much less than other white diamonds.
The true color of any premier diamond will be yellowish (cape), but the yellow color is masked by strong blue florescence. As with other diamonds that fluoresces blue, the premier will appear whiter than it really is in certain light. It may actually have a bluish tint, sometimes with a greenish cast. However, a premier will always have a murky or oily appearance in daylight or fluorescent light resulting from the coupling of the yellow with blue. The murkiness detracts from its beauty and causes a reduction in value.  The price of the premier varies depending on the degree of yellow and the degree of murkiness.
Do not confuse a premier diamond with one that exhibits normal blue fluorescence . Many diamonds exhibit some degree of fluorescence.  Many have a very fine white body color to begin with. But most important, they differ from premier because they will not appear oily or murky in day light type light.

Some plain talk about “fancy” colored diamonds

Diamonds have been found to occur naturally in almost every color and shade, blue, red, green, yellow, lavender, pink, gunmetal blue, coffee brown, and black.  The color can be intense or very pale.  Some colors are rarer than others.  The most common is often called “canary”, orange, and brown.  Such colors as pink, light green, and lavender occur much more rarely.  Deep blue, red, and green diamonds are among the rarest, and most valuable, gems on earth. Black diamonds are relatively common.  Most colored diamonds found in nature tend to be pastel.
Except for very pale yellow and very pale brown varieties, which are very common and not considered “fancies” but more properly, off white, colored diamonds often sell for more than fine colorless diamonds.  An extremely rare red diamond with very poor clarity that weighted less than one carat brought the highest price ever paid for a single gem, almost one million dollars per carat, at auction in 1987.  A fine pink or blue diamond can bring hundreds of thousands of dollars per carat.
Fancy colored diamonds occur naturally, but fancy colors can also be produced artificially by exposing very inexpensive brownish or yellowish stones to certain types of radiation and heating techniques.  Many unattractive, off white stones are changed in this manner to beautiful “fancy” colors.  Yellow, blue, and green diamonds are often the result of such treatment.
with the exception of some green diamonds, a stone’s color can be tested by a qualified gemologist or gem-testing laboratory using spectroscopic examination, electro-conductivity, and ultraviolet response to determine whether color is natural or induced.  Although the treated diamond may be comparable to the natural in beauty, if the color is induced, the price should be much less.
When buying any fancy colored diamond be sure to ask whether or not the color is natural, and be sure the bill of sale and any accompanying certification or appraisal specifies whether the color is natural or induced. Always verify natural color at a respected gem testing laboratory.

Special tips on the subject of color

  • Keep it clean of you want the color to look the best
    A dirty diamond will not look white (nor will it sparkle). An accumulation of dirt, especially greasy dirt, will give a diamond a yellow cast, so if you want to see and enjoy its full beauty, keep your diamond clean.
    This principle applies especially when you are looking at old jewelry for possible purchase. When considering old diamond pieces, pay particular attention to whether or not it is impacted with dirt accumulated by years of use. If it is, there is a possibility that the diamond will have a better color grade than it may appear to have at first glance. This is because the dirt may contain varying amounts of fatty deposits (from dishwashing, cosmetics, etc.), which yellow with age. When this type of dirt builds up, and is in contact with the diamond, it will also make the diamond appear more yellow.
  • White or Yellow gold setting
    The color of the metal in the setting can affect your perception of the color of your stone, sometimes adversely and sometimes beneficially.  A very white diamond should be held in a white metal such as white gold, platinum, or palladium.  If you prefer yellow gold, it’s possible to have just that portion of the setting which holds the diamond itself fashioned in white metal. For example, a diamond ring can be made with a yellow gold “shank” to go around the finger, and white metal “head” to hold the diamond.  An all yellow setting may make a very white diamond appear less white because the yellow color of the setting itself is reflected into the diamond.
    On other hand, if the diamond you choose tends to be more yellow than you’d like, mounting it in yellow gold , with yellow surrounding the stone, may make the stone appear more white in contrast to the strong yellow of the gold.
    The yellow gold environment may mask the degree of yellow in a yellow diamond, or it may give a colorless diamond an undesirable yellow tint. The setting can also affect future color grading should you ever need an updated insurance appraisal.

Customer Satisfaction is of paramount important to The Jewelry Hut.

Buy with confidence at The Jewelry Hut.

 

To Web Masters:

The article above can be used on your web site or newsletter.

When it is published, May I request that you include my name and resource box (the bio., contact and copyright information that follows the article.  I would also appreciate if you could send me an e-mail of notification along with a complimentary copy of publication.

Bijan Aziz is the owner and Web Master for The Jewelry Hut.

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