Understanding Diamond colours
The terminology around diamonds can be confusing (F, IF, VVS, VS, I, P) colours represented by letters (D, E, F etc. This can lead to confusion and in some cases people not understanding what they are buying and therefore leaving themselves open to getting a bad deal. Conversely as the old saying goes "knowledge is power but a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing" here at R D Brown and Sons we are trying to take some of the confusion away, give you more power and understanding which will lead to a more informed and comfortable purchase (be that from us or somewhere else).
On this page I will try to give you more information (power) about diamond colours. What to look for and what to be careful of. I am not going to cover all the colour grades but will cover D, K and M which will hopefully give you some basic information about the colour ranges.
Many different colours of diamond are produced. The classic diamond colour we all know is described as white, but yellow, brown, blue, green, red, and even black can be found.
Colour is one of the most important aspects of both value and appeal of any gemstone, and diamond is no different. For a diamond, the colour D is the most desirable, and usually most expensive.
A diamond classified as colour D is actually the whitest colour on the scale. Before the 4Cs of colour, clarity, cut and weight was standardized, the colour was often classed as A, AA, AAA or higher. A decision was made to start the standard scale at D to avoid confusion with old grading standards.
Of course, when we talk about “white” as the colour for any gemstone, we mean “clear”. There are actually very few truly white stones, and so the term is applied to stones without any colour.
All it takes for a diamond to not be white is microscopic traces of elements other than carbon, of which diamond is made. Nitrogen is the most common trace element, which produces a yellow tone. A D colour diamond has no visible colour, even under 10x magnification.
HOW MUCH DOES A D COLOR DIAMOND COST?
Assuming the gradings for clarity and cut show the diamond to be the highest possible quality, carat weight becomes all important. A 1 carat D colour diamond of excellent clarity and cut will cost in the region of £10,000 – £15,000. A 2 carat diamond of the same quality, though, is likely to cost somewhere around £50,000.
The reason for the huge leap in value is that large diamonds of such high quality are extremely rare. Once you get past 2 carats the price graph shows a very sharp incline. By the time you reach 5 carats, a perfect D colour diamond can cost £180,000 or more.
FAMOUS D COLOR DIAMONDS
THE ELIZABETH TAYLOR DIAMOND
Richard Burton presented Elizabeth Taylor with a ring bearing a D colour, Ascher cut, IF, 33-carat diamond in 1968. Known as the Krupp Diamond, the original purchase price is unknown, but it sold at auction in 2011 in America for $8.8m. This is a per carat price of $266,000. This ring is one of the most famous engagement rings in history.
MARIAH CAREY ENGAGEMENT RING
Carey’s engagement ring from media mogul James Packer has a 35-carat, D colour diamond. The clarity is unknown, but such large diamonds are rarely anywhere near flawless. The fact that such a large diamond could be D colour makes it an exceptionally rare ring.
KIM KARDASHIAN ENGAGEMENT RING
When Kanye West proposed to Kim Kardashian, he did so with an extremely rare, 15-carat, cushion cut, Flawless, D colour diamond ring. Estimates put the cost at around £3 million. The publicity around this ring makes it one of the most important engagement rings in modern history.
H colour diamonds generally come under the heading of near-colourless. They don’t match the non-colour standards of D, E or F diamonds, but it’s unlikely all but an expert eye would see even a hint of colour. Learn everything that you need to know about H Colour diamonds.
They are probably the ultimate compromise between quality and cost. By not being colourless, the price drops quite sharply, but they will look colourless in almost any setting.
WHAT ARE H COLOR DIAMONDS?
Technically, H colour diamonds are not colourless. They have a trace of colour, usually yellow, which has an effect on pricing if not much else. H diamonds can retail for up to 40% less than a D colour diamond, despite looking identical to the naked eye.
You would need to compare the two side by side in order to be able to tell the difference. That’s what diamond dealers do, actually. They use graded sample diamonds to asses the colour of one yet to be given a colour. In theory, an H colour diamond could be less yellow than the sample H colour but, because it has more colour than the G sample stone, it will have the H rating.
Diamond colour, in almost all circumstances, until you get towards the bottom of the chart will look similar. Without controlled lighting in an equally controlled environment, anything from D-colour to I-colour or possibly even J-colour will look colourless. So why do we bother with so many colours on the chart? Why not just have three grades of colourless, faint colour and light colour?
Part of the reason is simply that quality does matter. It also helps with pricing the various diamonds, as it would not be desirable to have a truly colourless diamond priced the same as what we know as H colour.
THE OTHER 3 CS
Colour is generally unaffected by the other 3Cs, and vice versa. Cut and clarity do have a relationship of sorts. A poorly cut diamond can fail to eliminate flaws and inclusions in the original rough stone. Colour, though, like the carat weight, are really standalone classifications. The only time weight becomes a factor is with larger stones. The price curve of diamonds isn’t constant. Where a 1ct D colour diamond might be 30-40% more expensive than an H colour, a 3ct stone might be 60-70% more expensive.
Large diamonds are very rare, and large D colour diamonds exceedingly so. Large H colour diamonds, whilst rare enough to make a difference, don’t get anywhere near the price of the best colours.
H colour diamonds, as we mentioned above, are an excellent compromise buy in the best possible sense. You won’t pay anywhere near the price of D or E colour stones, and yet the colour difference is very small. So small as to not matter in most cases.
If I or J colour stones are just starting to get a little too yellow for your taste, or for your desired setting, then H can be a big leap forward.
The diamond industry can be a little confusing, at times, and the M colour diamond is no exception. Dealers will insist that the whiter a diamond is, the better it is. Although that may be absolutely correct, in a technical sense, “better” is a very subjective word. For something which varies enormously in colour and size from example to example, what is better for one person may be not so good for another.
Diamonds usually have a value based upon four things; colour, cut, clarity and weight. Each will affect the final purchase price in some way, and one or more are often subject to compromise, in order to make the stone more affordable. For example, the clarity grade can be lower without losing much, if any, sparkle from the stone. Similarly, although diamond colour ranges from D to Z, anything up to and including H or I colour will appear absolutely colourless in most circumstances. The M colour diamond falls a little whiter than the very center of the chart.
UNDERSTANDING OVERALL DIAMOND COLOUR
Diamond colour is affected by how many, or how few, impurities are present in the polished stone. Also, the final colour of the diamond will depend on which impurities they contain. Diamonds can occur in many colours, from colourless (white) to red, blue and even black. By far the most common non-white colour is yellow. Unlike other colours, which are almost always in pretty vivid tones, yellow colour can be anything from virtually invisible to very noticeable. This is why the GIA colour scale only includes white to light yellow in the grades.
As mentioned above, the colour of a diamond may not be as clear cut (pun intended) as it first appears. With clarity, cut and weight, they can all be measured reasonably objectively, certainly with weight and cut. Clarity requires some subjectivity from the appraiser, but the grading scale still contains definite steps to determine the given clarity. Colour grade, on the other hand, is entirely dependent on the eye of the appraiser. The scale does define colour very clearly from colourless (grade D) to light yellow (grade Z). However, it is up to the appraiser to determine how much colour is actually present. What one gemmologist will grade to be a particular colour, another may grade higher or lower.
DIAMOND COLOR AND PRICE
As you might expect, the whiter the diamond, the more expensive it is likely to be if all other aspects are equal. As we get further up the letters within the scale, the price will drop quite quickly. The GIA colour grading scale doesn’t take into account what is known as fancy coloured diamonds.
These diamonds have vivid colours, rather than a faint hint of colour in an otherwise colourless stone. It also means they are often hugely expensive, due to their extreme rarity. The best white diamond, for example, won’t come close to its equivalent in fancy red colour. As rare as that white diamond will be, it is most abundant in comparison.
The M colour diamond however is not a fancy colour, but will begin showing signs of visible yellow.
WHAT IS M COLOR?
To the untrained eye, any diamond down to I colour, sometimes even J colour will appear colourless. Only in certain light conditions will a hint of yellow be visible. By the time we get to M colour, there is a definite yellowish appearance to the stones.
So should we just write them off? Absolutely not!
It is true that choosing an M colour diamond does require a little extra thought over a colourless example, but the advantages can be huge. Size, metal type and even the cut of the diamond can make a big difference to the appearance of an M colour diamond.
CHOOSING A CUT
Diamonds with faint colour can lack a little of the “pure” sparkle we see in colourless stones. But they make up for it with stunning fire and have no shortage of brilliance. Too often, we are told that only colourless diamonds have sufficient brilliance, but this is simply not true. The brilliance from an M colour diamond is slightly different than that produced by a D colour, but that’s all. It is different, not “less”, or “worse”.
M colour suits a modern round brilliant cut better than other cuts. Others will expose the colour in a way which may not be totally satisfying. The depth of a modern round brilliant allows the colour to just sing in the right setting.
THE PROS AND CONS OF M COLOR DIAMONDS
The most obvious upside to an M colour diamond is the price. Even between equivalent quality D and E colours, we can see a difference of hundreds of pounds in the value. By the time we get to M colour, assuming it is perfect cut and clarity, it will be a fraction of the price.
As an example, a 2ct, D colour, VVS1 clarity, round cut diamond can cost anything between £45,000 and £65,000. An M colour of the same size and quality will usually cost less than £11,000 – £15,000. It brings large diamonds into a price range which is much more affordable for many buyers.
Aside from the stronger yellow colour, the downsides aren’t that significant, actually. The M colour is a desirable and beautiful stone.