Complete Guide to Diamond Color

Written by: Benjamin Khordipour, Jewelry and Gemology Expert
July 11, 2022 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

One of the four Cs that determine a diamond’s quality is “diamond color”. To most people, every natural diamond is colorless and has a beautiful spark. However, this actually isn’t the case. Many diamonds feature a yellow tint that affects their appearance and, consequently, the price. 

In this complete guide to diamond color, we’ve covered everything you should know, including tips on buying the right one. 

Interested in a particular diamond color grading? Here are our complete individual guides for each color:

D Color | E Color | F Color | G Color | H Color | I Color | J Color | K Color | L Color | M Color

What Is Diamond Color? 

loose round brilliant diamond on tweezers against black satin cloth

Diamond color describes how clear a diamond is using a carefully designed scale. Many people assume the scale is used only for fancy-colored diamonds. Logically, the stronger the color, the more valuable a diamond is. However, this isn’t the case with “white” diamonds. 

Although it’s often assumed that all white diamonds are completely clear, this isn’t true. A diamond may look transparent to most people, but experts know each diamond has a unique color. How is this possible? Namely, natural diamonds come from the ground. They contain traces of different elements that determine their appearance. The more obvious these traces are, the less value a diamond will have. 

A diamond’s color is related to its rarity. Colorless diamonds are extremely rare, while tinted ones are much more common. 

Complete Guide to Diamond Color!
Click here for everything you need to know about diamond color!

Diamond Color Charts 

Diamond color scale graph d color to z color

As mentioned, a diamond’s color represents the degree of its “yellowness.” Colorless diamonds won’t have any yellow or brown tint, and they look completely transparent. As the scale progresses, this yellowish tint becomes more and more visible. 

The color differences can be quite subtle and impossible to determine by anyone except diamond experts. Most people can’t notice the yellow tint until the K or L color grade. Although the differences are slight, they have a major impact on a diamond’s price and quality. Diamonds belonging to the D-J category cost significantly more than those on the other end. 

Diamond Color Scale 

diamond color categories by groups graph

Since a diamond’s color can greatly affect its appearance and price, it’s essential to learn more about how this is determined. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is one of the most renowned diamond-grading entities, and it has developed a unique diamond color scale ranging from D to Z. The D grade represents colorless diamonds, while the Z grade is used for diamonds with a noticeable tint. 

Some may wonder why this chart starts with the letter D. This is because various color-grading systems were used before the GIA introduced this one in the 1950s. Some included letters A, B, and C, while others involved numbers. To avoid confusion and “start fresh,” GIA began its color scale with a letter that wasn’t included in other systems. 

The GIA color scale is comprised of 23 different color grades that fall into five categories. Here’s an overview of each of them: 

Colorless Diamonds

Colorless diamonds are labeled with a D, E, or F grade. Such diamonds don’t feature any unwanted yellow or brown hue and look completely transparent. The differences between the three color grades are so subtle that only diamond experts can determine them under specific conditions. All three color grades are very rare and fetch similar prices. 

In terms of setting, colorless diamonds could look beautiful in both colder and warmer tones. Most people prefer them set in white gold or platinum because such metals emphasize their transparency. However, they can look just as good in yellow or rose gold. 

D Color Diamond 

25358 Bellmore D color cushion cut 4.75 carat diamond Ring
4.75 Carat D Color Diamond Bellmore Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry. SKU 25358

The D color grade represents the highest and rarest color grade. D color diamonds look colorless both under magnification and to the naked eye. 

You’ll often see such diamonds set in white gold or platinum. Since they have no yellow tint, such metals highlight the absence of color. D color diamonds are very rare, which is why they are much more expensive than diamonds with lower color grades. 

E Color Diamond 

5.92 Carat E Color Diamond Tiffany Ring with tapered baguette accent stones KAV532
5.92 Carat E Color Diamond Tiffany Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry. SKU KAV532

E color diamonds also fall into the colorless category. They seem identical to D color diamonds, and the subtle difference can’t be noticed unless examined under magnification. 

Like D color diamonds, diamonds with an E color grade are typically set in white gold or platinum for the best effect. Although they are more affordable than D color diamonds, they are still quite expensive, especially when compared to diamonds on the other end of the color scale. 

F Color Diamond 

14811 2.33 Carat solitaire Tiffany Ring
2.33 Carat F Color Diamond Tiffany Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry. SKUU 14811

F color diamonds are also considered colorless, and only diamond experts can see the difference between these and diamonds with a D or E color grade. 

Diamonds with an F color grade are the last in the colorless range. However, just because they’re last doesn’t mean they aren’t high-quality. Any colorless diamond is very rare and won’t have visible color distractions. Like other diamonds in this range, F color diamonds also feature a hefty price tag. 

Near Colorless Diamonds 

Near colorless diamonds feature a slight tint that’s difficult to see without magnification. There are four color grades within this category: G, H, I, and J, and the presence of a colored tint becomes more noticeable as the scale progresses. 

Many people choose diamonds from this color category because they are much more affordable than colorless diamonds and offer the same aesthetic effect. Typically, only diamond experts can distinguish colorless from near colorless diamonds. This enables customers to purchase a lower-graded diamond without compromising on its appearance. 

Even within the category, the prices can vary greatly. A J-color diamond can be much less expensive than a G-color one. However, the visual appearance can also be much more noticeable. Fortunately, the right setting can hide the difference. 

G Color Diamond 

SB2552 5.14 Carat G Color Tiffany Ring
5.14 Carat G Color Tiffany Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry. SKU SB2552

G color diamonds are the highest-graded diamonds in the near-colorless range. This means such diamonds feature slight tints of color. However, these tints are usually not visible to the naked eye. In most cases, diamonds with a G color grade will look identical to colorless diamonds to those who aren’t diamond experts. 

Like colorless diamonds, G color diamonds should be set in platinum or white gold for maximum effect. In terms of price, these diamonds are more affordable than the colorless ones but are still on the pricey side. 

H Color Diamond 

5.09 Carat Brilliant Cut Diamond Engagement Ring SPK101
5.09 Carat H Color Brilliant Cut Diamond Engagement Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry. SKU SPK101

Near colorless diamonds with an H color grade features a slight tint but are still considered high-quality. Only diamond experts can notice the difference between these and colorless diamonds. 

H color diamonds are slightly less expensive than G color ones but are significantly more affordable than colorless diamonds. If you want to purchase such a diamond, it’s best to look for a platinum or white gold setting to avoid yellow light reflections. 

I Color Diamond 

167RJ old European diamond solitaire engagement ring
4.04 Carat I Color Old European Cut Diamond Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry. SKU 167RJ

I color diamonds also fall into the near-colorless category and feature a yellow tint almost invisible to the naked eye. Most people can’t tell the difference between colorless and I color diamonds even when they are placed next to each other. If you want a diamond with exceptional color without spending too much money, I color diamonds are an excellent choice. 

Diamonds with an I color grade look just as impressive in a yellow or rose gold setting as they do in white gold or platinum. 

J Color Diamond 

14214 antique Old European diamond solitaire engagement ring
1.48 Carat J Color Lyndhurst Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry. SKU 14214

Like other diamonds in the near-colorless range, J color diamonds also have a slight yellow tint. The J color grade is the last representative of the near-colorless category, and diamonds with that grade often offer great value for your money. When you place such diamonds next to D color diamonds, you can notice a slight difference, which can often be “disguised” with the right setting. 

When it comes to price, J color diamonds can be up to 40% more affordable than diamonds with an H color grade. Since both belong to the same category, this is a significant difference that could help you get an impressive diamond without spending a fortune. 

Faint Diamonds 

Faint diamonds feature a slight yet noticeable yellow tint and have a lower price tag than colorless or near-colorless diamonds. Although the yellow tint can be unappealing to some, faint diamonds are very popular. Many people enjoy the slightly warm tone, especially when combined with the right metal. 

Due to their color, faint diamonds are often set in yellow or rose gold. That way, it looks as if the metal is reflected in the diamond. Of course, this isn’t a universal rule; many people like the contrast and choose a faint diamond set in white gold or platinum. 

K Color Diamond 

4.08 carat old European cut diamond solitaire engagement ring
4.08 Carat K Color Chatham Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry.

The K diamond color grade is the first grade of the faint category. Diamonds with this grade feature a tint that can be easy to spot, especially when you bring them closer to your eye. 

However, just because these diamonds have a noticeable tint doesn’t mean they aren’t beautiful. When set in yellow or rose gold, K color diamonds can look exquisite. Keeping in mind that these diamonds can be 20-30% more affordable than the J color ones, it’s no surprise that many people prefer them. 

L Color Diamond 

4.12 Carat L Color old European Diamond Swiss Ring SKU 13841
4.12 Carat L Color Diamond Swiss Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry. SKU 13841

L color diamonds feature a tint that can be noticed in normal light conditions. When set in platinum or white gold, these diamonds can look even more yellow, which could jeopardize the ring’s overall appearance. 

For the best effect, we recommend looking for L color diamonds set in yellow or rose gold to maximize the contrast with these warm tones. 

M Color Diamond 

1.72 Carat M Color Hadlow Ring from Estate Diamond Jewelry. SKU 14062

M color diamonds are the last quality in the faint range and have a visible yellow tint. They represent an excellent option if you have a limited budget. 

Although diamonds with an M color grade can look impressive in yellow or rose gold settings, the tint is still very much visible. Many people care more for a diamond’s clarity or cut and are willing to compromise on the color. Ultimately, the choice is yours and depends on personal preferences. 

Very Light Diamonds 

Diamonds with an N, O, P, Q, or R color grade are called “very light” and feature a clearly visible yellow or brownish tint. They are much more common than colorless or near colorless diamonds and are significantly more affordable. 

Light Diamonds 

S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z color diamonds are also referred to as light and feature a strong yellow or brown tint. While they are affordable, most jewelers don’t recommend them because the tint is very strong. 

Fancy Color Diamond Scale 

fancy colored diamond rings group shot against abstract background

With “white” diamonds, it’s all about the absence of color. Colorless diamonds are the rarest and, thus, the most valuable. The rules are quite the opposite when it comes to fancy color diamonds. The more color they have, the more valuable they are. 

Since fancy color diamonds don’t fall into the normal color categories, the grading system is different. Firstly, diamond experts establish the fancy color diamond’s face-up color against a grey background. Then, they compare the diamond with the pre-determined reference diamonds of the same color. 

The GIA grading system for fancy color diamonds is split into boxes that contain reference diamonds. These are the categories: faint, very light, light, fancy light, fancy, fancy intense, fancy dark, fancy deep, and fancy vivid. 

The grades are assigned based on the effects of hue, saturation, and tone. Hue represents a diamond’s basic color, and GIA identifies 27 of them. Tone represents how light or dark a diamond is, and saturation describes the color’s intensity. 

Brown and yellow diamonds are the most common fancy color diamonds and are therefore less expensive. In contrast, pink, red, blue, and green diamonds are extremely rare and highly valued. 

Insider Tips for Buying a Diamond With Color 

Tray of Diamond Engagement Rings in Showroom

Buying the right diamond can be an overwhelming venture, especially if you’re new to this world. Just because the D color grade is the highest doesn’t mean all others aren’t worthy of your time. We’ve gathered several tips that could help you buy your perfect diamond. 

1. Buy From Renowned Jewelers 

The first and most important piece of advice we have to offer is to always buy diamonds from reliable jewelers with years of experience and an impeccable reputation. 

Such jewelers will be able to give you detailed information about each diamond’s color and explain the subtle differences. Moreover, they could answer all your questions and make your decision much easier. 

2. Look for the Certification 

loose diamond in box with GIA certificate

It’s vital to never purchase a diamond with no certification. Since the GIA is the most renowned diamond-grading institution, only look for diamonds with GIA certifications. Each diamond’s color is described with a letter ranging from D to Z. 

If a jeweler only gives you a color range instead of a specific grade, it means the diamond isn’t GIA-certified. 

If you are looking at an antique diamond, it’s recommended to try and get it graded by a certification company that is experts in antique diamonds, like UGL.

3. Don’t Be Seduced by Letters 

While D color diamonds are undeniably impressive, they are also very expensive. There’s no need to purchase a D color diamond just because it’s the highest color grading. As mentioned, the color differences can be very subtle, and you can often buy an exceptional diamond that doesn’t belong to the colorless range. 

G color diamonds cost significantly less and look the same to the naked eye. Even lower-grade diamonds can appear colorless in certain settings. Don’t let anyone convince you that colorless diamonds are the only way to go. Feel free to compare them to near colorless or faint diamonds and establish whether you can see the difference for yourself. 

4. Look at the Metal 

Customer Trying on Vintage Engagement Ring on Finger

A diamond’s setting can significantly affect its appearance. This typically isn’t an issue for colorless diamonds because they look exceptional in any setting. On the other hand, lower-graded diamonds can be significantly “embellished” by the right metal. Yellow or rose gold can hide the diamond’s yellow tint and make it seem like a reflection. 

If you enjoy the slight yellow tint, go for a white gold or platinum setting. Many people like the subtle contrast. 

5. Less Can Be More 

The larger a diamond, the more obvious its color is. If you’re on the market for a larger diamond, you should consider getting one with a higher color grade. As a general rule of thumb, aim for a G-H color range for diamonds over one carat. 

Diamonds under one carat are usually smaller, which allows you to get a lower grade diamond that looks just as impressive as colorless or near colorless stones. 

6. Pay Attention to the Cut 

inspecting diamond ring through a jewelers loupe

A diamond’s cut is a crucial factor in determining its brilliance. Usually, the more facets a diamond has, the better it will hide the color. This means you can get a diamond with a lower color grade and still enjoy its beautiful sparkle. Princess or round cuts can successfully disguise a diamond’s slight yellow tint. In contrast, step cuts such as emerald or Asscher highlight a diamond’s color and should be avoided in lower-graded diamonds. 

7. Look at the Whole Ring 

While the main character of every ring is the center stone, the surrounding elements can significantly alter its appearance. Side stones, halos, under galleries, intricate patterns, and decorated shoulders can greatly affect a diamond’s look. These elements can make a lower-graded diamond seem colorless or near colorless and create a stunning piece of jewelry. 

That’s why you shouldn’t focus only on the center stone but on the “bigger picture.” If you fell in love with a ring, don’t let a lower color grade be the only factor that changes your mind. 

8. Be Realistic 

When purchasing a diamond, it’s essential to be realistic in terms of the price. Colorless diamonds are much more expensive than diamonds from other categories. If such diamonds don’t fit into your budget, look for other, more affordable options. You may be surprised by the abundance of beautiful diamonds that look just as good as the colorless ones. 

9. Trust Your Judgement 

Some people only go for diamonds with the highest color grades, while others like the slight yellow tint. While jewelers can help you narrow down your choices, don’t forget it’s all about your preferences. Any jeweler that doesn’t give you objective information isn’t worthy of your time and trust. 

Do your research, talk to several jewelers, gather information, and purchase a diamond that matches your criteria. 

Understanding Masterstones and Diamond Certification 

GIA D Color Diamond in UV Seal

Diamond certifications or diamond grading reports are issued by renowned laboratories, such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), and contain detailed information about a diamond. Such information is based on the 4 Cs: cut, color, carat, and clarity. 

Besides being informative, diamond certifications prove a diamond is genuine. That’s why it’s essential to carefully examine a diamond’s certification before purchasing it. 

Although GIA certifications are the most popular, other entities can certify diamonds. Since each entity can use different grading systems, certifications aren’t comparable. You should only purchase diamonds certified by a reputable grading entity. Besides GIA, the American Gem Society (AGS) is a top-tier diamond-grading institution. 

You may wonder how experts determine a diamond’s color since it’s such a delicate process. The answer is that they use a set of masterstones or diamonds that fulfill specific conditions. Each masterstone represents one color grade that helps experts establish a diamond’s color. Masterstones are set in the left-to-right order, and trained graders compare a diamond to them until they find a match. 

As part of the color grading process, experts examine all diamonds for treatments. If the results show the diamonds were treated, there will be an asterisk after the color grade followed by an explanation in the comments. 

Experts examine the color of diamonds in specially designed laboratories and follow strict protocols that guarantee accuracy. 

Diamond Clarity Chart

Diamond clarity chart based on D-color ascher cut diamond.
Diamond clarity chart based on D-color ascher cut diamond.

Besides color, diamond clarity can have a major impact on its appearance. Natural diamonds are formed under a great amount of pressure and heat and often contain unique “birthmarks.” Clarity represents the absence of blemishes and inclusions and is one of the 4 Cs. 

The GIA uses a scale comprised of six categories and 11 grades. It’s based on how diamonds look when observed under 10x magnification. 

  • Flawless (FL) – Diamonds with no blemishes or inclusions. 
  • Internally flawless (IF) – Diamonds with no inclusions. 
  • Very, very slightly included (VVS1 and VVS2) – Diamonds with slight inclusions. Such inclusions are difficult to spot even for an experienced grader. 
  • Very slightly included (VS1 and VS2) – Diamonds with minor inclusions. Although they are harder to spot, such inclusions are still visible. 
  • Slightly included (SI1 and SI2) – Diamonds with observable inclusions. 
  • Included (I1, I2, and I3) – Diamonds with clearly observed inclusions. 

Naturally, the fewer inclusions and blemishes a diamond has, the more expensive it will be. However, the differences can be so subtle that only diamond experts can notice them. This means you don’t have to get a flawless or internally flawless diamond when a slightly included one can have the same effect. 

Just like you can overpay for a diamond’s color, you can do the same for its clarity. As we know, diamonds with a D color grade and F clarity grade are the most expensive. The key is finding a balance between the two characteristics. 

The Connection Between Color and Clarity 

To better understand how diamond color and clarity are related, let’s look at an example. We have three 1.00-carat diamonds: the first is J color and VVS2 clarity, the second is D color and SI2 clarity, and the third is I color and VS2 clarity. All three diamonds have a similar price. Why is that? This is because the first has a lower color grade but only slight inclusions. The second has the highest color grade but very noticeable inclusions. The third is near colorless and has minor inclusions. 

clarity to color comparison example graph 3 diamonds

The difference between flawless and internally flawless diamonds could cost you thousands of dollars, even though they look completely the same to the naked eye. 

When purchasing a diamond, you should choose one that looks “clean” and appears colorless in the desired setting. 

Which Diamond Color Is the Best? 

loose diamonds on gray background

Since color isn’t the only factor determining a diamond’s quality, it’s hard to say one can stand out as the best. That being said, we can discuss some general tendencies in the diamond world. 

In terms of the GIA color scale, D color is the best. This color grade is given only to diamonds with no tint even under 10x magnification. These diamonds are rare, desirable, and expensive. 

If you want to invest in diamonds, those with a D, E, or F color grade are the best choice. Colorless diamonds aren’t common and can be a great investment opportunity. They have high value and are always in demand, which is why many collectors seek after them. 

Our Expert Opinion: In terms of retail, J color diamonds offer great value for your money. They belong to the near colorless category, offer a high degree of brilliance, and are much more affordable than D-F diamonds. They are even significantly less expensive than other near colorless diamonds. 

Lab-Grown Diamond Colors 

side view of large and small diamond on a black background

As opposed to natural diamonds that are created due to geological processes, lab-grown diamonds are the result of a manufacturing process. Although artificially created, lab-grown diamonds have the same physical and chemical features as their natural counterparts. So, it’s no surprise that the same D-Z scale is used to determine their color. Colorless lab-grown diamonds are given a D color grade, while light lab-grown diamonds are labeled with the letter Z. 

Some people may opt for lab-grown diamonds because they are more eco-friendly or ethical. However, the production of such diamonds requires extensive amounts of energy. Plus, while the issue of ethics may have been realistic in the past, it’s not a concern anymore. Nowadays, most mining operations are completely legitimate and actually improve the quality of life in neighboring communities. 

Lab-grown diamonds have less value than natural ones, which is why they aren’t the best investment. Since this market isn’t as developed, resale isn’t very likely. If you want to invest in diamonds, we recommend earth-grown ones. 

Investing in Diamonds

Antique Diamond Loose in Diamond Box

Only the very top-colored diamonds are usually the best investments. All other diamonds will usually take years to realize any kind of profit on a purchase.

Fancy-colored diamonds are the best investment opportunity. These are usually bought by collectors at auction, and few make it to the open market. The exception to this is fancy yellow diamonds.

Even the best D color, flawless clarity diamond will struggle to turn a profit, unless of exceptional size. The key is remembering that any dealer can buy diamonds at half the price they charge to buyers. So, if you buy at retail prices, it can be decades before a diamond even gets back to its purchase price.

Click here for our comprehensive guide on investing in jewelry.

Talk to a Diamond Expert 

Estate Diamond Jewelry Ben and Afshin in Showroom

Buying a diamond is much more than walking to the first jewelry store and choosing the prettiest one. If you want to make the right choice but aren’t sure where to start, we’re here for you. Our experts will be happy to give you more information about diamond color or diamonds in general. 

You can schedule a showroom appointment or reach us at 212 265 3868 Mon-Fri from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.