Side By Side Diamond Color Comparisons

I get emails from readers seeking my opinion on diamonds all the time. One of the most frequently asked questions pertains to the differences between diamonds of 1-2 color grades and how they would look like in real life. As a result of the numerous questions, I decided to write this post to address the issue.

First of all, the problem with me answering color visual related questions is that they aren’t objective questions but rather, subjective ones that can vary from one person to another. While I may be sensitive to slight nuances of color differences, the truth is that the majority of people aren’t.

Chances are you won’t be able to detect small variances in colors too. Yet, there isn’t any definite way to find out unless you had the experience of viewing diamonds critically yourself.

Let’s Do a Quick Test First

Below is a list of stones with color ratings of D, E, F, G, H, I, J & K. They are all graded by GIA and are around the 1 carat range. Spend a minute to look at these stones carefully and then try to label each individual stone according to the color you think it is.

faceup views

 Can you notice any body color in the face up (table-up) views?

It isn’t that easy right? If you are having trouble in identifying which stone has what color, don’t worry, because it’s normal. When well cut diamonds are mounted face up into ring settings, the brilliance and sparkle of the stone will help hide its body color. The truth is that it takes a trained personal to correctly grade a diamond under specific lighting conditions.

Revealed: Click here to see the answers (image will open up in a new tab) and the following links to see details of each individual stone.

Top from left: #273556, #73564, #126914
Middle from left: #253461, #73850, #264804
Bottom from left: #287499, #263367

I will be totally honest with you here. Most people can’t tell the differences between 1-2 color grades of diamonds in the face up view. They do however, start to notice differences when viewing diamonds of 3-4 color grades apart in a side by side comparison. That is to say, a ring containing a well cut H colored diamond by itself would not be easily identifiable without an E colored or K colored diamond placed next to it.

In the GIA lab, diamonds are graded face down (table-down) against a neutral background and controlled lighting. While it is understandable that the labs require certain conditions to achieve consistency in their grading process, I personally don’t find such a process applicable to the general consumer who is shopping for an engagement ring.

picking up with a tweezer
mounted with 4 prongs

The view on the right image would be what a consumer would usually see.

From a consumer’s perspective, what really matters is how the diamond looks in your setting. Seriously, how many of you are intending to buy loose diamonds to keep and not wear them? Sure, there do exist such people but these are the small minority of consumers.

With this in mind, I lined up the following photos to simulate what you would most likely see in real life. This will allow you to get a better visual perspective and idea of color differences.

Comparison of the Colorless Range

The alphabets D, E and F on the GIA scale fall into the range of colorless diamonds. These diamonds come at the cost of a premium pricing because of their rarity in nature. In the current market today, they make up less than 1% of the world’s supply of gem quality stones.

d
e
f ideal cut

Face up views of D, E & F diamonds

I am pretty sure you will be hard pressed to see visual differences of well-cut stones that fall into the colorless range. Diamonds in this category face up icy white and are recommended for people who are color adverse.

If you are going to detect any differences between the stones, placing them loose and face down would be the best way to do it. In jewelry stores or when the stones are mounted, the next best method to do so would be via a side profile examination.

d vs e vs f

Profile views of D vs E vs F. Noticed the gradual increase in tones?

Do note that you are viewing these images at a 10X magnification and this makes it easier for you to detect subtle nuances between the stones. In reality, the diamonds are much smaller than this and the minute differences are hard to pick up for non-professionals.

Comparison of the Near Colorless Range

g
h near colorless
i
j

From left to right: Face ups of G, H, I & J

I like to think of near colorless (G-H-I-J) diamonds as the range which offers best value. More specifically, I like G colored stones the most because they appear colorless to non-experts and can face up white if the stone is cut well.

G Colored Diamonds

d
g

Comparing D vs G with their face up appearances.

If you want value for money, Gs are your best pick. The rationale is really quite straightforward and practical. If the end product is going to look similar to what a D colored diamond may offer, why should you pay additional premiums on an attribute you can’t appreciate with your eye?

d vs g

Most people can notice color in the diamond’s body from the sides when making comparisons.

H & I Colored Diamonds

d vs h

Comparing a D against a H

d against i

Comparing a D against a I

Both H and I colored diamonds show a slight tinge of color in their bodies. From my experience in handling customers over the years, I can safely say that H’s and I’s are the common thresholds people start noticing nuances of yellow. Again, note that the quality of cut and individual factors like eyesight may affect how you perceive the diamonds.

J Colored Diamonds

J colored diamonds display a slight yellowish tint and are great choices for people on a budget. If you are color adverse, I generally won’t recommend getting anything from J or lower colors. On the other hand, if you aren’t looking for a colorless diamond, J colored stones may represent a sweet spot for you.

d
j

d in contrast to j

Comparison of the Faint Yellow/Brown Range

Stones graded as K, L & M falls within the band of faint yellow/brown range. Faint yellow diamonds portray a warm appearance and most people can easily pick up the tone with their naked eyes.

d
k faint yellow

While this is a factor that is driven by personal tastes, the interesting point to note is that many people who are willing to compromise with a lower K color just so they can get a significantly larger sized stone.

d vs k vs g

The K has obvious yellow tones but do you notice how the G only shows a slight tint?

Overtones And Hue For Grades K And Below

GIA’s grading practice dictates the hue of the diamond is disclosed for grades that are K and lower. In nature, the most common color for mined diamonds is yellow which is caused by the presence of nitrogen in its chemical composition. The next most common color you would see in diamonds is brown.

faint yellow vs faint brown

Faint brown (on left) vs. faint yellow (on right)

Click these links to access more details: #256142, #287878

Even though both stones are graded as K, the faint brown diamond looks darker compared to the faint yellow diamond. In the profile view, you can get a better glimpse of the brownish hue.

dark and light

At this point, I want to go on the record by saying there is nothing wrong with having preferences for either stone. What you need to know is that diamonds with brownish overtones are sold at lower prices compared to those with yellowish overtones. Do check the prices are indicative of that if you are considering lower colored diamonds.

Sometimes, Subtle Differences DO Matter

Most jewelers won’t tell you this but the fact is that every little detail and property a diamond has will play a role in determining its pricing. By now, I am sure everybody knows that diamonds are graded alphabetically starting from D all the way to Z. Most people also automatically assume all Fs or all Gs are the same but let me tell you it isn’t.

In a simplistic way of explaining this, the amount (intensity) of color a diamond possesses determine which grade it falls into. What the grading report might not show you is the exact hue the stone has.

Let’s use these 3 G colored diamonds below as an illustration to explain this. In the face up view, the differences may not be immediately obvious to those without eagle eyes.

g with various overtones face up

Click the following links to see more details on each individual stone – #259178, #290315, #285570

Compare the image you see above with the image below. What if I tell you that all 3 stones listed below are in the same order as the same G colored stones above? Would you believe me?

yellow grey brown

And yes, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. They may be all Gs and are graded at the same lab (GIA) but yet, they all look slightly different when scrutinized. On each of the grading reports for these diamonds, there isn’t any mention of these differences because they are simply categorized under the same “G” color grade.

This brings us to the next point.

The Hue Affects The Market Demand

In the current market, the general color-tone preferences of consumers follow this order: yellow, grey and brown. Simple economics that dictate prices of diamonds will tell you yellowish diamonds will cost more than brownish diamonds by the law of demand and supply.

To illustrate this, imagine there are three H colored diamonds with different undertones – yellow, grey and brown. All 3 diamonds have identical carat, clarity and cut specifications. Yet, the diamond with the yellow undertone will be more expensive since there is a greater demand for them.

When buying diamonds, you should inspect them in a neutral lighting environment and under magnification. This will enable you to assess them in far greater details and James Allen is a fine example of an online vendor who offers such a feature and more…

What Really Matters Is You

I want to end off this article in saying that the choice of color is strictly personal. I need to reiterate that diamonds with grey or brownish tones aren’t cheaper because they are “defective”.

And in case you are wondering which camp I fall into, I am a fan of stones with brownish overtones more so than those with yellowish overtones. What about you? What kind of colors would you prefer? Please feel free to leave a comment below and tell me more about what you like.

Ultimately, much of your purchasing decision will also depend on other factors like cultural and personal likes/dislikes. In Asian countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, demand for D-G colored diamonds is very strong. This is largely due to social factors in beliefs that “yellow” diamonds are “inferior” and “face-saving” stigmas where people want to pay more for premium products to show that they can afford them.

On the contrary, consumers in western countries like Europe and United States tend to have better acceptance of lower color ratings because there is a certain appeal for warm looking diamonds. Doing so will enable you to get a bigger sized stone for a given budget by sacrificing color. At the end of the day, the onus is on you to achieve the perfect balance of the 4Cs for your own needs.

What about diamonds that aren’t within the D-Z range? Had you seen grading reports where the color is described in words instead of a single alphabet? We’ll touch on this topic next…


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26 Comments

  1. jen-
    February 9, 2015 at 6:37 am

    hi!

    What kind of lights are jewellery shops using? I brought my K BGB diamond to the shop and it’s very obvious that it’s yellowish by the side view. From the top, I can see a tiny bit of yellow.

    Normally, what kind of places will have that kind of jewellery shop lightings?

    When i am at home or under the sun, I cannot see any yellow tint.
    ps: v strong blue
    Thanks

  2. Paul Gian-
    February 22, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Jewelry store lighting varies from store to store. It could be that they are using a slightly yellowish lighting in combination with spot lighting.

  3. Amy Bignault-
    September 23, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    Hi,
    Thank you for the detailed descriptions! I am wondering if color differences are less evident in smaller stones. For example, when set in a platinum band, will the difference between an I colored .04 carat diamond be noticeably different than a G colored diamond of the same size?

    Thanks,
    Amy

  4. Paul Gian-
    September 24, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Nuances of color are harder to detect in the face up view when you go down in carat size. That is to say, it would be extremely hard to tell the difference of a 0.3 carat I diamond from another 0.3 carat F color diamond.

  5. lorraine-
    October 3, 2015 at 3:54 am

    We have been talking to a small gold and diamond store. We are very confused by our experience. The jeweler showed us an almost 2 carat, color K diamond. Out of the setting, it looks nice and it was hard to see examine it with the loupe.

    I don’t know if it is a good price. He also has a 3 stone Bostonian in the setting. When i looked though the loop on the table , I though it was cracked (the center stone of over 2 carats). He said it was a feather under the table and I also saw 1 black spot. I’m reading all you have on line. I found your site most helpful!! Still don’t understand his prices. Thank you for being there!

  6. Mark-
    October 19, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    What’s the effect of the color of the band on the diamond? Is it true that a lower color grade is ok if it’s with a yellow or rose gold band?

  7. Paul Gian-
    October 21, 2015 at 5:40 am

    Well cut diamonds tend to absorb colors from their surroundings. As such, putting a diamond in a yellow or rose gold setting will cause it to pick up color tints. In general, I would say that a lower color grade is better for non-white settings.

  8. Janet-
    October 26, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Recently purchased a cushion cut F 1.02 diamond in a halo style ring. Beautiful in the store and black ring box, but when I took it outside in sun and then normal lighting, it has a very distinctive brown tint. It is the small diamonds effecting the color perceived of my center diamond?

  9. Paul Gian-
    November 14, 2015 at 9:12 am

    It’s an unlikely possibility that the melees are affecting the color of the diamond. There are many possible reasons for this to occur:
    1) Diamond is poorly cut.
    2) The environment has lots of brown colored objects that the diamond is picking up in its reflections. (clothing, walls etc..)
    3) It’s dirty.
    4) etc….

  10. Richelle-
    March 8, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Hi there,

    I have a K oval solitaire that is nearly a carat. I don’t notice any yellow in it in most lighting except when it seems I am in the jewelry store. I am currently looking for a complementary wedding band and like vintage styles with other diamonds although I am concerned to order one, being that my K diamond may look yellow next to brighter diamonds. Do you have a recommendation for where to order a wedding band from that I might be able to choose the color of diamonds in the band?

  11. Paul Gian-
    March 23, 2016 at 12:59 pm
  12. Jerry-
    July 4, 2016 at 8:17 am
  13. Paul Gian-
    July 5, 2016 at 8:33 am

    The first option is the better buy.

  14. KK-
    August 2, 2016 at 11:24 am

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for this excellent article.

    I have a question that needs your astute opinion. I have a 0.80 carat diamond, F, VVS1, Excellent, in an ideal cut round brilliant.

    Would a rose gold setting make my diamond look pink? Would I be making a massive mistake by setting it in rose gold? I dont want my diamond to look pink specially when it is an F grade.

  15. Paul Gian-
    August 2, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    It will definitely pick up some color from the setting.

  16. Michelle-
    August 16, 2016 at 2:50 am

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks to your really helpful insight! Based on everything I’ve read so far I’ve narrowed my choices down to these 3: https://www.jamesallen.com/loose-diamonds/round-cut/?CaratFrom=0.7&CaratTo=&Color=K,J,I,H,G,F,E,D&PriceFrom=&PriceTo=&ViewsOptions=Images&TabSelected=3&DiamondID=1101937,1893152,1835293

    If you don’t mind, could you advise which one is a better choice? I personally love the .92 ct K since everything except the color seems to look good to me, but the fact that it’s a K color is a bit concerning as I plan to have a 14k white gold halo plain shank setting.

    Thank you so much in advance for your time!

  17. Paul Gian-
    August 16, 2016 at 4:19 am
  18. Amrita-
    September 15, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Hi, firstly thank you for the wonderful article. It explains a lot about how to buy a diamond. I am looking at this diamond on James Allen website and the color on this diamond has a brown hue to it as it seems in the pic. Repa at JA website says it’s the background and not the diamond itself. What do think ?

    https://www.jamesallen.com/mobile/loose-diamonds/round-cut/0.91-carat-i-color-si1-clarity-excellent-cut-sku-2003508

  19. Paul Gian-
    September 15, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    It could be but it’s unlikely. If you want confirmation, get James Allen to review the diamond physically.

  20. janet-
    November 10, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Am looking for definitions of VVS1, VVS2, etc. What are these designations, what do they mean, what are the differences, and where can I find this information? ps: everything I successfully found so far, was very helpful. Thank you!

  21. Diana-
    November 14, 2016 at 12:41 am

    Hi, i am currently looking at a 1.87 GIA grades vs1 N color princess cut very good cut with faint fleurescent. Do you think if i set this on a diamond accented solitaire setting that it would look too yellow? It sells for a good price. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks

  22. Paul Gian-
    November 14, 2016 at 2:48 am

    For a N color diamond at such a huge carat size, you can definitely expect to see a yellowish hue from the stone. Whether or not it is acceptable is largely up to your own preferences.

  23. Derek-
    November 28, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Hi Paul,

    what do you think about this diamond, im placing it on a rose gold falling halo setting

    https://www.jamesallen.com/loose-diamonds/round-cut/1.15-carat-k-color-vs2-clarity-excellent-cut-sku-2128262

    or would you advise i get a smaller stone in a lighter range?

    Love your blog

  24. Paul Gian-
    November 29, 2016 at 3:12 am

    It’s not a well cut diamond. Going with J/K color is perfectly fine for rose gold settings.

  25. Derek-
    November 29, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Oh really. I was about to pull the trigger, can you give any recommendations?

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