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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Most people can notice color in the diamond’s body from the sides when making comparisons.
Comparing a D against a H
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 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.
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.
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.
The K has obvious yellow tones but do you notice how the G only shows a slight tint?
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 brown (on left) vs. faint yellow (on right)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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…