What makes one diamond better or more beautiful than another? How does the diamond’s color grading affect its price, and its setting? Astonishingly, minor color differences, which are often indistinct to the naked eye, can make a very big difference when it comes to how much a diamond will cost or how popular it may be in the retail market.
Color Grading – Less is More
In terms of color grading, most diamonds have at least small hints of color. Diamonds that are completely colorless are extremely rare. The smallest difference in tint found in a white diamond can actually mean thousands of dollars when it comes to the price tag. Most tinge in white diamonds is caused by trace impurities in the earth in which the diamond grows. These impurities are absorbed by the diamond, resulting in a yellow or brown tinge.
Diamonds are color graded by trained gemologists. These gemologists use precision instruments to lay the diamonds on a white paper, face down and then compare the diamonds to a master set of diamonds. The widely accepted grading system, instituted by the GIA labels the purest color of diamonds as D-F. These are colorless diamonds with only the smallest fraction of impurity. It is virtually impossible for anyone other than the most highly trained gemologists to tell the difference between D-F diamonds. Near colorless, with a tinge that is unnoticeable to the naked eye, are in the G-J range. Faint colored diamonds, in the K-M range, have a noticeable tinge, but still appear white unless studied at close range. The N-R range has a very light yellow tint, while the S-Z range is colored light yellow and is generally not considered acceptable for sale as jewelry. These heavily tinted diamonds are generally used in industry instead. In fact, many jewelry stores will not carry diamonds that fall in any range below the I-J level.
A Huge Range in Price for a Small Difference in Color
Why are colorless diamonds so much more valuable? In addition to their rarity, diamonds with less body color will reflect more true color, increasing the appearance of shine and brilliance. According to James Allen, most people find it very difficult, if not nearly impossible, to tell the difference between one color grade and another, however, the difference in price can be significant.
How Jewelry Design Affects the Appearance of Diamond Color
Cut, shape and setting have a major effect on the appearance of a white diamond. In general, the better the diamond cut, the harder it is to discern small variations in color. Round brilliant diamonds are considered the best for playing down the appearance of a lesser color grade. Why? Because fancy shapes, such as emerald, oval and pear, all have broader facet arrangements, and tend to show off more color. Diamonds graded G-J generally show better when set in white gold or platinum, which complement the diamonds whiter aspect, whereas K-M graded diamonds do better in yellow gold settings. This is because the setting matches the tint in the stone, making the yellow stand out less. Yellow and rose gold are often not recommended for higher grade diamonds because the stone itself will take on a slight hue from the metal, often making stones appear several color grades lower.
For multi-diamond pieces, it is generally recommended that the side stones either match the color grade of the center stone, or be slightly yellower. This helps to highlight the superior color and brightness of the center stone. In general, experts recommend white gold or platinum settings for round diamonds of H-J quality, G-I Princess, Asscher or Emerald and F-H of any other cut. Yellow settings work best for round diamonds of K-M quality, J-K graded Princess, Asscher or Emerald, and I-J of any other cut.
Amazingly just the slightest difference in color grading, a level virtually unnoticed by any but the most trained gemologists, can often factor up to a 10% difference in price. Comparing diamonds of varying color gradings side by side is often the best way to determine the best value white diamond for the money spent.