How Diamond Color Determines Rarity?

January 13, 2020 - Jewelry & Luxury Items

When it comes to extravagant jewelry there is no substitute for mined, natural diamonds.

The precious gemstones are the most sought-after stones in the jewelry industry. The United States makes up almost half the global diamond demand of jewelry-grade diamonds to be crafted into diamond rings and other jewelry pieces. Around 133 million carats of raw diamonds are mined each year. Only 1 in a million diamonds weigh enough to produce a full carat diamond, capable of being cut and polished into a fully finished product. This makes jewelry-grade diamonds extremely rare. After a diamond is cut and polished, there’s still a huge factor that plays into a gemstones’ value—diamond color.

A diamond cutter can cut and polish a stone to increase the gemstone’s value, but a diamond’s color cannot be altered without chemical treatment. This makes understanding diamond color one of the most important factors for jewelers to consider when pricing diamonds.

Evaluating diamond color relies on The Gemological Institute of America (GIA). The GIA developed a universal color-grading system that rates diamond color along a scale. Each diamond is compared to a master set, so a diamond can be properly classified. The GIA’s color-grading system is the industry standard, taking precedence over antiquated systems used loosely by various diamond dealers in the past. Now, the GIA’s diamond color-grading system is the only official globally recognized standard to determine a diamond’s color.

GIA Diamond Color-Grading System

Diamond color evaluation is actually based on the absence of color. White Diamonds should be colorless. They are referred to as white diamonds to denote colorlessness, without blemishes of yellow hues or brownish tints. The key concern of diamond color follows the rule that the less color the better. White diamonds which are the most valuable since lack of color shows chemical purity and structural perfection.

The GIA’s diamond-color grading system ranks from D to Z. At one point, diamond dealers rated diamond color from A to C. For this reason, the system begins with D to distinguish the GIA’s grading system from past systems that also used alphabetic classification.

The purest diamonds fall into the D grade (completely colorless) rating. As a diamond is graded with more visible color the diamond will rank closer to Z (light color).

Diamonds are assessed in a controlled viewing environment by GIA specialists. This environment is designed to eliminate light refraction from surrounding surfaces and the light source itself. Diamonds are compared to master stones which are used as a control to determine diamond color. The GIA has chosen these master stones to characterize the defining presence of color to each diamond’s corresponding grade.

As color becomes more visibly apparent, the diamond ranks further down the grading system. This drastically affects quality and price. Some jewelers do not offer diamonds that receive a J color-grade or lower. At the J grade, color is visible to the naked eye and is considered to chemically impure to be of high value. Aside from the other 4Cs—cut, carat, & clarity—a diamond loses 10-20% of its value as its letter grade drops.

Breaking Down the GIA’s Diamond Color-Code System


D — The most colorless grade, a D diamond is a ‘true’ white diamond with no hues or tints of any color. There are less than subtle differences between E to F diamonds and are difficult to catch by the untrained eye. A certified gemologist will need to make the comparison and assign a color-grade against a master stone.

E – F — Diamonds with an E or F grading are still considered to be in the colorless spectrum and are still extremely rare. A trained specialist will be able to note color inclusions by comparing these diamonds with master stones.

Near Colorless

G — At the G color-grade, diamond buyers will want to consider opting for a setting that makes the diamond’s color less obvious.

H — Platinum & White Gold Settings are good choices for neutralizing any hints of color for diamonds rated G to J.

I — Below an H color-grade, you begin to enter the more common stone market which are typically half the price of a D color-graded diamond.

J — At the lowest point in the near-colorless spectrum, J color-rated diamonds can be anywhere from 40-80% cheaper than a G rated diamond. Price increases 10-20% as you climb the near-colorless spectrum.

Faint Color

K — With a K color-graded diamond, the untrained naked eye can detect color.

L — Diamonds that fall into this rage are often half the price of G color-rated diamonds.

M — Since color is detectable to the naked eye, diamond buyers should be cognizant of the setting for these diamonds. Yellow gold is the most suitable setting to eliminate visible color.

Very Light

N — At this low in the color-grading range, color is prominent.

R — Although diamonds in the Very Light spectrum will be much cheaper, some jewelers choose not to carry them.


S — Diamond customers rarely buy diamonds graded between S & Z.

Z — These low color-graded diamonds will be blatantly toned in color. However, these diamonds can still be bought and used to fashion jewelry.

The Difference Between Fancy-Colored Diamonds & White Diamonds

Fancy-colored diamonds are separate from white diamonds. These diamonds have chemical properties that rank them higher in color detection than a Z diamond making them increasingly rare. Colors along this spectrum of diamond-color appear yellow, pink, blue, and brown. The Federal Trade Commission does not define or regulate the term “fancy-colored diamond.” Yet global diamond dealers have a general agreement that fancy-color diamonds are either yellow or brown diamonds with more color than a Z master stone. Diamonds can also be considered fancy-colored when exhibiting a color other than yellow or brown.

David Stiebel

David Stiebel is one of the cofounders of PawnGuru. David was educated at MIT, where he studied Math. He subsequently worked at Bain as a data scientist before starting PawnGuru in 2015. He started PawnGuru to build a better tool for pawn shops and consumers to connect.

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