While the majority of diamonds are thought of as white, natural diamonds also exist in an innumerable array of colors: deep pinks, fiery oranges, and cool blues, among others. How exactly do these fascinating and wide-ranging colors occur? It takes a very specific – and very rare - set of circumstances before colored diamonds will be produced, such as the presence of boron that gives blue diamonds their color. It is this specificity that makes estate diamonds and antique colored diamonds so scarce and highly coveted – a true gemological wonder all on their own.
Most fascinating, perhaps, is the history and the lore that surrounds colored diamonds that has been passed down throughout the centuries. Amazingly, the first colored diamond grading system dates to 6th-century India, where colored diamonds were regarded as a badge of rank. While kings could own any color, Brahmin priests and rulers could only own the whitest stones. Next in line were landowners and warriors, who were assigned deep brown colored diamonds, while the merchant class wore yellow. Finally, lower classes were only allowed to possess gray or black diamonds that resembled "the sheen of a burnished sword," a mark of their low rank.
Popularity of colored diamonds has significantly grown over the past few decades. Prior to the 1970s, colored diamonds were an anomaly, at best, to the jewelry market. However, in 1980, the Argyle mine in Australia began marketing its brown stones with new trade names, such as Champagne and Cognac, given to brown diamonds with orange modifiers. This, in turn, made the public and consumer market more aware of fancy colored diamonds. Today, though the Argyle mine is more known for its production of pink diamonds, it was instrumental in promoting the beauty of colored diamonds.
According to the Fancy Color Research Foundation (FCRF), the price of colored diamonds experienced an average total appreciation of 154.7% from 2006 to 2014. CNN even designated 2016 as the "year of the diamonds." Most recently, The Pink Star, a 59.6-carat oval vivid pink diamond, sold at auction for a startling $71.2 MM. Dubbed as “one of the world’s great natural treasures,” this was only the most recent of numerous auction results that proved colored diamonds to be heavily sought after.
However, when considering a colored diamond purchase, one might feel overwhelmed with the wide selection of colored gemstones available for sale. Upon considering a colored diamond purchase, it’s important to understand specific attributes to find the ideally-suited colored stone. This comprehensive guide of the key factors of colored diamonds will reveal the principle aspects one should consider and pay careful attention to upon a colored diamond acquisition.
Unlike white diamonds, color is the most dominant value factor when considering colored diamonds and the factor of color far outweighs the other three “C’s” (clarity, cut, carat weight). Generally speaking, the finer and rarer the color, the less impact the cut, clarity, and carat weight have on the value of the colored diamond.
Even though they are the same gemstone species, color in colored diamonds is examined and graded in a very different method than their white counterpart. While white diamonds are graded for their absence of color, colored diamonds are graded based on the intensity of the present color. In other words, the color for a colored diamond is grade based on the degree to the color’s strength and prominence. Shades that are deeper, more distinct, and more vivid are rarer and, generally speaking, more valuable than those that aren’t. In other words, the value of a colored diamond increases with the strength and purity of the present color.
Colored Diamond Color Evaluation
Upon initial examination, diamond graders look for the strongest areas of characteristic color. In doing this, graders consider three attributes to determine the overall color grade.
First, the hue is observed, which is the presence of color available at the stone’s face-up position. This is the viewer’s first color impression. If considering a yellow diamond, then the hue would simply be yellow. Second, the stone’s tone is examined, which is the relative darkness or lightness of the color. The relative degree of the stone’s tone can range from dull to dark. Finally, a grader looks to the stone’ saturation, the relative weakness or strength of the color. Saturation may also reference the overall degree or vividness that a colored diamond may possess. After considering these three qualities together, a final color grade is determined.
How to Describe Color
Colored diamonds are described by the certified color grade that they received. If a yellow diamond has a notably strong presence of yellow, and it is officially certified as such, it will be referred to as a “Fancy Intense Yellow.”
Often, a colored diamond will be comprised of as secondary (and sometimes even third) color. In this case, the second color would be referred to as a modifier. When describing a colored diamond that includes a modifier, the modifier it named first. For example, a pink diamond with a purple modifier would be properly referenced as a Fancy Purplish-Pink Diamond.
Instead of a D-Z color scale, which is used for white diamonds, colored diamonds that exhibit color beyond the Z color grade and are graded on a range from “light” to “vivid.” The latter grade is given to those colored diamonds whose color is most intense, therefore the most valuable. Like white diamonds, each of these color grades represents a specific depth and range of color.
Fancy light, Fancy, Fancy intense, Fancy vivid
Like a white diamond, a colored diamond’s main purpose is to be beautiful. However, because the allure and overall attractiveness of a colored diamond is largely determined by the stone’s basic body color, cut is a critical factor in enhancing, aiding, and influencing color.
When a bench jeweler embarks upon cutting a colored diamond rough (what a stone is referred to before it’s transformed into a consumer-worthy product), the main objective is to retain as much of the carat size as possible, while choosing a cut that will most benefit and intensify the stone’s color.
The larger a diamond, the deeper its pavilion, or the bottom half of the stone, can be. Meaning, a larger pavilion invites more light to travel through the diamond which, in turn, can lead to a deeper, richer, and more intense color.
Certain cuts, such as radiant and other mixed cuts, are ideal for colored diamonds as they help intensify the color from the face-up position.
Used as the standard industry to grade a diamond’s cut, the GIA system determines the grade of a diamond’s cut from “excellent” to “poor.”
Excellent | Very Good | Good |Fair | Poor
What is it?
If you’ve ever closely examined a colored diamond, you may have noticed tiny irregularities, or little spots, inside the diamond. Or, you may have noted marks and scratches on the surface of the stone. Consider a yellow diamond that displays small minerals inside the gemstone that seem to be suspended within or a diamond that features a large scratch on the face present from years of wear: this is an aspect that defines a white diamonds third C, clarity. Extremely important in the grading and determination of the value and rarity of a diamond, clarity also helps establish the diamond’s identity as no two patterns of clarity are alike.
In other words, clarity relates to the visual appearance of internal characteristics inside and on the surface of the diamond. These discernable flaws inside and outside a white diamond are formally called clarity characteristics, or more commonly, inclusions and blemishes. The technical definition of clarity is simple: a gemstone’s relative freedom from inclusions and blemishes.
For colored diamonds, the seriousness and effect of a clarity grade is all in relation to the stone’s color grade. For example, inclusions in a fancy light blue diamond are more readily visible than the same type and size of inclusions present in a fancy vivid yellow diamond, as they are masked by the depth of color.
Inclusions are the clarity characteristics within the diamond, which can occur at any stage during a white diamond’s development and may potentially extend to the diamond’s surface. Diamonds form deep underground, at extreme temperatures and high pressure, and inclusions result from the activity and these forces of nature during a white diamond’s initial formation. For example, smaller crystals are apt to become trapped within the diamond during formation. As a result, these confined crystals can grow irregular to the diamond’s atomic structure, causing a disruption in development and displaying itself as an inclusion. Other inclusions include: clouds, feathers, knots, cavities, cleavage, bearding, internal graining, pinpoint, among others.
Importantly, inclusions are truly an integral part of a natural formed diamond, giving a white diamond unique “birthmarks.”
Blemishes, or external clarity characteristics, can occur at any stage after the diamond’s formation during cutting, setting, or simply normal daily wear. Existing on the surface of the diamond, blemishes may include chips, nicks, abrasions, polish lines, scratches, nicks, pits, chips, and even an extra facet.
For colored diamonds, the type and placement of an inclusion is more seriously considered than the mere presence and number of inclusions.
As the role of a jewelry cutter, the goal would be to utilize as much as the diamond rough as possible while ridding the diamond of as many clarity characteristics as possible.
A plotted diagram that shows the specific clarity characteristics is included on a colored diamond certification. Trained graders use different symbols for the different clarity characteristics and place the symbols on the relative location where they occur on the diagram. Using a “key to symbols,” the grader creates a map for one to easily identify the blemishes and inclusions.
Shows no inclusions up to 10X magnification, the rarest clarity grade (less than 1% of diamonds)
Internally Flawless (IF)
Shows no inclusions and very slight blemishes (less than 3% of diamonds)
Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1) (VVS2)
Shows inclusions that are very difficult to see under 10x magnification
Very Slightly Included (VS1) (VS2)
Shows minor inclusions that are minor and range from difficult to relatively easy to see at 10% magnification
Slightly Included (SI1) (SI2)
Shows noticeable inclusions at 10% magnification
Included (II) (I2) (I3)
Shows inclusions that are obvious to see at 10% magnification and may be visible to the unaided eye. A diamond with this grade may have an altered brilliance and transparency due to the clarity characteristics.
[callout]Did you know? A “flawless” grade is far less common for colored diamonds than for white diamonds.[/callout]
Like white diamonds, colored diamonds are also measured using the carat.
Formally known as the metric carat, this system was developed in 1907 at the General Conference on Weights and Measures. Soon, it was adopted in numerous countries throughout the world, including the United States in 1913, as the standard unit of measurement for diamonds and all other gemstones.
Taking its name from the carob seed, early gemstone traders would use these as counterweights in their balance scales because the small seeds have a uniform weight.
How it’s Measured
One carat is equal to 100 points and each point is two milligrams, or 0.2 grams. Surprisingly, one carat is about the same weight as a paperclip. In other words, if you are holding a 1.50-carat gemstone, then the gemstone weighs 150 points, 0.3 grams or 300 milligrams.
In the jewelry market, colored diamonds with a carat weight greater than one are expressed in to the hundredth decimal place. For example, a yellow diamond over 2 carats would be properly expressed 2.36-carat fancy yellow diamond.
While it may be obvious that larger colored diamonds are rarer and command higher prices than smaller examples with a lesser carat weight, the increase in value is not directly proportionate to size increase. This is because the other three C’s, color, cut, and clarity, all play an equal role in value determination. For example, consider two colored diamonds of equal carat size. While their carat weight and size may be identical, one may hold an inherently higher value and level of rarity if it is free from inclusions and blemishes and possesses a high color grade, such as fancy vivid or fancy intense.
Which colors are most desirable?
Like what is most typical in the jewelry industry, there is an ebb and flow in exactly which colored diamond is most popular and desirable. Beginning in the 2015 and continuing into today, pink and blue diamonds have experienced immense popularity. On the other hand, black diamonds did not witness a surge of desirability until the late 1990s, when jewelers decided that they wanted to set them in a pavé setting and they began to gain momentum and popularity.