Diamond Color and Clarity

The 4 Cs:
  • CUT

  • Other Topics:

  • The Secret of The "High Value Sweet Spot"

    We said in the section on cut that cut is the only C fully in the hands of the artisans who transform diamonds from rough stones into sparkling gems.

    The qualities of color and clarity in a diamond, however, are determined by nature.

    With cut, the value comes from the sparkle made possible by the skill of the cutters and polishers.

    With color and clarity, the value comes from the rarity of the stone in comparison to all other diamonds.

    And what most jewelers won't tell you is that within gem-quality diamonds, there are certain ranges of quality that are better for different people and purposes, including a "High Value Sweet Spot" that gives you a beautiful diamond for a better price.

    So, in this section, we will go over what color and clarity are, how they impact a diamond's value, and how to choose the right color and clarity for you.

    First, let's talk about diamond rarity:

    Gem-Quality, High-Grade Diamonds ARE Rare

    You've probably heard the argument that "diamonds aren't rare" somewhere before. And, as a general statement, this is sort of true.

    Diamond mines turn out far more diamonds than are sold in jewelry stores for high prices every single day.

    So, in a sense, sure, "diamonds aren't rare."

    But when we start talking about Gem-Quality Diamonds, with a color and clarity grade high enough to be used in jewelry, the numbers start to look different.

    The majority of the world's diamonds (around 70%) are NOT gem quality, and are used for industrial purposes (like drill bits).

    Of the remaining 30% of diamonds that are gem quality, the diamonds that look "clean and white" to the naked eye (the kind that are exceptionally beautiful that we recommend you buy), make up less than 5% of all diamonds on earth.

    When you buy a diamond in the High Value Sweet Spot, you're buying a diamond that is truly rare, beautiful, and valuable, and you are "buying smart" in a way that will save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the final price.

    What Is Diamond Color?

    When we talk about "diamond color," that can mean two things:

    There are the rare, beautiful, vivid reds, blues, and canary yellows, which are called "Fancy Colored Diamonds".

    Natural fancy colored diamonds are extremely beautiful, rare, and valuable and are out of reach for the average diamond shopper.

    So, what most people mean when they talk about "diamond color" is where a "white" diamond falls on the scale from "colorless" to pale, non-fancy yellow. The most reliable grading chart for color comes from the Gemological Institute of America, and it looks like this:


    gia diamond color grading scale

    source: GIA.edu

    In this category of diamonds, D color (colorless) is the rarest and therefore most valuable. And diamonds lower on the scale are less rare and valuable, and are generally less desirable because they are not yellow enough to be considered "fancy," and not white enough to have the desired brightness people generally want in a diamond.

    What Is Diamond Clarity?

    Natural diamonds are not a uniform product churned out in a factory. They are formed by nature and therefore have natural imperfections.

    Each diamond has its own unique makeup of imperfections called "inclusions". These tiny imperfections in the diamond occur during the diamond crystal's formation.

    There are many types of inclusions: feathers, pinpoints, needles, knots, cavities, and more.

    Like color, clarity is graded on a scale system:


    gia clarity scale

    source: GIA.edu 

    Inclusions are naturally occurring imperfections, and it's extremely rare to find a diamond with very few inclusions. And, as we've discussed, rarity = higher value and higher price.

    The more inclusions in a stone, the less rare and valuable, and vice versa.

    examples of inclusions on a gia diamond grading report

    source: GIA.edu

    So clarity is graded on a scale ranging from "Included" to "Flawless."

    It's important to remember that clarity grading is done under 10x magnification. So, to the naked eye during everyday wear, you will be able to easily see inclusions in an "I" grade diamond, but most people don't notice them in the "SI" category.

    That piece of information will be important in the next section:

    What is The Color/Clarity "High Value Sweet Spot"?

    Now that we've defined what color and clarity are, and how they impact the a diamond's rarity and value, let's talk about how to make the best possible buying decision using this information.

    It's easy to assume that you should just by "the best" color and clarity you can afford. But that's typically not the best way to approach diamond buying for 9/10 shoppers who are buying a diamond for an engagement ring or anniversary gift.

    We said in the section on cut that CUT is by far the most important C. Cut is what makes the diamond sparkle, which is the most important aspect of a diamond's beauty.

    It's important to remember "Cut Comes First" to give color and clarity context.

    Because the truth is:

    A VVS clarity, E color diamond is not right for 99% of diamond shoppers.

    You will pay an incredible premium in price for extremely rare color and quality, and most people (like your fiance and her friends) won't know the difference.

    So the secret of the "High Value Sweet Spot" is:

    1. Choose your diamond for how it's cut, first and foremost.

    We can't emphasize this enough. Cut, remember, is responsible for the sparkling beauty of your diamond, and for as much as 50% of the diamond's value. Cut comes first!

    Paying for a higher quality, "premium" cut diamond is a much better spend of your money in terms of value and beauty than paying for high color and clarity grade.

    2. Purchase a diamond in the "SI" clarity range.

    For 9/10 diamond buyers, all we're looking for is a diamond that looks "clean" and free of inclusions to the naked eye. This can typically be achieved in the "SI" clarity range. By staying in the "SI" range, you will get a diamond that looks "clean" to the naked eye, without paying the big premiums of diamond in the "VS" or "VVS" categories.

    3. Purchase a diamond in "Near Colorless" range.

    As with clarity, you will pay a large premium for the rarity of diamonds that fall in the "colorless" range, when all most people want is a diamond that looks bright and white the average eye. This can typically be achieved in the "near colorless" range.

    The sweet spot we shoot for here at Garcia & Co. Jewelers is:

    Excellent cut, G/H color, SI1 clarity.

    Obviously, every diamond is unique and every customer's needs are unique. So we always work to give you the most beautiful diamond for your budget, but that's the "Sweet Spot" we use as a starting point and recommend to most shoppers.

    We recommend you shop this way as well, then adjust as necessary.

    Another Warning About Diamond Grading Reports ("diamond certificates"):

    All of the advice we've given here is dependent on the accuracy of the diamond grading. As we said in the section on cut, diamond reports are often NOT reliable.

    The best safeguard is to purchase from a jeweler you trust who has professional training in diamond grading (as we do here at Garcia & Co. Jewelers).

    And if you are going to make a purchase decision based on diamond grading report, make sure the report comes from either the Gemological Institute of America or the American Gem Society.

    Many other grading labs are notorious for creating reports that intentionally represent diamonds as higher quality than they actually are.

    Understanding Diamond Color and Clarity: Wrap-Up

    Once again: If you want a diamond that's visibly more beautiful, that sparkles noticeably more than an average diamond, you need to buy a diamond with good to excellent cut. That is the most important C.

    After that, you want a diamond that looks clean and bright to the naked eye, which can typically be achieved in the "SI" clarity range and "Near Colorless" color range.

    Staying in these color and clarity ranges will save you a significant amount of money vs what you'd pay by buying a diamond in the highest color and clarity ranges.