The 4 Cs:
Diamond color is a vast and interesting topic. It spans two major subcategories:
1. The color grading scale of “white” diamonds, and 2.) The universe of fancy colored diamonds.
We will cover the color grading scale of "white" diamonds very briefly here because it helps give some context to the conversation of fancy colored diamonds.
But for a complete "deep dive" on diamond color when it comes to buying a "white" or "colorless" diamond, that's covered in-depth in the Color & Clarity section on our diamond buying guide.
The majority of this page will be dedicated to fancy colored diamonds. Let's get started!
"Colorless" Diamonds and The Diamond Color Grading Scale
The first major subcategory when understanding diamond color overall is the understanding the diamond color scale as it pertains to colorless (“white”) diamonds. Here is the color grading scale from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA):
The scale ranges from D to Z, with D being colorless and Z being light yellow.
The GIA diamond color grading scale is the industry standard that you’ll see used in most stores and in most situations.
The overwhelming majority of the diamonds that are sold in stores fall somewhere on this scale, and typically fall in the colorless or near colorless or faint section of the scale. Most people want colorless diamonds, particularly with engagement rings.
As you can see, this scale covers the range of colorless diamonds to light yellow.
But what happens beyond “Z” on the color scale?
Well, beyond Z is where a “poor color grade” (relative to colorless diamonds) turns into a fancy yellow diamond.
Fancy Colored Diamonds
Before we dive into the different colors of diamonds, it may be helpful to get a quick primer on how colored diamonds are graded, simply because it is not the same as the 4Cs you may be familiar with on colorless and near colorless diamonds.
The largest difference with fancy colored diamonds is that color is the most important factor in the gemstones beauty and value.
With colorless diamonds, cut and clarity are far more important because a clean, “ice-like” appearance and maximum sparkle are the factors that are generally the most desirable. The absence of color is what makes these diamonds more rare and therefore more valuable.
But with fancy colored diamonds, the more intense the color, the more valuable the diamond. Even cut, the most important C in colorless diamond grading, is important in colored diamonds because of how it affects the diamond's color.
The more vivid the color, the more valuable the stone. Okay, that sounds simple right? Until you realize there is a massive range of of colors within any particular color.
(All of the images below come from the Gemological Institute of America's Colored Diamonds Color Reference Charts, which you can find HERE.)
Within yellow, for example, the diamond could be “Cool Yellow”:
Or “Warm Yellow”:
Or “Yellow Orange”:
Specific color, as well as the exact hue and saturation of that particular color, all come into play here to create a complex task for any colored diamond grader.
So before we continue with the specific colors, let me say this:
If you’re thinking about buying a fancy colored diamond, they are generally more expensive than colorless diamonds and choosing the right fancy colored diamond for you is a purchase that is more nuanced and complex than buying a colorless diamond.
You should seriously consider making this purchase with the help of a jewelry professional who has diamond grading education and practice, and has experience with fancy colored diamonds in particular.
For more information please also visit these official GIA resources:
The Many Colors of Diamonds: How To Get Started
The world of colored diamonds is vast and beautiful. Much like an artist's color wheel, diamonds come in a wide range of colors, with various hues and saturations among those colors.
But you should be aware that fancy colored diamonds are prohibitively expensive for most people. A natural red diamond, for example, can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So as you look at the spectrum of colors and consider your purchase, think about getting started with a yellow or brown diamond. Both can be stunningly beautiful but, because they are relatively more common, are significantly less expensive.
Ask for stunning yellow diamonds from your jeweler. They may mention terms like "canary yellow" to describe one of the most popular yellow diamond shades.
Likewise, brown diamonds often go under marketing names like “chocolate” or “cognac.”
Red, green, purple, and orange are generally the most rare and expensive. As mentioned above, natural red diamonds are the rarest and most expensive of all.
Where Fancy Colored Diamonds Get Their Color
A fancy colored diamond is a diamond that naturally contains impurities and structural defects. This doesn’t mean that there’s anything “wrong” with the diamond.
As we said above, natural fancy diamonds of certain qualities are often more rare and more valuable than some of the most beautiful flawless white diamonds.
It means that something happened in the natural formation process to make it different from the typical pure, white diamond.
Natural blue diamonds are created by the presence of the element Boron and natural yellow diamonds are created by the presence of Nitrogen.
And reds, pinks, and browns are the result of a defect in the crystal structure of the diamond during the formation process.
How Fancy Colored Diamonds Are Graded
"White" diamonds, as we said, are graded an D to Z scale from "colorless" to pale yellow. The color of a fancy colored diamond, however, is graded according to three components of color:
Hue : The hue of a fancy diamond is the base category of color. Is it blue, yellow, green, brown?
Tone : The tone of the diamond is the relative lightness or darkness of the stone. A “100” tone being a solid black and a “1” being extremely light.
Saturation : The saturation of the fancy diamond refers to the intensity of the color. Diamonds of “faint” saturation can often be mistaken for a common “off-color” stone instead of a fancy diamond, while natural “Fancy Vivid” saturations are the rarest and most beautiful.
If you are considering buying a fancy color diamond, remember:
While buying a white diamond can be fairly straight-forward (see our diamond buying guide), buying a fancy diamond is more complex.
Evaluating the color quality is more complex, sure.
But many fancy colored diamonds are sold as “natural,” when they’ve actually been treated for color enhancement. These can still be beautiful, but you should be fully aware of what you're buying and understand that its long-term value will be less than that of a natural fancy colored diamond.
Always consult a professional jeweler/gemologist before spending a serious amount of money on a fancy colored diamond.