Diamond Colour: A Guide For Engagement Ring Shoppers

Diamond colour is one of the 4Cs of diamond quality, and it can also be one of the most confusing.

Getting diamond colour right will mean that you get a beautiful diamond and pay a fair price.

If you go too high with diamond colour, you may find yourself paying more than you need to, without any change in what your diamond looks like.

On the other side, if you go too low, your diamond may look less white, with warmer tones coming through, or possibly even might look yellow.

By the end of this guide, you’ll have a clear understanding of what diamond colour is all about and what colour is the best choice for your engagement ring.

What is Diamond Colour?

Although diamonds occur naturally in a variety of colour, including pink and blue, we usually tend to think of white diamonds when purchasing engagement or wedding rings. White diamonds are very rarely white – the vast majority actually have subtle tints, usually ranging from light yellow to light brown.

These tints are typically caused by the presence of trace amounts of elements other than carbon that were present when the diamond formed deep within the Earth.

When diamonds are formed they absorb gases such as nitrogen which when reflected can take on a yellow hue to the naked eye.

The colour of a diamond can significantly impact its overall appearance and value.

Generally, the less colour a diamond has, the more it allows light to pass through, resulting in better light performance and a higher value. However, there are exceptions, which we’ll explore in the next sections.

The GIA Diamond Colour Scale

As with the other 4Cs, when it comes to evaluating diamond colour, the Gemological Institute of America: (GIA) created the most widely used and recognised colour scale.

The GIA colour scale grades diamonds on a scale from D (colourless) to Z (light yellow or brown):

When buying diamonds they are graded in relationship to their natural colour from D through to Z, with D being an exceptional white colourless diamond and Z being a slightly yellow stone.

diamond colour grades examples

The image below shows an example of how a D colour might look next to a Z colour diamond. At this size the colours may be a little exaggerated but you would see a noticeable difference in a well lit room.

Many professional jewellers will not sell a white diamond below the colour grade of J. Once you see a white diamond at a grade of H through to Z, you can start to see a noticeable difference in the final diamond colour.

Diamond Colour Chart

We have provided you with a handy diamond colour chart to show how each diamond is scored.

You will see a slight colour change in each diamond. However even when we applied a slight change to our diamond images, the changes are almost not noticeable. The same is for real diamonds. It’s hard to detect a minor colour fluctuation with the naked eye.

DExceptional white diamondExceptional White +The Exceptional White (+) diamond with a grade of D is the very rarest of the diamond colour range. The diamond will be completely colourless. This makes it the most valuable coloured diamond.Grade: Colourless.
EExceptional White diamond colourExceptional WhiteThe Exceptional White diamond with a grade of E is also very rare. The difference between D and E is hard to detect when compared. This diamond is graded colourless. This also makes it very valuable.Grade: Colourless.
FRare white diamondRare White +The Rare White (+) diamond is the third highest coloured graded diamond achievable. Its graded F as the diamond is colourless when viewed through the crown.Grade: Colourless when viewed through the crown.
GRare White diamond colourRare WhiteThe Rare White is a fine alternative to the top three colour grades. This colour still makes for an outstanding diamond. Its grade of G is colourless when viewed through the crown.Grade: Colourless when viewed through the crown.
HWhite diamond colourWhiteThe White coloured diamond has a small noticeable colour difference when compared to the top 4 colour grades. It’s grade of H is colourless when viewed through the crown.Grade: Colourless when viewed through the crown.
ISlightly Tinted diamond colourSlightly TintedThe Slightly Tinted White is a great staring point if your buying a diamond on a budget. The colour difference is still very slight making it hard to tell the difference when compared to other grades. It’s grade of I is slightly coloured.Grade: Slightly coloured.
JSlightly Tinted diamond colourSlightly Tinted WhiteThe Slightly Tinted White diamond should really be the last consideration when picking your diamond colour. Anything below this grade will look slightly yellow. Its grade of J is Slightly coloured.Grade: Slightly coloured.

How are diamonds graded for colour?

Diamonds are graded by independent ‘labs’ – the most common grading authority that you are likely to come across is GIA, which grades most white diamonds. Each diamond will be accompanied by a grading report (also known as a ‘certificate’ or ‘cert’), which details the colour grade that has been assigned to the diamond.

The grading process begins with the diamond being placed in a what might normally be thought of as an upside down position, which is also known as ‘face down’ position, or ‘pavilion-up’ on a white background.

face up and face down diamonds

This orientation allows gemmologists to assess the diamond’s body colour without any interference from the diamond’s sparkle – the brilliance, fire, and scintillation – which could make differences in colour difficult to see when viewed ‘face-up’.

In the face down position, diamonds are also likely to appear more yellow or brown than they will when set into a ring.

This is because the diamond’s colour is more concentrated and visible, particularly around the point (know as the ‘culet’), making it easier for gemmologists to detect even slight hints of colour.

Graded colour vs. what a diamond actually looks like

When a diamond is set into a ring, it will be positioned in the ‘face up’ orientation, with the large flat ‘table’ of the diamond visible.

In this position, the diamond’s facets work together to reflect and refract light, off the bottom of the diamond and back up through the table to your eye, making the diamond sparkle. This brilliance, fire, and scintillation can make the diamond appear whiter than it did during the colour grading process.

This is important to know, as it means that a well-cut diamond with slightly lower colour grade can still result in a beautiful, near-colourless appearance when the diamond is set in a ring.

Fancy Coloured Diamonds

The standard GIA colour range covers ‘white’ diamonds, but there’s also a whole world of fancy coloured diamonds out there.

These diamonds exhibit vibrant hues beyond the standard D-Z scale and are quite rare and sought after. Some common fancy diamond colours include:

  • Yellow
  • Pink
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Orange
  • Red

The value of fancy coloured diamonds is influenced by the rarity and intensity of the colour, as well as other factors such as diamond cut quality, clarity, and carat weight. This article won’t go into detail about any of these other colours

How diamond shape affects diamond colour

The most common diamond shape used in engagement rings is the round brilliant, which is also the shape that reflects the most light back to your eye and therefore sparkles the most brilliantly. Due to the large amount of light that they reflect, round brilliant diamonds tend to look whiter than some other shapes when mounted in jewellery, which means that lower colour grades can look whiter.

Other brilliant shapes e.g. oval or princess cut can also benefit from this, although some traces of warmer colours can sometimes be seen in areas where they don’t reflect as much light e.g. the tips of ovals or the corners of princess cuts.

At the other end are diamond which aren’t brilliant cut e.g. emerald cut diamonds or Asscher cut. These diamonds have large, flat facets that light tends to bounce off directly, rather than being reflected from the internal facets like a brilliant cut. Stepped cut diamonds tend to show yellower tones more obviously than brilliant cuts, so it can be a good idea to go a little higher when choosing a colour grade.

How metal used in a ring’s setting can affect diamond colour

Another factor that can affect the appearance of a diamond’s colour is the colour of the metal used in the setting.

With white metals, like platinum or white gold, it can be a good idea to choose a higher colour grade (H or above) to ensure the diamond appears colourless and doesn’t take on a yellowish hue in contrast with the metal.

However, it’s not necessary to choose the highest colour grades (D, E, or F), as the difference in appearance may be minimal and not worth the extra cost.

For yellow gold settings, the warm hue of the metal can help to mask the presence of some colour in the diamond. In this case, you can opt for a slightly lower colour grade (I or J), as the diamond will still appear relatively colourless against the yellow gold. This can be a more budget-friendly option while ensuring that the diamond doesn’t look yellow.

Similarly, for rose gold settings, the warm, pinkish hue of the metal can also help to disguise some colour in the diamond. Choosing a diamond with a lower colour grade (I or J) should still provide a beautiful appearance without the diamond appearing yellow.

The exact combination of setting colour and diamond can come down to personal preference, but choosing an appropriate colour for the setting can free up some budget to spend on other attributes of the diamond.

Choosing the Right Diamond Colour for Your Engagement Ring

While there are some further intricacies, you should now have a good understanding of the major factors to consider when choosing your diamond for your engagement ring. To sum up:

Consider the diamond’s size and shape: Larger diamonds can show more colour, so if you are choosing a higher carat weight,  you may want to opt for a higher colour grade. Also, certain shapes, like round cuts, can hide colour better than others, like emerald or asscher cuts.

Take the metal colour of the ring setting into account: The colour of the metal used in the ring setting can impact the appearance of the diamond. For example, a near-colourless diamond may appear whiter in a yellow or rose gold setting, while a white gold or platinum setting may require a slightly higher colour grade to appear white.

Evaluate diamonds in person or request high-resolution images: It’s always best to view diamonds in person to get an accurate idea of their colour. If that’s not possible, request high-resolution images from the jeweller to see the diamond’s true colour.

Work with a reputable jeweller: A trustworthy jeweller will provide honest guidance and help you select a diamond that meets your expectations and budget. They’ll ensure you’re well-informed about the diamond’s colour grade and any other factors that may affect its appearance and value.

Lastly, it’s important to balance colour with other quality factors (cut, clarity, and carat): Remember, colour is just one aspect of a diamond’s overall quality. It’s essential to find a balance between the 4 Cs to get the best value and appearance for your engagement ring.