While most shoppers hunt for a perfect colorless diamond, these popular gems actually come in nearly every color of the rainbow. Colorless diamonds are prized for their “whiteness,” which shows off the beauty of the diamond and indicates a purer crystal structure—quite a rarity—but a recent increase in demand for colored diamonds is bringing more attention to these “fancy” gems.

Colored diamonds are valued for their unique hues—browns, yellows, pinks, and blues. Where white diamonds increase in value and price the less color they have, colored diamonds are the opposite: the fancier—or more intense—the color, the greater the cost. Yellow and brown are the most common colored diamonds. These colors are created by the presence of nitrogen in the diamond. For this reason, a diamond that is not colorless will usually have a tint of yellow or brown due to the commonality of nitrogen in diamonds. Sometimes it might be difficult to see these subtle hues, though, so even colorless diamonds are included in a special grading scale to let consumers know what’s what.


Diamond colors on the D-Z scale ( colors Q-Z are represented by the labels Light Yellow and Canary Yellow). When shopping for a colorless diamond, the colors that you will most likely be dealing with are D-M.

Diamond colors on the D-Z scale ( colors Q-Z are represented by the labels Light Yellow and Canary Yellow). When shopping for a colorless diamond, the colors that you will most likely be dealing with are D-M.


Depending on your budget and color preference, you can start to narrow down which diamond is right for you or your loved one by bearing in mind this color range system. The color grading scale uses a letter range from DZ with D being the least amount of color, or completely colorless, with each letter representing a subtle increase in color as the scale heads toward Z. Within this range, the colors are grouped into segments by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA): DF is colorless, GJ is near colorless, KM represents a faint color, NR is very light, and SZ is light. An untrained eye will not begin to see color in a diamond until the J level or lower (moving forward along the alphabet toward Z).

Tip: The color of a diamond also has to do with its fluorescence, which doesn’t factor into the grading scale. This is a much-debated attribute that is present in about a third of diamonds. It gives a glow-in-the-dark effect to the stone, which can be seen under ultraviolet light. Some experts feel fluorescence doesn’t affect color at all, while others feel a diamond with a strong fluorescence can “whiten” a slightly yellow diamond because it “glows” a bluish color. Heavy fluorescence in a diamond can also potentially result in a slight cloudy look. These effects can often be observed when a diamond is in direct sunlight.

Diamonds with fluorescence under ultraviolet light.

Fancy colored diamonds have an even more intense color than a Z-grade colorless diamond. As a result, colored diamonds use a different grading system based on the three-dimensional Munsell color system. This scale takes into account hue (color), tone (lightness to darkness), and saturation (color concentration). Graders use a range of master stones, whose color attributes are precisely mapped out, comparatively to determine a diamond’s grade regarding the hue, tone and saturation specifically. Grades include Fancy Light, Fancy, Fancy Intense, Fancy Deep, Fancy Vivid, and Fancy Dark. The hue (color) is named from a list of 27 colors (just a few more choices than ROY G BIV of the rainbow!). A fancy colored diamond is given both a grade and hue name  such as Fancy Light bluish green or Fancy Vivid greenish blue, to describe all three attributes of its color.

You may see colors listed or hear them described as champagne, cognac, canary, chocolate, etc., but these are trade names, not official grading terms. They do sound much more alluring, though, and can help your jeweler understand what you are looking for. If you are going the fancy diamond route, personal preference is everything. Since there are so many variations, describe what you’re looking for as intricately as you can to your jeweler so he or she can figure out where on the GIA color scale, understood industry wide, your perfect diamond might fall.


The 27 hues used by GIA to describe fancy-colored diamonds.

The 27 hues used by GIA to describe fancy-colored diamonds.


If you’re shopping for a colored diamond take these tips into consideration:

  • Warmer colored stones, like “champagne”, that have just a tint of color have gained in popularity. These lighter colors give a diamond a vintage feel, so having just a little color can be a great choice—and not just for your wallet!

  • Skin tone can make a colored diamond pop or flop! Make sure to try different hues against the skin before taking the plunge!

  • Colored diamonds come in so many tones, finding that perfect color can be tough! Don’t be afraid to ask your jeweler to present you with multiple choices to choose from.


If you are looking for a diamond using the DZ scale, here are some things to keep in mind in order to determine what color grade you want:

  • Remember: You don’t have to get a D-grade diamond for it to be considered colorless. E and F are also in the colorless range.

  • If you set a colorless diamond in yellow gold, it will reflect the yellow from the gold and no longer look as colorless, negating the extra money you spent on a higher-grade diamond.

  • If you set a near colorless (GJ) or even faint stone (KM) in the right setting, such as yellow gold or in a bezel, you can possibly counteract the hint of color as those grade stones are actually “whiter” than the metal.

  • A diamond with a high cut grade will look as though it has less color due to its greater light return than a low cut grade stone.

  • The larger the diamond, the more noticeable the color.

  • As with clarity, different grading laboratories have slightly varying color grades. The GIA grading is “tougher” than others. Thus, a diamond with an F grade from one lab might get a G from the GIA.


So whether you’re shopping for a fancy or colorless diamond, make sure to keep all you’ve learned about color in mind! Use the color scale to your advantage in finding the perfect diamond and also in understanding what you are purchasing. Once you’ve spilled over your choices, it’s most important look at the diamond as it stands alone and not against other colors. That’s how you’ll truly know if it’s the one! Happy diamond hunting!


Bye for now,

Alicia Gardner Kozikowski, G.G.


Go Back:

Dissecting the 4Cs – Part I: Carat

Dissecting the 4Cs – Part II: Clarity