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How Well Can You See Color in Diamonds?

by Willyou.net * Mar 17, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Every single color grade on the GIA’s Color Scale serves a purpose, and can be distinguished from the next by an expert eye.
  • That said, the differences between one and the next are incremental. These grades are designed to reflect every degree of color a white diamond can have, after all.
  • For this reason, the naked eye will find it impossible to distinguish between one color grade and the next, particularly at the higher end of the scale.
  • Between the Colorless and Near Colorless grades, you won’t spot a difference.
  • This is why it’s pointless paying extra for a D, E, or F diamond when a G, H, I, or J diamond will do.
How Well Can You See Color in Diamonds

There are 23 unique grades on the GIA’s color scale, all of which are separated into five separate categories: colorless, near colorless, faint, very light, and light. The difference between a D color diamond and a Z color diamond are, as you can imagine, plain to see. The differences, however, between diamonds in the same color category – or two consecutive color grades – are significantly harder to identify. For most of us, it’s impossible.

So, what does that mean? How far from a D color diamond can you afford to go before you do start to notice the color difference, and how far down the color scale should you be focusing your search if the subtle differences between one grade and another aren’t clear to the naked eye? What’s more, how can you trust that your own judgement means anything, if you don’t understand what difference lies between, say, a G color diamond from an H color diamond?

Here’s what you need to know.

How Are Diamonds Graded for Color?

The GIA developed their scale with clearly defined parameters for every single grade, from D through Z. New diamonds in need of grading are studied under good lighting and strong magnification, and compared with a ‘control group’ of diamonds that represent the full color scale.

At least two separate GIA graders will look at every diamond that comes into the lab for grading – more than two, if an initial agreement can’t be made.

Picking a color grade is not a casual or arbitrary process. Every color grade will incur a different value on the market and, while the presence of color may be so subtle that no one outside of the lab is ever able to identify it, grading needs to be done under very strict conditions.

This is another example of why we think the GIA is the best (and, aside from the AGS, only) lab buyers should trust when browsing diamonds.

It can be confusing for first-timers. After all, D, E, and F color diamonds are all considered to be ‘Colorless’, but, at the same time, the GIA tells us that D color diamonds are better than E and F color diamonds. The key is to understand what it means for you and for the overall look of your ring.

Do Near Colorless Diamonds Look Yellow?

In the majority of cases, no. There may be some exceptions to the rule – for instance, if the diamond is a high carat weight, or cut to a shape that tends to retain color, like the Cushion or Emerald cut – but most shoppers find a great value diamond with no visible color from the Near Colorless range.

There are plenty of reasons for this. For starters, Near Colorless diamonds are nearly colorless. While they do contain traces of color, GIA graders will have identified it under strong magnification and laboratory lighting.

And, while the color is there, the opportunities to see it are almost never there.

For starters, a diamond ring is constantly moving. Even when the wearer is sitting still, those tiny movements we all make mean that it’s very difficult for the eye to settle on the diamond.

Couple that with the fact that a diamond ring is always sparkling. Unless you’re in a room with no light (in which case, you won’t see the diamond – let alone its color), those flashes of brilliance and multicolored fire are constantly obscuring any minor inclusions or traces of color.

What’s more, when diamonds are worn against the skin – and particularly when they are set in a warmer toned metal, like rose or yellow gold – they have a habit of ‘drawing in’ a little of the surrounding color. This is part of diamond’s appeal for jewelry, but does mean that even the whitest diamonds will, when worn, appear a little different.

Can You Tell the Difference Between an F and G Color Diamond?

Not without the right lighting conditions, magnification, and training in gemology.

This is something a lot of shoppers are eager to find out, since the F and G color grades sit on either side of the Colorless/Near Colorless divide. In general, trading ‘down’ to a G color results in savings of a few hundred dollars, but some people are still worried about a visible loss of quality for a relatively minor reduction in cost.

There is a difference between F and G diamonds, but the chances of you (or anyone else) identifying that difference when you and your diamond are out in the world are slim to none.

This is one area where your own judgement really will serve you. Just as you can be a strong judge of eye cleanliness, you can also be a strong judge of your diamond’s color. Your jeweler’s own input will be important, since they have spent a lot more time studying diamonds than you, but don’t focus solely on the grade printed in the report.

Remember that you can’t make this judgement off a picture or video alone. Diamonds look totally different under HD photography to how they look when they’re right there in front of you, so shopping through a screen could easily see you overspending on a higher grade than you need, or wasting money on a diamond that’s low enough on the scale to appear yellow under normal conditions.

So, Does Color Even Matter?

Yes! Even though you can’t pick out the subtle differences between, say, an F and a G color diamond does not mean that you won’t be able to plainly see the differences between a G color diamond and an M color diamond.

While the scale of diamond color moves very gradually between colorless and bright, unmissable yellow, it is still moving. There is enough difference between one color grade and the next for experts to be able to detect it relatively easily.

This is why the general rule of thumb is for shoppers to remain safely above the ‘Faint’ color grades (and the grade below that category). While the Colorless grades offer the best assurance against any glimmers of yellow, the Near Colorless range offers the very best value for money.

That’s not to say that every Near Colorless diamond will be a winner – or that every K color diamond will look terrible in jewelry – but that, if you want to have the widest array of choices, the G, H, I, and J color grades are the best – even if you struggle to identify color below that point for yourself.