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For many centuries diamonds have been one of the most coveted stones on the planet with colorless diamonds being the most sought after. True colorless diamonds or D grade diamonds are rare and as a result their price increases quite significantly. During formation the presence of nitrogen in the ground can be responsible for color being present in a diamond, giving it a yellow hue, whereas a brown tinge to the lower graded diamonds is a result of grains within the body of the diamond, created during formation. It is no fault of the diamond, just a simple act of nature. A diamond which is colorless offers naturally beautiful fire and sparkle, this can further be enhanced by an excellent or ideal cut.


During grading color relates to how little color is present in a diamond or how white it is. The less color, the better the diamond will be graded. Color grades start at D and run through to Z. This grading system was set up by the GIA in the 1950’s to provide a uniform grading system to ensure that all diamonds were categorized in the same way. At the time there were already several grading systems in place and so to ensure that true clarity of what grade color a diamond was a new system was introduced to prevent any misinterpretation or confusion about what color a diamond actually was. The chart below shows the GIA diamond grading system and what color relates to what grade a diamond is given. Most of the high end diamond suppliers will not stock diamonds below a grade J, this is because once a diamond has been graded with faint color present, it loses a lot of its value.

GIA Color Scale

Ever wondered why the GIA color grading system starts at d? Well before GIA developed the D-Z Color Grading Scale, a variety of other systems were loosely applied. These included letters of the alphabet (A, B and C, with multiple A’s for the best stones), Arabic (0, 1, 2, 3) and Roman (I, II, III) numerals, and descriptions such as “gem blue” or “blue white.” The result of all these grading systems was inconsistency and inaccuracy. Because the creators of the GIA Color Scale wanted to start fresh, without any association with earlier systems, they chose to start with the letter D—a letter grade normally not associated with top quality. Head to the GIA website for more information.

How are diamonds color graded?

Diamonds are graded under strictly controlled conditions with the lighting and environment in which the diamonds are viewed being constant to prevent any changes in lighting conditions which may affect the way in which a diamond is viewed against another. The lighting used simulates daylight to enable a true analysis of the color of the stone. Before grading commences the diamond will be passed through a colorimeter to get a baseline color, however, it is the human eye that actually grades the diamond for certification purposes. Diamonds are graded for their color by a gemologist who will look at them through a 10x magnifier with the pavilion (base) face up against a white background. They will have their color graded against a master set of diamonds of a known color. The diamond will be graded by a minimum of two people to ensure consistency within color grades before being given an overall grade for certification purposes. It is quite possible to have a diamond that is in-between colors due to the subtle differences between the color gradients. As a result the color will be graded lower rather than on the higher grade scale.

Colorless diamonds

Colorless diamonds are graded between D – F and are often described as being ‘icy white’. The lack of color in them enables them to be viewed as white rather than true colorless. Diamonds that are D and E graded are exceptionally rare and as a result command a high price. An F diamond will have a very tiny amount of undetectable color.

Near-Colorless diamonds

Near colorless diamonds are graded from G to J. These diamonds will show a small amount of color when viewed upon a white background. To the untrained naked eye the color difference will barely be noticeable when viewed from the table (face up). The cut of the diamond can also effect the color to the untrained naked eye, as a result an ideal cut diamond will appear whiter than one which has not been cut to the same standard even though they may be color graded the same. Diamonds in the near-colorless range can offer excellent value for money as they are not valued as highly as colorless diamonds. It would only be when you placed a colorless and a near-colorless diamond together, face down on a white background that you would see the very subtle color difference.

K – Z graded diamonds

Diamonds that are graded below a J will have color present in them. K to M diamonds can show a faint yellow tinge to the body while diamonds graded below M will have a noticeable yellow hue.

Diamond companies such as Whiteflash and James Allen will usually only supply color graded D-J diamonds as these are the more sought after and highest quality diamonds.

The video below shows exactly what a gemologist is looking for when grading a diamond and shows the subtle differences between the grades.

Diamond setting

Diamonds are always viewed under strict and consistent lighting conditions against a white background to ensure that the color grade given to the diamond is one which is true. After the diamond has been chosen by the customer the setting in which it is to be placed can have an effect as to how white the diamond appears to the naked eye. An example of this is a J graded diamond that has an ideal cut, which has been set into a white metal such as platinum or white gold can look as colorless as an F grade diamond set into yellow or rose gold. This is why near-colorless diamonds can offer very good value for money for customers on a tighter budget. The subtlety in the color difference will barely be noticeable so long as the cut and setting complement the diamond.

In summary to enable you to get the best value for money when shopping for a diamond remember:

    • Diamonds are graded from D-Z with D being the highest grade a diamond can be given. D graded diamonds are very rare and as result command an inflated price.
    • Near-colorless diamonds offer excellent value for money when cut to an ideal standard and set into a white metal. The color difference between colorless and near-colorless will not be noticeable to the untrained naked eye.
Ensure that your diamond is properly certified by the AGS or GIA to ensure that consistency in grading is achieved. Consult a diamond specialist such as Blue Nile, James Allen or Whiteflash if you are unsure about what you are looking for. They are available to give their expert opinion to you and will ensure that you get the best value for your budget.

Richard Jenkins, The Diamond Guru

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