Diamond Color Scale: Getting the Best Value for Money

Last updated May 19, 2024

Diamond color is one of the most important aspects that affects a diamond’s beauty. It’s graded along a diamond color scale that ranges from D (completely colorless diamonds) to Z (diamonds with a very noticeable yellow or brown tint).

Prices decrease the further down the scale you go, which means that buying a colorless diamond will cost you a lot more than buying a light yellow or brown one. But do you really need to pay a premium if your heart’s set on a classic icy white diamond?

In most cases, no. Stones toward the more affordable middle range of the diamond color scale can still look clear and white to the naked eye. It depends on what other variables are in play – for instance, the diamond’s shape, cut, carat weight, and the metal color of jewelry setting it’s placed in.

This guide will take you through everything you need to know to confidently select the best diamond color grade for your needs and budget.

What is Diamond Color?

A diamond in the middle of the GIA color scale (also known as the diamond color chart). Its discoloration is due to trace elements in its crystal lattice.
A diamond showing some off-white discoloration

The term “diamond color” refers to the level of coloration in a white diamond – or perhaps more accurately to its level of discoloration, because colorless white diamonds are more valuable and rare.

Most diamonds come out of the ground with a yellowish or brownish tint, the result of chemical impurities present during their geological formation. About 98% of mined white diamonds are discolored to some degree, making the few that aren’t extremely highly prized.

Color is one of the 4Cs of diamonds, which is the globally predominant grading system for diamond quality. (The three other Cs are diamond cut, diamond clarity, and diamond carat.)

What Diamond Color is Not

In the context of the diamond 4Cs, the term “diamond color” is used only to describe the color characteristic of white diamonds. It doesn’t refer to diamonds that are colors other than white. These are known instead as “fancy colored diamonds” or “fancy color diamonds”, which are many times rarer than white diamonds.

Blue diamonds, pink diamonds, and green diamonds are all examples of fancy colored diamonds. So are yellow diamonds, which are classified as fancy colored if their yellow tint is so saturated that they can no longer be described as white.

The regular diamond color scale that’s used on white diamonds doesn’t apply to fancy colored diamonds, which are graded according to different criteria.

Now that these (somewhat confusing!) definitions are all cleared up, let’s move on to understanding the diamond color scale and how it works.

TL;DR: “Diamond color” means any presence of off-white color in a white diamond. It does not refer to fancy colored diamonds (pink diamonds, blue diamonds, and so on).

The Diamond Color Scale

The GIA Diamond Color Chart (also called the GIA Color Scale), which is the most well-regarded of the diamond grading systems for color.
The GIA Diamond Color Scale

The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) developed the 4Cs of diamonds and the International Diamond Grading System in the mid-20th century. These grading standards were adopted internationally, and GIA is today the major provider of diamond grading services worldwide.

When considering a diamond for purchase, a crucial step is to check its GIA diamond grading report that any reputable vendor will happily provide for you. Inside the report, you’ll see key information about the diamond, including its color grade.

A diamond report excerpt featuring an F color diamond, which is high on the GIA Diamond Color Scale.

In the screenshot of the sample GIA report above, you can see that this hypothetical diamond was given a color letter grade of F. As a diamond’s color grade starts at D and ends at Z, this is very high up on the diamond color scale.

TL;DR: Letter grades on the diamond color scale range from D (the highest and most colorless) to Z (the lowest and most discolored). You can find a diamond’s color grade inside its diamond report.

Diamond Prices by Color Grade Range

Diamond color letter grades are grouped into five ranges:

  • Colorless
  • Near Colorless
  • Faint
  • Very Light
  • Light

Because they’re so discolored, Very Light and Light diamonds are rarely seen in engagement rings. Most jewelry stores don’t carry stones that are so far down the diamond color scale, as they’re not desirable for bridal or other high-end jewelry.

Here’s roughly what you can expect to pay for a diamond in the Colorless, Near Colorless, and Faint ranges. To keep the cost comparisons fair, we’re assuming that each diamond is a 1 carat round brilliant with an Excellent cut grade and VS2 clarity grade.

Colorless Diamonds (D-F)

A stone in the D-F color diamond range.
D color diamond

Colorless diamonds with D, E, or F color grades have no visible discoloration, either to the naked eye or when 10x magnified.

This is the rarest and most valuable diamond color range.

A Colorless diamond generally costs between $5,000 to $7,000.

Near Colorless Diamonds (G-J)

A stone in the D-J color diamond range.
G color diamond

Near Colorless diamonds with G, H, I, or J color grades appear colorless to the naked eye when viewed face up in a jewelry setting.

While some color is visible if the diamond is viewed under 10x magnification, or if it’s examined from different angles as a loose stone, this doesn’t matter because nobody’s going to see your diamond under those conditions.

Near Colorless diamonds typically go from between $3,000 to $6,000.

Faint Diamonds (K-M)

A stone in the K-M color diamond range. It can still appear white under the right viewing conditions.
K color diamond

Faint diamonds with K, L, or M color grades carry a faint brown or slight yellow tint that may or may not be visible to the naked eye. This depends on factors like the shape of the diamond, the type of lighting it’s under, and how far away you are when viewing it.

For a diamond with Faint color, you’re looking at about $2,000 to $3,000.

Very Light and Light Diamonds (N-Z)

A stone in the N-Z color diamond range, which encompasses off-white to yellow or brown diamonds.
N color diamond

Very Light diamonds with N, O, P, Q, or R color grades are noticeably off-white to the naked eye, with an undisguisable brown or light yellow tone. And Light diamonds with S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, or Z color grades are even more obviously yellow or brown.

Though not readily available at jewelry stores, you may be able to find these lower grade diamonds with a bit of online searching. Average prices are difficult to estimate because these diamonds are in such low demand. If you do want one, you can expect to find it at a significant discount to diamonds that are higher up the color scale.

TL;DR: Diamond color has a significant impact on diamond price. The cost of a D color diamond can be 250% or even more than the price of an M color diamond with the same carat and clarity grade.

What’s the Best Diamond Color to Choose?

Technically speaking, a D color diamond is the best diamond color – a fact that’s certainly reflected in its price!

But a D color grade isn’t the one you should choose. Colorless diamonds are a waste of money, because you’re paying for something that no one will ever see. Near Colorless diamonds look just as icy white as Colorless ones once they’re mounted in a ring setting. Even a Faint color diamond can look beautiful in an engagement ring.

Here are the considerations to take into account when selecting your diamond’s color grade.

Setting Metal Color

A diamond set in yellow gold with platinum prongs.
A diamond ring with a yellow gold band and platinum prongs

If your diamond will be set in a cool metal like platinum or white gold, you’ll need a higher color grade than you would for a warm metal setting like yellow gold or rose gold.

Here’s why: Diamonds reflect some of the color of the metal they’re set in, which changes how they appear to the naked eye.

Cool Metal Settings

For a setting of platinum or white gold, a diamond in the Near Colorless range works best. It will reflect the cool silvery-white metal color and look whiter and brighter as a result.

Don’t choose a diamond in the Faint range or below, because the color tint here is too strong to be enhanced by a white metal setting. Instead, any faint yellow hue will clash with the white metal, making the diamond look even yellower by contrast.

Warm Metal Settings

A Near Colorless diamond is wasted in a rose or yellow gold setting. The warmth of the metal will be reflected in the diamond, which can make it appear less white than it really is.

A diamond in the Faint range is a much better choice here. In a warm setting, a Faint diamond looks whiter than it really is, as its own color blends in with and is disguised by the metal’s color.

Pro tip: If you have your heart set on an icy white diamond in a warm metal, you can still choose a yellow or rose gold ring. Just have the setting (the part that holds the diamond) done in platinum or white gold. Then your Near Colorless diamond will look great, as most metal reflection comes from the setting and not the band.

TL;DR: A diamond’s color appearance can be improved or detracted by its setting. A Near Colorless diamond is ideal for white gold or platinum settings. A Faint color diamond works best in yellow or rose gold.

Diamond Shape

A chart of the most popular diamond shapes.
Popular diamond shapes

Diamond shape refers to the physical form or outline of a diamond. Popular diamond shapes include round, oval, and princess.

Different diamond shapes show or hide diamond color in different ways. In other words, the shape you choose will affect what color grade you’ll need.

The color range recommendations for the shapes below are for diamonds that are approximately 1 carat in weight and cut to ideal proportions.

Round Brilliant Diamond

A round cut diamond is the most popular diamond shape because it has the greatest brilliance, fire and scintillation – in other words, it’s the sparkliest shape you can get. All that sparkle goes a long way towards masking color.

  • Cool metal setting: H to J
  • Warm metal setting: K to M

Princess Diamond

A princess diamond is what’s known as a “modified brilliant” shape, meaning it was derived from the round brilliant. Thanks to its brilliant-style faceting, a princess masks color quite well, though some color can show more strongly in the corners of this square-shaped diamond. However, that’s usually not an issue because its corners will be covered by the ring setting.

  • Cool metal setting: G to H
  • Warm metal setting: I to K

Oval, Pear, and Marquise Diamonds

While these three modified brilliant shapes are reasonably good at obscuring color, they tend to show stronger color at at their elongated end points. If a diamond you like displays more color in these areas, a prong or bezel setting can help to cover it up.

  • Cool metal setting: G to H
  • Warm metal setting: I to K

Heart Diamonds

Hearts tend to show a little more color than other modified brilliant shapes, but not by much. If you’re unsure, err on the side of caution and pick the higher of the recommended color grades for your setting’s metal color.

  • Cool metal setting: G to H
  • Warm metal setting: I to J

Emerald and Asscher Diamonds

The emerald and Asscher shapes are known as “step cut” diamonds, so called because of their long straight facets that “step” up toward a large center facet. Compared to brilliant cut shapes, step cut shapes are less forgiving of color.

  • Cool metal setting: F to G
  • Warm metal setting: H to I

Radiant Diamond

The radiant is a “mixed cut” shape that combines elements of both brilliant and step cutting styles. Despite having brilliant faceting on their crowns, radiant diamonds are not especially good at obscuring color tint.

  • Cool metal setting: G to H
  • Warm metal setting: I to J

Trillion and Baguette Diamonds

Trillions and baguettes are hardly ever chosen for diamond ring center stones. They’re much more likely to show up as small accent stones on either side of the center diamond. If you’re considering trillion or baguette side stones, make sure they’re no more than one color grade lower than your center stone, so they don’t appear discolored by contrast.

TL;DR: The shape of your diamond will affect the color grade you should select. Round brilliants are the best at disguising color, followed by modified brilliant shapes. Step cut shapes show the most color.

Diamond Size (Carat Weight)

A chart showing the sizes of popular diamond shapes according to their carat weights.
Three popular diamond shapes (round, princess, and oval) shown in different weights and sizes

A carat is a measure of diamond weight, equivalent to 0.2 grams. A 1 carat diamond weighs 0.2 grams, a 1.5 carat diamond weighs 0.3 grams, and so on.

Diamond size isn’t the only thing that increases with carats – so does color visibility. Generally speaking, the bigger the diamond, the more color it’s likely to show. Color starts creeping up once you get past the 1 carat mark, and gets more prominent the further you go beyond the 2 carat mark.

Let’s say you have a 1 carat and a 2 carat diamond side by side, both of which have K color grades. The 2 carat diamond will typically show its color more obviously than the 1 carat, because its greater surface area and depth provide more space for color to spread out and be noticed.

This means you might need to bump up your color grade if you want a larger diamond. For example, a J color round brilliant cut will look great in white gold if it’s 1 carat or less. But as a 2 carat stone, an I or H color diamond will look better.

However, make sure that any increase in color grade doesn’t come at the expense of your diamond’s cut quality. Not only does a top-tier cut do a lot of heavy lifting to hide color, it also obscures flaws and makes the diamond appear larger.

TL;DR: Color is more visible in a larger diamond than in a smaller one. You may need to up the color grade if your diamond is 2 carats or more, or consider picking a smaller diamond that hides color better.

Diamond Cut

A chart showing the five different GIA cut grades: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor.
GIA diamond cut grades

Diamond cut has a huge impact on how diamond color is perceived. In the context of the diamond 4Cs, the term refers to how well or badly a white round diamond has been cut from a rough stone to a finished gem.

A high quality diamond cut has ideal measurements, proportions, polish, and symmetry. These qualities act to increase the diamond’s brilliance and sparkle, which obscures color. A badly cut diamond, on the other hand, makes color more pronounced.

If you’re like most people and want a round brilliant diamond engagement ring, then make sure you get one with the highest cut grade, Excellent. But don’t stop there – read our guide to selecting the best diamond cut to make sure you pick a true stunner.

An excerpt from a diamond report that shows a cut grade of Excellent.

Only round diamonds are given a GIA cut grade. So if you’re considering a fancy shape diamond (which is any shape that’s not a round diamond), a cut grade won’t be included in its diamond report. You’ll need to dig deeper into the report to check that its measurements and proportions are up to scratch.

Be aware that the color-obscuring benefits of a superior cut apply only to brilliant cut diamonds. Color in step cut diamonds, such as the emerald and Asscher, isn’t noticeably improved by cut quality. However, you should still prioritize cut when selecting step cuts, because a well-cut diamond of any shape will always look better than one with a bad cut.

TL;DR: Prioritize getting a diamond with the best possible cut. A high quality cut will improve color appearance in brilliant diamonds and can save you money on your color grade.

Recap: Mastering the Diamond Color Scale

If you’ve made it this far, you should now have a solid understanding of the diamond color scale and the characteristics of the ranges and grades within it. Here are the key points to remember when selecting the right diamond color grade for your needs:

  • Colorless diamonds are a waste of money. Why pay a premium for something that nobody’s going to see? Diamonds in the Near Colorless and Faint color ranges offer the same levels of beauty at a much more affordable price point.
  • Your ring’s metal color should inform your diamond color selection. Generally speaking, choose a Near Colorless diamond for white gold or platinum jewelry, and a Faint diamond for yellow or rose gold.
  • Some diamond shapes hide color better than others. Brilliant cut diamonds are better at obscuring color than step cut shapes.
  • The bigger the diamond, the more prone to showing color. For 2 carats and above, you may need to increase your color grade beyond our recommendations for 1 carat diamonds.
  • Keep cut quality at the front and center of your decision-making process. A high quality cut will help to mask color in brilliant cut diamonds. While it won’t necessarily improve color appearance in step cut diamonds, it will still make them more beautiful through superior proportions, symmetry, and light performance.

Now that you’re a master of the diamond color scale, it’s a good time to also read through our guides to diamond cut (seriously, it’s the most important of the 4Cs to know!) and diamond clarity.