Keeping diamond color in context
Photo credit: 204park.com

Keeping diamond color in context

Where do you start seeing color in diamonds, D-Z?

A quick refresher:

  • DEF are considered “colorless.”
  • GHIJ are “near-colorless.”
  • K and below run from slightly tinted to very-light and light shades of yellow (or brown).

Let’s set aside the fact that diamonds are color-graded upside-down, viewed through the side. More on that later.

In casual, social viewing: Can you see the difference between F and H color?

Maybe yes? Maybe no? As carat weight increases the answer becomes yes for more people.

Same situation: Can you see the difference between D and E color?

In full context this should be harder to answer.

Remember, even the strictest authorities agree on a practical margin of +/- one grade in the subjective areas of color and clarity. For that matter, color occurs on a sliding scale. This means a diamond straddling the border of D and E may legitimately be called either. It makes the answer to this question diamond-specific, even for gemologists in clinical viewing.

Again in full context, even a difference of two color grades can be difficult to see when the higher-color is low it range, and the lower-color is high in its range. This is why gemologists view diamonds loose against a white background under specific lighting, judged against color master-stones.

Color context 101: Close comparisons

I like the way my friend Layla brings context to comparisons of close diamond colors.

Have you ever gotten one of those HUGE paint fan decks? Where there are literally 100s of colors of whites? And when they are RIGHT next to each other you can TOTALLY tell that one is bluer/colder and one is a bit warmer and which one is one is TOTALLY warmer. One there’s one that’s slightly greener. One that’s slightly pinker? But really, they are all “white”.

Then you pick one after agonizing over this white or that white and when it’s on the walls and people are like: “Oh. You painted again. And it’s STILL white. Great.”

And you’re all… BUT it’s BLUE white. Or it’s a WARM white now. It used to be ____ white. It’s TOTALLY different.

At the top of the D-Z scale, diamond color context is much like that. Shades of white: E is colder. H is warmer and J is warmer, still. But it’s all white.

Color context 201: The grading process

Do you remember that little fact we set aside at the top of this post? Let’s revisit the color-grading process. Gemologists perform D to Z color grading with the diamond upside down and viewed through the side.

Why the side? Because it permits a neutral view.

In well-cut diamonds light gets in and out on shorter ray-paths with greater intensity. This can cause the appearance of less color when seen from the top. Alternately, if the diamond is cut so that light escapes through the bottom – or bounced around inside – the color within that diamond may be exaggerated when seen from the top.

Experienced diamond enthusiasts regularly encounter J colors which look surprisingly colorless viewed from the top, and F colors which show more tint than  expected viewed from the top, etc.

Learn With Videos: Color

Watch this short video for illustrated examples of color-influence brought about by cut-quality.

The takeaway

Many diamond sellers like to hold forth on where they believe the average person will start detecting tint. “Stay higher than G” or “Stay higher than H” is frequent advice. When establishing such baselines, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Such advice may reflect the seller’s personal tastes, not the shopper’s.
  2. Such advice may actually be designed to keep the shopper spending more.
  3. There are many people who like the warmth of near-colorless diamonds and lower.

Consumer education

In my experience, showing a range of diamond colors side by side through various illumination scenarios – without even naming them until the observer makes his or her own observations – is the best way to determine that observer’s preferences and comfort zone. Such exercises in consumer education, providing full context and useful information, are also good ways to win trust and loyalty.

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John Pollard

John Pollard is an educational consultant and subject matter expert for diamond producers, grading laboratories and jewelers in the USA, Europe and Asia. He has lectured for JCK Las Vegas, IGI workshops in New York, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, the American Gem Society in Washington D.C., GIA's Alumni Association and other industry organizations.

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