Bottom Line Recommendations
- In a white gold or platinum solitaire setting, a J color diamond will look white and offer you the best value
- In a yellow gold solitaire setting, a K (or even lower) will be fine
- In a setting with side stones, make sure the center stone is no lower than one color grade from the side stones. While it will cost a lot more, having the center stone be a grade or two higher than the side stones will really make it pop in the setting. This only applies if the side stones are significant in size (ie, about 0.15ct per stone or larger). If the side stones are tiny pave stones, there’s no concern about color matching.
Princess, Emerald, Asscher Cuts
- In a white gold or platinum solitaire setting, stick with I or better.
- In a yellow gold solitaire setting, stick with J or K.
- In a ring with side stones, you need to match their color (if they’re significant enough in size – usually about 0.15ct). This can be accomplished by sticking to no lower than one color grade from the side stones. As mentioned above, if you can afford it, getting a center stone with a color grade one or two levels higher than the side stones will really make it “pop.”
Everything Else (Marquise, Oval, Pear, Cushion, Radiant, Heart)
- In white gold or platinum, stick with H color or better.
- In yellow gold, shoot for I or J color.
- As with the shapes above, it’s important to match the color of the side stones if they’re large enough to show color (about 0.15ct).
Taking a look at Blue Nile’s diamond education page about color, reveals a few interesting things. First of all, they make the following claim:
After cut, color is generally considered the second most important characteristic when choosing a diamond. This is because the human eye tends to detect a diamond’s sparkle (light performance) first, and color second.
With all due respect to Blue Nile (of which they deserve a tremendous amount – what they have done for the diamond consumer is immeasurable), I have to disagree with this statement. Firstly, the notion that the human eye first notices one of the Four Cs and then moves on to the other Cs in sequential order is nonsensical. In the same way when you look at a beautiful painting, your eye doesn’t first notice the “color” and only then notices the “texture,” viewing a diamond is like viewing any other visual stimulus. The sense of vision, even in a biological sense, is one in which your brain perceives one organic whole of a vision (as opposed to the sense of hearing in which sound waves hit your ear drum in sequence).
So to claim that your eye “detects” cut first and then color next is absurd. Your eye detects a diamond – the question is simply which of the Four Cs has the largest impact on how beautiful that diamond looks.
When setting up a budget to purchase a diamond, I like to think of the analogy of a pizza. If the entire pizza represents your budget, then each slice represents another one of the diamond’s qualities for which you need to decide how much to spend. Obviously, increasing the size of one slice by definition means that another slice or slices will be made smaller.
It should be clear that the best strategy would be to maximize the slices of the pizza that have the greatest visual impact on the diamond and minimize the slices which really don’t matter all that much.
So how does Color fit into the pizza?
In my opinion, color truly is unique among the quality parameters of a diamond. It’s the only truly relative (both practically and theoretically) paramater. What I mean by this is that as a diamond consumer, there really is a meaningful scale of choices from D color down to (practically speaking) J or K color. But this isn’t the case for clarity. All the matters with clarity is that the diamond will be eye clean. A flawless diamond will look identical to an eye clean SI2 assuming all else is equal. So clarity isn’t relative, it’s binary – ie, a diamond is either eye clean or it’s not. Spending more money on a “more” eye clean diamond is a complete waste of money. (By the way, this is why I recommend to most of my readers to buy from stores like James Allen that have a “virtual loupe” that allow you to assess the diamond’s inclusion layout. Not all SI1s and SI2s are eye clean – you need to inspect them to find out if any particular stone will be eye clean. If you’re not sure about a specific stone, please contact me and send me a link to the diamond in question – I’ll be happy to let you know what I think.)
Likewise with cut – there are different grades, but since you should really only consider diamonds that have Excellent cut grades (or even a bit higher with super ideal cut diamonds), there’s really no choice to be made.
Now back to color – if you’re faced with this large scale of choices (D to K), how should one choose what color to purchase? It turns out that diamond color is relative in another sense as well. (Round) Diamonds all the way down to J color will look white. You would only notice that a J color diamond isn’t as white as possible if it were placed next to a diamond of significantly higher color (probably from G or better a difference would be noticeable). Likewise, if you had a D color diamond, you might not be able to appreciate that it’s as white as geologically is possible until you held it next to a G or H color diamond. This is actually how professional diamontaires grade diamonds – a test diamond is always held against calibrated diamond color samples to see how it compares. Nobody – not even the most seasoned diamond veteran – can accurately grade a diamond’s color without comparing it to another diamond.
Another important fact to keep in mind is that color is very difficult to ascertain when viewing a diamond face-up. Diamond graders grade diamond color when the diamond is sitting pristinely on a white card face down – viewing the diamond from the side. In real life conditions – ie, viewing it face-up set in a ring – it’s extremely difficult to discern two or even three color grades difference between two diamonds. Discerning one color grade difference is impossible.
So can I claim that there isn’t any benefit to getting a super high color diamond? No, I can’t make that claim. But do I believe it’s worth it to shell out for a super high color diamond? Absolutely not. Remember the pizza – going for a really high color simply means that the other slices will be made smaller. Some of those slices (like Cut Quality and Carats) really matter a lot. Anyway, to make a visual difference, you’d have to upgrade at least three color grades if you want to be able to appreciate your higher color choice. This will end up being a very expensive upgrade that will needlessly make either the cut of your diamond worse or decrease its size – both of which are much more impressive than the upgrade in color you’d receive.
Back to Blue Nile – at the bottom of that page, there is an informative table drawn up using historical purchasing data. It shows the percent of purchases at Blue Nile within the different color/clarity combinations. I think it’s fascinating to see that if you follow my advice, you would face little competition in finding the ideal stone. Most people, it seems, overbuy both in terms of color and clarity. (although perhaps, there’s what I would call a “Blue Nile Bias” in this data. Since, unlike James Allen, there is no way to evaluate your individual diamond on Blue Nile with high quality photographs, I think people tend to upgrade their clarity and color as an insurance policy that their diamond will be nice.)
Happy diamond shopping! And remember, if you would like any assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us!