Exploring Colored Diamonds: What Makes Each Color Unique?

10 minute read

This past November, Harry Winston spent a record-breaking 50 million dollars on a jaw-dropping 50-carat pink diamond, aptly renamed the Pink Legacy. This winter, Lady Gaga strutted across the Oscars red carpet parading a 128-carat fancy yellow diamond last seen publicly gracing the neck of Audrey Hepburn for a promotional Breakfast at Tiffany's shoot. What do both of these diamonds have in common? They possess the most highly sought-after abnormalities found in nature for these gemstones. Colored diamonds have captured the fascination of the jewelry industry, commanding the highest prices for their beauty, rarity, and unique hues. Demand for these natural phenomena is increasing at an exponential rate, however, only a handful of gem quality stones are mined and brought to market every year.

Lady Gaga and Audrey Hepburn wearing the 128-carat Tiffany Yellow Diamond Audrey Hepburn and Lady Gaga wearing the 128-carat Tiffany Yellow Diamond

When looking to purchase a colored diamond, the same quality factors apply as when looking to purchase white diamonds. Cut and clarity are, of course, integral to the pricing and value of the stone, however, color is what truly makes these diamonds so special. Fancy colored diamonds occur across the full color spectrum, ranging from blue to red to violet, and these precious stones have been known to include variations of every color.

All colored diamond vary in tone and saturation All colored diamonds vary in tone and saturation

Their vibrant hues are the result of a naturally occurring event that affects the carbon structure of each stone, tainting what would have otherwise been a white diamond. These impurities can be the result of the diamond’s surrounding environment or the impact of various chemicals present during the diamond’s formation over the course of millions of years. The structure and potency of these chemicals dictate the stone’s clarity and hue. While fancy colored diamonds can range within each of their color classes due to “modifiers” present, the base of each color classification is due to one trace element or structural deformity. For example, fancy yellow diamonds are the result of the element nitrogen interacting with the basic carbon structure of the diamond. Each color is unique, and some colors are rarer than others, but all fancy colored diamonds are a feat of nature that continue to amaze jewelry collectors and connoisseurs alike.

Important Colored Diamond Factors

When purchasing a colored diamond, it is imperative to understand that the value of the colored stone is influenced by three variables: color, modifiers and saturation.

While color is predictably the most important factor when looking for a colored diamond, the saturation and distribution of the color are key players in preference and price. The saturation of the stone is dependent on the amount of trace elements present or the amount of light refracted out of the stone. Darker tones command higher prices because of their rarity relative to lighter stones. Their rarity determines their demand, and often, only nine or ten gem quality stones are found in deeper hues each year. Upon being cut and polished, each diamond is graded by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) based off a set of master stones that determine where the color falls on the gradient and if there are any color modifiers present.

Distribution of the color plays another role in determining the value of these diamonds. Color throughout the stone may be uneven or patchy depending on the size of the stone. This can negatively affect value contingent upon where the color disparity occurs and whether it can be improved by cut and polish.

Fancy colored diamonds are graded by the GIA based on color saturation and distribution Fancy colored diamonds are graded by the GIA based on color saturation and distribution throughout the stone

Aside from its size and saturation, additional colors present in the stone play a role in its value. Due to the nature of a diamond's formation, it is extremely uncommon to find any colored diamond that exhibits only one pure color. The term “modifier” is given to the other color or colors present in the diamond aside from the dominant color. The modifying color is stated first in the title of the gem followed by the dominant color. For example, a fancy greenish yellow diamond will be predominantly yellow but with a visible green tint. These modifiers do tend to affect value and pricing as colored diamonds that are uniformly one color are much rarer, however, the final value is assigned by what the consumer finds most beautiful and what they are willing to pay for the stone.

Fancy Yellow Diamonds

When looking to purchase a colored diamond, you will most commonly come across fancy yellow or “canary” diamonds. Discovered in the Kimberly Mines of South Africa in the 1800’s, yellow diamonds are highly sought after for their sunny yellow quality and ability to stand out from their white counterparts. Their color is caused by the presence of nitrogen which infiltrates the diamond’s carbon structure during its formation deep within the earth. The amount of nitrogen determines the level of color saturation, which can range from fancy light yellow to fancy vivid yellow, and this color can be intensified depending on the cut and polish of the stone. As yellow diamonds move towards the darker end of the color spectrum, their value increases and certain color modifiers can impact price as well. Greenish yellow diamonds are more uncommon due to the specific conditions it takes for a diamond to display a green hue, while yellow diamonds that show brown coloring are less desirable.

A Fancy Vivid Yellow Dragonfly Brooch featuring 60.26-carats worth of FVY diamonds A Fancy Vivid Yellow Dragonfly Brooch featuring 60.26-carats worth of FVY diamonds

Fancy Orange Diamonds

Orange diamonds are also a result of the levels of nitrogen present in the gem's carbon structure. As nitrogen levels increase, the vivid yellow hue gradually intensifies past the yellow color gradient and into fancy light orange. Extending from citrus orange to a deep pumpkin color, orange diamonds are classified along the same color gradient from fancy light to fancy vivid. However, finding a pure orange diamond is very uncommon as many of these stones are tinged with yellow, red, or brown modifiers. Orange diamonds above three carats are rarely seen on the market, and true orange diamonds can fall under the same level of rarity as blue and pink diamonds. Their unique color is unparalleled by other orange gemstones, and for jewelry-lovers looking to acquire an orange diamond, the fun is most definitely in the hunt.

These colorful Raymond Yard earrings take advantage of the vibrancy of fancy orange diamonds These colorful Raymond Yard earrings take advantage of the vibrancy of fancy orange diamonds

Fancy Pink and Fancy Red Diamonds

The discovery of the Argyle Mines of Western Australia in the 1970’s catapulted pink diamonds into the spotlight. Ranging anywhere from a light rose to bubblegum pink, pink diamonds are attention-grabbing and coveted by diamond enthusiasts. Gemologists are still baffled by what gives pink diamonds their hue, but it is thought that during the diamond's trip to the surface, extreme pressure twists its crystal lattice structure causing light to refract towards the end of the color spectrum. Depending on the amount of light refection and absorption, their color extends along the color gradient and can often be intensified if cut strategically. The Argyle Mines are also known for producing an even more uncommon diamond: the fancy red. Fancy red diamonds are a result of the same structural abnormality, but they are almost never unearthed. Their captivating red color is striking and unlike any other red gemstone because of the fire and brilliance that only diamonds can display.

Red diamonds are rarely seen above one carat, and in 2013, Christie’s sold a 1.92 carat fancy red diamond for over 3 million dollars.

While the demand for pink and red diamonds continues to grow, the already scarce supply may cease in coming years. In 2017, CNN reported that the Argyle mines (which account for 90% of pink and red diamond production) are set to close in 2021. While price is certainly a factor when purchasing a diamond, the opportunity even to discover a red or pink diamond for sale is something that should not be overlooked.

Fancy Pink Diamonds differ in tone and saturation Fancy Pink Diamonds from the Argyle Mines differ in tone and saturation

Fancy Purple Diamonds

Purple and violet diamonds are almost never encountered in a retail setting due to their highly coveted and rare color. Ranging from light lavender to intense purple, there are two reasons diamonds take on this color. True violet diamonds have hydrogen present in their carbon structure – the more carbon, the more saturated the color. Much like pink and red diamonds, purple diamonds are caused by a deformation in the atomic structure causing the stone to refract and absorb certain colors. The Gemological Institute of America classifies violet and purple diamonds based on the chemicals present in their carbon structure. In 2016, a 2.83 carat violet diamond was unearthed and sold for an undisclosed amount to a dealer who stated that he could not pass on an opportunity to acquire a diamond such as this.

Fancy Blue Diamonds

The most famous diamond in the world is undoubtedly the Hope Diamond, a 45.52 carat deep grayish blue diamond that once graced the necks of history’s rich and powerful.

The Hope Diamond is now on display at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. The Hope Diamond is now on display at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

This intense blue color is due to the presence of boron which attaches itself to the diamond's carbon structure during formation. The more boron present, the more saturated the color, increasing the value of the stone at a staggering rate. It is very unusual to see a true-blue diamond without the presence of gray modifiers, however, in 2016, the 14.62 carat Oppenheimer Blue was sold for a record-breaking $50.6 million dollars at auction, making it one of the most expensive diamonds ever sold. Classified as a fancy vivid blue, this stone exhibits the most desirable traits of any colored diamond, and there will likely not be another blue diamond of its caliber offered for a long time. Even blue diamonds with the slightest blue tint are sought out by dealers and clients as a must-have.

A 10.06-carat Fancy Blue Diamond Ring Fancy blue diamonds over a carat are extremely uncommon and only a handful are unearthed every year

Fancy Green Diamonds

Green diamonds get their color in a unique manner. During their millions of years underground, they are bombarded with radioactive particles such as uranium or beta and gamma rays that penetrate their carbon structure and create a green hue distinct from any other green gemstone. Often, the green color is confined to the outer layer of the stone, so any cutting or polishing must be carefully taken into consideration as not to ruin the color of the finished gem. It is truly rare to find a green diamond that exudes green from within, making it so that the stone will retain its color no matter the cut or polish. Neither emeralds, sapphires, or tourmaline can mimic the hypnotizing color that these diamonds display.

Green diamonds are a unique and vibrant choice when searching for colored diamonds Green diamonds are a unique and vibrant choice when searching for colored diamonds

Fancy Black Diamonds

Black diamonds are very rarely seen, but are some of the most captivating stones for jewelry collectors and dealers to lay their eyes on. Their almost metallic luster is caused by threads of tiny fissures containing deposits of graphite and iron. They absorb the entire spectrum of colors, negating much of the scintillation that diamond-lovers value so highly, however, an excellent cut and polish can greatly enhance the desirability of these diamonds.

Each diamond, whether white, black or any color in-between, has a special type of beauty that no other gemstone can match. The fire and radiance that diamonds display is unmistakable and one of their most important qualities, making them the cornerstone of an entire industry. While white diamonds are essential to any jewelry collector's repertoire, the addition of a colored diamond (or two, or three, or...) will certainly spark the interest of anyone who appreciates and understands the rarity of these stones. Being knowledgeable about what makes these diamonds so unique is the first step in becoming a collector of these treasures.

Browse M.S. Rau's extensive collection of rare colored diamond jewelry here to add one to your collection.

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