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Last week I spoke with three different clients with April birthdays and each one expressed disdain over their unexciting April birthstone. One client loves diamonds, but said that since almost all of her jewelry contained a diamond, she never feels like she has a special piece to wear as her birthstone. Another lady voiced a dislike for what she called “expensive white rocks” – instead choosing to buy colored gemstones so she can accessorize with her clothing.

The third customer wanted a more unique form of self-expression than she felt white diamonds could afford and we ended up chatting about Fancy Colored Diamonds. Based on this conversation, I realized that people were truly unaware of the variety of looks that natural diamonds can come in. Most consumers know that diamonds can come in different shapes and sizes, and that the degree of whiteness and lack of inclusions all add to the presence that a fine diamond commands. Yet few people realize that diamonds can come in different colors: those that we term fancy colored diamonds. Instead of being the pure carbon that results in a colorless stone, fancy colors are created by trace impurities of metals and ions that result in varying degrees and shades of color. Below is an image showing the natural color range of diamonds. 

The most commonly encountered fancy color diamond is brown in varying shades. Most of us have seen the commercials from high-end designers giving food-related names to describe the color of the diamonds, which are actually quite apt descriptions. “Champagne” refers to a color that is a light golden or pinkish brown, while orangey-browns are termed “cognac” and deep browns are called “chocolate” diamonds. Many of these diamonds come from the Argyll mines in Western Australia, the exact same mine where the famous pink diamonds are rarely unearthed. Below are a 2.25ct fancy yellowish brown diamond of SI1 clarity (what we call champagne) set with blue sapphire accents, and a 1.10ct cushion fancy deep orangy brown, or cognac, diamond engagement ring.

The reason I like the brown shades is that no two are alike. I once saw a champagne diamond ring that appeared pink outside but a walk inside created a more honey color in incandescent lighting. One brown diamond we sold looked exactly like a bottle of Cognac or Madeira held up to the light, the difference being that the diamond was bright and gorgeous. These stones make excellent jewelry especially when the stone is mounted in a way that accentuates the color. For instance, we tend to set champagne colored stones in rose gold, as it makes the rare pink hue more apparent. If the stone has a deep rich color, white metals like platinum tend to be a good background.

While the browns are the most common, our most popular fancy colored diamonds for engagement rings are the yellow stones, which come largely from South Africa. If you were to bottle up the essence of the sun on a summer day, then facet it, the result could not be more stunning that a natural yellow diamond. The most popular color is a pure canary diamond (like the bird) but we have sold stones that have greenish and orangey hues as well. Even women who wouldn’t typically wear yellow clothing or accessories tend to like yellow diamonds because the color can be a subtle contrast to other jewelry the person might wear. Below left is a .40ct fancy intense yellow diamond, surrounded by natural yellow diamonds to increase the yellow look. At right is a 1.50ct emerald cut yellow diamond with a slight green modifier that we set in this custom engagement ring.

When the stones are a fancy intense, deep, or vivid grade the yellow pops even in small sizes, and we will use these intensely yellow diamonds as accents to deep blue sapphires or rubies to make stunning custom rings. Below are two uses of fancy intense or vivid yellow diamonds, as centers and accents.

The next most popular fancy colored diamond is black. This is somewhat controversial, as many jewelers do not consider black to be a fancy color because the stones are generally opaque and do not sparkle like normal diamonds. That being said, we still like black diamonds because they are one of the few stones that are truly black, not dark brown. We have used them as center stones in black diamond engagement rings, as well as accent stones for white diamonds and colored gemstones. They always make striking pieces of jewelry by means on contrast, even if they sparkle less than other diamonds. Below left is a large 3ct+ black diamond in a modern mounting, and at right was a redesigned wedding ring using the customer’s existing heart shaped white diamond surrounded by black diamonds.

I will not spend as much time on the other fancy diamond colors, because they are largely beyond the reach of us mere mortals. The most popular fancy colors other than those mentioned above are pink and blue. When Jennifer Lopez received a natural fancy pink diamond, she put them on the map. What were once expensive gems are now crazy- for a 1ct natural true pink, with good depth of color and good clarity, you can expect to pay in excess of $100,000! I tend to like the blues and greens best because I am a gem nerd. The blues are colored by boron (my favorite element on the periodic table) and the greens are colored by radioactivity! Both of which come in unique shades, from dark purple-blue, to a steely blue, and the greens can be a neon highlighter green, to olive and kelly green hues. Unfortunately these also need a second mortgage if you wish to purchase one.

Fancy colored diamond grading: warning, this is for the gem-knowledge junkies!

The GIA (Gemological Institute of America- the highest diamond authority) has a complex way of grading fancy colored diamonds. Unlike white diamonds less focus is put onto cutting and clarity. Instead, focus is placed on the fancy color present. The most important factor is the depth of color. A fancy intense or vivid stone will show off its color more effectively than a fancy light (washed out) or deep (too dark) stone, so the price is exponentially higher for medium-dark stones. Likewise hue of color is also very important. A pure orange or reddish orange diamond will be more valuable than a brownish orange one. These secondary colors are called modifiers, and they can make huge impacts on the look and prices of these diamonds. For example, a pink diamond that is a fancy redish pink with be triple the price of a plain fancy pink- if you can find one!

It is also important to remember that not all fancy color diamonds are created by nature alone. There are some white and off-color diamonds that have certain characteristics that allow their color to change under treatment. For instance, irradiated diamonds use radioactivity to change the color present (think of the neon blue diamonds and chartreuse yellow diamonds you see in stores), while HPHT diamonds use a combination of pressure and temperature to achieve a color change. I would guess that at least 95% of fancy colored diamonds on the market are treated gems, and we only sell these treated diamonds when they are specifically requested. While these types of treatments are permanent and result in pretty stones, the treatment must be disclosed to the consumer. We instead focus on GIA certified natural fancy colors, as they tend to be rarer and even more beautiful.

For more detailed information, check out the GIA’s website regarding colored diamond quality here.