Diamond Color vs. Clarity
A diamond's color and clarity grades play an important role in how the diamond return fire, scintillation, and/or brilliance. Being considered two of the 4Cs for assessing the overall quality of a diamond, color and clarity are two critical factors to consider before buying a diamond.
Summary: Comparing Color vs. Clarity
- The color in white diamonds ranges from D (colorless) to Z (light faint yellow), and the clarity ranges from Flawless (FL) to Included 3 (I3).
- While clarity is an important factor, color is given a higher preference over clarity because it affects the entire body of a diamond instead of inclusions that may be present in a few spots of a diamond. Therefore, prioritize color when compromising on clarity versus color (learn more here on how to prioritize the 4cs).
- In terms of color, if budget is not an issue, buy diamonds within the D to F (colorless range). However, G is also an amazing color grade. H to I are top-budget colors to consider.
- Avoid fluorescence in the D to G color ranges, and it is okay to buy a diamond with faint or medium blue fluorescence in H, I, and J colors (learn more here on diamond color).
- In terms of clarity, Flawless to VVS clarity diamonds are amazing only if budget is not an issue; otherwise, VS1/VS2 are also excellent options. SI1 and SI2 are good budget options. Avoid large black crystals and diamonds. The clarity grade is based on clouds (learn more here on diamond clarity).
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GIA Color Chart
GIA Clarity Chart
Diamond Color vs Color Clarity Chart
The chart below attempts to break down a few scenarios for buyers to consider while deciding between color and clarity:
Buying a diamond with a generous budget
|D-F color||Minimum VS2 clarity, 1 carat, Excellent Cut, No Fluorescence, GIA/AGS certified|
Buying a diamond with big carat weight without compromising quality
|F-G color||Minimum SI1 clarity, 1.3 carat, Excellent Cut, No/Faint Fluorescence, GIA/AGS certified|
Buying a diamond with a tight budget without overly compromising on quality
|H-J color||Minimum SI2 clarity, 0.9carat, Very Cut, Medium/Strong Blue Fluorescence, GIA/AGS certified|
Totally giving up on color to maximize the other 3Cs
|K-Z color||Minimum VS+ clarity, 2 carats, Excellent Cut, Medium/Strong Blue Fluorescence, GIA/AGS certified|
As outlined in the above charts, there are four or five ways a buyer can prioritize color or clarity to buy a diamond within their budget. However, our recommended approach would be for buyers to consider option one or two in the chart above – finding a sweet spot between the first two options is even better.
Check out Brilliant Earth's color guide here.
A Deeper Dive Into Color Versus Clarity
As we think about diamonds, we still wonder whether they are everlasting. Maybe the trend is still intact, maybe not. However, it is clear that diamonds continue to be a girl’s best friend and are expensive.
If you have done your research, you must have come across or at least heard of the 4Cs of diamond quality - cut, carat weight, color, and clarity. Cut, not to be confused with the diamond’s shape, is the proportioning of the facets (the several surfaces of a diamond—on the top, bottom, and sides). The shape is the outline that the diamond assumes after an excellent cut, hence heart-shaped stones, pear-shaped stones, square-shaped stones, etc. Carat weight refers to the stone’s weight in carats (ct).
Now to the topic at hand: diamond color vs clarity. Diamonds are a naturally occurring substance. They form deep under the surface of the earth. Diamonds essentially forge out of a robust crystal-like form of pure carbon. The pure the carbon, the clearer and more colorless the diamond appears. Therefore, the chemical form or structure of natural diamonds is pure carbon, which means their natural color is colorless—the absence of color. However, natural diamonds can also be black, gray, pink, green, orange, or red. Any coloration other than colorless should immediately tell you that a diamond is impure, meaning the presence of foreign substances other than pure carbon. Colorless white diamonds are some of the most valuable gemstones because of their purity and clearness. Colorless is also the highest color designation (D) on the GIA color scale.
Clarity—on the other hand—is the absence of internal inclusions or surface blemishes on a diamond. Inclusions result directly from the enormous pressure and heat that diamonds are exposed to as they form. It could lead to small imperfections within the diamond, whose number could be high or low. Subsequently, it affects the quality of the diamond. A diamond is better off having a few to no inclusions to get an above-average clarity grading. A poor clarity grade also affects the stone's obsolescence (rate of depreciation).
Depreciation is higher if the inclusions are located under the table or extensively on the crown and girdle. Inclusions positioned in either of these parts of a diamond are readily visible, affecting the stone's quality. The likelihood of breakage is also higher, making the stone prone to damage. Blemishes are not a desirable diamond feature either. Instead, they refer to the flaws found on the exterior surface of a diamond. It will come as a surprise to you to learn that most blemishes are not natural. When you see blemishes on a stone, it is possible that they were caused by human error while the stone was being cut and polished. In most cases, it is usually an issue of clumsy hands or mishandling of the stone on the cutter's part.
A side-by-side comparison of the GIA and AGS clarity grading scale
GIA and the AGS grade stones for clarity. Take a glance at what their respective grade ranking systems look like in the comparison below.
FL stands for flawless; IF - internally flawless; VVS1-Very, Very Slightly Included 1; VVS2- Very, Very Slightly Included 2; VS1- Very Slightly included 1; VS2- Very Slightly Included 2; SI1- Slightly Included 1; SI2, Slightly Included 2; and I1, I2, and I3 – Included 1, 2, and 3, respectively. The AGS uses a number scale from 0-10, but the rationality and diamond clarity grading logic between the two agencies is the same. To answer your question ("What is important between diamond color and clarity?"), the honest expert answer would be either of them. The ultimate decision is dependent on several factors. One is obvious: people have different tastes and preferences. One diamond buyer could prefer a D color 2ct round excellent cut diamond. Another diamond shopper could be comfortable with an M color 0.5ct round, very good round cut diamond as their ideal stone of choice.
Do not be surprised to see people with light yellow excellent cut diamonds because it could be their cup of tea. When choosing between a stone’s color and clarity, the choice does not stop with personal preferences. The other influences likely to trigger diamond buyers, jewelers, and dealers-at-large to pit diamond color and clarity against each other include budgets or financial concerns, the cut and shape of the diamond, the type of diamond (natural or synthetic), etc. From diamond wholesalers to retailers to buyers and end-users, there could be several reasons, in the diamond industry, behind picking a particular diamond color over its clarity and vice versa. This article has taken the diamond color vs clarity approach, forming the basis of the comparison.
Personal Preferences, Grading Issues, and Settings that Make a Difference
People have their beliefs, likes, and dislikes, making them different. First, there is nothing wrong with going low on both the color and clarity scales when selecting a diamond. It is possible to have a very light gorgeous first-degree, slightly included stone. Ideally, all stones graded color K and below are tinted. The yellow or brown hue becomes stronger further down the scale.
It is equally important to note that these color changes are only visible under strong jewelers’ loupe magnification. The industry standard recommended by the US Federal Trade Commission is X10 magnification. Diamond grading happens under controlled lab conditions. Typically, a gemologist places the stones on a white background under controlled lighting. This environment enables the separation of the actual diamond color from the surroundings and the light source in use. Experts also talk about the body color of the diamond.
This implies that the color is viewed under X10 magnification in the special setup while the diamond is placed face or table down. In this position, the diamond is brightest, making the body color easily visible. Precise color categorization is difficult under non-special conditions; it is more difficult when the stone is mounted in a setting. When set, the stone’s face-up orientation would prove futile due to obstruction by the setting, even under a special backdrop and lighting.
The GIA produces results that are nothing short of an accurate color classification vis-à-vis the set of color master stones employed. The slight differences in color between one stone color and another above or below are difficult, if not impossible, to detect in standard lighting or environment. Putting your finger on the minor color differences is not a challenge restricted to the layman diamond buyer. It could also be difficult for gemologists to observe the diamond with their naked eyes.
Besides, the setting you choose for your stone could bring out its beauty better. For instance, a yellow gold mounting tones down the yellow hue on S color stones. The very mounting has an opposite effect on a colorless, say F color, diamond. On the contrary, white metal settings such as white gold or silver mounts make the yellow tint of a distant colorless diamond shout. Ask yourself: would there be any reasonable justification to buy a colorless or near-colorless stone when a faint or very light diamond would just as conveniently achieve the desired outcome? This holds significance, particularly if the stone is set on an appropriate, complimentary mount. As far as personal preferences are concerned, always ensure that the stone’s clarity is acceptable, meaning a clarity grade that hides inclusions and blemishes. For good measure, only condone the non-harmful inclusions, for example, natural clouds.
If they are small, they will not affect the diamond's ability to absorb and reflect or refract light. Cracks and dark spots, however, are a no-no. The former makes the stone susceptible to fracturing, especially if they are close to the surface of the diamond or if the stone has a brilliant deep cut. The latter may affect the diamond’s light performance, which spells negative consequences regarding fire and brilliance. The bottom line is that no color grade is good or bad. If you can get an SI1 or I1 (a 6 or 7 clarity on the AGS scale) that is eye-clean, the color should be the least of your worries. But you can always climb up the color and clarity scale if you have the financial muscle that comes with it.
Diamond Color vs Diamond Clarity From a Budget Perspective
If the notion that material items can bring you happiness is anything to go by, then material possessions such as diamonds would most certainly qualify. Like with everything else, the more financially stable you are, the more likely you can afford higher-priced items. In the case of diamond color and clarity, the combination of flawless (though very rare) and colorless stone (D-F colors) has the highest market value.
You will have to reach deep into your pockets to purchase that kind of stone: a situation only possible when money is not an issue. Considering that inclusions and blemishes are not visible in an eye-clean diamond, does color outweigh clarity? Before drawing that conclusion, it is always good to have the stone assessed to ascertain the facts of flaws on and in a diamond. Not all flaws inhibit the features of a diamond. But what about the unwanted and potentially dangerous ones? For instance, flaws in the pavilion of a shallow-cut diamond could affect the angle at which light bounces off the pavilion facets before shooting out through the table and into the observer’s eyes.
Moreover, inclusions near the edges of a diamond increase the chances of chipping. Before growing fond of a diamond’s color grade over its clarity, try to read between the lines of a certificate. Be thorough because some diamond dossiers do not contain detailed information on clarity other than a general clarity grade. The clarity grade alone does not speak volumes in terms of the actual flaws that a diamond has. Play it safe by having a full picture of the inclusions and blemishes' type and specifics (size, number, position, etc.).
Unlike clarity, the other 3Cs of diamond quality are features that you can control. You can maximize carat weight, but you risk having a huge and dull diamond despite a good and above cut. The cutter can also maximize the cut to give you a sparkly, brilliant diamond with an aesthetic color play. Color is also not that much of an issue. A side-by-side comparison of adjacent diamond colors is not a walk in the park. Besides, the faint diamond colors below can be illuminated by improvising and experimenting with different colored settings to even out the stone’s color tones. But flaws are a different ball game. While the cut, white, and colored light performance can help hide flaws, it is not enough to settle for color over clarity. Establish that the flaws on the diamond are nothing close to harmful.
Once that is out of the way, you can now bother to consider a near-colorless color. As a rule of thumb, we advise going low on clarity and color and capitalizing on carat size and cut. But it is not a vote of popularity or conventional wisdom but one of finances. Go for a colorless or near-colorless excellent cut stone and clarity of at least VVS1 or VVS2 because FL and IF is in the realm of rarity. That is an ideal diamond to buy if you have the power to break the bank and remain on your feet. You will have to drop much lower—a VSI2 or SI1 eye-clean, I-J color, very good cut stone—on the grading scales if you aim to cut cost on your diamond purchase.
In conclusion, if budget is the main driver of your decision, paying more attention to clarity over color might be the way to go.
Cut and Shape and Its Implications for Color and Clarity
Regardless of the shape of the diamond, the cutter can maximize the cut to get a stone that has maximum sparkle, brilliance, and fire. A diamond color with little to no yellow hue and an excellent cut easily beats any clarity grade below VS2.
Depending on the shape and cut of the stone, inclusions can be noticeable and visible. The emerald cut does a good job of enhancing a diamond’s natural color, whether colorless or tinted. The stone’s clarity is more important than its color for emerald shapes because of its open facets. Even if the stone's color is faint or very light yellow, would you rather deal with the hue or detrimental flaws? Due to the step cut, inclusions on emerald-cut diamonds could be visible affecting quality. To ensure you have an eye-clean diamond, get a stone with a clarity grade of SI1 and above.
The Asscher cut is a sister stone to the emerald cut in terms of having a step cut. Therefore, the same case applies: Asscher diamond’s clarity is more important than its color. Stick to the clarity of VS2 or higher.
The round cut is the most expensive in the diamond market, and for a good reason. Apart from the princess cut, no other diamond cut and shape comes close to reflecting more light than round diamonds. They have a stunning color display that may hide the exact color of the stone, especially for colors J and above on the color scale. Color differences for colorless to near-colorless round-shaped stones are virtually undetectable to the naked eye. For round-cut stones, the importance of color precedes that of clarity. A buyer can drop as low as SI1 or SI2 on the clarity scale.
Conversely, a princess cut stone is unique in reflecting light from the center and corners, which is why it has a versatile color emission. Like round cut diamonds, color differences in princess cut stones (especially I and higher on the color scale) are unnoticeable. However, the position of inclusions on the stone matters. Flaws at the corners of the princess-cut diamond make it prone to chipping and flaking. The clarity of a princess-cut diamond is more important than its color. Choose a princess cut stone of clarity SI1 and above to be on the safe side.
Unlike other cuts, cushion-cut diamonds have large tables. The table facet sits conspicuously above the crown. Thanks to a large table, cushion cut diamonds retain color just as much as an emerald cut enhances it. The color grade is crucial in comparison to the clarity of cushion cuts. A clarity below SI1 in cushion cuts reveals flaws, mainly when the observation is from an aerial view through the table. Talk about diamond observation; a radiant cut diamond has many facets and angles. If the cut is, at least, very good or excellent, a radiant-cut diamond should have no problem hiding minor flaws. It is the same case for heart-shaped diamonds and the bow-tie effect, which is why cutters work on stones with extreme caution and skill: despite having cutting-edge diamond development equipment. When buying a radiant cut diamond, prioritize color over clarity.
If the cut is good, SI2 and above clarity grade is enough. Above that clarity, you will only be buying features that are not visible. Pear, oval, and heart cuts have several similarities, notably their rounded edges. A few professional cutters can churn out several of these diamond shapes and meet the specifics of each stone’s proportions and facets. Hints of color are hard to find in well-cut heart, pear, and oval-shaped diamonds. If either of these stones is your preferred choice, worry about the clarity. Extend your search to online jewelry stores because you can get a satisfactory heart-shaped or pear-shaped stone at the clarity of SI1.
The Color and Clarity of Synthetic vs Natural Diamonds
It is critical to note natural and lab-grown diamonds have the same chemical composition. The lab-grown diamonds are subjected to controlled conditions to produce a human-made stone. Natural white and colored stones, lab-grown white and fancy color stones, exist. To avoid ambiguity, it is also essential to note that fancy colors are the diamond industry term the GIA uses for all diamond colors outside its color scale. Fancy color does not necessarily mean the stone is synthetic: there are fancy color natural diamonds (though rare). The GIA acknowledges that not all these fancy colors have the same depth. For this reason, the color scale used to grade fancy colors makes room for a wide range of color tones and saturation in fancy color stones.
The scale ranges from fancy light, fancy, fancy intense, to fancy vivid. The red and blue types are the most expensive (and rare) fancy colors. Pink, purplish, grayish, orange, and fancy green colors are considerably rare compared to fancy yellows and browns. For saturated fancy colors, minor color variations are easily detectable, which affects their value. Fancy color grading is overly complicated, and only a specialist grading agency can do it accurately. Fancy color diamonds with numerous flaws are still highly prized if they have an attractive face-up body color. If a fancy color reveals colored and reflective graining under powerful magnification, it is considered an inclusion. Even worse are inclusions that reduce the useful life of a diamond. Color plays a significant role in determining the value of fancy color.
The above are critical factors to consider in judging the significance of a diamond’s color or clarity. Buying a diamond is a sensitive decision for casual jewelry purchasers and those making a milestone purchase (engagement rings and such). It is not enough to know the 4Cs of diamond quality. You must possess a clear interpretation of each C grade on the certificate. Bring out your notebook or organizer and get to work. Jot down your list of the most crucial considerations between a diamond’s color and clarity. Do you have enough of an excess income to afford and buy a fancy color?
If not, why not go for an SI1 light round cut? It should serve as an ‘expensive’ engagement ring for her. Better yet, work out a plan to get a stone that centers around your diamond-buying financial plan. Just be wary of flaws and blemishes. You want a diamond that will stand the test of time and hopefully be an antique gift for your great-grandson or granddaughter’s wedding.
Ultimately, have a bona fide reason to back up your choice of diamond color over clarity. Depending on your assessment of a particular stone, the color could be the dominant C. While diamond color and clarity are important factors to consider, cut and carat weight work behind the scenes to arbitrate that predicament. Choose color over clarity. At the same time, you can also go for an excellent cut and get a stone with impeccable brilliance despite the color.