Fancy diamonds are sometimes spoken of with disdain, generally by those who do not realize that there is such a thing as a naturally colored diamond. There is a good reason that not everybody is aware of this, however, and that is that colored diamonds in nature are considerably rarer than colorless diamonds.
In fact, only about one out of every 10,000 diamonds has any natural coloration at all (beyond the slight yellowish or brownish tinge which makes many “colorless” diamonds worth less on the market).
Usually, when you are shopping for a colorless diamond, the less color you see, the better. But the exact opposite is true if you are shopping for a fancy diamond. The intensity of the color is probably the most important aspect when you are considering value, at least where natural fancy diamonds are concerned. Rich, vivid hues in natural diamonds are exceedingly rare. A vividly colored natural diamond may be worth far more than a perfect colorless specimen for that reason!
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FANCY DIAMOND AND COLORED DIAMONDS?
Diamond graders typically use the scale established by the Gemological Institute of America to rate the color intensity of a fancy diamond. At the bottom of the scale is “faint.” In order, fancy diamonds progress upward through the scale as follows: very light, light, fancy light, fancy, fancy intense, fancy vivid, and fancy deep.
Fancy deep diamonds are of course considered the most desirable, and they will generally be the most expensive, particularly if they are natural. As you might have figured out, diamonds that are not vivid enough to at least be classified as “fancy” on this scale generally are not considered fancy diamonds. They are colored, but may not be considered particularly desirable. In fact, yellow and brown diamonds that are not classified as “fancy” or higher on this scale are often modified to try and whiten them, as this will increase their value.
When you are shopping for fancy diamonds, it is important to know what you are getting, since obviously a lab-colored specimen has a far lower value than a natural one. The price you pay should be likewise.
There are twelve main colors of natural fancy colored diamonds. These include yellow, orange, pink, green, blue, brown, gray, purple, violet, red, fancy black, and fancy white. Diamonds that are classified as “faint” are just a shade or two off colorless. As you might expect, there is a crossover with brown and yellow fancy diamonds and “colorless diamonds.”
A “near colorless white” diamond might actually be a faint yellow or brown fancy diamond. The color becomes significantly pronounced at the “fancy” level. The only diamonds with darker colors are the “fancy deep” ones at the far end of the color spectrum.
Colors of Diamonds in Nature
Brown diamonds: These diamonds derive their hue either from the presence of nitrogen or from structural defects in their lattices. Many people have a negative mental association with these diamonds, so they are sometimes rebranded as “cognac” or “champagne” colored. Most are mined in Australia, Siberia, and Africa.
Grey diamonds: These diamonds may contain trace elements of boron, or they may simply be less saturated black diamonds. Some black diamonds may have grey patches.
Black diamonds: These diamonds often contain inclusions of graphite and iron. Note that these are not trace elements worked into the crystal structure (lattice), but simply inclusions. Black diamonds, unlike other colors of diamonds, are not transparent. They are almost always opaque. As a result, they do not sparkle the same way that other diamonds do. Black diamonds are particularly fragile because of the inclusions they contain, which makes them a challenge to cut. For that reason, the majority are used in industry, and not for jewelry. Many black diamonds are also enhanced, since in nature, they may contain a combination of white, grey, and black patches.
Yellow: Yellow diamonds are some of the most common diamonds you will find. The majority are not particularly vivid however, and like brown diamonds, are usually considered flawed versions of “colorless” diamonds. Vivid yellow diamonds are considered highly desirable, however, and are usually mined in South Africa. The yellow color comes from nitrogen inclusions. Thanks to an atomic similarity between carbon and nitrogen, it is simple and common that nitrogen replaces carbon during the diamond formation process. This is why so many diamonds are yellowish.
Purple Diamonds: Scientists still are not entirely certain what causes diamonds to form with a purple hue. It may be the presence of hydrogen impurities, but it may also be the result of deformation while the diamonds are being transported through the layers of the earth’s crust. Either way, purple diamonds are quite rare. They generally are mined in Australia, but may also be found in Russia, Canada, the Amazon rainforest, and several other locations. Most purple diamonds are only faint in color. Scientists can generally spot enhanced stones, because their coloration is too uniform. In the natural stones, it tends to be distributed along the deformation lamellae.
Orange Diamonds: Orange diamonds are quite rare, and those which are deep in color display a vivid, fiery hue. The color may come from nitrogen, just as it does in yellow diamonds, but researchers are not sure why orange diamonds are so much less common than yellow ones.
Green Diamonds: Diamonds like the Dresden Green are incredibly rare in nature. Because they are almost impossible to tell apart from enhanced green diamonds, many cutters as a rule leave a natural untouched line along the girdle of the stone. This has no impact on clarity, and helps to distinguish the diamond as a natural one. It is estimated that fewer than ten green diamonds appear on the gemstone market every year. Color typically comes from natural irradiation, as with the Dresden Green, but may also come from trace amounts of nickel.
Blue Diamonds: Blue diamonds are particularly prized, not only because they are beautiful to behold, but because they tend to be associated with royalty. There are a few well-known blue diamonds with natural coloration, but the most famous example is certainly the notorious deep blue Hope Diamond, weighing 45.52 carats. Blue diamonds can fetch a very high price. The Wittelsbach Graff diamond sold in 2008 for $24.3 million. Blue diamonds typically have low levels of nitrogen and contain boron impurities. Some however derive their color from high concentrations of hydrogen or from the presence of nickel. The most famous blue diamond mine is in Cullinan, Pretoria, South Africa.
Pink Diamonds: Pink diamonds are some of the rarest on the planet. You might think that these are simply pale red diamonds, but some contain very vivid and bold hues. These diamonds are distinctive enough they certain deserve their own classification. It is thought that pink diamonds derive their color through changes in the structure of their electrons. This process occurs as the gemstone travels to the earth’s surface. Pink diamonds have been found in Brazil, India, and Tanzania, but around 90% of them come from the Argyle mine in northwestern Australia.
Red Diamonds: The rarest natural fancy diamonds in the world are red ones. They are very seldom unearthed, and only from a few locations. It is believed that these diamonds assume their color the same way pink diamonds do, through electron structure changes as they move toward the earth’s surface. Red diamonds are not only the rarest diamonds in the world, but also the most expensive per carat. The Hancock Red sold in 1987 for around $880,000. It was a small diamond, measuring 0.95 carats, so its price actually equates to $926,000 per carat. The Moussaieff Red sold in 2001 for around $8 million, which comes out to $1.6 million per carat.