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GIA's Color Grading - Fancy Colored Diamonds
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GIA's Color Grading

Interest in colored diamonds has grown considerably in recent years. For example, requests for natural- color colored diamonds services at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) increased 68% between 1998 and 2003. Numerous factors have led to this increase including new mine discoveries, innovations in cutting and increased marketing efforts. Realizing the growing importance of these diamonds, GIA published an article in 1995 titled "Color Grading of Colored Diamonds in the GIA Gem Trade Laboratory" in GIA's 30, NO. 4, pp. 220-242) describing its grading system.


The first step in grading the color of a colored diamonds is to determine the faceup color that is "characteristic" or most representative of the color to be graded (figure 1). The grading then consists of comparing that characteristic color of the diamond being graded to a series of known reference diamonds.


These reference diamonds frame areas in the GIA colored diamond color space. The laboratory uses an extensive set of colored diamonds for comparison to those being graded. These reference diamonds are located at key strategic locations throughout the GIA color space. They may mark a grade boundary, color description boundary, or both. The same diamonds are always used and their designation does not change. By bracketing the color for its different attributes, the diamonds being graded is placed in a "box" in color space (Figure 2). Each of these "boxes" has a color grade and description. Therefore, once a diamond is located in an area of GIA's color space, the corresponding description is assigned. As is the case in the other grading categories, a color grade and a color description by design refers to a range of similar color appearances, not to a single appearance.

This methodology must be applied in a consistent way under standardized conditions to have repeatable grading results. Our research has shown one cannot grade consistency without known references and standard procedures. If one does not make the observations under the same controlled conditions the likelihood of obtaining a reproducible result is diminished.

To control the surroundings. grading is performed in a viewing box manufactured by GretagMacbeth. Standard fluorescent light bulbs manufactured by GretagMacbeth are used that have a color temperature of D65. Colored diamonds are only graded under this one light source as color appearance can change under this one light source as color appearance can change under different light conditions and reduce consistency. The diamond being graded is placed in a Grooved white viewing tray next to the reference so that they are in the same face-up orientation in the same location in the viewing box.

During the comparison, three attributes are analyzed: The relationship between the diamond color and reference and the diamond being graded in terms of lightness to darkness - tone; the relationship of strength or purity of color - saturation and the hue - that aspect that gives a color its name such as red, green, and or blue. Based on the analysis of the attributes, another reference is chosen and the same procedure is followed. This continues until the grader has placed the diamond being graded into the appropriate area in the color space.

fancy colored diamonds

Fig.2: This illustration indicates how a portion of color space can be divided into "boxes." Three volumes are shown. By means of the color comparison and bracketing process, the characteristic color of a faceted diamond can be located within one of these volumes, or boxes, each of which has been assigned a color grade and description.

fancy colored diamonds

Fig 3. This grid illustrates in two dimensions (lightness on the vertical axis and saturation on the horizontal axis) the relationship of GIA's colored diamond color grades. The lighter, least saturated diamonds are located in grades such as faint, very light, and light in the upper left portion of the grid whereas the medium to dark, stronger colors are located toward the lower right in grades such as fancy deep and fancy vivid.



The grades used for classifying colored diamonds are: Faint, Very Light, Light, Fancy Light, Fancy, Fancy Dark, Fancy Deep, Fancy Intense and Fancy Vivid. These grades represent the combined effect of a range of tone; the lightness or the darkness saturation; the strength, richness or purity; on a color. The two-dimensional grid in he Figure 3 illustrates the relationship of and the relative depth of color associated with these grades. The vertical axis represents the tone attributes transitioning from light at the top to dark at the bottom. The horizontal axis representing saturation transitions from weak colors on the left towards stronger colors on the right. Such as a grid helps to visualize the depth of a color relationship among the color grades. For example, a color in the Very Light is relatively light and weak in appearance. Those in the Fancy Deep range are medium dark and moderate to very strong. Fancy intense diamonds are of similar strength as those graded fancy deep but are lighter. The tone/saturations chart in Figure 4 illustrates the range of appearances associated with pink diamonds in these grades.

fancy colored diamonds

Fig 5. These four blue diamonds are similar in saturation but they differ in tone; that is they become progressively darker from left to right. These differences are, at times, misinterpreted as increasing in saturation. Photo: Harold & Erica Van Pelt.

fancy colored diamonds


Fig. 6: Colored diamonds located near a fancy-grade boundary may appear similar yet be described differently in GIA's system. These two diamonds are similar in tone but differ slightly in saturation. Because they are near a grade boundary the marquise is described as Fancy blue and the slightly more saturated pear is described as Fancy Intense blue.  Photo: Harold & Erica Van Pelt.

fancy colored diamonds


Fig 7. The two diamonds on the left may initially appear to differ more than they actually do since observers have a tendency to try to make distinctions. When a diamond (far right) of different tone and saturation is placed next to them the similarities of the first two become more clearer. Photo: Harold & Erica Van Pelt.


The location of a color in GIA's system may be further refined through the color description that is reported in addition to the fancy grade. The color descriptions associated with a grade are related to the color attributes hue, tone, and saturation, of that grade; i.e., whether the grade is relatively light or dark, weak, moderate, or strong. This practice follows the convention of color-naming systems used in other disciplines.

One of the basic premises in the system is that warm colors such as yellow or orange appear increasingly brownish or brown as they become darker and/or weaker; For cool colors such as blue, the appearance transitions through grayish and gray. With this in mind, fancy grades that are defined as medium to dark in tone and weak to moderate in saturation will include grayish/gray or brownish/brown terms. This applies, for example, to grades such as Fancy Light, Fancy, Fancy Dark and Fancy Deep (See figure 3).

Terms associated with the grades are strongly colored, such as Fancy Intense or Fancy Vivid, have only hue names such as yellow, purplish-pink or blue. Conversely, all the descriptions in Fancy Dark, representing colors that are relatively weak and dark have a grayish/gray or brownish/brown component. The grade of Fancy, which is medium in tone and low to moderate in saturation, has the widest range of descriptions associated with it; i.e., descriptions can range from a hue name to one where gray or brown predominates. Because there are fewer discernable color differences when colors are pale, fewer color names are used in grades such as Faint, Very Light, and Light.

fancy colored diamonds                 fancy colored diamonds

Fig 8. If a diamond is not compared to other known references it is difficult to judge what attribute is affecting appearance. "Warm" color pink diamonds are often considered weaker, i.e. browner, unless compared to graded brownish/brown diamonds. Far left, a pink diamond (left) is shown next to an orangey-pink diamond. In this comparison, it is easy to misinterpret the orangey-pink appearance as brownish. On the right side, the same orangey-pink diamond is placed next to a brownish-pink marquise - and the difference in color appearance is apparent. Photos: Elizabeth Schrader and Don Mengason.


While it is very important to maintain consistent methodology and viewing geometry to understand the color diamonds color grading, it is also important to understand some of the basic premises behind the system. If some of the basic points of the system are not understood the user can be confused or arrive at incorrect results. For example:

Color diamonds are only graded face-up. The strength of the body color as seen through the pavilion is not considered nor observed when grading.

The overall face-up appearance is observed when grading.

A highly brilliant diamond, i.e., one with a lot of "life" does not necessarily result in it having a better color grade since this attribute does not contribute to the depth of color.

Darker colors are not necessarily strong colors; i.e. a fancy yellow diamond may be darker than other fancy yellow diamonds but still not have the strength to be graded Fancy Intense. Figure 5 illustrates this situation using blue diamonds.

The strength of color is not the same as how well the color is distributed. A color may be "laid out" very evenly but not have a better color grade. Conversely, a diamond may show color in a limited area but, if that color is strong, it will receive the grade reflecting that strength. The use of the distribution entry, even or uneven, on the grading report reflects this condition.

The strength of the face-up color is judged similarly regardless of the cut, quality, or cutting style.

It is important to understand the entire range in which colored diamonds occur. These are a number of situations in which the value of this is seen. For example, two diamonds with different color grades may not appear very different if they are near a grade boundary (figure 6). Two diamonds with the same grade may look noticeably different if they are at opposite sides of the grade range (figure 7). The incorrect attribute may be attributed to a color appearance if the full range of appearances is not understood. Figure 8 shows an orangey-pink diamond whose hue could be confused with the appearance of lower saturation and described as brownish-pink if the full range is not understood.

Colored diamonds are associated with some of the storied diamonds in history. The opportunities for buying and selling them have never been greater. A good understanding of how to judge fancy colors is an integral part of successfully trading such stones.