Kaleidoscope of Color
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Etienne is a proud member of the Natural Color Diamond Association.
Of all the gems found on earth, nothing surpasses the palette of natural or enhanced color diamonds for beauty, distinctiveness and desirability. Known as fancy-color diamonds, they occur in virtually every color and shade of color. Ruby red, baby pink, grass green and sapphire blue diamonds rank among the rarest and most precious of all gems.
Fancy-color diamonds possess a distinctive look not found in any other colored gem. Whatever the actual ‘body’ color seen in a fancy-color diamond, it is augmented by the presence of numerous pinpoint flashes of other colors, which are the result of a diamond’s high dispersion-“a diamond’s ability to break up each ray of reflected light into an array of spectral colors. For example, a ‘yellow’ diamond may be yellow, but you may also see pinpoint reflections of green, blue, orange and so on. The body color of the diamond, combined with its high dispersion, creates a fiery scintillation not found in any other gemstone. Even brown diamonds, once regarded as ‘too common’ to use in fine jewelry, are very much in vogue today. Their warm neutral colors and fiery dispersion create a special allure, and since they are so much more affordable than other fancy choices, jewelers worldwide are now showcasing diamond jewelry containing brown diamonds in every shade from the palest beige to the deepest, richest brown tones.
But keep in mind that there are also techniques for transforming off-color diamonds into fancy colors, so before buying any fancy-color diamond it is important to determine the origin of color, that is, whether the color is natural or the result of treatment. There is nothing wrong with buying a treated-color diamond as long as you know it is treated and it is priced appropriately, usually at a price that is dramatically less than a comparable natural-color diamond.
What Causes the Color?
Natural color in diamonds usually results from the presence of trace elements, although in some cases blue colored diamonds can result from exposure to radiation naturally (as it was forming in the earth) or from damage to the crystal lattice structure. Natural-color yellow diamonds get their color from the presence of nitrogen, for example, and blue diamonds, from boron or hydrogen. In diamonds where color is due to particular trace elements, the presence or absence of those trace elements can be ascertained through sophisticated testing procedures and can provide an important key in determining whether color is natural or artificial.
The situation is different with green diamonds. The color seen in natural-color green diamonds does not result from the presence of trace elements; green diamonds owe their color to exposure to radiation as they were forming in the earth, eons ago. This creates an unusual dilemma for gem testing laboratories because there are also treated-green diamonds that have been created by humankind using modern radiation techniques. Since radiation is the cause of color in both cases, it poses some identification challenges for laboratories. In some cases a natural-color green diamond will contain certain unique identifying characteristics that distinguish it from the treated stone, and in some cases a treated-green diamond will exhibit characteristics that identify it as treated. But many green diamonds lack conclusive evidence for positive identification. In such cases, a laboratory report will indicate that a positive determination cannot be made with gemological data currently available. This leaves the door open to the possibility that a positive determination might be made at some future time as new data come to light from continued research and technological advances, but there are no guarantees. In any event, if you are seeking a natural green diamond you must understand that it may be more difficult to find one with laboratory documentation confirming that the color is natural.
Fortunately, gem-testing laboratories are usually able to positively confirm origin of color in fancy-color diamonds, and cases where they cannot are the exception rather than the rule. For this reason, and since origin of color has such a significant impact on rarity and cost, it’s not recommend to purchase a natural-color diamond without laboratory verification from a respected lab such as the Gemological Institute of America.
The 4 C’s
To succeed in buying fancy-colored diamonds, you must take time to learn as much as you can about them. It’s important to take time to understand the 4Cs as they relate to fancy color diamonds -especially the subtle nuances of color and their impact on value – and to develop an eye for the important differences that affect not only the beauty and desirability of a particular stone, but its cost.
While the 4Cs apply to fancy color diamonds as well as to colorless diamonds, the emphasis is clearly on color. In general, the rarer the color, the less impact clarity and cutting have on its value; the less rare the color, the more important clarity and cutting become. Many reports on fancy-color diamonds do not even include a clarity grade for information regarding cutting and proportioning except for the stone’s shape.
When seeking a fancy color diamond, color is so paramount that it is important to understand how color is graded. You must carefully evaluate purity of color, depth of color (tone and saturation) and color distribution throughout the stone.
To properly evaluate the color of a fancy color diamond, the stone must be viewed from the face up position – looking at it with the table up, as you would see it when mounted in a piece of jewelry. From this position, evaluate each of the following characteristics:
Purity of Color
This refers to the hue and the purity of the hue. Let’s take ‘yellow’ as an example. The color of a fancy yellow diamond might be described as yellow, orangish-yellow, brownish-yellow,â€ â€œbrown-yellow, and so on. Understanding the differences in the wording is very important. The final word in the color description is the hue; the word or words preceding it are the modifiers of the hue.
Having no modifier means the color is a pure hue and, depending upon the color, can be very rare. Some color combinations are rarer and costlier than others. For example, let’s consider two diamonds where one is ‘orangy-yellow’ and the other is ‘brownish-yellow’. In both cases, the hue is ‘yellow’ but since orange is rarer than brown, the orangy-yellow stone would be more valuable than the brownish-yellow stone.
Now let’s look again at the description of the ‘brownish-yellow’ stone. Here the primary color is yellow, with a lesser degree of brown modifying the color. However, if the words were reversed, it would tell us the diamond is ‘brown’ with some lesser amount of yellow modifying the color. Again, since brown is a much less rare color, a yellowish-brown diamond would have less value than a brownish-yellow.
When considering a fancy color diamond, it is important to take time to understand the terminology used to describe the particular hue that interests you, what shades are available and how they compare in terms of rarity and value.
Depth of Color
This refers to the saturation of color combined with pink colored diamond the tone – that is, how light or dark the color is. Most fancy-color diamonds occur in pastel shades. Deep colors such as ruby-red or sapphire-blue are extremely rare and are among the costliest of all gems. The dept of color is usually indicated from faint to vivid, with the vivid classification indicating the richest possible tone in any given color. Be wary of stones with a ‘faint’ grade, these stones often have such a weak tone that they do not appear to be a ‘fancy’ color at all, but merely a very tinted, off color stone. These should sell for much less than a ‘light’ tone or deeper tones. Most diamond reports for fancy-color diamonds rank tone-using terminology similar to the following:
Faint Very Light Light (these first three categories are not truly ‘fancy colors’) Fancy Light Fancy (yellow, orange, brown, blue or whatever the color) Fancy Dark Fancy Deep Fancy Intense Fancy Vivid
The classification pertaining to the depth of color is extremely important. One tonal difference can dramatically affect value. But you must also understand that the terminology and gradations used to indicate the depth of color – the tonal scale – is not the same for every color. If you are seeking a yellow diamond, for example, and decide you want a color that is darker in tone than Fancy yellow, the next classification would be Intense; you would be wasting your time searching for anything between Fancy yellow and Fancy Intense because in yellow diamond there are no classifications between the two. On the other hand, if you are looking at brownish yellow diamonds, there is a Deep classification that is darker than Fancy brownish-yellow but more affordable than Intense. In blue diamonds, you will also find a Deep classification.
To accurately evaluate rarity and value, and to be sure you have found the depth of color that best suits your needs, you must be sure to find out what the specific tonal classifications are for the particular color you are considering.
Evenness of Color
The report will indicate whether thecolor is evenly dispersed under Distribution.The distribution of the color should be even but this is not always the case. Sometimes color occurs in zones, alternating with colorless zones, and the report will indicate uneven color distribution. Such stones may appear to have even color distribution when viewed from the top and may be lovely and desirable, but they should cost less than one that has even distribution.
Always view fancy-color diamonds in more than one type of lighting environment to determine color trueness.
One factor that is extremely important in the case of fancy-color diamonds is the trueness of the color in different lighting conditions. Where fancy-color diamonds are concerned, the color can change so dramatically depending upon the type of light in which it is viewed that it may no longer appear to be the color described on the report at all or may not be one you like.
In addition to a rainbow of colors that occur naturally, diamonds can be transformed by treatments into beautiful, desirable colors using several techniques. Radiation has been used for many years to change tinted, off-white diamonds into various shades of yellow, blue and blue-green, and in most cases can be easily distinguished from the natural by any competent gemologist. But new techniques are creating new challenges, and determining whether color is natural may require very sophisticated, high-tech procedures only available at a major gem-testing laboratory.
Most retailers are now aware of the technique known as high-pressure, high-temperature annealing that is being used to transform very off-white and brownish diamonds into colorless and near colorless stones. This technique is also used to transform these diamonds into a variety of fancy colors, from yellowish-green and greenish-yellow to exquisite shades of pink and blue. While the yellowish-green and greenish-yellow diamonds often have a distinctive look that sets them apart from most diamonds of comparable natural color, this is not the case with pink and blue, which are very difficult to distinguish from their natural color counterparts.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a diamond that has obtained its color through treatment. Increasingly, fine jewelry designers are using color-treated diamonds to create distinctive jewelry at very attractive prices. But it is important to know whether the color is natural or the result of a treatment so you know you have paid an appropriate price.
Clarity and Cutting
Many fancy-color diamond reports don’t include a clarity grade, especially if the color is exceptional or very rare. When a clarity grade is provided, the grading is based on the same criteria used for colorless diamonds. But it’s important to understand that in fancy-color diamonds, flawlessness is even rarer than in colorless diamonds.
Fancy-color diamonds are often in the SI (slightly included) range; I1-I3 (imperfect) grades are also common. In the fancy colors, however, SI and I grades don’t carry the stigma associated with these grades in colorless diamonds, especially if the stone has a rare or unusually deep color. This is not to say there are no flawless fancy-color diamonds or diamonds in the rarer clarity grades. But if the color is rare, and the diamond also has a high clarity grade, disproportionately high prices can be expected.
As with colorless diamonds, enhancement techniques are being used to improve the appearance of fancy-color diamonds by filling fractures and lasering black inclusions so they are no longer visible. All such enhancements should be disclosed, but as an educated consumer, it always pays to ask.
Cutting and Proportioning
Most reports on fancy-color diamonds lack information pertaining to cutting and proportioning. As with clarity, the deeper and/or rarer the color, the less important the cutting. However, we should mention certain shapes are more common among fancy-color diamonds because, in addition to proportioning, the shape itself and the cutting style (that is, step-cut vs. brilliant cut) can affect the intensity or evenness of the color.
When buying a fancy-color diamond, you must allow some flexibility where shape is concerned. Certain shapes are rare and difficult, if not impossible, to find in fancy colors, while others are much more readily available, in almost any color. The emerald cut is especially difficult to find, and even round stones may be difficult to find in a particular color. The radiant cut, however, is found frequently.
Today’s modern radiant and princess cuts have become especially popular for fancy-color princess cut colored diamonds because the shape, proportioning and facet arrangement intensify the color. On the other hand, it’s extremely rare to find a fancy-color diamond in an emerald cut because the color won’t look as intense.
Some Shapes Are Less Desirable
In addition to shapes that are especially desirable, some are not as desirable in a fancy-color diamond because they may cause the color to appear uneven. This often happens when a fancy-color diamond is cut into a pear or marquise shape. These shapes usually exhibit a bow-tie effect across the stone’s center – an effect created by light leakage – which usually causes the color to appear lighter across the area of the bow-tie. Sometimes the difference is slight; sometimes it’s pronounced. Such stones should sell for less; the more visible the color difference, the lower the cost.