Making The Grade

How do we determine the price of a colored diamond? Who makes the classifications between light and fancy? Naturally occurring colored diamonds are rare; fancy colored diamonds are even rarer. It is estimated that only 2% of total rough diamond production yields a fancy color, any color really, including pink, green and yellow.

GIA Color GradingDevelopment of the color grading system began in the 1950’s, when the Gemological Institute of America collaborated with Harry Winston, GIA Gemologist Bob Crowningshield and Arthur Wright, a colored diamond dealer looked to fill a need for a classification system of colored diamonds that would provide a universal sense of value for both buyers and dealers alike.

But while the D-Z (colorless to light yellow) color graded diamonds are a continuum, when it comes to fancy diamonds it is dependent on the master grader’s interpretation. “Think of it as a box with three dimensions,” says John King, chief quality officer at GIA, “There’s the side-to-side shift within the box from cooler to warmer that measures hue; the top-to-bottom shift from light to dark that measures tone and the front-to-back shift of strength that measures saturation.”

YellowThe picture on the left, from left to right; light yellow, fancy light yellow, fancy yellow, fancy intense yellow, and fancy vivid yellow

By the 1990’s, GIA had classified colors as faint, very light, light, fancy light, fancy, fancy intense, and fancy dark. Fancy deep and fancy vivid was added in 1994 to respond to the influx of more intensely colored diamonds on the market. For yellow or brown diamonds, it would qualify as fancy if it falls anywhere outside the range of D-Z. All of the other colors are not graded on the alphabet scale, so just the faintest hint of color is considered fancy.