A diamond’s color grade refers to the presence of yellow or brown in its facets.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) developed a scale from D-Z, where diamonds that earn a D grade have no color, and Z diamonds have strong color.
These grades are divided into categories ranging from colorless to light, with near colorless, faint, and very light in between.
The main difference between colorless and near colorless diamonds is that colorless diamonds have little to no shades of yellow, while near colorless diamonds have slight tints of color that are sometimes visible to the naked eye. Jewelers charge a premium for colorless diamonds.
To help decide which is right for you, we’ll compare colorless versus near colorless diamonds, including an overview of each and their pros and cons.
What are Colorless Diamonds?
Colorless diamonds earn D, E, and F grades on the GIA color scale.
They’re the three highest grades, above the 20 other designations labeled G-Z.
The image below is of a D color diamond.
No matter how you rotate the image, there is no visible yellow. When the gemologist examined it under 10x magnification, they found no sign of color.
Colorless diamonds are also placed under controlled lighting conditions and compared to master stones that represent each grade.
While there’s no hint of color in D diamonds, E and F start to show slight amounts of yellow under intense scrutiny.
But the color present in E and F diamonds is generally unnoticed by the naked eye.
Take the comparison below as an example.
The E and F diamonds appear identical, even when you compare it to the D color diamond.
This demonstrates the minor differences between the three grades in the colorless category.
There are several pros of colorless diamonds that make them an ideal choice for some buyers.
A diamond graded D, E, or F carries a sense of prestige because of its quality. There’s an intangible reward to owning a diamond that earned some of the highest marks in certain categories.
It’s understood that clean, colorless diamonds are more valuable, and some buyers want the satisfaction of calling one their own.
Only a small percentage of diamonds are colorless because most are found with strong shades of yellow or brown. Even if a colorless one is mined, many are small and used as accents on a piece of jewelry.
So the combination of a large and colorless diamond has high demand for diamond rings.
D, E, and F diamonds also have a higher chance of showing no yellow when viewed in a normal setting, regardless of its weight.
As the carat weight increases, you have to move up the color scale to ensure yellow isn’t visible.
With larger facets and a wider surface area, diamonds that would appear colorless at less than one carat might not have the same effect as you approach two carats.
But to show how colorless diamonds often solve this issue, we’ll compare two diamonds with different carat weights that earned the same grade.
This 0.75-carat diamond earned an F color grade. As you can see, there is no color visible.
This diamond weighs 2.50 carats.
Even though it weighs more than three times the other diamond, it still appears colorless.
So it provides confidence to buyers that it’s clear no matter the carat weight.
Colorless diamonds also have downsides.
The most significant con is price because they don’t offer the best value.
There’s low supply and high demand for D, E, and F diamonds, so jewelers charge a premium for these grades.
In fact, commanding higher prices for traits that aren’t distinguishable with the naked eye is one way jewelry retailers earn their margins.
To demonstrate the price of colorless diamonds compared to other categories, I assessed prices for 512 diamonds from James Allen. They all had the same grades except for color, which were:
- Carat weight: 0.90
- Clarity: VS1
- Cut: Ideal
For the 126 D color diamonds, the average price was $6,406. The range was $5,110-$6,930.
By moving down two grades to F, the average cost across 119 diamonds was $6,352. That’s a decline of less than one percent between D and F diamonds.
But when I examined prices for 148 G diamonds, which are near colorless, the average cost dropped to $6,080. That’s a five percent decline compared to D.
For the 119 J diamonds in my research, the average price was $4,081.
That’s 36 percent lower than a D diamond.
Because you can save on cost with each letter grade down the scale, many buyers opt against a colorless diamond and instead choose one that looks identical but earned a lower grade.
Another downside of colorless diamonds is they can appear darker when set in yellow or rose gold.
Those colors reflect off the diamond, which can negate its colorless appearance.
Take this engagement ring as an example.
It features an E color diamond in a 18K yellow gold setting.
Even though you’d expect it to appear colorless, the setting may result in a slight yellow tint from the diamond. Instead, switch it to a 14K white gold setting.
You’ll avoid that clash and ensure the colorless diamond’s quality is on full display.
What are Near Colorless Diamonds?
Near colorless diamonds are graded G, H, I or J on the color scale.
It’s the second highest category, positioned below colorless and above faint.
The reason a diamond earns a near colorless grade is because there’s often yellow visible under ideal lighting and at 10x magnification.
But as expected, it’s more apparent in I and J diamonds than in G and H.
To provide some comparisons, here’s a G and H diamond placed side by side.
Even with high-resolution images, the color is indistinguishable.
But placing a J and G diamond next to each other tells a different story.
Though both are near colorless, there’s a clear difference in the amount of yellow visible.
In fact, the color in the J diamond might be apparent to the naked eye.
This demonstrates how within the near colorless category, there’s a wide range of how much color is noticeable.
There are several pros of choosing a near colorless diamond for your ring.
The first is it offers tremendous value if it’s identical to a colorless diamond.
As you learned in my price comparisons above, the cost of a diamond generally declines with every grade lower on the color scale.
So if a colorless and near colorless diamond appear the same when viewed under normal conditions, you can put that savings toward a higher carat weight, cut, or clarity grade.
In fact, a G color grade is often the most popular choice for an engagement ring diamond because of this advantage.
Many buyers find it to be the sweet spot between a lower price without obvious yellow.
But you often don’t need to go as high as G to find a diamond that fits that criteria.
Many I and J diamonds appear colorless to the naked eye as well, like the I diamond below.
When deciding which color grade is right for your diamond, view it in-person or through a quality image online. Without these options, it’s difficult to know what it looks like based on the color grade.
Many near colorless diamonds are also a fitting choice for yellow or rose gold settings. While they can interfere with the lack of color in D, E, and F diamonds, you’re less likely to experience this conflict with I and J.
You should be mindful of the cons of near colorless diamonds as well.
The first is they may exhibit less brilliance if the yellow is apparent. While cut and clarity are more influential in a diamond’s light performance, color can also impact its sparkle.
A diamond’s brilliance is a measure of how it collects and returns white light, so any shade of yellow has the potential to diminish this quality.
Combined with an excellent cut and eye-clean clarity grade, near colorless diamonds can still have the glimmer of ones graded colorless.
Another downside is fancy shapes may show more yellow than round brilliants.
Fancy shapes are any cut other than round, such as:
The ones that don’t hide color as well are step-cut diamonds. Their facets are larger and arranged like steps.
For example, check out this Asscher cut with an I color grade.
This emerald cut also earned an I.
In both cases, the yellow tints are noticeable.
So you often have to choose a higher color grade in the near colorless category if you’re opting for a fancy shape with step-cut facets.
But the increase in price is offset by a lower cost-per-carat for these cuts compared to round diamonds.
Is a Colorless or Near Colorless Diamond Right for You?
In learning the differences between colorless versus near colorless diamonds, it’s important to grasp how these categories affect their appearance and performance.
Though there’s often a minimal distinction between colors next to each other on the scale, the amount of yellow shown is noticeable as you move several positions down the color scale.
Here are some tips to help you know which is right for you.
You should consider a colorless diamond if:
- You value owning a diamond with some of the highest color grades
- You’re willing to pay a premium
- Its setting will be white gold or platinum
You should opt for a near colorless diamond if:
- It still appears colorless to the naked eye
- You want to put the savings toward improved grades in other areas
- You avoid lower grades in the category for fancy shapes
Explore colorless and near colorless diamonds in person and at online jewelry retailers.
You’ll gain firsthand knowledge of what to expect with each type and can create the perfect ring for you.