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Diamonds earn color grades according to the presence of yellow or brown tints visible within their facets. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) developed a scale ranging from D to Z, where D represents colorless diamonds, and Z indicates strong shades of yellow.
Two grades positioned within the near colorless category are H and I.
The main difference between H and I color diamonds is H diamonds show slightly less yellow. They often appear colorless when viewed in a normal setting, so they’re popular choices for engagement rings. I color diamonds show yellow in some fancy shapes and sell for lower prices than H diamonds.
We’ll compare H versus I color diamonds, including an overview of each and four distinctions between them.
What is an H Color Diamond?
An H color grade is the fifth highest a diamond can receive on the GIA color scale. As a near colorless diamond, it’s located below G and above I.
Gemologists determine the color grade by examining it with magnification and when placed in ideal lighting conditions. It’s also compared to master stones of each grade.
The gemologist makes a subjective judgment about which grade it aligns with, which underscores the importance of choosing a diamond graded by a reliable organization.
To provide an actual example, here’s an image of an H diamond.
If you didn’t know its color grade, you would think it earned a D.
That’s because to the naked eye, it’s often difficult to notice the differences between colorless diamonds and ones toward the top of the near colorless category.
But the contrast is more noticeable when they’re placed next to each other.
Although the H diamond would likely appear colorless without magnification, its yellow is apparent beside a truly colorless diamond.
What is an I Color Diamond?
I color diamonds are positioned above J and below H on the GIA color scale. It’s the sixth highest grade and third in the near colorless category.
While the tints of yellow sometimes aren’t obvious to the naked eye, they’re more easy to pinpoint for a gemologist who’s examining it with a jewelers loupe under strong lighting.
If you view an I diamond in isolation, you could mistake it for colorless. But similar to H color grades, the difference is apparent when placed next to one without color.
The yellow in an I diamond is also more noticeable when it’s viewed from the side.
Check out the I color diamond below.
The yellow is hidden in the face-up view, but when I rotated the image, the color is visible.
Compare it to this colorless diamond, and you’ll understand why there’s a gap between I color diamonds and ones with the highest grades.
What are the Differences Between H and I Color Diamonds?
Even though H and I color diamonds are next to each other on the color scale, there are several differences that affect their appearance and performance.
By understanding how yellow tints impact their overall quality, you can have confidence choosing between them.
Here are details on four ways they’re different.
1. H Color Diamonds Have Less Visible Yellow
H diamonds have less visible yellow compared to I diamonds, which is why they earned the higher grade.
Often, the marginal differences between color grades next to each other on the scale are minimal. It’s when they’re viewed together that you can identify the variance.
Notice how in the image above, there’s color visible in each. But there’s slightly more yellow present in the I color diamond.
The lack of yellow visible to the naked eye in H diamonds makes them a more popular choice for engagement rings compared to I.
As I recommend, most buyers don’t prioritize a particular color grade, and the same is true for clarity.
Instead, it’s about finding a diamond that appears colorless to the naked eye and avoiding the premiums charged for higher grades.
For example, here’s an engagement ring with H diamond.
Placed in a 14k white gold setting with pavé, you can expect the piece to sparkle from every angle. Although yellow is visible at 10x magnification, it’s likely invisible without it.
The H color diamond gives the illusion it’s colorless without you having to pay for that grade.
2. I Diamonds Aren’t as Popular for Fancy Shapes
Fancy shaped diamonds are any cut that isn’t round brilliant. Examples include:
Each has its pros and cons, and the way its facets are cut affects its appearance and light performance.
For example, the brilliant-cut facets on princess and marquise cuts cause its light return to rival round cuts. Step-cut facets, which are elongated and arranged as parallel lines, result in a warm glow.
In general, fancy shapes don’t hide color as well as round cuts. This means I color diamonds aren’t as popular of a choice for fancy shapes because they may not appear colorless.
As a comparison, check out this round-cut diamond with an I color grade.
Now view this pear-cut with the same grades.
Even though the color grade is identical, the yellow tints are more visible in the fancy shape.
But if we change the color grade of the pear-cut to an H, we end up with a diamond that’s more likely to appear eye-clean.
There’s exceptions to these rules, but while you can consider I colors for fancy shapes like princess and Asscher cuts, start your search for cushion, oval, or pear cuts at H color grades to increase the chances they’re clear.
3. H Diamonds Have a Higher Price
When all else is equal, buyers are willing to pay a premium for diamonds that earn higher grades across the four Cs of color, cut, carat, and clarity.
Even one position up the scale has the potential to change the cost by hundreds of dollars.
When you move from one category to another, like near colorless and colorless, it’s a more significant change.
In the case of H versus I diamonds, I compiled prices for 230 loose diamonds from James Allen that had the following traits:
- Carat: 0.90
- Cut: Excellent
- Clarity: VVS2
Ones that earned an H color grade had an average price of $5,648, with a range from $5,290 to $6,310.
The I color diamonds averaged $5,005. The range was $4,570 to $5,630.
That represents a 13 percent increase in price, a total of $643, for an H diamond compared to one with an I color.
In many cases, you can’t tell the difference between the two. So that savings could be put toward a heavier diamond, improved cut or clarity, or a quality setting.
4. I Diamonds May Contrast with Settings
Don’t dismiss the impact of a setting on the overall performance of a diamond ring. While solitaires are the classic design, others such as pavé and halo settings feature additional diamonds.
When used correctly, these accents add more sparkle to the piece without the same price increase that would result from a larger center diamond.
In fact, a small increase in the diamond’s carat weight can often cost more than the entire setting.
But some I diamonds contrast with the gems on the setting. For example, if the tiny diamonds have E or F color grades, they may cause the I diamond to appear yellow in comparison.
You wouldn’t want the accents diluting the quality of the main diamond.
Instead, you could choose a setting that also features I diamonds, like the one below.
The pavé diamonds are small enough to appear colorless, so they won’t contrast with the I color diamond in the middle.
This often isn’t a problem with H diamonds. Even if the surrounding stones have a higher color grade, the main diamond can appear colorless.
Should You Choose an H or I Color Diamond?
Deciding between an H versus I color diamond involves understanding how the slight difference affects its performance in a piece of jewelry.
Both are common choices because of the strong value they offer compared to diamonds in the colorless category.
Here are some tips to use as guidelines.
Consider an H color diamond if:
- The diamond is a fancy shape that doesn’t hide color as well as a round cut
- You’re looking to avoid the premiums charged for D, E, and F diamonds
- You’ve viewed it in-person or through high-resolution images online and are confident it’s colorless to the naked eye
Explore I color diamonds if:
- It’s a round-cut diamond under two carats
- The accents on its setting didn’t earn colorless grades
- You want to put the cost savings toward a higher cut or clarity grade
Pair H and I diamonds with a variety of settings to learn the right combination.
By assessing its grading report and seeing how it appears in its setting, you’ll find the diamond ring for you.
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