What Are Colored Diamonds?

What Are Fancy Color Diamonds?

Fancy color diamonds are true miracles of nature, found in all colors of the rainbow and every combination of colors in between.

My first exposure to colored diamonds was when I was a small child. My grandmother would visit us from New York City. She always looked so glamorous, and I could not help but be attracted to the beautiful shiny jewelry she wore. One piece in particular, was a ring featuring a very large (at least to my four or five-year-old eyes) square yellow stone that shone like the sun and sparkled each time she moved her hand. I was completely mesmerized by the stone and curious to know all about that beautiful ring. Much later I learned it was a diamond, a so-called canary diamond. Canary was the common description used for fancy yellow diamonds back then, and one that is still used commonly today.

In a previous article I posted, How to Buy An Engagement Ring, I mentioned briefly the rarity of diamonds and how that rarity affects value and price. There are few gemstones or colorless diamonds, that rival the rarity of fancy color diamonds. I am going to break it all down for you and hopefully inspire you to fall in love with these exquisite treasures, as I did long ago.

Fancy Colored Diamonds – An Overview

Diamond is the hardest substance on earth and can be polished and faceted to bend and reflect light like no other gem material. The results are an explosion of spectral colors, white light, and sparkle that leaves the viewer in awe. When you combine these characteristics with color, the results are spectacular. Whether soft pastel hues or rarely pure, strong saturated colors, you know that you are looking at something that is rare to behold!

Fancy color diamonds are one of Mother Nature’s greatest achievements. They are not exactly mainstream as only about one in 10,000 diamond crystals will qualify as a fancy color; these diamonds are among the most sought-after in the world.

Although royalty and rulers of Asian and European empires sought out and coveted colored diamonds for their gemstone collections and adornment, prior to the 1970s there was little commercial interest in these stones. A diamond dealer once told me that when he found these anomalies in the parcels of small diamonds delivered to him, he would pluck them out and throw them in his desk drawer and forget about them. Years later he sold what was less than a handful of tiny colored diamonds for $64,000!

Today auction houses, dealers, and prestige jewelers are in fierce competition to acquire the best and rarest stones for their top-tier clients.

How Do Gemological Laboratories Classify Fancy Color Diamonds?

Most people are familiar with the 4Cs of diamond grading: Color, Cut, Clarity, and Carat Weight. These are the factors used to assess diamond rarity for colorless and near-colorless diamonds. When it comes to fancy color diamonds the only two of the 4Cs that really matter are color and carat weight, but the color is paramount. Rather than the D-Z scale used to grade nuances in color in “white” diamonds, color descriptions (see below) are assigned by highly trained diamond graders or sophisticated machines that measure and analyze color.

Color: Red, orange, yellow, green, olive, blue, purple, white, brown, gray, black, and pink, are the 12 main hues. Variations in saturation (depth of color) and the effects of modifying colors (second or third colors that are also visible e.g., purplish-pink) result in an infinite amount of possibilities.

Graders evaluate three components of color:

  1. Hue – the basic body color that dominates
  2. Tone – lightness or darkness of the hue
  3. Saturation – the purity of the hue, amount, and quality of modifying colors

The classification of color as defined by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA):

  • Faint
  • Very Light
  • Light
  • Fancy Light
  • Fancy
  • Fancy Intense
  • Fancy Vivid
  • Fancy Dark
  • Fancy Deep

What Causes Color in Fancy Color Diamonds?

  1. Trace elements within the atomic structure: nitrogen, boron, or hydrogen atoms that replace carbon atoms.
  2. Defects in the crystal lattice (atomic arrangement, misalignment of the atoms) of a diamond.
  3. Radiation deep within the earth is responsible for the color of fancy green diamonds, radiation causes misalignment of crystals’ structure.

But before we look at the individual colors and the specifics of each, let’s address the remaining Cs and some general guidelines that apply to fancy color diamonds.

Cut: Master cutters fashion fancy color diamonds into fancy shapes (any shape other than round) to maximize color-most often square or rectangular modified brilliants. They are often cut deeper which helps to strengthen and bring out the color. It can take months or even years for a cutter to analyze a rough crystal before deciding exactly how it will be cut to maximize its beauty and liveliness.

Clarity: Fancy color diamonds tend to have more inclusions than the colorless and near-colorless range. Fancy color diamonds may have significant internal characteristics and are never-the-less valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars per carat. For collectors, it is much better to own a fancy color with strong color and has inclusions (flaws) than a pale, low saturated color without inclusions.

Carat Weight: Dealers price most fancy color diamonds individually as each one is unique. Diamonds with strong saturated colors that are extremely rare will command jaw-dropping prices. Even small diamonds, less than, 0.50 carats, in rare colors can be tens of thousands of dollars per stone. Large stones will go for whatever someone is willing to pay. It’s all about supply and demand.

Individual Fancy Colors

Next, we will look at several colors found in the marketplace: Images are enlarged to emphasize colors.

Fancy Yellow

  • The second most abundant of the fancy colors (after brown) is available in all sizes.
  • Nitrogen atoms replace carbon atoms in the molecular structure which produces the yellow hue.
  • Terms like “Cape” or “Canary” were descriptors for almost any diamond that exhibited enough yellow to qualify as a fancy. In the 1970s the Gemological Institute of America introduced the grading scale above, which replaced such subjective descriptors resulting in a standard scale to classify fancy colors that could be used by all who traded these rarities.

Countries of Origin: Sierra Leone, South Africa, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Russia

Fancy Pink


  • The pink color in diamonds can be caused by either nitrogen or defects within the crystal structure of the diamond. These defects are visible to the naked eye and are described as pink graining.
  • Internally, visible pink needle-like inclusions may be evident and will show a concentration of pink, more so than the surrounding area, which may be colorless.
  • When this is the case, it presents major difficulties for the cutter, as the crystal must be oriented and cut to exhibit the most saturated color in the face-up position.
  • In April 2017, the Pink Star diamond, 59.60 carats, Fancy Vivid Pink mined in South Africa in 1999 became the most expensive gem ever auctioned at $71.2 million.

Countries of Origin: Australia, Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Angola, Central African Republic.

Fancy Blue

  • Color is the result of boron or hydrogen trapped within the crystal as it forms.
  • The tone of all blue diamonds is extremely important. Most blues possess pale hues and light tones, but any amount of perceived blue will make a diamond valuable due to its rarity.
  • Pure blue diamonds do exist, and they are premium priced. The majority of fancy blues show gray secondary colors. e.g., fancy grayish-blue and greenish-blue. The latter are considered rarer and more valuable.

Countries of Origin: South Africa, India, the Central African Republic, South Africa is responsible for 90% of blue diamonds in the world.

Fancy Green

  • The cause of color in green diamonds is the result of the crystal’s exposure to natural radiation that occurs 100 miles below the surface of the earth.
  • Radiation exposure may occur just on the surface, slightly below the surface or deep within the diamond, which results in various shades of green.
  • These diamonds are not radio-active, therefore, there is no danger to anyone exposed to them.

Countries of Origin: Guyana, Brazil, Venezuela, Borneo, India, Africa, South America

Fancy Orange

  • Color is caused by nitrogen or distortion of the crystal lattice.
  • Pure orange is one of the rarest fancy colors.
  • Although yellow and orange diamonds are colored by nitrogen, it is the difference in the arrangement of the nitrogen atoms in orange crystals that result in the color.
  • Pure orange diamonds are sometimes called Pumpkin diamonds.

Countries of Origin: South Africa, Central African Republic, South America.

Fancy Red

  • Red diamonds are the rarest of all categories of colored diamonds.
  • Only a handful of pure red diamonds have ever been mined.
  • The color is the result of internal graining, a distortion or misalignment of the atomic structure.
  • Most red diamonds are quite small, with visible internal characteristics, and are so dark they are undesirable.
  • Pure red diamonds without modifiers do exist, and they are premium priced.
  • Most red diamonds have purple and pink secondary or modifying hues.
  • The largest red diamond ever cut is the Moussaieff Red weighing 5.11 Carats.
Fancy Red Diamond

Countries of Origin: Argyle Mine in Western Australia (now closed) Brazil, India, Africa

Fancy Purple

  • The color is caused by internal graining, a distortion or lack of symmetry in the atomic structure.
  • Color modifiers, or secondary hues, are often present and influence the intensity and saturation of the purple hue. The most common are pink and brown.

Countries of Origin: Argyle Mine (now closed) Russia Brazil and Canada

Fancy Brown

  • Brown is the most common hue when it comes to colored diamonds.
  • The cause of color is the displacement of carbon atoms and graining, seen as parallel lines where color concentrates.
  • Another popular name for brown diamonds is “cognac” especially if flashes of orange are observed.
  • Australia was the first to promote light brown diamonds by marketing them as “Champagne” diamonds.

Country of Origin: Australia, Borneo, and most mines

Countries of origin: Most mines produce brownish diamonds; however, Australia is an important source.

Black Diamonds

  • All black diamonds feature internal crystals such as pyrite, hematite, and graphite; as well as breaks within the stones that give them their black color. If these mineral particles are distributed evenly, the stone will be opaque and if not, colorless areas will be visible.
  • Only recently have they attained commercial value status,
  • Many stones are heated to melt internal crystals to even out the color.
  • Used primarily as accent stones or with colorless diamonds for contrast in paved designs.
  • Relatively inexpensive compared to diamonds that feature spectral colors.
  • They have a certain “cool” factor, brought about when Mr. Big presented Carrie a five-carat black diamond engagement ring at the end of the 2010 film Sex and the City 2 .

Countries of Origin: Central Africa along river banks, Brazil and industrial-grade diamonds that at times may be suitable for commercial use

Gemological Reports

When considering the purchase of a fancy color diamond, it is critical that the diamond is accompanied by a grading report from an established gemological laboratory. The report must provide evidence that the diamond and color are natural in origin (not man-made or color enhanced in a laboratory.) It will also assign a color grade on the GIA fancy color grading scale, as well as details on the cut, carat weight, and clarity. These details will give you confidence in your purchase and is a document essential for resale and insurance purposes.

For more information on fancy color grading reports from the GIA-GTL, click here

Famous Fancy Color Diamonds

The Hope Diamond:

  • The largest deep blue diamond; 45.52 carats.
  • The most famous diamond in the world.
  • Harry Winston owned the diamond, decided to donate it to the Smithsonian Institution, and sent it by mail.
  • There are superstitions surrounding the diamond, especially the belief that it brought bad luck to its owner.
The Hope Diamond

The Dresden Green:

  • Believed to have been mined from the Golconda mine in India in the early 1720s.
  • 41 Carats, VS1 Slightly Grayish Green of natural color. Graded in Dresden by GIA in 1988.
  • Held in the Dresden Vaults in Dresden Germany.
  • Said to be the largest natural green diamond in the world.
The Dresden Green Diamond

The Tiffany Diamond:

  • The most famous fancy yellow diamond in the world (but not the largest.)
  • 128.54 Carats VS1 Fancy Intense Yellow.
  • On display in the Tiffany & Co. Flagship store on 5th Ave in New York City.
  • Last worn by Beyoncé. To view the video, click here
The Tiffany Diamond

The Graff Pink:

  • This stone was previously owned by Harry Winston, a world-renowned New York jeweler who has possessed a number of the most famous colored diamonds in the world. He owned this pink for 60 years.
  • It was auctioned in 2010 and Laurence Graff, one of the top fancy diamond purveyors in the world, decided to buy it. He thought its color could be improved and ultimately made more valuable by recutting the stone.
  • He paid $46.2 million for the 24.78 carat stone which after cutting resulted in a 23.88 carat Internally Flawless Vivid Pink beauty.
  • The Graff Pink diamond falls in the top 1 to 2% of diamonds in terms of purity, according to the Gemological Institute of America.


If your question was: What are fancy colored diamonds? I hope you now have a basic idea of what they are all about. Fancy Color Diamonds are rare, valuable and like works of art, one of a kind. And most of all, role models of beauty!

Thank you for reading my article and I look forward to your questions and comments below!

Francesca, G.G., F.G.A.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. LineCowley

    I loved reading about all the fancy colored diamonds. What an educational post and I never realized that there were so many different color diamonds. And fascinating how the color is formed in each diamond. From natural radiation to form green diamonds, to boron or hydrogen being trapped in a blue diamond, the results are spectacular. 

    My favourite colored diamond is the blue, although they are all quite unique..Diamonds are still a girl’s best friend.

    1. admin

      Hey LineCowley, Thank you so much for your comments.  Blue diamonds are indeed rare, especially pure blue. Most of the ones I’ve seen have a lot of gray, making them steely blue.

      Again, many thanks!

  2. Bojana

    If you are planning to venture into the unusual world of diamonds, whether as a future owner or a curious researcher, consider their color and other listed characteristics. You will make the most reliable choice if you consult with professionals, who will evaluate the stone and its properties better and more professionally than yourself. Only in this way will you avoid imitations and enjoy the true splendor of precious stones.

  3. Francesca

    Hi Bojana,
    Yes, I agree one-hundred percent! The best places to go are the top jewelry houses in the world, and you know their names. Besides these houses, very few retailers have the expertise and the resources to acquire the rarest stones. To ensure you are not getting treated or lab-created stones, gemological reports are essential.

    Thank you for your comment!

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