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Diamonds, even synthetic diamonds, with a yellow hue are common. I’ll tell you why it happens and how shade impacts value.

Why are synthetic diamonds yellow? Synthetic diamonds sometimes take on a yellow hue as they form because of the presence, and arrangement, of Nitrogen atoms in the diamond. The impact on hue can involve various shades of yellow or brown. There are treatment methods that can be used to make slightly tinted diamonds more colorless.

With that basic understanding in place, let’s dive deeper into the ‘whys’, the ‘hows’, and just what it all means.

The Impact of Color

Diamonds that aren’t colorless, typically have some yellow or brown tint to them. Of course diamonds can also naturally be found in dark yellows, oranges, blue, red, and other colors, with some of shades being far more rare and valuable than others.

Fancy colors aside, and with all other factors being equal, The most desirable (and expensive) diamonds are colorless. Colorless diamonds sell at a premium because they’re rare. Most diamonds have at least a slight hint of color to them. Consumers still purchase diamonds that have slight yellow hues because the coloring isn’t incredibly noticeable when paired with the right ring metal and setting (more on that later). Buyers are also willing to accept trade offs in many cases. They’d be happy to take a diamond that’s slightly more yellow, if that means they can now afford a larger diamond for example.

The Cause of Color

Completely colorless diamonds are comprised of pure Carbon. Diamonds that aren’t colorless are comprised on Carbon and some other impurities. Nitrogen is the most common impurity in diamonds. It’s not only the presence of Nitrogen that impacts color, it’s also the arrangement of Nitrogen atoms. The diamond industry has noticed convenient ways to group diamonds based on the presence and arrangement of nitrogen.

There are two major classifications of diamonds. They’re referred to simply as ‘Type I’ and ‘Type II’ (type 1 and type 2). Nitrogen is a common impurity in Type I diamonds. Nitrogen is not a common impurity in type 2 diamonds. Each of those types is further broken down into two additional sub-types.

Type IaA, includes diamonds that have pairs of Nitrogen atoms that are neatly arranged together. Evenly paired nitrogen atoms don’t add color to a diamond, so these stones are typically colorless, or near colorless.  Type IaB diamonds contain Nitrogen atoms that are isolated (not paired) when they’re arranged in large, evenly numbered, groups of nitrogen atoms, they cause a yellow or brown tint to the gem. About 98% of all diamonds currently fall under Type Ia, being a mix of both type IaA and IaB.

Type IIa, includes diamonds that contain no nitrogen impurities whatsoever. These diamonds are typically very colorless. Type IIb includes colored diamonds that contain non-nitrogen impurities. Boron, for example, is an impurity that gives some type II diamonds a beautiful blue coloring. Diamonds that are orange, red, and other colors also also generally type IIb

When Nitrogen atoms are scattered through the gem in more isolated areas without grouping, or pairing, it creates a stronger yellow or brown coloring in the gem. These diamonds are classified as type Ib. Diamonds manufactured through the HPHT (high-pressure high-temperature) process are most commonly type Ib. While earth mined diamonds can occasionally also be type Ib, it’s fairly rare. HPHT is a manufacturing process that uses machines to simulate the intense pressure and heat that helps mined diamonds to grow in the earth. Amazingly, the laboratory can grow a diamond in 6 to 10 weeks, where the process normally takes millions of years for the earth to create naturally.

CVD (chemical vapor deposition) is a newer technology for creating diamonds. CVD isn’t as widely used as HPHT yet. CVD diamonds typically belong to type IIa. These diamonds are far more likely to come out completely colorless than HPHT diamonds are. Because CVD diamonds require far less electricity to make, they’re typically also less expensive to purchase.

Tests can be run using ultraviolet light and Infrared light to distinguish between type I and type II diamonds.

Grading and Communicating Color

All diamonds come in a range of color options. You can find both lab-grown and earth-grown diamonds in a spectrum of color ranging from colorless to nearly colorless with slight tones of yellow or brown, or deeper tones of those colors. A commonly used color grading scale exists to help gem professionals and consumers communicate clearly regarding the portion of value that color impacts.

The scale assigns a letter grade, ranging from D to Z, to a particular diamond based on the amount of color that it may exhibit. A completely colorless diamond receives a ‘D’ rating (the most valuable grade). A diamond that’s severely impacted by color, could be rated at ‘Z’ (the grade reserved for the diamonds exhibiting the worst color qualities).

Color GradeGeneral Color Qualities
D, E, FColorless
G, H, I, JNear Colorless
K, l, MFaint Color
N, O, P, Q, RVery Light Coloring
S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, ZLight Coloring

Again, this same color scale is used for earth mined diamonds and lab created diamonds. Both families of diamonds are available in all color ranges, with the most colorless selling at a premium.

The Impact of Color on Value

A standardized system for grading and communicating diamond value was developed by GIA (Gemological Institute of America) in 1953. The system was adopted and promoted by De Beers. The rest of the industry soon followed suit.

Diamond quality is influenced most by the gem’s characteristics in four main areas. These are commonly referred to as the 4 C’s.

  • Cut
  • Color
  • Clarity
  • Carats (size)

None of the 4 C’s is unimportant. Carat weight is a driver of value, but it’s more about preference than quality. The other three are all important. Without a quality cut, your rings won’t sparkle properly, regardless of how colorless and clear it might be. If it’s extremely colorless and has a great cut, inclusions can still sabotage the ring by blocking and diverting light that would otherwise be entering the ring and then reflecting back out as sparkle.

A quality diamond requires balance across each category. You might decide to make a small sacrifice in one area of the 4 C’s, if it means you can get even more in another area that’s important to you. For example, you could decide to accept a stone that has some very minimal coloring because it might mean that you can then afford to get a larger total carat weight. If color is most important for you. You could make the opposite decision, and opt for a smaller diamond that’s completely colorless.

It’s great that multiple shades are available, so you can find the combination of characteristics that fits your style preferences and budgetary realty best. I all diamonds were colorless, you’d love a valuable component of flexibility.

In reality, the visually perceived difference between a D and an E shade, is minuscule. It wouldn’t be picked up or noticed by others—then why pay for it. The same is likely true in moving from a D to and F or G. This same thing is true when it comes to clarity. You may decide that some simple and non-obstructive inclusions are very welcomed, to bring your overall ring costs down.

Does GIA Grade Synthetic Diamonds?

GIA grades diamonds, both man-made and earth-grown, to provide information and assurance regarding key characteristics of a particular diamond. While they grade synthetic diamonds on the same D through Z scale, they don’t offer as much descriptive detail in reports for synthetic diamonds.

They don’t grade synthetic diamonds the exact same way they grade earth-produced diamonds, instead the report provides a color grade and a more general overall color and clarity description. primarily because they don’t see the same extent of quality variance in above-ground diamonds as they do with below-ground diamonds. With a greater degree of consistency, they seem to feel that the additional components and descriptions really aren’t needed at this time.

GIA is an incredibly well thought of and influential laboratory, but they aren’t the only large and reputable laboratory that can issue grading reports. IGI (International Gemological Institute) is an example of another leading lab that issues full grading reports on lab-created diamonds. Their reporting content for lab diamonds is the exact same as it is for earth-mined diamonds.

Treatments to Make Diamonds More Appealing

Both earth-grown and lab-created diamonds can be ‘treated’ to improve their color by making them more colorless—and therefore more valuable. Treatment could allow an diamond with an I grading to improve in clarity to a D, for example. The treatment can be done using the HPHT process.

Sometimes careful analysis and testing by a trained professional can detect that a treatment has taken place, but very frequently, no physical clues are left behind. It’s when treatments are done at low enough temperature, that evidence of the treatment is essentially non-existent.

Diamonds that are at the far end of the scale (like a W, X, Y, or Z), might be color treated to either mask or enhance it’s natural coloration through a process like CVD or HPHT.  The treatment increases vibrancy, adding richness, and making them a fancy color instead of trying to make them colorless. Fancy colored diamonds can also command a premium.

The Impact of Treatments on Value

Untreated diamonds have the greatest value because untreated diamonds with great color quality are more rare. A colorless treated diamond with a grade of D is much less valuable than a ‘D’ rated diamond that’s untreated. Since some treatments can’t be detected, you often have to rely on the integrity of the company that you buy from. You’re also relying at the same time on the integrity of their suppliers. For this reason it’s important that you only buy from sellers with an excellent history and reputation in the business. It’s also a great idea to avoid buying any kind of diamond jewelry from online auctions sites that connect buyers and sellers. There’s a huge opportunity for fraud in that space.

Most brides should welcome treated stones—not avoid them. What you’re after is a beautiful diamond that sparkles like crazy and lasts a lifetime. You aren’t purchasing your ring as a financial investment. Diamond rings are terrible investments.

Knowing, that, you should use the system to your advantage. You’ll get the most diamond for your money, if you buy a man-made diamond ring, and get one that has been color treated. Again, that just means that it once had more color than it now has. Its appearance now is that you should care about, because the treatment process is permanent. The color will never change with time.

If you can get a colorless diamond that’s been treated for even less than a near colorless diamond that’s untreated—Why not go for it? Who will know (or care) anyway? The vast majority of the people you know, know very little about diamonds. They’re unlikely to know that your diamonds is man-made unless you tell them. They’re even less likely to know that your diamond has been made more clear through a treatment process—In fact, it would literally be impossible for someone to know by simple observation.

If that’s the case, and it is, then why wouldn’t a bride opt for the less expensive color treated ring over the more expensive non-color treated ring if both receive the same color grade in the end, and have similar quality in all other areas?

Yellow Can Sometimes Cost More

When Nitrogen atoms are arranged properly, an intense yellow can sometimes result. These diamonds are beautiful. Naturally fancy colored diamonds are rare. In fact, only 1 carat for every 10,000 carats unearthed is naturally a fancy colored diamond. Among all those found though, yellow diamonds are most common, but there are many variations of yellow diamonds available.

Many ‘yellow’ diamonds are blends of colors like yellow and brown, yellow and green, or others. The pure yellow diamonds are the variety that sell at the greatest premiums. While blended colors often produce beautiful diamonds in their own right, they’re less rare that a diamond of pure and consistent color, and are therefore less valuable in general. These are often referred to as Canary Yellow diamonds.

Fancy colors aren’t graded, by laboratories, like GIA, on a D-Z scale. Instead, fancy colored diamonds are graded based on their intensity and consistency. In other words, they’ve graded on their quality of color.

Why Synthetic Diamonds Are Often Yellow

As you would expect, a fancy yellow diamond is going to cost more than a typical, more colorless, variety. As the intensity of the color climbs, so does the price. The most intense yellow diamonds are likely going to run at lead twice the price of beautiful yellow diamonds that are less intense.

How Your Band Affects Color Perception

The type of metal that you choose for your ring could influence the look of your diamond. Light colored metals like white gold or platinum pair really well with colorless diamonds. The colorless nature of the diamond is accentuated and displayed well against that band.

If you put a diamond with a yellow hue against a light metal like white gold or platinum, it can make the yellow tone more obvious. It’s better to pair a diamond slightly yellowed diamond with yellow gold. The color of the gold complements the diamond well and makes its color less obvious.

Related Questions

Why Are Diamonds So Expensive?

Earth-mined diamonds are expensive because they take a lot of labor to obtain (roughly 1,750 tons of earth have to be excavated for every diamond larger than 1 carat that’s found), but they’re SO expensive because their supply is carefully controlled to keep prices artificially high. If the price of diamond weren’t high, it would cease to be a status symbol. It wouldn’t be as sought after by some. Realizing this, the supply has to be regulated so supply never outpaces demand.   

Do Diamond Rings Appreciate in Value?

Diamonds put in jewelry aren’t the kind of investment grade diamonds that typically appreciate in value. A diamond ring certainly shouldn’t be viewed as an investment. Think about it. If you’re happily married, when would you ever want to part with the ring? If you split up and want to sell the ring, you’re likely to find that you can’t even recover what you put into it. If you resell your ring shortly after purchasing, you’re likely to only recoup 30% to 50% of what you spent.

This is one reason that buying a frugal ring makes sense. Get a beautiful and durable ring, but the less you spend, the less you have parked on a finger and at risk of loss. There are many other investment vehicles that are better places to park extra money for future growth.

Are Lab Created Diamond Rings Cheap to Buy?

Lab created diamonds are typically 30% to %50 less expensive than earth mined diamonds. Those savings are considerable when you realize that you aren’t really sacrificing anything for the savings. Both diamonds are made entirely of Carbon. Both are equally beautiful and durable. If your budget can’t quite fit a man-made diamond, you may want to look into Moissanite. It’s a the simulant that’s most like diamond, and much less expensive.

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