Your Buying Guide for Yellow Diamonds
Of course, you want a yellow diamond—for yourself, for a loved one. A yellow diamond has a phenomenal ability to reflect light, and that makes it more sparkling, more brilliant. The color alone makes us happy. Yellow instills feelings of joy and optimism. (And who can’t use that today?) In the language of spiritual energy, yellow is the color of freshness, honor, loyalty and enlightenment. It also is the color that most captures attention. The next time you enter a party of colorfully dressed guests notice that the one dressed in yellow catches the eye. And so will your yellow diamond.
We developed this guide to familiarize you with yellow diamonds. Granted, many of the points we cover apply to all diamonds, but it’s important to know how yellow diamonds differ from white or other colored diamonds before you start shopping. You want to know what you are looking for and what you are looking at. You’ll better understand what the jeweler is saying. That’s certainly an advantage for you, but it’s also easier for jewelers when a potential customer has at least a rudimentary knowledge of the industry. So, speaking of “rudimentary,” let’s start at the very beginning—in the belly of the earth.
Where and How Do Yellow Diamonds Originate?
Like all diamonds, yellow diamonds originate at least 90 miles beneath the earth’s surface. There, crystals of pure carbon are formed and subjected to intense heat (approximately 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) and extreme pressure (more than 725,000 pounds per square inch) for millions, more likely billions, of years, resulting in diamonds—magnificent crystals with a natural shine, high penetration of light and extraordinary strength.
Colored diamonds occur due to impurities that interfere during the formation process. In the case of yellow diamonds, it is nitrogen molecules that alter the carbon crystals so that blue light is absorbed, leaving its complementary color, yellow.
Do not confuse “impurities” here with something bad or harmful; yellow diamonds are not mistakes of nature—no more than sunlight, daffodils or the beautiful yellow tang fish are.
The Four Cs: Color, Cut, Clarity, Carat
Until the twentieth century, there was no consistency in communicating about diamonds. In 1931, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) was founded and established a comprehensive, international “language” that could be understood by all, including lay people—the 4 Cs. The 4 Cs allow customers to intelligently choose among the vast array of diamonds available.
In white diamonds, the most important C is the cut because it has the greatest influence on a diamond's sparkle. However, most important to yellow diamonds is the color, so that’s where we’ll start.
You know you want a yellow diamond. But that’s not enough. You have to select the exact shade of yellow, and that involves choosing among color grades and intensities.
- Color Grade
Jewelers give diamonds a color rating, such as yellow, orange/yellow, or brown/yellow, based on a secondary tint. The orange/yellow diamond has a natural yellow color with a slight orange tint, for example. Same for the brown/yellow diamond and the green/yellow diamond.
As a rule, the secondary color of orange and green increases the value and popularity of the yellow diamond. A brownish tint decreases the value—but that is not carved in stone. There are beautiful yellow stones with brown tints. So, as with everything, it’s a matter of taste, and don’t let someone else’s taste dictate yours.
- Intensity Grade
The intensity grade determines the strength of the color:
These color saturations are created deep in the earth during the time the diamond was created. The stronger the yellow color, the more expensive the diamond.
“Fancy” indicates a very clear yellow and the most common of yellow diamonds.
“Fancy Intense” indicates a pure and clear shade of yellow and the most desirable yellow diamonds. These diamonds are also called “Canary Diamonds” for the strength and beauty of the yellow.
“Fancy Deep” is a very distinctive color that not everyone cares for, even though these diamonds are very rare.
“Fancy Vivid” are also very rare and have a brilliance that few diamonds do.
- Color Distribution
Color distribution is not so involved. It is either “even” or “uneven.” Naturally, the more even the distribution of yellow color, the more visually impressive the diamond and the more valuable.
Color distribution can be affected by the style of cut that the diamond cutter used or the finished shape of the diamond. Or it may have been determined as that diamond was being formed so long ago and far away.
First lesson in this section is that “cut” and “shape” are two different things. It’s easy to understand why we confuse the two or use them interchangeably. We have seen “princess-cut” and “marquis-cut” repeatedly, but princess and marquis are shapes.
The cut determines a diamond’s ability to reflect light determined by its facets and angles and their number, proportions, and symmetry. The cut creates the sparkle and fire, so much so that a high-end diamond can appear dull and lifeless if cut poorly. Conversely, a skillful cut brings out the best in a diamond, reflecting maximum light out of the table (top face) for a stunning display of brilliance. And that is a major factor when selecting a diamond and when determining its value. A skillful cut will also optimize everything about the diamond: the shape, size, weight, symmetry, shine, etc. In a yellow diamond, the cut also brings out the best color.
This is a good place to explain shape. Shape may not be part of the 4 Cs, but it is, nonetheless, of primary importance to customers. It may be the only thing they are certain of when they start shopping. The shapes:
What you must know here is that some of these shapes work with yellow diamonds and some don’t. Because the shapes have distinct faceting systems, some shapes do not have the intensity of color of others nor the brilliance and fire that show off a yellow diamond to its best advantage.
Round, cushion and radiant shapes are preferred due to their ability to retain the vibrant yellow color and a high degree of brilliance and fire.
Oval, pear and marquise shapes have an excellent color saturation and high levels of brilliance and fire. A plus is that those shapes create an illusion that the stone is larger than it is in reality. A minus is that they have a tendency toward “bow ties,” a shadow that runs through the width of the diamond.
Emerald and Asscher are similar shapes and neither is suitable for a yellow diamond. The long, broad facets and the step facets greatly diminish the appearance of yellow in the body of the stone.
Princess shape has a faceting pattern that results in a dull, faded yellow. If a square stone is an absolute must, a square radiant will work beautifully.
Clarity has to do with inclusions, small imperfections inside the diamond. The more inclusions that interfere with the path of light through the diamond = the less brilliance = the lower degree of clarity. And, of course, you want as much clarity as possible. You’re in luck because clarity in a yellow diamond is not nearly the issue that it is in a white diamond. Yellow diamonds are found in nature with a relatively high clarity grading. In addition, the yellow color tends to hide flaws.
When you buy a yellow diamond, you just have to make sure that the diamond is “eye-clean,” meaning there are no visible inclusions.
Carat is how much the diamond weighs not its size. One carat equals 1/5 gram and is subdivided into 100 points.
Carat and cut need to be considered together. A high-carat diamond poorly cut will look smaller than a smaller carat diamond with a quality cut.
Carat weight significantly affects the price, which increases exponentially with the weight of the diamond. For example, a one-carat diamond will cost much more than two half-carat diamonds.
To get the most for your money, select a diamond with a carat weight slightly below a whole carat. For example, if you buy a 1.9-carat diamond rather than a 2-carat diamond, there is little to no difference in the appearance of the stone and a great deal of difference in the cost.
The Fifth C: Certificate
The certificate is a valuable document that a reputable jeweler will provide for you. It will attest to the authenticity of your diamond and document its specific characteristics. It includes the diamond’s shape, exact measurements, proportions and percentages, as well as grade the overall proportions, symmetry and polish. It will note the fluorescence, graining, and any treatments performed that enhanced the color and/or purity of the diamond. The certificate ensures that you have bought exactly what you think you bought.
Certificates are provided by various institutions around the world of varying reputations. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is the most respected and renowned diamond grading organization. The American Gem Society (AGS) was the original lab to provide diamond cut grades with their unique scale of 0 to 9, with 0 as ideal. Both labs are consistent in their grading and are reliable and trustworthy.