It’s Difficult to Know the Diamond You Buy Online, Especially the Color


Despite being considered ‘white,’ diamonds actually come in a range of color. Most fine jewelers offer diamonds from a ‘D’ grade (perfectly colorless) to typically a ‘K’ (some hint of yellow to brown), with ‘H’ and ‘I’ graded diamonds in the middle accounting for a majority of engagement ring purchases. Though color grades are evident on a diamond’s certification, there are other factors that can affect its appearance that aren’t disclosed on paper – and this can make it difficult to know what you’re purchasing online. Many professional diamond buyers also consider a gem’s shade (a super subtle underlying tone) to be an important distinction, yet it’s nearly impossible for the average customer to discover online.

An ‘H’ versus ‘M’ graded diamond, where value varies greatly despite being of the same carat weight.

How Diamonds are Graded and Traded

If you don’t already know it, diamonds are a tightly controlled, global commodity. Their value is determined by a dizzying cluster of factors that can be a real headache to decipher. Any ‘how-to’ on selecting a good diamond is typically underpinned by the four C’s: Cut, color, clarity and carat weight. Together, these four C’s are each graded by a handful of laboratories who assert just how big and bright a particular diamond might be.

These grades get organized into official certifications that are listed on international diamond trading networks, where they’re picked up by wholesale buyers, get plugged into large online retail sites, and eventually earn spots in the safes of fine jewelers around the world. While global supply is strictly controlled, access to this supply is relatively equal; jewelers worldwide rely on the exact same trading networks.

“Many searches in the world’s supply yield diamonds with a brown shade, something the average online buyer would never know.”

One of the largest of these networks is Rapnet, a proxy for the NYC-based standard for diamond pricing – Rapaport Diamond Report. On it, Green Lake recently stumbled upon something extraordinary, something other industry buyers too have begun to notice: There are a lot of brown-shaded diamonds out there that may not be disclosed as such to engagement ring customers online. We sourced two diamonds that were nearly identical in the four C’s *(and in subsequent price) but upon seeing the two in person they appeared completely different: One was bright and ‘white’, just as advertised, while had a noticeable brownish undertone.

According to their respective reports from the same reputable laboratory, these two diamond’s color grading are the exact same. Do they look the same to you?

“Online clients at Green Lake can access videos to compare diamonds as well as ask of their designer to show gems side by side, on the hand or under different light.”

How Diamonds with the Same Certification Can Look Totally Different

There are a few subtle factors that are harder to gauge and quantify in diamonds that don’t even get mentioned on the certification at all; ‘shade’ is one of these. Not the color of a gem per se, shade refers to a faint underlying tone that affects the appearance of a diamond. Shades can be red to yellow or green (a rare color that can identify conflict regions in Africa as the gem’s origin) to the most common shade – brown.

It’s easy to see how the difference between these two diamonds is so subtle it might not be worth advertising, but despite identical color and other important factors on the official certification, they’re still quite different.

It’s so common that many online searches show mostly diamonds with a brown shade, something the average online buyer would never know. Once, when we went looking for some really nice diamonds, we applied a range of 1.00-1.29ct round, triple excellent, VS1-VS2 & H-I color – all great criteria – and we found 4,891 available globally. In an advanced search, however, we selected ‘No Brown’ (information trustworthy sellers always disclose) and the result was staggering: There were only 657 on the platform that day, a scant 7.5% of the excellent round cut 1.00-1.29ct diamonds for sale. There were only 1,544 1.35-1.59ct excellent round cut diamonds for sale on that system that day, and similarly only 187 (or 8%) contain no brown shade.”

Getting your Money’s Worth

Let’s be clear: Getting a diamond with a subtle brown shade may not be a deal breaker. You may not even know unless you poured over it like we do. As with most diamonds of a high grade, they look great. What is important, however, is not knowing what you’re buying, not knowing there’s something even better out there, or not knowing if you’re getting your money’s worth. When all 4 C’s match up but the prices don’t, it might be a good idea to see them in person, work with someone to help verify their description and compare quality with your own eyes. Online clients at Green Lake Jewelry Works can access videos to compare diamonds as well as ask of their designer to show gems side by side, on the hand or under different light. It’s a bit more of an involved process than a simple click-and-buy, but it is after all an especially significant purchase.

Seeing certifications side by side and the actual diamonds side by side are simply not the same. If you’re on the hunt for the perfect diamond, do your research and be sure to compare before making the final call.

Learn more about how to select the perfect diamond HERE

Have questions about diamonds or would like help in finding the perfect one for you? Contact the Green Lake Lab at gemstones@greenlakejewelry.com today.

About the author: Eric Robertson is a writer, illustrator and creative lead for Green Lake Jewelry Works