HomeFancy Yellow Diamond

Yellow diamonds are created by trace amounts of nitrogen in the crystal structure. Shades of color vary from a bright canary yellow to a deeper, darker marmalade hue, though the key qualities of diamond color relate to the intensity and evenness of the coloration. Marbled shades or those that appear washed-out are less valuable.



Natural yellow diamonds have been mined in Africa, South America, and Australia.

Why are diamonds yellow? Nitrogen is the cause of the yellow color in both natural and synthetic yellow diamonds. The Tiffany diamond is the best known yellow diamond, second famous to the blue Hope diamond. The original rough Tiffany diamond weight was 287.42 carats, found in 1878 outside of Kimberly. Tiffany & Company cut the stone in Paris and the final weight is a 128.51 cushion cut diamond. Although there are a few yellow diamonds are larger than the Tiffany diamond has been seen and extremely well known. An interesting note is the Gemological Institute of America has not officially graded the stone.The main yellow color grades that people in the trade are in fancy light, fancy, fancy intense, and fancy vivid. Fancy deep and fancy dark are highly undesirable as well as the color brown. Modifiers The two most desirable secondary colors with the yellow diamond are orange and green. An orange secondary makes the stone really electric, therefore making it sought after.

The stone that kicked off South Africa’s diamond rush in 1868 was a 21-carat yellow rough that was later cut into a 10.73-carat oval cushion called the “Eureka.” This find would have seemed to augur great things for the world supply of colored diamonds, especially those of the yellow variety, which until then had been as rare as any other color.

Fate had nothing that grandiose in mind. Instead, South Africa merely swelled the number of what the trade has ever since called “cape” (after South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope) diamonds. These are stones whose yellow content is generally not considered a plus. But when the yellow was sufficient to give the diamond an identity as a full-fledged colored stone, it was deemed “canary.” Today, such diamonds are more apt to be called “fancy yellow.”

However, it must be stressed that very few diamonds merit the designation of fancy yellow, or fancy color of any sort.

“I doubt that there are ever more than 4,000 carats of fancy color diamonds over one carat available to consumers worldwide in any given year,” says one New York specialist in these goods.

Yet the fact that fine fancy yellow diamonds are far scarcer than fine whites does not seem to have much impressed the jewelry buying public. Although fancy color diamonds are the darlings of connoisseurs worldwide, top-notch yellows are still not all that more expensive than top-notch white goods despite their greater rarity.

Why haven’t consumers flocked to these bargains?

The Second Time Around

Fancy-color diamonds rarely attract novice buyers. One specialist in these goods says tradition, which associates the diamond with the attribute of brilliance rather than color, calls for a buyer’s first stone to be colorless. However, he adds, “The second time around, many diamond purchasers tend to be far more indulgent and far less traditional, thus opening the way for sales of fancy color diamonds.”
This may be because the same money spent for a medium, but not fine, quality one-carat colorless diamond can also buy a decent fancy yellow stone.

The term “fancy” covers a broad spectrum of hues and saturations. This is especially true for fancy yellow stones. Pure-yellow fancy diamonds stretch in saturation from straw through lemon to taxicab yellow.

In 1987, colored diamond gemologist and author Stephen Hofer ran color strength (saturation) analyses of several hundred yellow diamonds using an electronic colorimeter. His tests revealed a range of color variationst least three times greater than that covered by GIA’s 23-grade D-to-Z diamond color scale used for colorless-to-cape stones.

Therefore, to color grade fancy yellow diamonds with the same precision as colorless ones would require a 69-grade scale, at least in theory. Such a scale is impossible in actual practice because the GIA’s method of color grading is based on the use of comparison diamonds, known in the trade as “master stones.” Fancy yellow stones are too varied, and their cost too prohibitive, to regularly assemble master stones sets of the variations possible.

To make matters more complicated, many fancy yellow diamonds possess traces of secondary color: brown, green and orange. While these secondary colors merit a mention as modifiers on GIA fancy color diamond reports, these documents don’t give any meaningful idea of the modifier’s strength. All that is done is to distinguish weak from strong modifiers by using the suffix “ish” (as in brownish) when the secondary color is less than 25 percent of the overall hue. If more than 25 percent, the suffix is dropped. This means that colored diamonds must be judged by the eye, not just the grading report.

A Knack For Nuance

While GIA fancy color diamond reports have their limitations, they have at least begun to curb the rampant abuse of characterizing all yellow diamonds, whether faintly or fiercely colored, as “canary” stones. Originally meant to convey strong yellow color, the term “canary” degenerated into a catchall description for any diamond that appeared yellow (as opposed to yellow-tinged) when viewed through its top. With the advent of diamond grading, the term has been narrowed to mean extremely saturate pure-yellow or orangish-yellow stones that fall into the GIA category known as “fancy intense.” It goes without saying that true canary diamonds are rare and expensive.

Thankfully, yellow diamonds don’t have to be canary (in the modern sense) to be lovely. Medium yellows, as well as strong yellows modified by brown (the least valuable secondary color for a diamond), present some of the biggest diamond bargains around. But to get the most beauty for your money, consider buying a shape other than the familiar round brilliant- most likely a marquise, pear, oval, or “radiant” cut.

(These last have bottoms cut like rounds but tops which are square, rectangular or cushion.) The radiant cut is the most popular for fancy yellow diamonds today.

Why are round brilliants usually not as desirable when buying fancy yellow diamonds? Because this shape maximizes brilliance and, in the process, washes out all but the strongest color. This doesn’t mean that fancy color stones should lack the fire for which diamonds are prized.

Fine cutting, the key to diamond dazzle, is as much a virtue with colored as with colorless stones. One way to tell how well a marquise-, oval- or pear-shaped fancy color diamond has been cut is to study the hour-glass-like zone of color washout (called a “bow-tie”) in the center. The smaller and less distinct the bow tie, the better the cutting job. If you are considering a modified cushion, or “radiant” cut, watch out for stones cut so thick- in order to retain weight and color- that they seem dull and lusterless.

When considering a fancy yellow stone, ask whether or not it possesses the common diamond characteristic of blue fluorescence (a tendency to emit blue color when struck by ultraviolet rays, a strong component of sunlight and other light sources). While this ultraviolet-excited blue increases white in colorless diamonds, it will, if moderate to strong, reduce the amount of yellow in fancy color stones. How? Fluorescence changes the stone’s light-absorption properties, muting yellow to various degrees. On the other hand, yellow fluorescence -- a far rarer phenomenon than the blue variety -- adds sizzle to the color of fancy yellows.

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