What do daffodils, bumblebees, and nitrogen-rich diamonds have in common? If you answered “they all bring a smile to my face”, you’d be getting pretty close. They also share a bright, cheerful yellow hue that has a way of lighting up a room!
One of the most misunderstood stones in the fancy diamond color range, these glittering drops of sunshine are finding new life as celebrity favorites and are giving consumers a more accessible way to own a rare fancy color diamond.
Whether you’re in the market for a canary, a cape, a zimmy, or you just want to carry a little bit of summer with you through the darker months, there’s a perfect yellow diamond out there for everyone. Let’s explore what makes these rare diamonds so special.
What Is a Yellow Diamond?
If asked what a diamond is made of, most people would say “carbon”. The truth is, very few diamonds are pure carbon all the way through — most have trace inclusions or impurities that make each one unique. This is how we get our GIA grading scales of clarity and color. These trace elements also help us identify our diamond in the event that it is lost or stolen.
Yellow diamonds are very real carbon-based gems with a high content of nitrogen. When present in very small amounts, it gives colorless diamonds a slight tint that puts them in a lower color range and decreases their overall value. When present in higher quantities, these trace elements give our diamonds a rich, golden hue. Then the value begins to ascend again.
Natural Color Vs. Treatment
Naturally golden yellow diamonds are found all over the world, but most specimens have been found in Africa, Australia, and Brazil. However, you can also get yellow diamonds that have been artificially treated to enhance their color. This is usually done with stones with a faint yellow tint that lowers the color grade of a standard colorless diamond. Rather than selling these low grade diamonds at a significant discount, this treatment allows jewellers to market their gems as fancy color diamonds.
While natural yellow diamonds will always be more valuable than color-treated ones, the treatments used are usually stable and offer the chance to have a brilliant, fancy colored yellow diamond for a much lower price. The choice is up to the individual.
How to Determine the Quality of a Yellow Diamond
When determining the quality and value of any diamond, it’s best to begin with the 4C’s of diamond grading: color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. You can learn more about the general diamond grading process, but in this post, we’ll share info specific to yellow diamonds.
Yellow diamonds are a bit unusual in that they’re not treated in quite the same way as other fancy color diamonds. Other diamonds such as blue, pink, and green are graded on a color scale of intensity: Faint, Very Light, Light, Fancy Light, Fancy, Fancy Intense, Fancy Vivid to Fancy Deep.
Yellow diamonds, however, begin their grading at “Fancy Light”, going through to “Fancy Deep”. This is because the lighter grades — Faint, Very Light, and Light — are part of the colorless D-Z color grading scale and not considered a desirable color range for a diamond.
However, this doesn’t mean that a pale yellow diamond might not be the perfect stone for you. This is an example of how the financial value of gems comes from the overall consensus of what most people find beautiful (and what most people are willing to pay for), but it might not be the case for everyone. If you prefer whispy, misty buttercup tones that are a study in subtlety, you may want to look at colorless diamonds in the M-Z range.
Cut is probably the most important factor when it comes to determining a diamond’s beauty. Professional diamond cutters are artists as well as scientists, and they know the exact architectural arrangement of facets required to bring out the most exquisite play of light and color that we call brilliance and dispersion. No matter the clarity or color grade, a poorly cut stone will always look dull and lifeless.
When fashioning a fancy color diamond, diamond cutters approach the gem a little bit differently. Instead of trying to minimize any off-color tones within the stone’s depths, they will try to enhance the saturation as much as possible. This is especially true in the low end of the D-Z color range, where bringing out the yellow tone a little bit more can nudge it over the “fancy color” line. A master cutter can do this while also paying attention to the diamond’s trademark cut qualities of brightness, fire, and scintillation.
After cut we have clarity, which is probably one of the most misunderstood quality grading factors in the diamond industry. Clarity refers to the presence of inclusions (characteristics present in the interior of the diamond) and blemishes (characteristics confined to the surface) that detract from a diamond’s pristine glow.
Diamonds are graded on the following clarity scale:
- F (flawless)
- IF (internally flawless, blemishes only no inclusions)
- VVS1 and 2 (very, very slightly included)
- VS1 and 2 (very slightly included)
- SI1 and 2 (slightly included; occasionally you will come across the controversial clarity grade SI3)
- I1, 2, and 3 (Included — these are the last stop before industrial quality stones)
Many clarity characteristics that determine the diamond’s final grade are actually invisible to the naked eye – they can only be seen under a microscope. This means that the best value is usually a stone that’s described as “eye clean”, which has minute inclusions only perceivable at 10X magnification and up. This is usually in the VS-SI range. When you buy a diamond in the eye clean range, you’ll be paying much less than you would for an F or IF diamond but getting the same look. Anything below the SI clarity range will have larger and more prominent blemishes and inclusions that begin to look cluttered and distracting.
When diamond cutters work with fancy colored stones, they may make different choices in regards to clarity than they would when working with colorless diamonds. They may decide to keep more of the inclusions in the rough stone in order to retain more of the rare, precious gem or to cut the facets in a way that enhances the color. For this reason, clarity grades are a little bit less prioritized when evaluating fancy yellow diamonds.
Finally, we have carat weight, which is less a factor in quality and more a factor of value. Carat refers to the weight of the stone — a 1ct. diamond weighs exactly 0.2 grams, or a fifth of a gram. When all other grading considerations are equal, a diamond with a higher carat weight will be more valuable than a smaller one. However, a small diamond of exceptional quality will nearly always be worth more than a large one of poor quality.
Because fancy colored diamonds are so rare, stones with a high carat weight always sell for very high prices. Compared to other fancy colored diamonds, however, yellow diamonds tend to be a bit more affordable. While deep, bronzey yellow diamonds can command very high prices, subtle yellow gems begin at around $3000 per carat. This is because yellow diamonds are found in higher quantities than fancy diamond colors like pink and blue.
How Can You Tell If a Yellow Diamond Is Real?
With yellow diamonds gaining more and more popularity among jewelry shoppers, the industry is also seeing more imitations being sold under the yellow diamond name. These can be anything from yellow cubic zirconia to other natural yellow gems like citrine, as well as yellow diamonds that have been artificially color treated or grown in a laboratory.
Understanding the value of your yellow diamond is essential, so how can you tell if yours is the genuine article?
Because yellow diamonds are every bit as real as colorless diamonds, they share the same optical properties of light refraction and dispersion that makes diamond jewelry so timeless. Yellow diamonds will glitter and display brilliant flashes of rainbow color that aren’t found in any other yellow gem.
If you’re not sure if your yellow diamond is the real deal, you can check out some of our easy home tests to authenticate your diamond here.
Even so, the only way to know for certain if your yellow diamond is real is to have it professionally assessed by a gemologist. Most diamonds you buy in a shop should have this done already. They’ll usually come with a certificate that lists the grade, any notable characteristics, and any identified treatments. This last one is especially important for fancy colored diamonds, including yellow.
Artificially colored yellow diamonds are usually low grade colorless diamonds that have gone through a process of intense heat, sometimes combined with other factors like extra pressure and mild irradiation. This produces a beautiful, warm yellow color that shouldn’t fade or alter over time and is nearly impossible to distinguish from a natural yellow diamond. However, a naturally colored diamond will always be worth more than a treated one, which is why it’s so important that any color treatments are disclosed honestly and transparently.
How to Care For a Yellow Diamond
Diamonds are the most scratch-resistant material on earth (a 10 on the Mohs Scale), which makes them great for everyday wear. However, they can chip or fracture under heavy impact, like if you knock it hard against your marble kitchen countertop.
It’s best to wear your yellow diamond in a setting that protects any exposed edges of points, such as a prong or bezel setting. They should be gently cleaned with a soft cloth reserved for this purpose. Not only will keeping the surface of your diamond clean from dust and grime help it last forever, but it will show off its magnificent golden color.
What Are Some Famous Yellow Diamonds?
The Tiffany Yellow
Made famous by Audrey Hepburn and then later worn at the Oscars by Lady Gaga, this stunning yellow gem has a glittering history. Originally discovered in South Africa in 1877, the 287-carat rough stone was picked up by a New York jeweler by the name of Charles Tiffany (yes, that Charles Tiffany), who had it fashioned into a special antique cut with 82 facets. Now weighing an impressive 128 carats, it was loaned out to Audrey Hepburn to wear in publicity stills for the timeless film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Many years later, Tiffany’s celebrated 175 years by having the gem reset into a new necklace, and it was loaned to Lady Gaga to wear on the red carpet.
Unlike many other rare diamonds that pass from one hand to another over time, this gem has never left Tiffany’s. In 1972, the jewelry giant posted an advertisement in the New York Times offering the golden gem for five million dollars (approximately $26m today). The catch was that this stone would only be available on the market for twenty-four hours. The vivid yellow diamond did not sell in that time — which was probably Tiffany’s intention all along — and now it remains a part of their permanent collection.
The Sun of Africa
This 70-carat gem is an example of how truly stunning an intense yellow diamond can be. It is GIA graded as Fancy Vivid Yellow and shows a spectacular amber tone. It was originally discovered in South Africa and then cut into an exquisite radiant shape in the Netherlands. Unlike the Tiffany diamond, the Sun of Africa is a relatively new player — it only came onto the jewelry market in 2007.
The Oppenheimer Diamond
Discovered in 1964, this 253-carat stone is a stunning mineral specimen of a nearly perfect yellow diamond. It is a flawless rough octahedron of exceptional color and measures about 20mm by 20mm, or just under a square inch. It was originally owned by the famous jeweller Harry Winston, who donated it to the Smithsonian in memory of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer.
The Allnatt Diamond
The exact origin of this yellow diamond is unknown, but it got its name from one of its early owners, the art patron Major Alfred Ernest Allnatt. It was sold at auction in 1996 for just over $3m. At the time of sale, it weighed around 102 carats and was graded Fancy Intense Yellow.
After it sold, the new owner had it recut down to about 101 carats — whoever they were was able to see the potential in the stone, because adjusting the facet arrangement brought out even more color in the stone, bumping up the color grade to Fancy Vivid Yellow.
With a bold name like this one, you know this stone is going to be something truly special. This 407-carat triolette-cut diamond sold at a jewelry show in Singapore to the tune of $55m. It was hanging at the end of a necklace that featured an additional supporting cast of 229 carats of colorless diamonds — you know, for casual Fridays.
This diamond has a lovely smokey color and made it into the Guinness Book of Records for the most expensive diamond necklace ever sold. In addition to its size and beautiful hue, this is the largest internally flawless diamond ever graded by the GIA.
Yellow Diamond FAQ
Like daffodils and bumblebees, yellow diamonds are a warm, cheerful symbol of happy memories and new beginnings. Yellow diamond jewelry is a great choice for anyone wanting to start a new, brighter chapter of their life.
While other gemstones exist besides yellow diamonds, these are the only ones with the brightness, fire, and scintillation of real diamonds. Whether natural, color treated, or lab grown, yellow diamonds exhibit a stunning play of light and color unheard of in any other gem. Plus, yellow diamonds are much more scratch-resistant than any other yellow stone.
“Capes” originally referred to yellow-toned diamonds that were discovered in Cape Town, South Africa. This area was known for producing a high volume of diamonds in this color range. Now “cape diamond” is used to describe any diamond in the lower end of the standard diamond color range — from about M to Z — and any lighter colored fancy yellow diamond.
“Zimmies” is another provincial term originally used to mean diamonds from the Zimmi region of Sierra Leone, an area known for its high quality yellow diamonds. Now this term is used to mean any fancy colored yellow diamond with a deep, vivid yellow color.
Absolutely! With their trademark sparkle and durability, these golden gems are a great choice for everyday wear in the form of a yellow diamond engagement ring. They make a beautiful statement as an engagement ring, combining the long tradition of a diamond with the unique, confident look of a sunny yellow stone.
Canary diamond is a trade term, similar to “pigeon’s blood ruby”, used to describe its color in a unique and memorable way. However, it is not industry standardized by the GIA or any other gemological assessment body. Therefore, the specific diamonds that get called “canary” can vary from one retailer to another.
Generally, a “canary yellow diamond” is used to describe a diamond with a rich, pure, and intense yellow color with no overtones.
A Ray of Sunshine in a Sparkling Gem
Yellow diamonds are gaining popularity as engagement rings and celebratory jewelry pieces. And for good reason: their scintillation and sunny hues are striking!
With a steady supply of yellow diamonds on the jewelry market and a lower price tag than other fancy color diamonds, these beautiful gems are an accessible way to invest in a diamond that’s truly special.
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