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On April 28, 1987, a 0.95 carat diamond was sold for $880,000 at Christie's in New York. It contained two large flaws, one of which was a deep cavity in the table (top center facet) of the diamond. Despite its flaws and small size, it set a new world record per carat price for any gem sold at auction: $926,000 (reported by the summer 1987 issue of Gems and Gemology).
Why did that diamond command such a high price? Because its natural color was an extremely rare, deep, purplish-red. Color plays a significant role in determining the price of a diamond. Many people are surprised to learn that diamonds come in a wide selection of colors including various shades of green, orange, yellow, blue, purple and pink. But such diamonds are not very common, so they have been given a special namefancy color diamonds, meaning diamonds with a natural body color other than light yellow, light brown or light gray.
What color diamond, then, is best? That's a matter of personal opinion. What color diamond is most expensive? Currently the answer is purplish red; but natural-color green, blue and purplish pink are also unusually expensive as you can see from Table 51 on the next page. It lists the highest per-carat prices paid at auction for diamonds in various color categories.
You don't have to pay such high prices to enjoy colored diamonds. You can find fancy yellow diamonds at prices slightly above Hand I color diamonds. Brown diamonds are available for half the price of I color diamonds of the same size and quality. There's also the option of buying treated diamonds. According to The Guide Reference Manual for 1999, irradiated diamonds 1/3 ct and up sell for about 10-20% more than M color diamonds. This includes irradiated blue, green and orange diamonds. Irradiation is usually done on diamonds of M color or below. Since there's a cost involved in treating these diamonds and the treatment may make the diamond more marketable, the prices charged for these diamonds are usually above the price of an M color diamond, an extremely low price compared to natural fancy color diamonds.
As you look at Table 1, you'll notice terms such as "fancy" and "fancy vivid." These are color grades established by the GIA. Fancy vivid is the highest color grade, followed by fancy intense, fancy deep, fancy and fancy dark. GIA colored diamond grades are explained in the Winter 1994 issue of Gems & Gemology (pp. 220-242). Some people within the trade think that the GIA colored-diamond terminology is either confusing or not descriptive enough. For example, one colored-diamond dealer said he has 10 stones with the same color description-fancy yellow-that all have different colors. Some appraisers wonder why colored-diamond terminology isn't the same as that used for other colored stones such as rubies and sapphires.
Table 1 - The information in the above chart is from pages 122 and 123 of Collecting and Classifying Coloured Diamonds by Stephen C. Hofer, Jewelry International (Dec/Jan 92/93), Christie's, Sotheby's, and the Auction Market Resource by Gail Levine.
The term "fancy" used to be reserved for diamonds with highly-valued colors such as red, blue, green, pink, purple, orange and yellow. It wasn't normally associated with colors like black and brown as it is today. Nowadays, "fancy" is even used to describe low-grade translucent diamonds that are milky white. Even though they may be called fancy white on lab reports, this doesn't make them valuable. You should no longer assume that the grade "fancy" necessarily means a diamond is unusually valuable.
When you buy colored diamonds, you should be more concerned witb their actual appearance than with a color grade on a lab report. You're buying a gemstone, not a piece of paper. Remember to look at diamonds under a variety of lights. Sometimes they seem to have a color change as you look at them under fluorescent lights, halogen spotlights and in daylight. To appreciate the beauty of colored diamonds you need to view them firsthand. Additional information on colored diamonds can be found in Collecting and Classifying Coloured Diamonds by Stephen C. Hofer and the companion AMR Millennium Edition of the December 2000 Auction Market Resource.
Figure 1 - A 3-carat fancy intense yellow radiant cut diamond in a platinum and 18K gold man's ring
Figure 2 - A 3-carat fancy orangy pink diamond flanked by two fancy yellow trilliants.