The Name Game: How Fancy Color Diamonds Are Graded
The GIA wheel limits the spectrum to 27 hues, but using a broader, more evocative range of names can help make fancy-color diamonds more desirable.
In a world of luxury that relies on exclusivity, desire and emotions, few products are as rare and rich in history as fancy-color diamonds. Representing a small niche of the total diamond sector, these extraordinary gems can prove quite profitable for retailers.
But first, jewelers need to appreciate these stones and confidently promote their distinct features to consumers in a way that generates a yearning for them.
Understanding color diamonds requires knowledge of color perception. The eye perceives far more than Newton’s 7 basic rainbow colors — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Scientific data suggests humans can distinguish between 1 million and 10 million different color shades. Either number is far beyond our comprehension. But it’s even trickier. Not every person perceives color in the same way, nor with the same color acuity. “Color perception is a highly subjective ability, varying from one person to the next,” Natural Color Diamond Association (NCDIA) president Alan Bronstein points out.
Computer monitors present color slightly differently, but more importantly, natural and artificial lighting also impact a diamond’s perceived color. “A diamond doesn’t have just one color,” Stefan Langerman, CEO of Langerman Diamonds, reveals. “Every diamond changes color in different lightings, and some even display strong color changing phenomena like chameleon diamonds. Most people don’t realize this, even in the professional world of diamonds.”
ON THEIR OWN TERMS
Another challenge is to express the nomenclature for color diamonds in a relatable manner so people can better visualize the colors. The scientific terminology for communicating color remains a foreign language to many diamond collectors. The phrase “fancy intense purplish-pink” may be the standard way a diamond’s color is communicated within the industry, but it does not suggest any comparison that consumers could envisage.
“It would be beneficial to consumers if diamond colors were expressed in metaphors that can be easily visualized. Saying ‘Cherry Blossom,’ for example, might generate a pleasant visual image,” Bronstein points out.
Talking about color diamonds in natural terms has been Arthur Langerman’s life mission since he started collecting and polishing the gems six decades ago. The founder of Langerman Diamonds has been describing the stones in evocative terms conveying immediate references.
Stefan Langerman recalls, “My father would talk about a Canary diamond, an Olive diamond. He would say, ‘Today I’m cutting a diamond that I believe will have the color of a green Perrier bottle.’”
Over the years, Arthur Langerman has developed an intuitive naming system for over 350 different shades that match the wide-ranging palette color diamonds offer, from Mint to Lavender, and every imaginable tint in between, each evoking a sensory reaction.
“I think it’s really important when you describe a color that you do so in a way that awakens that color
emotion in your brain, because color is a sensation and that is what you have to communicate to somebody else,” notes Stefan Langerman.
Although consumers’ interest in color diamonds is soaring, the trade lacks a wider-reaching grading system that would support the myriad subtleties of tints within the natural color diamond niche.
MAKING THE COLOR GRADE
Aiming to accurately grade an infinite array of possible colors, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has developed a chart with 27 different hues as a guide for describing the range of fancy-color diamonds, organized by their color traits: hue, tone and saturation. From it, we must extrapolate the nearly infinite variety of subtly nuanced colors that may exist in nature.
Tints That Hint
A diamond’s color can reveal its origin, increasing the stone’s appeal for consumers who crave more transparency and traceability. It’s also an opportunity for engaging storytelling.
“White diamonds all look alike, but with color diamonds, the fantastic thing is that for many colors, you look at them and can tell where they come from,” Stefan Langerman notes.
He says his father, Arthur, has been buying the stock for the Antwerp-based company for over 60 years and is able to tell where many of the diamonds come from at a glance.
“He has this expert eye. He looks at the diamond and immediately can guess the origin. He’ll explain why he thinks a stone is from Borneo, for example, because of the slight subtlety in the hue, something that you would not get from a GIA [Gemological Institute of America] color description.”
Having visited mines and cut diamonds for decades, Arthur Langerman has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of all the features rough and polished color diamonds display.
The mined stones offer information an insider can spot easily. Only a true expert can tell a polished pink from Argyle from a pink from Russia.
That’s a mammoth undertaking, considering minute variations of shade in fancy-color diamonds can weigh heavily on a stone’s value.
In “Color grading of Colored Diamonds in the GIA Gem Trade Laboratory” (Gems & Gemology
Winter 1994), King, Moses, Shigley, and Liu write: “GIA GTL [Gem Trade Laboratory] is aware that the grader can visually discern more color distinctions than those used in our color-grading system. In our experience with colored diamonds, however, a greater degree of ‘fineness’ — i.e., more terms — reduces the consistency and repeatability of the resulting color descriptions. In addition, such color distinctions are only relevant as long as they are meaningful and understandable in the commerce of diamonds; making too subtle or too coarse a distinction is not practical.”
For Stefan Langerman, the GIA’s decision to reduce the color spectrum to 27 hues deprives diamond lovers of a more enticing picture.
“In 1994, when the GIA defined this color-grading scheme, they tried to make it more scientific, but they had to conciliate this scientific side with what people were doing in the industry. So they reduced the number of words used to communicate color…. To define these 27 hues, they only use seven words, and they combine the words resulting in an unattractive and unintuitive naming. When you communicate a color, would you like a Saffron diamond or would you like an orangey-brown diamond?”
While Langerman Diamonds uses the GIA grading system as there is a market demand for it, the company has been loyal to its founder’s philosophy of expressing color as a sensation.
“When I tell you Raspberry, you know what it is. You immediately sense it, and it’s so much easier than saying it’s a purplish-pink. It allows you to give so much more subtlety, so much more variation that increases both attractiveness and reliability, because you feel the same thing when you watch the stone.” says the
The current grading system and what Stefan Langerman describes as its “artificial bias for the names that use fewer words” skews the perception of color diamond prices for the end consumer.
“Take a fancy pink diamond and take a fancy orange diamond, and now take a fancy orangey pink
diamond — the orangey pink is cheaper than the fancy pink or the fancy orange. So you have this absurd
bias,” he explains.
Langerman also regrets the big partitions in the GIA color wheel that push some colors as rarer and more expensive than others. Orange is a case in point, he says. With few diamonds falling into that category,
they command higher prices as a result.
“You have diamonds that are Apricot (yellowish orange), which to me are some of the most beautiful diamonds, but they are a fifth of the price, or a fraction of the price of a fancy orange diamond purely
because the fancy orange falls in the range in which fewer stones fall,” he observes.
Langerman says he’d prefer the lab grading of diamond colors to be based on the more precise and rational RGB (red, green, blue) color space. In the meantime, he emphasizes the importance of educating buyers about the incredible range within the color diamond universe. Some colors might not be breaking auction-house records yet, but to disregard them would be a mistake.
Diamond connoisseurs gravitate toward the very rare tints, ahead of these colors hitting the larger market. Langerman highlights Lime (green yellow) diamonds as a good example of a category to watch
closely, as mainstream consumers do not yet find them appealing, while forward-thinking collectors have already embraced their strikingly bold aesthetics.
Gray diamonds suffer from a misconception, too, Langerman says. “Most people don’t realize that gray diamonds are extremely rare, more rare than the pinks. But right now, they’re incredibly undervalued.”
Here, again, emotions are key to the relation with the color stone. To retailers and collectors, Langerman recommends focusing on the color of the diamond and the sensation it creates, regardless of its lab name or market demand.
“We always tell our customers, just take something you like; choose something that you’re really attracted to and that you love. Color diamonds are all unique. They’re all extremely rare,” he concludes.
Image: Olive and Lime melee diamonds from Langerman Diamonds.