Do Diamonds Turn Yellow ? Here’s The Real Story

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Wondering if your tennis bracelet will turn yellow in time ? Perhaps your engagement ring is making you question how well it will hold in over the decades. Diamonds turning yellow is a common worry, and we’re here to explain whether there is any chance of it happening, and what you need to know about it. Read on !

Do diamonds turn yellow in time ?

No, diamonds do not turn yellow in time. Their color does not fade or change, the color you see right now in your diamond is the one that will be there even after several centuries of being passed down generations. The reason for this is that diamonds don’t turn yellow even if they do oxidize. Instead diamonds will slowly turn into graphite, because graphite is a form of carbon that takes up less energy to maintain over time (in a very short, simplified version).

So while your diamond will not turn yellow, it will very, very slowly, over the course of several thousands of years, develop small inclusions which are graphite. As the diamond’s structure degrades, it turns into graphite, and will look more and more included. Still not yellow.

What makes a diamond yellow in the first place ?

Let’s discuss why some diamonds have a noticeable yellow hue and why some don’t. A diamond is, essentially, a bunch of very tightly packed atoms of carbon. Very tightly packed in a specific formation, but among them are just a few nitrogen atoms. Nitrogen is what gives diamonds that yellow tint, and the more nitrogen there is in a diamond, the yellower the diamond will appear. Conversely, the less nitrogen it has the whiter it will look.

All diamonds have a tiny bit of nitrogen in them. This is why the color grading scale starts from D, and not A. There are no completely 100% honest-to-god colorless diamonds with absolutely zero nitrogen. But there are diamonds with the minimum amount, small enough that they appear white to the naked eye, and those are D color diamonds. Anything past D will show a little bit of color, but D, E, and F are still considered very white.

Light yellow pear diamonds

So if you’ve got an heirloom G color diamond, it will continue being a G color for as long as the sun shines. It may develop some tiny sports and eventually turn into graphite… but we won’t be here to witness that. But let’s take a look at why people may wonder if diamonds turn yellow. It’s actually a very good question, since many things do yellow in time, and some of them can even be reversed. Let’s see where this thought might’ve originated.

Vintage diamonds are naturally warmer diamonds

Vintage and antique diamonds are, by definition, older diamonds with a cut style that was popular at least 50 years ago. And if we’re talking about the most common vintage and antique diamonds, those are usually old European cuts, old mine cuts, and rose cuts. One thing these diamonds have in common is their source: older mines, at least compared to the ones that are currently producing diamonds.

Old mine diamonds, from India and sometimes Brazil, are among the warmest due to the nature of the deposit. The diamonds from that area tend to have higher nitrogen amounts, resulting in warmer-looking diamonds than the ones from African mines.

African mine diamonds the ones that are currently dominating the market, are generally whiter since the diamond ore in the area contains less nitrogen, compared to other deposits.

In short, what happened was this: India was the main place to mine diamonds, and often the diamonds were warmer in color. There was a specific cut applied to these diamonds, namely the old mine cut. Once African mines became more common, the old European cut rolled around and was applied mostly to African diamonds.

And today, most diamonds still come from Africa, but are either brilliant or step cut. They appear whiter due to their cut, and because the color grading system was perfected and most people will go for the whiter, most crisp diamonds. That is what jewelers will stock most of the time. Occasionally you will see an older mine or Euro cut diamond, which will appear warmer by contrast.

The result ? It’s easy to assume that older cut diamonds, looking warmer by todays standards, have yellowed in time and your brand-new diamond will eventually look like that. Which as we’ve discussed is not true. Your diamond will retain whatever color it has currently.

Read also: Checkerboard Cut Gems Explained

Old versions of cubic zirconia used to yellow in time

Another reason people might assume diamonds would turn yellow in time is because, often, they do not notice the difference between cubic zirconia and real diamonds. Since cubic zirconia was used as a diamond simulant for so very long, it’s understandable that many people would confuse the two. Once you get to know diamonds, such as when you’re looking for an engagement ring, you’ll easily notice the differences. But if you’re just starting out ? It could be an honest mistake.

When cubic zirconia was just starting out, the ‘recipe’ hadn’t been perfected, or rather it wasn’t as good as the CZ you see on the market today. Older cubic zirconia was quite porous, and in time it would absorb body oils and sweat, which both end up on your jewelry the longer you wear it. This, coupled with direct sunlight exposure, made the gems take on a warm tone as the years went by.

Imagine a clear silicone phone case. You wear it on the phone day in and day out, it’s in your hands most of the time, and it gets exposed to sunlight too. When you first buy it, it’s clear and white and has absolutely no issue. But give it a few months of usual wear and you’ll see yellow spots appearing where you hold the phone the most. That is what was happening to old CZ, but at a much slower rate.

Modern cubic zirconia doesn’t have this issue anymore and does not yellow in time, and neither does moissanite for that matter.

Can you make a diamond appear less yellow ?

You can make a diamond appear less yellow by setting it in white metal. How successful you are depends on how yellow the diamond is. For example a G diamond set in white prongs and with a white ring shank will appear whiter than the same diamond set in yellow gold. It could appear as white as a loose F diamond, but it will show its true color if you ever make a direct comparison. Still, the illusion is enough to make the G diamond look a little whiter.

Why does this work ? Because diamonds are, essentially, tiny mirrors. They will reflect whatever colors are immediately around them, which usually means the ring metal. So a white metal will be reflected into the diamond, the same way a rose gold or yellow gold will be reflected into the diamond and impart a warmer color.

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