What are Champagne Diamonds?
Champagne diamonds, although a beautiful, non-white neutral ‘colored’ option, are relatively new in popularity. Technically part of the ‘colored’ diamonds family, champagne diamonds can range from light brown or yellow to dark brown or ‘chocolate’, typically due to the presence of nitrogen in their crystalline structure. Sometimes these diamonds have a faint pink, orange, or yellow undertone to them. The way the nitrogen atoms are grouped when a diamond is formed actually dictate the intensity of the color of the stone – the higher the nitrogen content, the higher the intensity of the brown color.
The color “champagne” when referring to diamonds was actually coined as part of a brilliant marketing campaign from the 1908’s - early 1990s. Before this time, white diamonds were all the rage, and champagnes were only considered worthy for industrial purposes. It was actually a mine itself, the Argyle mine (Austrailia), that sought to change the name to make their diamonds more appealing. Giving the special color a name helped to increase desirability and helped create a market for a color that people didn’t previously know was available.
Diamonds in the champagne family come from various mines across the world, with the most significant sources being Australia, Africa, and Siberia. The Argyle mine in Austrailia was the largest producer of champagne diamonds, but has recently closed (2020).
How to evaluate a Champagne Diamond
Champagne Diamonds are evaluated slightly differently than a traditional colorless or white diamond. Diamonds in this category may be evaluated based on tone and saturation – with tone referring to how light or dark a stone is, and saturation referring to intensity of color exhibited. Since the Argyle Mine is the original creator of the champagne category, they actually have also created their own color grading scale. The Argyle scale ranges from ‘C1’ to ‘C7’, with C1 stones being the lightest or palest diamonds, and C7’s being the most saturated (or intensely colored. C7 stones are typically referred to as ‘Cognac’, and are the most expensive of all champagne diamonds. Cognac diamonds are rarer, and have a deep orange hue to them.
Although this scale exists, it is common to find champagne diamonds that are not graded according to this scale, as it’s specific to this mine. GIA, the most prominent industry grading lab, simply classifies lighter champagne diamonds by letter grade. Darker grades are classified according to the GIA fancy colour diamonds scale. This scale ranges from ‘Faint’ and ‘Very Light’ to ‘Fancy Intense’ and ‘Fancy Vivid’, with various other levels in-between. There are 9 total levels to this scale, however as a general rule: the more color present, the more valuable the stone.
* PRO TIP: When evaluating Champagne and brown diamonds, it’s important to remember, however, that those who are often attracted to colored stones may have personal preferences that may trump the ‘industry standards’ for value. Some people may love the look of a lighter stone, which might have more personal value than a darker stone some would consider ‘better’. There is always an added degree of subjectivity when considering colored stone options that isn’t always there when evaluating traditional diamonds. If you’re shopping for someone who is particular who wants a colored or neutral diamond, it’s always a good idea to find out if there are specific ranges of color they prefer.
Diamond clarity in Champagne diamonds is graded exactly the same as in colorless stones: The fewer inclusions, the higher the grade. The higher the grade, the more expensive the stone.
Although the grading scale is the same, it is important to note that the diamonds available in this color range do not often top the scale. It is extremely difficult to find champagne diamonds that are higher than an SI1, and the majority of stones will fall within the SI1-I2 range. Because of the rarity of ‘perfect’ stones, the guidance on selecting a champagne diamond is this: look for an eye-clean stone or a stone that ‘faces up nicely’. This simply means to find a stone that doesn’t show its inclusions, and to the naked eye does not exhibit unsightly defects. There are many different types of inclusions or ‘defects’, and no two stones are ever the same. The organization or location of inclusions, number of inclusions, color of inclusions, and type of inclusions all play a role in how beautiful a stone is optically. It is critical in these situations to work with someone who is skilled in evaluating stones, and it’s never advisable to choose a diamond based on a grade alone.
Champagnes, like all fancy color diamonds, are not graded the same way as colorless diamonds in terms of cut. Fancy diamonds are not expected to be cut to maximize fire or brilliance, but rather to achieve the best color possible. This is particularly true for darker stones. As a result, it is common to find proportions that do not adhere to the ‘ideal’ standards of colorless diamonds.
Rarity and Cost
One of the best parts about any of the ‘brown’ diamonds is that they are significantly more common than any other fancy colored diamonds, making them an economical option. One can spend less or opt for a larger stone when compared to a traditional colorless diamond or other colored diamonds. True ‘champagne’ diamonds are a sub-set of the larger ‘brown diamond’ category, as are ‘Cognac’ diamonds, and thus both will command a higher price within the niche.
It is important to note that the recent closure of the largest champagne diamond producer may very likely affect the rarity and price of these diamonds in the future.