Brown diamonds (a.k.a. champagne and cognac diamonds) – A comprehensive buying guide

You might have heard of champagne, cognac or chocolate diamonds and wondered what variety of diamonds these were. In the jewelry world, these are all types of brown diamonds.

Brown diamonds have been escalating in popularity lately, due to positive marketing as well as high profile personalities flaunting them on the world stage.

If your heart is set on a colored diamond, but you don’t quite have the budget to splurge, then brown diamonds are an affordable and beautiful choice. But it is essential that you do your homework prior to purchasing your stone to avoid getting ripped off with a low-quality stone.

In this article, we’ll take a look at various types of brown diamonds on the market, as well as the factors you need to take into account when evaluating them.

How are brown diamonds formed?

Brown diamonds get their color due to the presence of nitrogen during the formation of the stone. The more nitrogen present, the higher the saturation and the deeper the brownish color of the stone.

The creation process takes many millions of years. Most of the brown diamonds found in Australia are estimated to be over 3 billion years old!

Are brown diamonds rare?

In the diamond world, brown diamonds are the most common variety of diamonds out there and they are relatively more affordable than other colored diamonds. In fact, they are found in abundance in mines such as the Australian Argyle mine and were mainly used for industrial purposes.

They can be difficult to cut and polish due to their crystalline structure but if done expertly, brown diamonds can hold their own against any other colored diamond. 

What are champagne, cognac or chocolate diamonds?

These are all stones that come under the umbrella of brown diamonds. As you may well know, brown diamonds were not popular in the jewelry industry and were mainly used for industrial purposes.

Manufacturers needed some marketing strategies to heighten the allure of the stones. What better way than to attach names associated with elegance, class and affluence to the brown stones! This clever strategy is partially responsible for the increased demand for brown diamonds.

While some have criticized this tactic as a means of hoodwinking buyers, on a practical note these terms do give a clear idea to the consumer as to the color of the stone. The term ‘champagne diamond’ for example, gives a clearer indication as to the brown-yellow color of the stone than a term such as C1 or C2 (brown diamonds are graded on a C1-C7 scale as we shall see further down).

Champagne diamonds

This refers to brown diamonds that have a secondary yellowish tone; in other words, brown – yellow stones. There are a range of colors in this category, such as faint yellow brown to fancy dark yellowish brown.

The Argyle mine is credited for creating the successful marketing campaign that changed how people viewed these brown diamonds. They gave the brown stones the nickname ‘Champagne Diamonds’, which associates them with the elegance and class that the term champagne evokes. No surprise that demand and sales for brown diamonds increased as a result.

The prices vary for champagne diamonds, however, generally the most valuable are those that have a deeper color.

Cognac diamonds

Cognac diamonds are on the darker end of the champagne diamonds color scale. They are strong in color, resembling the dark rich tones the drink cognac is famous for. They may also have a secondary tone of orange.

Chocolate diamonds

This was a marketing term originated in 2000 by Le Vian, a jewelry manufacturer, to attach value and elegance with dark brown diamonds. As the name implies, chocolate diamonds have a much darker hue and are on the dark end of the brown diamond spectrum.

How are brown diamonds evaluated?

As with every other diamond, brown diamonds are evaluated using the 4cs – cut, color, clarity and carat weight.

  • Color

Brown diamonds come in a range of colors, but the darker stones are more popular among consumers. When choosing a brown diamond, take into account its hue, saturation and tone.

Hue refers to the main color of the stone. There are often secondary hues to a colored diamond. The hue of champagne diamonds are brown with yellowish tints.

Tone refers to how light or dark the stone is. For example, champagne diamonds have a light tone while cognac diamonds are much darker. As a rule of thumb, the darker the tone, the more valuable the stone is.

Saturation refers to how intense the color of the diamond is. As with tone, the higher the saturation, the more valuable the stone.

For brown diamonds, there are a few different color grading scales used. Commonly used is the C1 to C7 scale.

C1 – C2

Light champagne color

C3 – C4

Medium champagne color

C5 – C6

Dark champagne

C7

Dark brown (cognac)

The other scale is that used by the Gemological Institute of America to grade brown diamonds.

  GIA Grading Method

C1 – C2

Letter Grade N-V + Very Light Yellow – Light Yellow  

C3 – C4

Letter Grade W-Z + Light Yellow  

C5 – C6 – C7

Fancy Brown, Dark Fancy Brown, Deep Brown

  • Clarity

When it comes to colored stones, clarity is not as critical a factor as it is for colorless diamonds. This is because the color of the stone tends to hide the flaws and inclusions that may be present in the stone. As brown diamonds can be quite dark, they hide flaws really well.

What may seem like a glaring flaw in a colorless diamond, would hardly be visible in a brown diamond. What you need to look out for is that the brown diamond is eye-clean, without noticeable inclusions.

  • Carat

Carat weight significantly affects the price which often exponentially increases along with the weight of the diamond. This is true for all types of diamonds, including brown. This means that a 1 carat brown diamond would be more expensive than two .50 carat brown diamonds.

If you want to get the best value for your money, remember that carat refers to weight and not size. You can buy a stone just under 1 carat with hardly any noticeable difference in appearance but with a considerable difference in price.

  • Cut

Cut is a critical factor as it tends to bring out the brilliance of a diamond. This is true for colorless diamonds but not so much for colored. For colored diamonds, the importance of the cut is in how it maximizes the intensity of the color.

Brown diamonds are known to be difficult to cut due to their crystalline structure. If cut expertly, however, they can stun with their beauty.

Fancy shapes generally complement colored diamonds beautifully. They tend to bring out the best color of the stone rather than the traditional round brilliant or almost equally famous princess cut.

How affordable are brown diamonds?

Brown diamonds are generally the most affordable of all colored diamonds. The aspect that affects its value the most is the intensity of its color. Generally, the most expensive brown diamonds are the darker stones with the cognac color (C6-C7). The lighter stones are more affordable and very common. The image below shows a selection of less expensive brown diamonds from James Allen.Brown diamonds from James Allen

A brown diamond can be less expensive than a colorless diamond that has the same shape and size. However, a high quality brown diamond can be costly. The price of brown diamonds vary according to the carat weight and the color of the stone.

The diamond below (also taken from the James Allen website) shows a high quality brown diamond that is much more expensive than a colorless diamond of similar size, shape and quality.James Allen brown diamondColorless diamond

Brown Diamonds engagement rings

Why choose brown?

Brown diamonds are a nice change from colorless diamonds and make beautiful centerpieces for engagement rings. From a color psychology aspect, brown symbolizes many positive things – reliability, elegance, healing, resilience, stability, honesty and warmth. What better characteristics for a relationship that is about to embark on a new journey!

It is a solid and steady color, like the earth around us. For those of us who are nature lovers, a brown diamond can have that extra meaning too.

Deciding on your metal

When it comes to choosing the metal for your brown diamond engagement ring, you will have to consider the color of the diamond as well as your personal preference.

Generally, brown diamonds pair really well with rose gold or yellow gold settings. The reason is that the contrast between the stone and the setting is not very high. The transition from stone to setting is smoother and easier on the eyes.

As you can see in the image below taken from Leibish.com, the brown diamond is just perfectly complemented by the rose gold halo setting.brown diamond on rose gold halo setting

If you prefer a stronger statement and a bolder look, then white gold and brown diamonds will do that for you. The contrast is strong and your stone will stand out in prominence as the eye gets drawn to the diamond. This will enhance the color of your stone.

This champagne diamond in its beautiful white gold halo setting from Leibish.com really brings out the color of the stone.Brown diamond on white gold

Choosing your setting

The setting you choose for your engagement ring should accentuate the beauty and color of the stone and compliment it perfectly.

Fancy colored diamonds generally look better in more elaborate settings. For brown diamonds, I find that halo is probably the most popular and most becoming setting. This is because the unique and eye-catching color of the brown diamond is softened by the surrounding of smaller white diamonds. Settings such as split shank, three stone and pave also go well with brown diamonds.

If you want a less flashy ring, a simple solitaire ring will be a good choice. However, unlike a white diamond solitaire ring, a brown diamond tends to stand out.

Are there synthetic brown diamonds?

As I mentioned above, brown diamonds are the most affordable and most abundantly found of all colored diamonds. As a result, it is easy to find natural brown stones at a good price. There are synthetic brown diamonds on the market, however this is not as common as it is for other, more expensive types of colored diamonds.

If you choose a synthetic brown diamond, be aware that these are not FAKE diamonds as many people erroneously believe. They ARE real diamonds, just lab-created, man-made diamonds formed through artificial processes, as opposed to natural diamonds created through geological processes.

Lab-grown brown diamonds

Just as naturally-grown brown diamonds receive their color from nitrogen, lab-grown diamonds also get their color from nitrogen impurities introduced during the creation process.

The difference is that the color for lab-grown diamonds can be chosen and adjusted by controlling the amount of nitrogen used during the growing process. In this way, the desired color can be achieved.

As you can appreciate, this is a real diamond, optically and chemically identical to mined diamonds. The only difference is that it was created in a lab by humans in a short amount of time.

Lab-grown diamonds are much cheaper than their natural counterparts and are also conflict-free and environmentally friendly.

Enhanced brown diamonds

An enhanced brown diamond is created by taking a colorless diamond and subjecting it to various treatments that cause it to acquire a brownish hue.

Like lab-grown diamonds, these are more affordable. However, please make sure you check the origin of the stone that you want to buy. There are vendors that may try to sell you an enhanced or synthetic brown diamond at the much higher price of a naturally grown brown diamond.

Due to its rising popularity, there are many places that you can now buy high-quality beautiful brown diamonds. Whether you buy online or at a brick-and-mortar store, just ensure that your vendor is reputable and that you are provided with certification from a recognized lab.

Also, make sure that you have HD images of the stone so you know exactly what you are purchasing and check the returns policy and after sales services.

If you would like a detailed look into what colored diamonds are, read our article on fancy colored diamonds explained.