Most people who have set foot in a jewelry shop with the intention of buying a diamond piece have probably heard the term diamond clarity being used by the sales personnel.
However, what does this term mean exactly, and how does it affect the quality and most importantly the price of the diamond?
There are many different things you need to consider when buying a diamond to make sure that you are getting the absolute best one for the money you are about to pay.
Some of these factors (for example the cut of the diamond, the color, and how many carats it weighs) are most likely already familiar to you so now let’s dive into the significance of diamond clarity and see why it is important.
What determines diamond clarity?
Diamond clarity grading is affected by the number and the nature of imperfections either on the surface of the stone or within it. A diamond may have imperfections of various sizes and shapes.
A qualified expert assesses these imperfections and depending on their magnitude and nature determines and assigns the diamond clarity grade. If a stone only has a few surface flaws, these flaws are referred to as blemishes.
On the other hand, if these defects are internal (meaning contained within the stone itself) they are called inclusions. In the majority of cases, the beauty of the diamond is not affected by these blemishes and inclusions since most of them are too small to be seen by humans with the naked eye.
The expert who examines a gem and determines its clarity grade is conveniently called a gemologist. Because the majority of inclusions are so tiny some gemologists do not tend to call them flaws and use the term “internal characteristics” instead.
These internal characteristics are the things that give natural diamonds their unique character. The clarity of each individual stone is graded according to the number and the size of these internal characteristics.
The diamonds that contain the smallest number of inclusions and superficial blemishes earn the highest diamond clarity grades. And logically the clearer the diamond the higher the price tag.
However, if the diamond is discovered to contain any inclusions this does not at all mean that it is of bad quality. In fact, almost all natural diamonds contain inclusions and blemishes to some degree. These small imperfections make them unique.
Since diamonds are formed underground as a result of enormous pressure and heat it is nearly impossible to avoid inclusions and blemishes entirely. And since no human being’s eye is sharp enough to see them anyway they are not really a problem.
Most common misconceptions regarding diamond clarity.
Over time a lot of misconceptions and falsehoods have developed around diamond clarity. Let us have a look at some of the most common ones and dispel them.
Firstly, people may say that you must buy a diamond with the highest clarity grade otherwise you will be able to see the imperfections with a naked eye.
As we have already mentioned the vast majority of imperfections cannot be detected with a human eye even if the clarity grade is not super high. So feel free to help yourself to some lower grade diamonds.
Another common misconception that circulates on the diamond market is that the sparkle of the stone is somehow connected with and affected by the high or low clarity grade. This is also false since the sparkle of your diamond will be affected by other factors much more (namely the cut) than by its clarity.
Some useful tips to keep in mind.
Now that we have covered the most common misconceptions let me introduce you to some useful terms you should know and give you some tips you should take into consideration next time you go out to buy a diamond.
First and foremost, if you hear the term “eye clean” being used to describe the stone, it means that the inclusions and blemishes of the diamond are too small to be seen without a piece of special magnifying equipment.
If you want to maximize your budget and buy a diamond that does not have noticeable inclusions and blemishes then look for diamonds that have been assigned Slightly Included (SI) or Very Slightly Included (VSI) clarity grades.
These grades signify that the internal characteristics of a diamond cannot be perceived with the human eye.
Also, keep in mind that the size of the stone and its shape affect the clarity. So when you are buying a diamond that weighs over 1 carat you should definitely consider its shape.
For example, if you are buying an Emerald cut diamond the flaws might be more visible so take the clarity grade into consideration.
The clarity grade is not a one size fits all phenomenon. It affects the price and, in some cases, the beauty of the stone so you have to consider all of these factors to decide which clarity grade is right for you and your wallet.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) diamond grading scale.
The Gemological Institute of America was established in 1953 by Richard T. Liddicoat and his colleagues. This is the institute that came up with the grading system and the clarity scale for diamonds which is still used to this day.
The GIA includes 11 diamond clarity grades which are divided into six categories. Let’s have a closer look at them below.
I1, I2, and I3 grades. Included Diamonds.
These types of diamonds have inclusions that might be detected with the human eye. For this reason, diamonds that fall into this category are not recommended for important jewelry items such as engagement rings, for instance, since the obvious internal characteristics may affect the beauty of the stone.
However, these types of diamonds can be used in some other decorative items, especially if these items are made specifically to be relatively affordable for the masses of consumers.
SI1 and SI2 grades. Slightly Included (SI) Diamonds.
Diamond stones with these clarity grades have inclusions that can be seen with special equipment at 10x magnification. Most of the diamonds that fall into this category are “eye clean”.
As we have already said the clarity grade affects the price and these diamonds are less expensive compared to other higher-grade “eye clean” stones (even though their characteristics are equally undetectable to the human eye).
VS1 and VS2 grades. Very Slightly Included (VS) Diamonds.
These types of diamonds have minor inclusions. An inclusion in the VS1 variety is somewhat easier to see at 10x magnification than in the VS2 variety. Both types of stones provide excellent quality for what they are worth.
VVS1 and VVS2 grades. Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS) Diamonds.
Diamonds that have been assigned VVS1 and VVS2 grades have negligible inclusions that are very difficult to detect even if you are a trained professional using the 10x magnification.
So, needless to say, if you are just a regular customer, these stones will seem absolutely perfect to you. However, you will have to reach deeper into your pockets if you wish to own one of these gems.
Internally Flawless (IF) Diamonds.
Internally flawless diamonds have no internal characteristics. Their grade is determined by some minor surface blemishes. These blemishes can only be viewed by an expert under a microscope so to the regular person the IF diamond is “eye clean”.
Flawless (FL) Diamonds.
Last but not least, we have flawless diamonds. Natural diamonds that boast this grade have no internal characteristics and no external blemishes. Even if you are a trained expert you will not be able to see any inclusions and blemishes under 10x magnification.
It goes without saying, they are extremely rare; it is almost impossible for the stone to be subjected to all that pressure and heat deep under the earth’s crust and come out absolutely flawless. In fact, less than 1% of all-natural diamonds are flawless. And only approximately 5% of customers purchase these types of diamonds.
Five factors that affect a diamond’s clarity grade.
The first factor experts take into consideration before assigning a clarity grade is the size of the internal characteristic. Logically, the larger the inclusion, the more noticeable it will be. Stones with large internal characteristics are likely to be given lower clarity grades.
The second factor to be considered is the number of inclusions. How many internal characteristics are there that can be easily seen? Logically, fewer inclusions translate into a higher clarity grade.
The third-factor gemologists consider is the position of these inclusions. Are these internal characteristics close to the pavilion and thus in the most visible position? If the inclusion is in such a position it turns into a reflector and has a much bigger effect on the clarity grade of the stone.
The fourth factor to take into consideration is the nature of the inclusion. Experts determine what type of inclusion it is and how likely is it to impact the durability of the stone over time and assign the grading accordingly.
And, last but not least, experts also need to consider the color and the relief of the inclusion. These things essentially give us an idea of how easy it is to see the internal characteristic. For example how much color contrast is there between the diamond itself and the inclusion within it, and so on.
A closer look at many different types of diamond blemishes and inclusions.
There are many different types of blemishes and inclusions that affect the grading and ultimately the price of the stone, so let’s dive a bit deeper and have a closer look at them.
- A chip is a very shallow opening on the surface of the diamond which may have resulted from the damage during the cutting process. If the clarity grade is high the chip might be impossible to see with a human eye, however, large chips might cause a substantial weight loss.
- A cavity is another opening on the surface of the stone. It is angular in character end it may also be impossible to see with the naked eye.
- A bruise is another surface blemish that might reach inside a stone with tiny lines that look like roots under a microscope.
- A cloud is an internal characteristic that consists of a group of tiniest pinpoints inside of the stone. These pinpoints are too small to be distinguished from one another and in diamonds with higher clarity grade they are even difficult to detect with a 10x magnification.
- A crystal is a name given to a tiny mineral particle that is trapped inside a diamond. The crystals can vary in size, shape, and color, and in some cases, they may even extend to the surface of the diamond.
- A feather is a term that refers to any type of fissure or fracture within a diamond that extends to its surface. In many cases, feathers are so shallow that they are difficult to detect even under magnification.
- The indented edge of the original rough diamond which was left unpolished is called indented natural. It usually goes below the surface of a stone.
- A pinpoint (or pinpoints) is one (or multiple) crystals enclosed in a stone. Under magnification, they look like tiny specs scattered within the diamond.
- A needle is an internal characteristic that looks rather elongated. Under 10x magnification it looks like a tiny rod. In general, needles are more subdued compared to feathers or crystals.
- A laser drill hole is a pinpoint hole that has been purposefully drilled into a stone like a microscopic tunnel. In the majority of cases, this type of hole is drilled to remove a noticeable internal inclusion that affects the beauty of the diamond. A laser drill hole is considered to be an artificial enhancement and some jewelry stores do not sell diamonds that have been enhanced in this manner.
- A knot is a transparent crystal that extends to the diamond’s surface.
- If a diamond has formed a series of clouds, pinpoints, or crystals during its growth period, they form what is known as a twinning wisp. Twinning wisps are produced by irregularities in the crystal structure and often they appear in wispy lines or ripples.
- If a stone has one or several additional facets that were not created during the cutting process this is called an extra facet. Extra facets lie outside of the stone’s facet pattern and are typically asymmetrical and are located near the girdle.
Which diamond clarity grade provides the best value for the price?
In general, it is considered that SI diamonds and VS diamonds provide the best value for the price. So let’s go a bit deeper and investigate why that is so.
While we would all like to flaunt an extremely rare internally flawless or even flawless diamond which is set tightly in our piece of jewelry, diamonds like these might cost you an arm and a leg. If you are on a budget you may want to consider stones that provide you with the same amount of visible shine but will not break the bank.
So in order to do that you need to select the stones which have inclusions that cannot be seen with a human eye (without magnification). This is why the aforementioned grades are considered to be the best value. Most diamonds graded SI or VS look almost exactly the same as the internally flawless ones.
To an ordinary human eye, these types of diamonds look just as shiny and sparkly as the flawless ones however they are much less expensive. The connection between the diamond’s shape (cut) and its clarity.
The clarity grade you and your wallet can get away with also depends on the shape of your diamond. There are some shapes that require a higher clarity grade to appear immaculate.
For example, the aforementioned Emerald cut diamonds are designed with rectangular facets. This cut emphasizes the transparency of the stone and allows the human eye to see deep down into the diamond.
Needless to say, this is going to make inclusions more visible so the diamonds with Emerald cut need to be graded VS1 or even higher to make sure that their internal characteristics are not visible.
On the other hand, there are many diamond shapes that are more forgiving than the Emerald cut and can camouflage the imperfections the stone possesses.
For example, the princess cut, round cut, marquise, pearl, oval, and heart-shaped diamonds might not require high clarity grade stones; especially if they are smaller in size. The shape will disguise the imperfections.
Also, if the stone is cut with a brilliant facet pattern it will reflect light from multiple angles, which is ideal for hiding internal characteristics. Your ability to see the inclusions is also impacted by the size of the diamond.
Facets are the mirror-like surfaces on the stone and the larger the diamond the larger the size of its facets. So if you are planning to buy a large stone then go for a higher clarity grade.
What is a diamond clarity plot?
The diamond clarity plot is a diagram that shows the location of both external blemishes and the internal characteristics of a diamond. These inclusions and blemishes are identified by an experienced grader who uses equipment with 10x magnification.
Diamond clarity; buying tips.
As a consumer do not be shy to review the diamond up close by yourself. A reputable shop will show you the clarity plot and the certificate however hold the actual diamond in your hands and have a closer look.
This might be challenging if you are purchasing your diamond online since many vendors use high-end photography to make their diamonds appear as good as possible on the website.
But if you have the opportunity to hold a stone look at it carefully and see if you can notice any blemishes. Remember that your main goal is to find a stone that is “eye clean” at the most affordable price.
It does not really matter if it has some minor blemishes that can only be seen through magnification. Neither you nor any of your friends are going to pull out a piece of magnifying equipment at a party and inspect the stone that thoroughly.
So even if the stone has some minor blemishes or inclusions it does not really matter, as long as you cannot see them.
The 4Cs of quality.
Now that you know everything you need to know about the quality let’s have a look at some other factors that affect the price.
The 4Cs refer to the cut, color, clarity, and carat. The cut affects the stone’s ability to sparkle, so this factor is what most consumers pay attention to. The diamond’s color grade is determined by how colorless or tinted the stone is. The GIA Color grading spans from D to Z.
D grading means that the stone is colorless and Z grading means that it has noticeable brown or yellow tint. Although ordinary humans cannot in most cases detect the difference between colorless and slightly tinted diamonds this factor can affect the price significantly.
If the color of the diamond interferes with its ability to sparkle then it will have a lower price tag. However, there are some diamonds (such as beautiful pink or green stones) whose value increases exclusively because of their unusual colors.
The third factor is the carat weight. While most people when they hear the term carat think of the size of the diamond it actually refers to the weight. A 1-carat diamond equals 0.2 grams. And, last but not least, we have the clarity of the diamond.
All of these four factors work together and contribute to the uniqueness and beauty of the diamond. With all of this being said, a diamond should be viewed as an organic whole since it is difficult for an ordinary buyer to evaluate each aspect by itself.
Next time you go to the jewelry shop to buy a diamond keep all of these tips and tricks in mind to make sure that you are getting the best stone for an affordable price.
And if you want to treat yourself to a flawless stone there is nothing wrong with that, but you definitely don’t have to. As long as the diamond is beautifully sparkly and “eye clean” your friends will be just as jealous.