As one of the Four Cs, diamond clarity is likely to be a phrase you get pretty used to hearing, even in the very early days of your search. This is, of course, no bad thing; nobody want to invest thousands of dollars into a diamond that already came out of the ground looking damaged or dull, particularly when it’s intended to be given as a sign of your love and commitment to your partner.
But the trouble starts when shoppers get too caught-up on the subject of clarity. Yes, it’s status as one of the Four Cs makes it a vital point to research and talk about with your jeweler, but it’s not the most important factor to consider – even when you’re preoccupied with getting as much sparkle out of your diamond as possible.
People who are overly worried about clarity need to brush up on their facts just as much as those who are taking a more blasé approach to the subject – and even those who are sitting on the fence could do with learning as much as possible before it’s too late.
With that in mind, here’s everything you need to understand about clarity – including where it needs to fall on your list of priorities – before you invest a single dime into a diamond.
It’s one thing to launch into a discussion about the different clarity grades – but, for that to mean anything to you, you’ve got to start off by understanding what an inclusion or blemish really is first.
An inclusion is an internal flaw that occurs within the diamond. As a result, inclusions are natural, and not a result of poor handling or wear and tear – although, in some cases, inclusions can be made worse by these factors.
Inclusions located close to the diamond’s surface, and particularly the girdle, make the diamond worryingly vulnerable to major damage.
In most instances, however, major inclusions merely impact the visual beauty of the diamond. While this is, of course, nowhere near as serious as a structural flaw, it should always be avoided.
While the precise cause of an inclusion will vary depending on the type of inclusion it is, each one is a result of the intense conditions that are required to create diamond in the first place.
In some instances, a diamond’s growth may have been halted for thousands of years, and forced to grow in an entirely different direction when it can finally continue developing. In others, tiny crystals formed from other substances may be trapped within the diamond and, if large enough, interrupt the path light takes through the stone.
In any case, inclusions come down to one factor: the unpredictable, wild, and fierce conditions found many miles beneath our feet.
A blemish is a surface flaw. It may be natural but, in many instances, they will be a result of polishing, handling and wear.
Despite the fact that diamond is the hardest natural substance on the Mohs scale, it is important that anyone who invests into one understands that they are not impervious to damage. Scratches, grazes, chips, and cracks can all occur if the diamond isn’t handled right.
No – diamonds featuring inclusions can still be worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of diamonds.
We’ll talk about this in way more detail below but, for now, suffice to say that some of the most valuable diamonds on the planet feature inclusions – as will yours.
Commonly referred to as the Diamond Clarity Scale, it represents a number of different ‘levels’ for diamond clarity, used by jewelers and shoppers to quickly identify the quality of a diamond.
There is no universal diamond clarity scale, and many labs – the GIA, AGS, HRD and EGL included – offer their own approach (with some similarities) to grading clarity.
At WillYou.Net, we always recommend that our readers focus their search on GIA graded diamonds – and, for that reason, we will focus on the GIA’s system throughout this article.
Given how frequently it’s mentioned in guides to diamond buying, it’s no surprise that so many shoppers start to worry over investing into the highest clarity grade they can afford. However, overthinking this feature can be just as detrimental as underthinking, so here’s what you need to know about the significance this C holds for the other three Cs of diamond quality.
Yes, but not as much as you might think.
We will go through this in much closer detail throughout this article but, for now, it’s important for you to build a ‘frame of reference’ for diamond clarity.
It is vital that you pay attention to your diamond’s clarity grade – but it is equally vital that you understand how easy it is to waste your money on this one aspect.
For an engagement ring, the wisest decision any shopper can make is to choose a diamond that features no visible inclusions, rather than agonizing over each grade individually. And, thankfully, doing so is actually much easier than it sounds…
The GIA has established a very high standard for diamond clarity, and typically grades one or two levels higher than some of the less-respected labs that offer grading services.
The grades run as follows:
Clarity impacts the visual quality of a diamond but, far more than that, it impacts the value of a diamond.
Plenty of the grades listed above can be ‘eye clean’ – or, in other words, feature inclusions that are only noticeable under magnification, not when you’re actually holding (or wearing) the diamond outside of the lab.
How far down the diamond clarity chart you can go before eye clean diamonds are no longer an option depends on the carat weight of the diamond, and its shape, but, generally, buyers will find an excellent and beautiful stone between the SI1 and VS2 grades.
The difference in financial value between a diamond of one clarity grade and one of another is much more noticeable. While the difference between two consecutive grades at the lower end of the scale tends to be around the $1,000 mark, a VVS1 diamond can be more than double the price of an SI2 diamond of the same weight, color and cut grade – even if both diamonds show no visible inclusions.
On the GIA’s Clarity Scale, FL diamonds are clear of any inclusions or blemishes – and the rarest diamonds in circulation today.
For many first-time shoppers, finding out that the overwhelming majority of diamonds on the market today are flawed can be worrying. They want to know how they can avoid the sheer number of included diamonds out there, and actually find one that will live up to their partner’s expectations.
The reality, however, couldn’t be more different. For anyone shopping for an engagement ring, it is far more advisable for them to get used to the idea that almost every diamond out there is flawed – and that, yes, theirs will be, too.
FL diamonds are hardly ever used for engagement rings. They cost thousands – if not tens or hundreds of thousands – of dollars more than other diamonds that, away from the lab’s lighting and microscopes, look exactly the same.
The SI3 grade for diamond clarity is controversial, and not one that we recommend our readers invest into.
This grade is not used or recognized by the GIA. It was created by another grading lab, known as EGL – or the European Gemological Laboratory – back in the 1990s. It was intended to offer a ‘middle ground’ between the SI2 and I1 grades, for diamonds that were not quite up to the standard of the SI2 grade, but, in the EGL’s eyes, not poor enough in quality to be given an I1 grade.
This doesn’t sound so bad until you consider the fact that, for many shoppers, the SI grades (SI1 and SI2) represent a great place to find eye clean diamonds for a lower cost. Labelling diamonds that the GIA would consider I1 as part of the SI clarity category risks misleading buyers, and suggesting quality where it is actually lacking.
We mentioned before how the GIA holds a very high standard for diamonds – the highest in the industry, in fact. Any diamond that a less-stringent lab like the EGL considers to be worthy of an SI3 clarity grade will likely fall into the I grades for the GIA, so our advice is always to steer clear of diamonds featuring this grade.
Major inclusions can affect a diamond’s sparkle, but only in relatively extreme cases.
A diamond’s sparkle is produced by the unique way light travels in through the stone, refracts between those precisely angled facets, and back out the top – through the table. Any inclusion that is significant enough to block or interrupt the path light takes through the diamond will, for that reason, decrease sparkle.
Heavily included diamonds will appear noticeably less brilliant than those that are not. Provided, however, that you stick to eye clean diamonds, the minute inclusions found within these stones won’t be enough to cause any issues for brilliance, fire, or scintillation.
Fewer than 0.5% of all diamonds are graded at FL.
While the microscopic beauty of an FL graded diamond is highly valued among collectors, it is undoubtedly their rarity that makes them so valuable.
Why? Because, as we mentioned, many diamonds appear as free from flaws as FL diamonds, so the aesthetic benefits of paying many thousands of dollars for these stones is insignificant. For those who are willing to invest, the allure of FL diamonds primarily stems from the fact that they are highly unlikely phenomena, and one of just a small few in the world today.
No, we would never advise our readers to pursue an IF diamond.
Just like the FL clarity grade, the appeal of the IF grade lies in rarity and exceptionality. For the average buyer looking to create an engagement ring, there are far more pressing concerns – and far better places for you to invest your money.
What’s more, their rarity means that they’re not that easy to come by – particularly if you have specific ideas for carat weight, color, and shape. You could spend a long time tracking down the right IF diamond.
Yes, they are fascinating pieces for a prized collection, but a waste of time and money for most of us.
In most cases, no, minor inclusions will remain the same no matter how much the diamond is worn. Major inclusions – particularly those close to the girdle (the diamond’s widest point) can create a weak spot within the diamond, and make it more vulnerable to breaking.
Again, on the proviso that you pick out an eye clean diamond, the inclusions will be inconsequential for the stone’s durability, and you won’t need to worry about waking up one morning to find that what was an imperceptible pinpoint within your diamond has somehow ‘grown’ into a big, dark cloud under the surface.
Clarity is slightly more important than color, as visible inclusions are harder to mask than a slight hint of color.
In both instances, the wisest choice is to go for a lower grade without going so low that you can only find diamonds with visible color and inclusions.
Both categories offer a lot of opportunities for shoppers to channel more money into diamonds of a higher carat weight, without losing visual quality. As such, it’s really valuable for you to get your head around the best possible grades to shop from – the so-called ‘sweet spots’ between unnecessary expenditure and unwanted flaws.
A minor amount of color can be easily complemented by a clever choice of ring setting. Gold, for instance, will make an ever-so-slightly yellow diamond look clearer and brighter, because of its much warmer hue. Similarly, a halo – particularly one made of melee diamonds with a lower color grade – can off-set a very small trace of yellow in a diamond.
Clarity is a little different. If your diamond features a noticeable inclusion, then you don’t have many options for hiding it. If it’s relatively close to the girdle, your jeweler might be able to obscure it using a well-placed prong, but this isn’t something you should bank on. Investing in a non-eye clean diamond will always be a risk, even if you think you have a plan.
Fortunately, the grades offer plenty of leeway, so the slightly higher importance we’ve attached to clarity over color doesn’t need to become a fixation for you.
Still confused about what grades you should be aiming for – and which ones you should be avoiding – if you want to get a good price on a beautiful, eye clean diamond? Here’s what you need to remember…
We’re including both the FL and IF diamonds in this category – namely because it’s next to impossible for you to track down an actual FL diamond. Even the chances of you finding an IF diamond are relatively slim compared with the other grades.
As such, the first con to these two grades is their rarity. This poses considerable appeal to collectors but, when you hold it up alongside the second con – price – it really doesn’t seem worth it at all. The final con is, of course, that nothing about your diamond’s appearance will be determined by its flawlessness. If you’re looking to create a true conversation piece, then it’s better to channel those extra funds into carat weight, rather than clarity, as larger diamonds are what garner admirers, and make a lasting impression.
The obvious pro to these clarity grades is their proximity to the flawless grades. No matter what carat weight you’re looking at, you won’t struggle to find a diamond that appears perfectly clean and flawless, since they sit just one or two levels below the highest grades there are.
The cons are pretty similar to IF and FL diamonds, however. VVS1 and VVS2 diamonds are significantly less expensive than flawless diamonds, but they still fetch a premium for two main reasons: they’re easier to come by, and only marginally lower in quality. They also tend to draw in buyers who have not done their research on the clarity grades, and who think the only way to avoid visible flaws is to stick to the VVS grades.
The bottom line on these grades is this: if you opt for a VVS1 or VVS2 diamond, you will probably wind up spending thousands of dollars more than you need to.
For those shopping for larger diamonds, these two grades are often considered to represent a sweet spot between excessively high prices, and the risk of noticeable imperfections. We are inclined to agree with them, since no one – not even a skilled grader – will be able to identify any difference between a VVS1 and a VS1 diamond without lab lighting and magnification tools.
In fact, one of the most influential diamonds in the world – the Krupp diamond, once owned by Elizabeth Taylor and weighing in at 33.19 carats – was graded by the GIA as VS1. Some reports state that the diamond has the potential to be IF clarity if it undergoes a re-cut, but, as it stands, the diamond sits much further down the clarity scale.
The only major con is the fact that, a little like the VVS grades, VS1 and VS2 can still cause buyers to spend more than they need to. Here’s why…
In so many cases, the SI1 and SI2 grades represent the best choice for engagement rings and other pieces of fine jewelry. While many diamonds graded SI1 and SI2 will be accompanied by diamond plots that set alarm bells ringing for inexperienced shoppers, a huge variety of these diamonds appear totally eye clean – even to experienced jewelers who know what to look for, and how hard to look for it.
SI1 and SI2 diamonds are considerably cheaper, and we recommend all shoppers take full advantage of that fact.
There are, however, two things to keep in mind. First of all, you’re not going to want to invest in a diamond of SI1 or SI2 clarity without seeing it in person first, and judging its appearance for yourself. While they don’t make sense financially, investing into VVS1 diamonds is easier, as you don’t need to second-guess whether or not it will be eye clean.
Secondly, you’ll need to ensure that the diamond has been graded by the GIA – or, as a second option, the AGS. Why? Because these two labs represent the most rigorous, and that means that diamonds graded at this level meet a very strict criteria.
A diamond graded SI2 by one of the less-exacting labs could easily be considered I1 (or worse) by the GIA or AGS. As such, it makes the most financial sense to stick to these two labs only.
The main con to this grade is the fact that some larger SI1 and SI2 diamonds will not be eye clean. Also, finding an eye clean diamond that features a shape not known for masking inclusions – such as the Emerald – might prove trickier to find at this grade, but certainly not impossible.
You might be surprised to find out that it’s possible to find an eye clean diamond at an incredibly attractive price as low as I1, but you can. While it won’t be as easy to find one at this grade as it is at the VS and SI grades, and we’re not advising you to search for your dream 3 carat Asscher at this grade, it’s still a distinct possibility for many shoppers.
Our advice? The best person to help you find that sweet spot is a good jeweler. They won’t rule-out the I1 grade straightaway, and may be able to track down an excellent find for you.
I2 graded diamonds are less likely to yield good results. In both cases, you should never invest in a diamond without seeing it first, and without consulting with your jeweler on its value for the piece you are creating.
Until you see the diamond in person, you’re going to have to rely on its GIA report to get a handle on its clarity – so it certainly pays to be able to understand what’s been printed, and what it means for you and your investment. The
The GIA will assign at least two expert graders to every diamond they receive, and a final grade is only given once a consensus can be reached. If necessary, additional graders will be asked to consult on the diamond until they are able to reach that vital agreement.
Diamonds are analyzed under 10x magnification, which is why so many of the inclusions identified during this process don’t matter to shoppers. Neither you or your partner is ever likely to analyze your engagement ring under a loupe (a special magnifying tool used by jewelers and graders), so you don’t need to set your alarm bells ringing just because the diamond plot looks pretty full.
That brings us onto the next resource you’ll have at your disposal, alongside the grade itself: the diamond plot. This is a diagram used to detail each and every inclusion identified by the diamond’s graders, using various symbols to represent the different types of flaws present – and, of course, their size and location.
This is very useful for anyone who wants to really understand the diamond they are investing in, and notes down your chosen diamond’s distinguishing features – a pretty interesting detail to know.
The pinpoint, cloud, needle, crystal, knot, feather, cavity, and twinning wisp are all common inclusions – and most diamonds will feature a combination, even if they are microscopically small.
You can read more about the types of diamond inclusions here but, for now, it’s worth knowing that the GIA’s expert graders will detail the nature of each inclusion they identify within your diamond.
Within your diamond report, you will find a key noting all the symbols that are relevant to your diamond’s inclusions and blemishes. With these, you can treat the diagram like a detailed map of your unique diamond.
The diagram is not drawn to scale, and shouldn’t be confused with the diagram above it, which details proportions. It will feature a rough depiction of your diamond’s face-up appearance, and the view from the pavilion.
Usually, if an inclusion is not listed within the diagram, it is because it is not relevant to the clarity grade a diamond has received. For instance, if the diamond features a major inclusion that results in an I2 clarity grade, and a very minor cloud, this cloud may not be addressed in the diamond’s plot.
Where the key to the grader’s symbols is given, the most significant inclusion will be listed first – although laser drill holes will always be listed first.
There’s no straightforward answer to this question, but, provided you understand how the clarity grades impact the diamond – both microscopically, and visually – it’s easy to tackle clarity alongside the rest of the Four Cs, rather than investing your entire budget into a small, but technically perfect, stone.
Here are your top considerations:
It’s totally understandable that some shoppers will start to consider whether they need to worry all that much about clarity at all. After all, when a guide is instructing you to focus your search on the very tail-end of the clarity scale, rather than objectively better grades, there will probably come a point where you start to doubt whether inclusions are that bad at all.
This is a mistake, since crossing the line between ‘eye clean’ and visibly included means spending a lot of money on a diamond that will always be let down by its own flaws. They can be much harder to overlook than you first think – especially when you begin to notice a slight lack of sparkle compared with other diamonds that are eye clean.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from shoppers who feel tempted to take a carefree approach to inclusions, we have shoppers who, despite doing their research, can’t quite let go of the idea that the higher clarity grades make more sense, both financially and aesthetically.
In the end, some buyers will opt for these grades. There’s nothing wrong with that but, if you feel like going for one of these grades means that you have to sacrifice carat weight, cut quality, color, or a good investment into your ring setting, then you need to revisit your priorities.
The savings available for people who re-think the VVS – and even the VS – grades can easily translate to a substantially larger diamond, or a ring design that will live up to their partners’ expectations.
We’ve mentioned this a few times already in this article, but it deserves to be restated here. Investing in any diamond online, without also going to see it in person, is a bad idea – and particularly if it is accompanied by a grade that sits below, say, FL, IF or VVS1 on the clarity scale.
Even then, however, we’d never recommend ‘buying blind.’ Going to see your diamond with a local jeweler to help guide you the rest of the way is always the wiser choice.
Not only can a diamond look better online, but it can also look worse. Diamonds are photographed in close-up, and the images you see are substantially larger than the diamonds themselves, meaning you’re more likely to pick out flaws and write these diamonds off as visible included – and, in doing, turn yourself away from a great find.
Even if you’re saving thousands, you’re still spending thousands. It’s not always easy to rely on your own judgement, particularly when so much is at stake. The biggest benefit to going the traditional route and working with a jeweler rather than an online store is the ability to take advantage of someone else’s experience and knowledge – and, of course, their eye for detail – so don’t skip this important step.
The GIA or, as a second option, the AGS are the only labs we would recommend our readers put their faith into. While that’s not to say that every other lab out there is always wrong, independent research has found far greater inconsistencies from them that should be considered worrying by anyone shopping for a diamond today/
For instance, some chain stores rely on grading labs that have a vested interest in supplying good grades at speed. These labs generate a profit, and tend to take a looser approach to diamond grading than the GIA and AGS.
Making a good decision over your diamond’s clarity means finding a sweet spot, rather than forcing yourself into one end of the scale. It’s just as bad a decision to go too high as it is too low, so take your time over this aspect – but try not to over-think it.