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Diamond clarity is a qualitative metric that grades the visual appearance of each diamond. The fewer inclusions and blemishes a diamond has, the better its clarity grade will be.
The clarity of a diamond can have a significant impact on its price (it’s one of the most important 4 Cs). However, many imperfections that affect a diamond’s clarity grade aren’t visible to the naked or unaided eye. (Clarity and color are what people notice first from the 4 Cs. )
What is diamond clarity?
What is a diamond clarity chart?
How are clarity grades determined?
What is the GIA diamond clarity grading scale?
What are the common mistake made with diamond clarity?
What are the types of inclusions in diamond clarity?
What is the best diamond clarity grade?
Buying tips for diamond clarity
What is a clarity enhanced diamond?
A low clarity eye-clean diamond will look identical to a flawless diamond assuming all else is equal (yet will cost far far less). At present the only vendors offering sufficiently high quality images of their diamonds for reviewing clarity are James Allen and Blue Nile.
If you are feeling a little unsure of yourself, feel free to contact us. After helping thousands of readers, we have quite a bit of experience sifting through these images and figuring out which diamond is eye-clean.
To provide shoppers with an understanding of each diamond’s clarity level, grading entities like the Gemological Institute Of America (GIA) and American Gem Society (AGS) use diamond clarity charts to judge diamonds based on their appearance and give each stone a clarity grade within a given scale.
Diamond clarity scales range from I (meaning “included”) to FL (meaning “flawless”). Each clarity grade has subgrades which provide more information about the visibility of inclusions in the diamond.
Internally Flawless / Flawless – No internal or external imperfections. Flawless diamonds are extremely rare.
Here's an example of an FL/IF diamond
Very Very Slightly Included (1st Degree) – Diamond clarity inclusions rated VVS1 are not visible at all under 10x magnification.
Here's an example of an VVS1 diamond
Very Very Slightly Included (2nd Degree) – Diamond clarity inclusions rated VVS2 are sometimes just barely visible under 10x magnification (standard jeweler’s loupe). When they are visible, they are quite difficult to find and can often take quite a while to locate.
Here's an example of an VVS2 diamond
Very Slightly Included (1st Degree) – VS1 diamond clarity inclusions are just barely visible under 10x magnification (standard jeweler’s loupe). When looking for VS1 clarity inclusions with a loupe, it can sometimes take a good few seconds until the pinpoint is located.
Here's an example of an VS1 diamond
Very Slightly Included (2nd Degree) – VS2 clarity inclusions are almost always easily noticeable at 10x magnification (standard jeweler’s loupe). Occasionally, the inclusion will be located in a difficult-to-spot location, but otherwise, the inclusion is large enough that it can be spotted quickly under magnification.
Here's an example of an VS2 diamond
Slightly Included (1st Degree) – SI1 Clarity inclusions are easily found with a standard jeweler’s loupe at 10x magnification. With most shapes (to the exclusion of step cuts like Asscher and Emerald Cuts), SI1 clarity inclusions are almost always clean to the naked eye.
Here's an example of an SI1 diamond
Slightly Included (2nd Degree) – SI2 clarity inclusions are seen clearly and obviously with the help of a jeweler’s loupe. With step cuts like Emerald and Asscher cuts, an SI2 clarity inclusion will most likely be visible to the naked eye.
Here's an example of an SI2 diamond
Included (1st Degree) – I1 clarity inclusions are even more obvious and clearly seen than SI2 clarity inclusions. Most I1 inclusions are visible to the naked eye—even on brilliant cuts.
Here's an example of an I1 diamond
If you want help finding a diamond that has inclusions, yet is eye-clean, feel free to contact us.
Natural diamonds are formed in the earth’s mantle layer at a depth ranging between 80-120 miles, and they face extreme heat up to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. While their growth takes between one billion to three billion years, only the rarest diamonds emerge in perfect condition. Most often they are imperfect and contain varying amounts of internal inclusions and surface blemishes.
When determining the clarity of diamonds on a clarity scale, experts will note the appearance of the diamond when it is face up, with a microscope at 10x magnification and eye visibility. However, to identify any diamond inclusions there may be, a higher power than 10x will be used. Otherwise, it may be too difficult to determine.
Five factors play a significant role in how a diamond is graded, and how its “score” on the diamond clarity chart is determined. These five roles in diamond grading include size, nature, number, location, and the relief of the inclusions.
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When buying a diamond, we always emphasize the importance of spending the majority of your budget on the things you’ll notice the most (such as cut quality and carat weight), then spending only as much as needed on the other of the four Cs (clarity and color).
The most common mistake people make when buying diamonds is purchasing a diamond with a clarity grade that is simply too high to appreciate in order to buy a “good investment.”
This results in overspending on a feature that looks good on paper, but has minimal impact on a diamond’s appearance in real life.
The reality of diamond clarity is that many of the inclusions that make the difference between an FL or IF (flawless or internally flawless) clarity grade and a VVS1 clarity grade, for example, are completely invisible to the naked eye.
This means that by focusing on a diamond’s clarity grade rather than its appearance, you’ll end up spending money that could instead be put towards a larger diamond.
The section below contains real magnified images of GIA certified diamonds. I have chosen to use Asscher Cuts & Emerald Cuts, as these step-cut diamond shapes tend to show inclusions the clearest.
It should become clear from the images below why it is so crucial to only buy diamonds from an online vendor (Like James Allen, Blue Nile and Brian Gavin Diamonds) that provides you with high-quality images of their diamonds.
If you see anything at all on diamonds with a Flawless clarity grade, you can be assured that it is merely dust. For example, if you click on the sample image here, you’ll notice there is a tiny speck on the bottom part of the table. That tiny speck, if it were an inclusion inside the diamond, would probably render the stone a VVS2.
The tiny pinpoints can only be seen under a powerful microscope. I have offered this sample diamond from James Allen, but there really isn’t a need. VVS1 size inclusions aren’t visible at this level of magnification. A regular photograph, even a highly magnified one, can only focus on one level of depth.
If a VVS-size inclusion is in a diamond, and the image is focused on a different layer of depth, there is no chance the pinpoint inclusion will be visible.
If you click on the diamond picture here, you can barely make out the VVS2 inclusions. Generally, however, you need a gemological microscope to identify a VVS2 inclusion since, often, the inclusion pattern is not one larger speck, but a few separate VVS1 sized spots that collectively equal a VVS2 clarity grade. Since each of the individual spots are too small to be seen with a jeweler’s loupe, one needs a microscope to identify them.
Unlike VVS2 clarity inclusions, a microscope is never needed to locate a VS1. As you can see if you click on the sample diamond here, a VS1 clarity inclusion is still quite small and will never be visible to the naked eye.
VS2 Clarity inclusions are almost always clean to the naked eye. This sample stone is somewhat of an extreme example (click on it to see more details). I specifically looked for a VS2 that was black and in the center of the stone to more easily illustrate the size of a VS2 inclusion.
The inclusion in the sample photo might very well be visible to the naked eye as a result of it being black, in the center, and in an emerald cut (which do not mask inclusions at all).
The sample stone here is a typical VS2.
As with the poor VS2 sample before, the diamond chosen for the sample picture of an SI1 clarity inclusion is an extreme example chosen to show the maximum size and worst possible color of an SI1. One must remember that a clarity grade can be based on many different inclusion points within a diamond. It is less common (especially for SI1 and lower) that the clarity grade is based on one concentrated inclusion.
Usually, there are a number of smaller spots and clouds of tiny spots that make up the clarity grade. In these cases, since each individual inclusion is very small, the diamond looks clean to the naked eye.
Once you are in this range, you are best off contacting us for help picking something out to ensure its eye-clean.
With step cuts like Emerald and Asscher cuts, an SI2 clarity inclusion will most likely be visible to the naked eye. With other brilliant shapes (basically all the other common shapes), an SI2 clarity inclusion will usually be clean to the naked eye.
As with the SI1 sample photo before, I specifically chose a concentrated black center inclusion to illustrate just how bad an SI2 can get. A center black SI2 on an Emerald Cut is about as bad as an SI2 as there is. As I mentioned above regarding an SI1, in most cases, the SI2 clarity grade is made up of several (or many) smaller inclusions.
Another common trait is a “spready” SI2. In these cases, since the SI2 is spread out all over the stone, and not concentrated in any one area, the diamond is usually eye clean.
I1 clarity inclusions are so obviously visible on step cuts (Asscher Cuts & Emerald Cuts) that you rarely see them produced. For example, look how awful the sample stone here appears when you click on it. Just because the sample picture is as hideous as it is doesn’t mean you can’t find a perfectly eye-clean beautiful I1 clarity diamond.
As I mentioned above, most clarity grades are comprised of several to many smaller inclusions spread out over the area of the diamond. In such cases, the I1 clarity inclusion will be much less noticeable to the naked eye, if at all.
Concentrated inclusions in the center of the diamond are the exception, not the rule. I show them here in this chart simply to show how bad each clarity grade can get.
Some companies will try to trick you with an “SI3” clarity. That is a red flag, warning you to be wary. We talk about this more in depth here.
Eye-Cleanliness is Paramount
In our opinion, your goal as someone buying a diamond should be to find the least expensive (in regards to clarity; other factors matter as well) diamond that’s still eye-clean, meaning it doesn’t have any inclusions that are visible to the naked eye.
“Eye-clean” diamonds may still have inclusions when viewed under a magnifying glass (or loupe or microscope). However, they appear free of inclusions in real life situations.
We have recently developed Ringo, a patented artificial intelligence model, that can examine videos of diamonds and determine if they are eye-clean. Ringo will also filter for other parameters like making sure the diamond is well-cut, doesn’t have fluorescence issues and will match the style setting you choose.
Although the term inclusion is often used to refer to any type of imperfection in a diamond, there are several different types of inclusions that can affect a diamond’s appearance.
We’ve listed some of the most common types of diamond inclusions below and explained what effect each type of inclusion can have on a diamond’s clarity.
A cloud isn’t one imperfection in a diamond — instead, it’s a group of very small pinpoints that are clustered together. Clouds can affect a diamond’s brilliance by giving it a dull, hazy look. If there are lots of large clouds within a diamond, we call it a cloudy diamond.
Graining is a type of internal inclusion that develops because of irregular crystal growth. When a diamond has graining, it will show white, colored or reflective internal lines that give the diamond a very hazy appearance.
Cavities are surface dents or cracks in a diamond. They can appear colorless or colored based on the type of minerals that exist within the body of the diamond. If the crystal inclusions of the cavity are colored, they will then be much more obvious in appearance and can most likely be seen with the unaided eye.
Feathers are small cracks that, as their name suggests, have a feathery look when viewed from certain angles. Some feathers are obvious, while others are barely noticeable. When a diamond has feathers, they can either appear clear or capture light and give off a white appearance.
These are just a small number of possible inclusions you can find within diamonds. All of these inclusions play a role in a diamond’s clarity grade, as well as its appearance when viewed with your eye or under magnification.
When it comes to assessing a diamond’s inclusions, it’s always best to consider the advice of a professional. You should also look at the diamond’s GIA certificate for a fuller understanding of its inclusions and imperfections.
What is a clarity plot? A clarity plot is a figure that shows the locations and types of imperfections in a diamond. The flaws are identified by a skilled grader using 10x magnification. When you purchase a diamond and receive a GIA or AGS certificate, the report usually comes with a clarity plot, especially if the diamond is 1 Carat or heavier (see an example below).
Similar to a fingerprint, each plot is different. It provides you with the exact mapping of the diamond’s blemishes and inclusions. Seeing the clarity plot can help you examine the diamond to see if the imperfections are noticeable to the naked eye.
The GIA uses a few colors in a clarity plot to denote imperfections. Red usually identifies inclusions—the flaws inside of the stone. Green usually marks surface flaws.
While reviewing a clarity plot can be helpful, it’s not the only tool that you should use to evaluate a diamond’s clarity. Not every imperfection is listed on a clarity plot (the ones that don’t affect the visual appearance are usually listed only as comments) and you still want to review the diamond to make sure that it’s eye-clean.
I worked in the diamond business for 6+ years. If you gave me a diamond with a VVS2 clarity grade, it might take me a few minutes with a 10x powered loupe to find the actual pinpoint of an imperfection that is the “Very Very Small Inclusion.”
I could find a VS1 in less time, but it’s only marginally larger than a VVS2. VS2s clarity grade inclusions can be spotted right away with a 10x powered loupe but are usually invisible to the naked eye.
When you reach SI1 and SI2 diamond clarity scale grades, however, you begin to find a much higher concentration of diamonds with eye visible inclusions. Because of this visibility, it is imperative to limit your search to vendors with high-quality photos.
Of course, we encourage you to reach out to us and we’ll gladly help you choose the perfect SI1 or SI2 that is eye clean.
Now, if a diamond is simply a product that has features that you want to benefit from (i.e., its beauty), why pay a lot more for features from which you will never benefit?
Think of your total investment in a diamond ring as a pie. Each feature of the diamond has its own slice of the pie and the more you spend on a feature the larger its slice (and therefore, another slice or slices must become smaller).
Wouldn’t it make sense to apportion the largest slices to the features you can actually derive benefit from? All you have to do for the other features is make sure the slice is sufficiently large that it doesn’t detract from the beauty of the diamond.
Unfortunately, though, things aren’t quite as simple as I’ve made them seem. An important thing to remember is that not all inclusions are created equal.
Some inclusions are shiny and some are almost completely clear. Some inclusions, though, are dead white and some are even stark black. Some inclusions are dead center in the middle of the diamond, and some are pushed so far off to the side, they aren’t noticed.
The clarity grade mainly takes into account the size of the inclusion, and rarely considers the color and opaqueness of the inclusion nor its position.
Thankfully, James Allen has some truly fantastic cutting-edge photography that will allow us to review actual clarity examples with a tool they call 360° Diamond Display Technology that provides 18x magnification around the entire stone.
The highest clarity grade for a diamond is FL, or flawless. The GIA only ever grades a diamond as flawless when it has no inclusions or blemishes that can be seen by a skill grader, even if it’s viewed under 10x magnification.
When it comes to the best clarity grade for each diamond shape and budget, things become a little bit more complicated and subjective.
Since diamonds come in numerous different shapes and cut quality grades, there isn’t a single “best” clarity grade for every type of diamond.
The reason for this is that different types of diamonds show inclusions differently. For example, Asscher cut diamonds, which are cut so that nothing is hidden, are much more likely to display inclusions than round brilliant cut diamonds, which are cut for maximum light reflection.
The size of a diamond can also affect its chance of showing inclusions. As the carat weight of a diamond increases, so does the width of its table, increasing the likelihood of an inclusion being visible.
Instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all clarity grade for all diamonds, it’s best to select a clarity grade range based on the diamond shape you’re considering.
For a round cut diamond, this typically means a clarity grade of VS2 or SI1 for a diamond under 1 carat, or a clarity grade in the VS1 or VS2 range for diamonds of 1 carat or more.
Certain diamond shapes, such as the cushion cut, oval cut, radiant cut, marquise cut and pear shape, hide inclusions very well. For these shapes, you can often find a diamond that’s eye-clean in the SI1 or SI2 clarity range.
The princess cut diamond is a bit trickier as you have to be careful to not have inclusions in any of its corner. If there are any, the diamond can easily chip when it hits something.
For step cut diamonds, such as Asscher cuts, baguette cuts and emerald cuts, it’s important to go with a clarity grade of VS2 or better.
Above all, it’s important to choose a diamond that’s eye-clean. This means inspecting the stone manually to check for visible inclusions using the 360° viewing tools offered by James Allen and Blue Nile.
We’ve discussed this topic more in the section below and explained why it’s so important to take diamond shape into account when choosing a clarity grade.
Before purchasing a diamond, there are a few things to keep in mind to get the best value and beauty, especially when it comes to clarity.
It’s very easy to overpay for clarity. In most cases, a VS1 or VS2 diamond will be eye-clean just like a FL diamond, but cost far less. Instead of focusing on a certain clarity grade, choose the lowest clarity grade that still presents an eye-clean diamond. Your budget is better spent on factors that more greatly impact a diamond’s beauty, like cut quality.
The best clarity grade depends on the shape of your diamond. Like we mentioned above, some diamond shapes are much better at hiding inclusions and other imperfections than others.
Follow these recommendations to get the most value.
Round Cut Diamonds: The facet pattern of the round brilliant cut makes it excellent at making inclusions less visible. Choose a clarity grade of VS2 or SI1 for a round brilliant cut diamond of under 1 carat (sometimes even SI2 doesn’t have visible inclusions). For Round Cut diamonds 1 carat or over, a VS1 or VS2 will give you an eye-clean stone. The larger the diamond (carat weight can be a factor), the easier it is to see inclusions.
Emerald Cuts, Asscher Cuts and Baguettes: All these step-cut diamond shapes have large tables (top surface areas) that allow for a clear, unobstructed look into the diamond. This means that they display inclusions more clearly than other diamond shapes.
For these diamond shapes, we recommend limiting your search only to diamonds with a clarity grade of VS2 or better.
Cushion Cut, Oval Cut, Radiant Cut, Marquise and Pear Shaped (Princess Cut): As these shapes hide inclusions better than other shapes, you can drop down to the SI1 to SI2 clarity grade range and still find eye-clean diamonds. These clarity grades will help you to get more for your budget.
Heart Shaped Diamonds: Opt for a VS2 or SI1 clarity grade. Heart Shaped diamonds hide inclusions better than Round Cuts, but not as well as shapes like the Oval or Princess cut.
Besides looking at the certificate and clarity plot, carefully review the diamond to look for visible inclusions. Online vendors, particularly James Allen and Blue Nile, have high-end photography for just this purpose.
Look to see if you notice any blemishes or inclusions. If you do notice some, take note of where they are on the diamond. Are they in the middle of the table, where they’ll be visible, or near the edge of the diamond, where they could be covered up by the setting?
The main goal is to find a diamond that’s eye clean without overpaying. If you’re not sure, get an expert’s opinion.
We recommend buying a diamond online, not just because of the value that’s available, but also because of the ease of comparing diamonds. Instead of the bright lighting in jewelry stores that can hide imperfections, online vendors offer objective, high quality photography.
This makes the process of reviewing diamonds for clarity easier, helping you to avoid low quality diamonds and identify those that offer the right combination of eye-clean clarity and great value for money.
The first diamond I want to review is a 1.00 carat I1.
This diamond is a perfect example of the great value you can find if you take advantage of technological breakthroughs like James Allen’s 360° Diamond Display Technology or Brian Gavin Diamonds’ high quality photographs.
In Figure 1, which is at 9x magnification, you can barely see anything. Had I not marked the inclusion in red, you probably would not have noticed it at all.
The inclusion is only slightly opaque, but best of all it is completely on the perimeter of the diamond. A skilled jeweler could easily cover this with a prong to give your diamond the appearance of being completely clean.
In Figure 2, you can see the same diamond, but with 18x magnification. In this picture, I have focused on the inclusion so you can better see how its color allows it to blend in with the natural color of the diamond.
The next diamond I want to review is a 1.01 carat VS2. As you can see in Figure 3, there is a very small inclusion almost dead center in the table of the diamond. Unfortunately, however, the inclusion is stark black.
Due to the combination of the inclusion’s position and its color, it is very possible it would be visible to the naked eye despite the fact that it has a clarity grade of VS2.
In Figure 4, you see the same inclusion, but at 18x magnification.
Now take a look at the table below (Figure 5) of the two different diamonds’ features. They are virtually identical, save for three slight advantages the I1 has over the VS2 (No Fluorescence and Excellent polish, and slightly larger dimensions).
Now try to guess their prices. The VS2? Listed on JamesAllen.com for $5,010.
The I1, which as I have shown isn’t simply a better value for your money spent, but is objectively speaking a better looking diamond? $3,290.
Clarity enhanced diamonds are diamonds with significant inclusions that undergo a treatment to improve their clarity. The aim of the treatment is to reduce the visibility of inclusions and produce a better looking, clearer diamond.
Several techniques are used to improve diamond clarity, such as laser drilling, deep boiling and fracture filling. These techniques either fill in the inclusions or disguise them. We’ve discussed these techniques more in our guide to enhanced diamonds.
While clarity enhancement techniques are effective, they have downsides. Some, such as laser drilling, can affect the durability of diamonds. Others, such as fracture filling, can give a diamond a cloudy or hazy appearance over time.
Enhanced diamonds aren’t certified by the GIA, meaning they often come with certificates from less reliable grading entities.
In general, we don’t recommend buying an enhanced diamond. Not only can the enhancement process affect the diamond’s structure and appearance, but diamonds of this type have limited resale value and are easily damaged during ring resizing and cleaning.
The greatest myth about diamonds is that they are a smart investment. Edward Jay Epstein, in his industry-shaking exposè on the “Diamond Invention” entitled “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” clearly and emphatically puts this idea to rest. We also recently covered our opinions on the resale value of a diamond.
I recommend any prospective diamond buyer first read these articles from start to finish. It’s important to be in the right frame of mind when making such a major purchase and not be influenced by all the magic and emotion thrown at you from DeBeers advertising.
To a large extent, diamonds are a retail product just like any other. The product goes through a variety of stages of production and distribution (mining, polishing, distribution, retail, and finally, being sold to the customer).
As the diamond changes hands, each participant in the process takes their cut. By the time the finished product ends up in the customer’s hands, the price is sufficiently inflated that you could never sell it without losing money.
While a diamond flawless clarity grade might seem like a good investment, the reality is that it’s rarely worth the money. Instead, it’s better to choose an eye-clean diamond, then put the rest of your budget towards things you’ll notice, such as cut quality and carat weight.
We understand that buying a diamond can be a confusing process, especially when it comes to subjective things such as determining if a diamond is eye-clean.
If you’re not sure what to look for, confused by different clarity grades or just want an expert to guide you through the process, don’t hesitate to contact us.
We’ve helped thousands of our readers buy beautiful engagement rings and other high quality diamond jewelry, and we’re happy to help you too.
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