If you have done any research about diamonds in anticipation of buying one for an engagement ring, you will have come across the term the” 4 Cs.” Each of the 4Cs – Cut, Clarity, Colour, and Carat weight affect the beauty and consequently the value of a diamond.
In this article we will focus on the clarity of the diamond, what it means, and as a logical progression how it affects the value of a diamond.
What is diamond clarity?
Diamond clarity is a measure of how many ‘imperfections’ are present in a diamond, either within the stone or on the surface.
Also sometimes called ‘flaws’, if they are on the surface of the diamond they are known as ‘blemishes’ while if they are inside the diamond they are known as ‘inclusions’.
Inclusions inside a diamond usually arise during the natural formation process. They can be tiny crystals, fractures, or other imperfections trapped inside the stone.
Blemishes usually occur during the cutting, polishing, or even the wear of the diamond and can include scratches, nicks, or chips.
Why diamond clarity matters when buying a ring
Clarity is one of the major ‘quality’ factors in a diamond, but it’s also a good yardstick on the rarity of a diamond. Very few diamonds have no imperfecttions, which makes them more rare and therefore more expensive.
If flaws are severe, inclusions and blemishes can impact a diamond’s ability to reflect and refract light, reducing the amount that a diamond sparkles. However, this only comes into play at the very bottom of the diamond clarity scale, and for the most part clarity doesn’t affect what a diamond actually looks like.
A high proportion of diamonds used in engagement rings have inclusions that can only be seen under magnification by a trained professional – even if you looked at them under 10x magnification, you would struggle to see them.
So, while it is important, it isn’t the most important of the 4Cs, as beyond quite a low bar, inclusions are basically invisible.
The Diamond Clarity Scale
The Gemological Institute of America has devised a diamond clarity scale which is used by most jewellers to signify how affected a diamond is by inclusions.
While the UK and Europe do have our own diamond grading laboratories, GIA is often held to be the ‘gold standard’ and was he originator of several of the scales that are used to grade diamond quality.
The GIA clarity scale divides diamonds into six categories, each of which are also broken down into sub-grades.
FL – Flawless is the rarest of diamond finds. If you select this kind of grade when in buying mode, expect the price to be very expensive, as this represents perfection. This Diamond Clarity has no inclusions or blemishes of any sort visible to a skilled diamond grader using 10x magnification.
IF – Internally Flawless is also considered quite rare. The price point is still expensive but should be less expensive than a flawless diamond. This Diamond has no inclusions and only blemishes are visible to a skilled grader using 10x magnification.
VVS1 – VVS2 – Very, very slight inclusion. The price point should be less expensive when compared to a FL and IF diamond grade.This Diamond clarity has inclusions but they difficult for a skilled grader to see using 10x magnification.
VS1 – VS2 – Very slight inclusion. A skill grader should be able to see inclusions in the diamond. With this in mind the price point is lowered but the diamond quality is still very high. Inclusions in this Diamond are noticeable to a skilled grader using 10x magnification.
SI – Small Inclusion. The inclusions within the diamonds are now slightly heaver and easy to see, still only by a skilled grader using 10x magnification. This makes the price point affordable when compared to a FL graded diamond. However, this still makes for a stunning diamond and will look great on a diamond pendant or engagement ring purchase. These diamonds are spotless to the naked eye.
SI2 – Slightly Included. Inclusions and blemishes are now noticeable to the naked eye can be spotted immediately by a diamond grader using a 10x magnification loop. Aside fro the this if you can find a clean one they can be great investments.
I1, I2, I3 – Included – Diamonds graded between L1-L3 have very noticeable inclusions and blemished both with the
While the difference between some diamonds that have been graded differently for clarity may be small e.g. one that is at the lower end of VS2 and the upper end of SI1, the price difference between them can be significant.
“Eye Clean” Diamonds
In the diamond trade there is a concept pertaining to clarity known as “eye clean.”
This simply means that a diamond’s faults cannot be seen by the naked eye.
The fact is, that when you are wearing a diamond ring, it is very unlikely that someone will pull out a jeweller’s loupe to inspect your diamond or ask to view it under a microscope. So, as long as the diamond is ‘eye clean’, it will appear identical to a flawless diamond when viewed.
VS2 is usually given as the cut-off point for eye-clean diamonds, but even SI1-SI2 clarity diamonds can be eye-clean once mounted in a ring. If the inclusions are towards the edge of the stone, for example, they can be hidden by a ring’s setting.
Diamond Clarity Characteristics: Inclusions and Blemishes
When you look at a diamond grading report, the types of flaws that each diamond includes will be shown, together with their location.
Different inclusions and blemishes can affect a diamond’s appearance in different ways, so in this next section we’ll take a look at some of the most common.
Common diamond inclusions:
Inclusions are imperfections inside a diamond:
Clouds are groups of tiny pinpoints or crystals that can create a hazy or milky appearance in a diamond in the area affected. Clouds can reduce the amount of light that a diamond allows to pass through, reducing the amount it sparkles.
These are fractures within the diamond that often resemble the appearance of a feather.
Pinpoints: Tiny white or black crystal-like inclusions that can be scattered throughout the diamond. Usually very difficult to see.
Mineral crystals trapped within the diamond, which can be of various colours, shapes, and sizes. It’s a good idea to review crystals carefully to ensure they don’t adversely affect the beauty of the diamond.
Knots are diamond crystals that extend to the surface of a diamond, often appearing as a raised area.
cavities are small indentations within a diamond and often come about from the removal of an inclusion during the cutting process
Common diamond blemishes:
Blemishes are imperfections on the surface of a diamond.
As you’d expect, scratches are grooves on the surface of the diamond, often caused by contact with other diamonds or surfaces.
Small chips on the diamond’s surface, nicks often appear where two edges of a diamond meet.
Small, shallow breaks on the diamond’s surface, again they are usually found along the girdle (middle-band of diamond) or the edges of facets.
Bearding are small, hair-like fractures that around the diamond’s girdle, which are often caused when a diamond is cut and polished.
Parts of the original diamond crystal’s surface that remain on a polished diamond, usually found on or near the girdle. Naturals often appear as a rough and unpolished section on an otherwise smooth surface.
Fine, parallel lines on a diamond’s surface, resulting from the diamond being held against a polishing wheel during the polishing process.
Each diamond you are considering should have been graded by a professional who will know what to look for, but it’s still a good idea for you to review a diamond’s clarity too. If you are looking online, many diamond retailers
If you are viewing diamonds in person, you can use a microscope or a jeweler’s ‘loupe’ to look for the inclusions.
Reviewing the diamond clarity plot on the certificate and then comparing to the actual stone can be a good way to find the flaws.
In some cases, diamonds are treated to make inclusions less visible, improve the overall appearance of a diamond and improve their clarity grade.
Clarity enhancement is less common with GIA-graded diamonds and all enhancements should be noted on the grading report.
Some of the most common clarity enhancement methods include:
Laser drilling: This process involves using a laser to create a microscopic tunnel that reaches an inclusion within the diamond. Once the tunnel is created, the inclusion can be removed or bleached to make it less visible.
Fracture filling: This technique involves filling fractures or cavities within a diamond with a glass-like substance. The filling material has a similar refractive index to the diamond, making the fractures less noticeable.
High pressure, high temperature (HPHT) treatment: This process exposes a diamond to high pressure and high temperature conditions, which can cause some inclusions to dissolve or become less visible.
‘Clarity enhanced’ diamonds can be priced lower than non-enhanced diamonds and can look good, but enhanced diamonds may require extra care to maintain their appearance and the enhancement process can potentially impact a diamond’s durability.
Choosing the Right Clarity for Your Engagement Ring
Finding the diamond clarity that’s right for you is basically finding the balance between clarity grade, appearance, and budget that you are most comfortable with. Some things to keep in mind are:
Clarity is generally not held as the most important of the 4 Cs. Prioritising cut quality and carat weight will make a bigger difference to what your ring actually looks like. A well-cut diamond with a lower clarity grade can still look stunning as the diamond’s sparkle can mask inclusions.
Many people aim for the lowest clarity grade possible that still looks eye-clean, as this can maximise value for money without compromising your ring’s appearance. VS2 can be a good starting point for this, but SI1 or SI2 diamonds are also worth considering.
When evaluation diamonds, it’s a good idea to do this in person or to request high-resolution images. This will help you understand if any inclusions are visible to the naked eye. It’s generally not a good idea to buy a diamond graded at VS2 or lower sight-unseen.