Diamond Clarity: The Definitive Guide

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Today I’m going to show you how to pick the proper clarity:

  1. Avoid mistakes that lead to overpaying
  2. How to inspect diamonds like an expert
  3. save cash or invest it in a larger diamond with more sparkle
  4. and basically everything you need to know to make the right decision.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - Diamond clarity fundamentals

In this chapter, we’re going to cover the basics of diamond clarity.
(Including what it is, why it happens, and the different types).
I’ll also show you how each one affects the beauty of the diamond.

What is diamond clarity?

In short, diamond clarity is a metric that grades the number of inclusions and blemishes, the size of the inclusions, and where it’s located in the diamond. In other words, how the flaws affect the total appearance of the diamond. Clear stones without any visible birthmarks are scarce, which causes a significantly higher price.

What causes inclusions and blemishes in diamonds?

To answer that question, we have to understand how diamonds are formed.

Natural diamonds are extremely rare. They formed over a billion years ago, typically around 90-150 miles below the earth’s surface, under specific conditions: extreme heat of about 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit and high pressured carbon dioxide gasses.

Under these conditions, carbon-containing fluids dissolved minerals and then grew into diamonds. The growth process took around one month in the earth’s mantle layer. Later on (tens to hundreds of million years ago), they were carried to the surface in volcanic eruptions and deposited in igneous rocks known as kimberlites and lamproites.

How natural diamonds are formed? - Photo by phys.org

The diamond is formed when heat and pressure cause carbon atoms to bond in an organized way that resembles tightly packed hexagonal graphs on graph paper. These hexagons represent the actual crystal lattice inside each diamond which will contain natural imperfections – such as blemishes, inclusions, and fractures—that can’t be avoided during this process. The more high-pressure areas there were while it was being crystallized, like overactive volcanoes, for example, typically means more flaws present in these diamonds today – even if they look clear!

diamond molecular structure

Diamond inclusions and blemishes types

There are over 20 different inclusions and blemishes; some affect the beauty of the diamond while others have no effect whatsoever, depending on the clarity grade (we will talk about this in more detail later). Let’s talk about some of the most common inclusions:

Feather: A feather is a thin, delicate inclusion that typically appears as fine lines or feathers on the surface of the diamond.

Cloud: A cloud can be anything from a tiny dot to an amorphous mass, and it usually causes no problems for diamonds with good clarity grades (VS2 and higher).

Needles: Needles are slender threads that may appear bent or curved in relief across the top of facets or down their side faces.

Pinpoint: A pinpoint is a tiny inclusion that appears as a little black dot on the surface of the diamond.

Twinning wisp: A series of pinpoints or a wisp of twisting needle-like inclusions usually caused by the diamond’s crystallization process.

Grain: A grain is a tiny crystal inclusion that appears like a slim gray line on the surface of the diamond.

Cavity: An angular opening is formed when a feather breaks away, or a surface-reaching crystal pops out or is forced out during the diamond polishing process.

Chip: A gap in the stone’s surface caused by damage at a girdle edge, facet junction, or culet.

Intended natural: A part of the rough diamond’s original surface that was left unpolished.

Chapter 2 - How to inspect diamonds

In this chapter, we are going to dive into clarity inspection. We will go over diamond clarity grading, what to look for when inspecting a diamond and how you can ensure that the one you plan to purchase is worth it.

The GIA clarity scale

Most of the diamond industry follows the GIA clarity scale. We will cover it from best to worst and separate it into groups so it would be easier to understand:

clarity grade description Example
Flawless (FL) FL and IF are flawless diamonds with no inclusions or blemishes visible under 10x magnification. 1.22 CARAT F-FL EXCELLENT CUT ROUND DIAMOND Open Full Image
Internally flawless (IF) No inclusions are visible, but some small blemishes may be visible under 10x magnification 1.01 CARAT H-IF TRUE HEARTSTM IDEAL DIAMOND Open Full Image
Very-very small inclusions 1 (VVS1) Inclusions are very difficult to see under 10x magnification even for trained eyes. 1.01 CARAT G-VVS1 TRUE HEARTSTM IDEAL DIAMOND Open Full Image
Very-very small inclusions 2 (VVS2) Inclusions are barley visible under 10x magnification, yet have slightly more inclusions than the VVS1 grade 1.08 CARAT H-VVS2 TRUE HEARTSTM IDEAL DIAMOND Open Full Image
Very small inclusions 1 (VS1) Inclusions are minor and can't be seen without 10x magnification. 1.03 CARAT H-VS1 TRUE HEARTSTM IDEAL DIAMOND Open Full Image
Very small inclusions 2 (VS2) Inclusions might be large enough in order to be easily noticeable under 10x magnification 1.00 CARAT H-VS2 TRUE HEARTSTM IDEAL DIAMOND Open Full Image
Small inclusions 1 (SI1) Inclusions are noticeable at 10x magnification and might be even seen by the naked eye 1.06 CARAT H-SI1 TRUE HEARTSTM IDEAL DIAMOND Open Full Image
Small inclusions 2 (SI2) Inclusions are easily seen under 10x magnification and sometimes visible to the naked eye 1.04 CARAT G-SI2 TRUE HEARTSTM IDEAL DIAMOND Open Full Image
Inclusions (I1, I2, I3) Inclusions are obvious under 10x magnification and visible to the naked eye 1.02 CARAT E-I1 TRUE HEARTSTM IDEAL DIAMOND Open Full Image

The five diamond clarity factors by GIA

Size: A larger inclusion is naturally more noticeable. For that reason, it is more likely to get a lower clarity grade. And so is the opposite: The smaller or less prominent an inclusion, the higher the possible clarity grade.

Number: As the number of the characteristics gets higher, considering whether the flaws are visible or not, the diamond is more likely to receive a lower grade.

Position: The location of the inclusion determines whether we see it or not. In that matter, if a flaw is located over the table, it is more visible to the naked eye. It’s also important to understand that inclusions can reflect multiple times and affect the total appearance. For example, one black dot over the table can reflect itself and show many black dots all over the diamond. That being said, an inclusion located over the side facets can be hidden from the naked eye, and it’s completely safe.

Nature: This factor assesses whether the characteristic is internal (inside the diamond) or external (over the surface).

Color and Relief: This factor measures how noticeable the characteristic is and how it blends with the total appearance of the diamond.

The GIA clarity plot

The GIA clarity plot is a diagram that shows the location of clarity characteristics in a diamond. We can use it as a map, guiding us to see the inclusions within the diamond and the blemishes on the diamond’s surface. Each characteristic is marked with a unique sign, which allows us to precisely know the type of inclusion.

Eye-clean diamonds Vs. non-eye-clean diamonds

After viewing all of the above, you might think you need to look for a high grade. In reality, you don’t.

If we inspect a diamond using no tool to magnify it, and it appears as a clean diamond, we call it an eye-clean diamond.

A low clarity eye-clean diamond will look similar to a flawless diamond for the naked eye if the color, carat, and cut are equal. As long as the object is small enough, we won’t notice any difference when judging with our bare eyes.

Not eye-clean Eye-clean

Non eye-clean diamond: 1.03 Carat G-SI2  ($5,270)

Eye-clean diamond: 1.08 Carat H-SI2 ($5,220)

Chapter 3 - Value for money

Want to learn how to save money or invest it in a larger diamond? This chapter is for you.

How clarity affects the price? (pricing comparison)

As you probably can guess, the higher the clarity grade, the higher the price. But is the premium price worth it? Depends on what you are looking for. Different customers have different priorities, but for those with a limited budget and looking for the best bang for the buck, the clarity factor should have a good balance compared to the other 4’cs (carat, color, cut). Don’t go higher if not needed. Remember that an eye-clean SI1 will look the same as a VVS2 for the naked eye.

Ready to play a game and test yourself? Watch the video below, start from 3:00

Why SI diamond and VS diamond might be better for you

While a clean VVS diamond sounds like a dream, you need to remember your goal: Buy the most beautiful diamond within your budget. It doesn’t matter whether it’s SI or VVS, as long as it appears clean to the naked eye. This way, you invest a higher portion of your budget in a larger diamond that shows more brilliance, fire, and sparkles.

To test if a diamond is eye clean, use the side bar on the right of the video to zoom out. Spin the diamond and try to notice the flaws. If you don’t see it, Congrats! You found an eye-clean diamond.

Are I1-I3 clarity grades good for diamond?

Generally speaking, I1-I3 grades are a big No-No. If we judge them with the GIA five clarity factors, we’ll see exactly why:

Size: I1-I3 have the most significant inclusions and blemishes, which are very noticeable and can be seen with a naked eye. Large inclusions might block light as it travels through the diamond and cause light leakage, with low brilliance and sparkles.

Number: Usually, there are at least 3 different characteristics visible to the naked eye.

Position: The characteristics are usually located over the table and different facets and reflect their color inside the diamond. So if there are black inclusions, it can cause a dull appearance with low light performance.

Nature: I1-I3 grades usually have both internal and external characteristics.

Color and Relief: The characteristics are easily noticeable and don’t blend with the total appearance of the diamond.

That being said, there are always exceptions. You might be able to come across an excellent I1-I3 diamond that will look clean to the naked eye (very rare). Moreover, some customers are interested in those diamonds because of their imperfections, giving them a “leopard” style.

How much to invest in clarity

One thing I love to say to my customers is, “Buy the most beautiful diamond within your budget.” Why do I say that? Well… Because you need to know your limit. Many customers are willing to stretch their budget just to have a higher clarity, even if it’s not noticeable to the naked eye.

Not every SI diamond is a good diamond. The larger the diamond, the easier it is to see the inclusions. For that reason, I recommend sticking with SI2-VS2 grades for diamonds below 2.00 carat. No need to go above that unless you prioritize clarity over other factors. Of course, it must be an excellent eye-clean diamond that shows brilliance and sparkle.

Diamond inclusion on different sizes
The larger you go, the easier it gets to notice the flaws

Larger diamonds with 2 carat and higher should have a minimum of VS2 grade and higher. The maximum clarity I recommend is VVS2 since there is no difference between it and significantly higher grades (VVS1-FL). Buying a VVS1 or higher is fine as long as you have enough room in your budget.

Again, ask yourself how much money are you willing to invest and what do you prioritize.

If you are interested in lab-grown diamonds, the minimum I suggest looking for is VS2. Lab diamonds are much more affordable; there is no reason for getting low clarity.

Chapter 4 - Diamond clarity buying tips

This chapter will give you a set of rules to follow: what to look for and avoid. After this, you’ll know how to pick the proper clarity and where to get the most valuable diamond within your budget.

Let’s go!

Diamond inspection

When inspecting a diamond, you always want to:

  1. See the diamond for yourself using high-quality video
  2. See the GIA/IGI/AGS certificate of the particular diamond you consider buying.

By checking the certificate of a specific diamond, you can find the section that gives a detailed description of the diamond’s flaws.

Inclusions and blemishes you must avoid

Several types of inclusions and blemishes can cause big problems. They can impact the diamond’s light performance, causing a light leakage, milky and hazy appearance with no brilliance and sparkle. Some may even risk the durability of the diamond.

Here is when you should have a red alert. The second you see one of the following flaws, just move to the next diamond:

  • Bearded Girdle
  • Bruise
  • Cavity
  • Chip
  • Indented natural
  • For SI diamonds, you should avoid getting Feather and clouds if it’s the first flaw that is mentioned in the comments

Characteristics location

If you go with SI2-VS1 diamonds, try to find a diamond with flaws located on the facets of the diamond and not on the table. This way, the jeweler might be able to hide it under the setting prongs.

Flaws over the facets

Hiding the flaws under the setting prongs

Proper inspecting conditions

When inspecting a diamond, it’s recommended to do it under natural light. This way, you can see the actual color and notice more details, such as the flaws of the diamond.

JamesAllen's Consistent Photography:

But in today’s world, there is a better and easier option.

Buying a diamond online gives you that critical option to actually see the diamond in a magnified 360 HD video. Even if you are not a diamond expert, you can quickly notice the flaws. The best video technology that allows you to inspect the diamond and feel safe that what you see it’s what you get is available only on this website. You can access it by clicking the link in the description

Chapter 5 - live research

In the following video, I give you a complete structure on how to do diamond research and how to find the best diamonds within your budget:

  • The largest diamond
  • The best balance between all factors
  • The premium option that shows the most brilliance, fire, and sparkle

You can watch me behind the shoulder and do your own research along with me.

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About the author: Yaniv Hadar

As a third-generation in the diamond industry, I’ve started my way in 2015 as a diamond photographer and seen hundreds of diamonds on a daily basis. Unlike other experts, I’ve had the opportunity to see any diamond you can think of: from the poorest to the rarest. Any size, any color. Using my knowledge and experience, I can show you how to pick the most valuable diamond for your budget while getting the most bang for your buck.

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