If you’ve ever heard the term “crystal clear,” then you already know just what level of transparency people expect from their gemstones while shopping for engagement rings. And diamonds may be the quintessential example. Here, we look at what factors can affect diamond clarity and how to use a diamond clarity chart to understand better what to expect from your stone.
As a general rule, people want their diamonds to be completely translucent — like still spring water, or clean, unscratched glass. However, the reality is that diamonds come in several different levels of clarity, ranging from essentially flawless to downright cloudy. Diamond clarity refers to the presence or absence of inclusions and blemishes in a diamond, and light plays a large role too.
The Role of Light in Diamond Clarity
In order for any diamond to sparkle, there must be light. When you look at a diamond the sparkle you see comes from the light around. That light is reflected, refracted, and dispersed back to your eyes. But what exactly do these terms mean?
Reflection sends light directly to our eyes from the surface of the diamond, much like a mirror.
Refraction bends the light that passes through the stone. It then sends that light back to our eyes, creating the diamond’s “sparkle.”
Dispersion causes the rainbow of colors you see. Essentially, it breaks down pure white light, like a prism, into a mini-rainbow. This effect is called scintillation. And it should never be confused with the “color” of a diamond.
Flaws in diamond clarity affect the amount of light coming back to our eyes results in less sparkle, fire, and scintillation.
The GIA Clarity Scale
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is a respected nonprofit organization that acts as the foremost authority on diamonds and other gems. To help educate buyers and establish standards throughout the diamond industry, GIA has created a diamond clarity grade scale for classifying diamond clarity.
This scale categorizes diamonds based on the number of inclusions (internal characteristics) and blemishes (external characteristics) present in a stone; the fewer, less noticeable the inclusions and blemishes are, the higher the diamond’s clarity grade will be. Additionally, this scale applies to both natural diamonds and lab grown diamonds.
Clarity Grades: Descriptions
As one of the 4 C’s of diamonds (along with cut, color, and carat weight), clarity is an essential factor in determining overall diamond quality. As such, the GIA diamond clarity scale is designed to grade a diamond’s clarity on a sliding scale. This sliding scale is based on the number of internal clarity characteristics the diamond exhibits.
The GIA diamond clarity scale consists of 11 different grades, which we detail here in descending order of value:
Flawless is the best diamond clarity grade a diamond can receive. FL (flawless) diamonds are, for all intents and purposes, perfect in terms of clarity. A flawless diamond means that there are no inclusions or blemishes visible to the naked eye or under 10x magnification.
Nearly as prized as FL diamonds, IF (internally flawless) diamonds feature no internal inclusions visible up to 10x magnification. However, they may still have slight blemishes on the surface.
VVS (very, very slightly included) is a grade consisting of two sub-ratings. VVS1 is the higher of these sub-ratings; it describes diamonds that feature only those inclusions that are difficult to see even under 10x magnification.
VVS2 diamonds have slightly more visible inclusions than VVS1 diamonds but are still completely clear to the naked eye.
The VS (very slightly included) grade also consists of two sub-ratings. VS1 diamonds feature inclusions that are minor but may be easier for a skilled grader to identify under 10x magnification.
Inclusions in VS2 diamonds are more visible under 10x magnification but can still be considered minor.
SI (slightly included) likewise consists of two sub-ratings. The SI1 grade is for stones with inclusions that are somewhat observable by skilled graders under 10x magnification.
SI2 diamonds are those that have inclusions that are clearly observable under 10x magnification. Depending on the size and location of these inclusions, they may also be somewhat observable by the naked eye.
Finally, the lowest positions on the GIA diamond clarity chart are occupied by the I (included) grades. I1 diamonds are very obvious under 10x magnification. They will likely also feature inclusions or blemishes that are visible to the naked eye.
Blemishes and inclusions in I2 diamonds are clearly visible to the naked eye. They may affect the overall transparency of the diamond itself.
On the diamond clarity chart, I3 diamonds are those that feature several observable inclusions and/or blemishes, often taking on a dull or opaque appearance as a result.
Factors in Determining Diamond Clarity Rating
Every diamond is different and no diamond is 100% perfect. The impact a diamond’s impurities have on its grade depends on five different factors:
Number of Inclusions
How many individual clarity characteristics are there present in the diamond? A higher number of inclusions and/or blemishes will generally result in a lower rating, though less visible inclusions will have less of an impact.
Size of Inclusions
Larger impurities are naturally more conspicuous. At the same time, these significant flaws may represent structural weaknesses in the diamond itself, potentially affecting the stone’s overall durability.
Even among similarly-sized inclusions, not every flaw is as prominent as every other. Relief describes how distinct any inclusions or blemishes appear compared to the rest of the diamond, with greater relief having a greater impact on the clarity rating.
Nature of Inclusions
The nature of a flaw is descriptive of whether the flaw exists on the surface (blemish) or within the diamond’s internal structure (inclusion).
Position of Inclusions
The last factor to consider is the location of any flaws on, or within, the diamond. Generally speaking, inclusions that are closer to the center of the diamond’s table are more likely to hurt the overall clarity rating.
Diamond Blemishes vs Inclusions
You may hear people use the term “flaws” to describe blemishes both on the surface and inside of a diamond. But blemishes and inclusions are not the same.
In reality, blemishes and inclusions are no more flaws than freckles on your skin. All diamonds–whether mined or lab created diamonds–have them to varying degrees. How visible they are and how much they affect the passage of light through the diamond determine how much they affect the value of the stone.
Blemishes Sit on the Diamond’s Surface
Old-fashioned trade terms like “feathers,” “clouds,” “eye clean,” or even “carbon” can be both incorrect and confusing as they are often applied without consistent meaning and/or definition. Simply put: blemishes, no matter the type or source, occur on the surface of the stone.
Inclusions Are Within the Stone
While blemishes are on the diamond’s surface, diamond inclusions are within the stone. And between the two, inclusions can affect a diamond’s brilliance the most.
Some types of inclusions include crystal inclusions (minerals or crystals trapped in the structure of a diamond), as well as carbon inclusions. The larger and more noticeable an inclusion is, the more it may impact the passage of light. Inclusions directly impact and decrease the value of the diamond.
Where Do Inclusions and Blemishes Come From?
Flaws that affect clarity are often the result of the diamond’s natural formation processes. The extreme heat and pressure that transforms pure carbon into a tightly packed crystal lattice of atoms may take potentially millions (or even billions) of years to produce a diamond.
During that process, other minerals, crystals, non-crystalline carbon, or even smaller diamonds may become trapped within the expanding diamond structure. Small fractures within the diamond may also occur. These internal impurities result in inclusions that may lead to a lower grade on the GIA clarity scale.
It’s also worth noting that even in lab created diamonds certain types of inclusions or other imperfections may form.
Alternatively, blemishes that exist on the diamond’s surface usually occur long after the diamond has formed, and may be the result of errors in cutting or mounting the diamond. Blemishes may include polish lines, extra facets, chips or scratches from mishandling, or even burns.
Tips for Shopping for Diamond Clarity
Clarity is an important factor when shopping for a diamond, but it’s not the only factor to consider. There are many elements that determine what makes the perfect diamond, not the least of which is price. Here, we offer a few diamond-clarity shopping tips to keep in mind, so that you can save on budget without losing out on quality.
Don’t Overpay for What You Can’t See
If you look back at our descriptions of the different diamond clarity grades, you may notice that inclusions aren’t visible to the naked eye until you get into the SI rankings.
So unless you’re buying a stone for a diamond expert, in most cases you’re going to be fine with a VS diamond (rather than springing for something with a VVS, IF, or FL rating). You will still have a beautiful diamond ring.
Use Fancy Shapes to Maximize Clarity
Different diamond shapes may have an effect on the stone’s perceived clarity because they will show different internal or external flaws. Small round-cut diamonds (under one carat) are usually don’t have visible inclusions at SI1 and above, while larger stones will make the inclusions in SI and VS grades more visible.
VS2 or SI1 grades are generally fine for heart-shaped diamonds, which tend to hide inclusions better than round diamonds. Princess, radiant, marquise, oval, cushion or pear-shaped diamonds hide inclusions even more effectively, making SI1 and SI2 grades both viable options.
Finally, emerald and Asscher-shaped diamonds can highlight imperfections; to maximize value, stick with the VS2 grade when shopping for these diamond shapes.
Trust Your Eyes (But Be Thorough)
At the end of the day, it’s your eyes that are going to have to make the final decision on diamond clarity so don’t feel as though you have to stick to a chart. An “eye-clean” diamond will bring you or your loved one joy for years to come, so don’t get too hung up on ratings or grades once you’ve found something you like.
Just make sure that you inspect your diamond before you commit; if diamonds are forever, then so are any inclusions that you might overlook. Online diamond stores often provide detailed images of every stone they have available. They may also offer virtual appointments where buyers can meet with a diamond expert to view specific stones.
High-Quality Clarity from Clean Origin
The GIA diamond clarity chart is designed to help buyers understand diamond clarity issues, and how they affect the overall value of the stone. Clean Origin is dedicated to ensuring that your diamond carries with it all of the beauty and sparkle you’d expect, which is why all Clean Origin diamonds are SI clarity grade or higher.
And because Clean Origin diamonds are lab created, you can shop secure in the knowledge that your diamond is not only ethical but also chemically identical to mined diamonds, at prices that are 20-30% lower.
Shop Clean Origin lab grown diamonds, and see for yourself! When it comes to finding the right diamond, the choice is crystal clear.
Your diamond’s clarity is a big player in how much it sparkles. And although clarity grade is just one of the 4Cs used to rate a diamond, it has a big impact on its value overall. Before you shop, be sure to review this helpful diamond clarity chart. It will help you get the best value for your money.