Diamond clarity is one of the 4Cs of diamonds, along with color, cut, and carat. It’s a metric that refers to the number of inclusions or imperfections that are present in the diamond, and it has a significant effect on both a diamond’s appearance and price.
Part of our “Diamonds 101” series, this guide will help you get acquainted with the intricacies of diamond clarity and give you tips on how to choose the best clarity grade for your budget.
Key takeaway box
- Diamond clarity determines how many inclusions or imperfections are present in a diamond, like crystals, feathers, clouds, and graining.
- The GIA diamond clarity scale grades diamonds based on the size, location, and visibility of their flaws. The diamond clarity scale ranges from Flawless (no inclusions) to Included (inclusions visible to the naked eye).
- ‘Eye clean’ describes a diamond where flaws can’t be seen with the naked eye. To many, this is a key watermark to aim for.
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 to measure the rarity of a diamond.
Very few diamonds have no imperfections, 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.
The bigger issue with inclusions is if they are easily visible when a diamond is examined.
While severe inclusions may affect the beauty of a diamond, 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 (GIA) clarity scale is the industry standard for grading diamonds based on the size, location, and visibility of their flaws. The diamond clarity scale has six categories and eleven grades in total, ranging from Flawless (FL) to Included (I1-I3):
Definitions of each are grade are below:
- FL – Flawless diamonds are free from any blemishes or diamond inclusions, even when viewed under 10x magnification. The rarest and most expensive option on the diamond clarity scale.
- IF – Internally Flawless diamonds have no visible inclusions, but may have small external imperfections that an expert can find when viewed under 10x magnification. Someone who isn’t a diamond expert would likely struggle to see the blemishes, even using a microscope.
- VVS1 – Very Very Slightly Included 1 diamonds have tiny inclusions that only experienced gemologists can spot under 10x magnification.
- VVS2 – Very Very Slightly Included 2 diamonds have more inclusions than VVSI1 diamonds, but they are incredibly difficult to locate under 10x magnification, with the exception of experienced gemologists.
- VS1 – Very Slightly Included 1 – diamonds have tiny inclusions and imperfections, but they’re not visible unless viewed under 10x magnification.
- VS2 – Very Slightly Included 2 diamonds have inclusions that are easily noticeable under 10x magnification, but they remain eye-clean.
- SI1 – Slightly Included. The inclusions within the diamonds are now slightly heaver and easy to see, even my a non-expert using a microscope.
- SI2 – Slightly Included. Inclusions and blemishes are now noticeable to the naked eye can be spotted immediately by a diamond grader, even without a microscope.
- Included (I1, I2, I3) diamonds contain blemishes and inclusions that are clearly perceptible to the naked eye and apparent under 10x magnification. Not many diamonds used in engagement rings are in the ‘Included’ range.
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 flaws cannot be seen by the naked eye.
When a diamond is being worn in jewellery, 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.
For example, the diamond below has been graded ‘SI1’, but the inclusions are tucked away on the left hand side and would be very difficult, if not impossible, to see once mounted in a ring:
Diamonds in the VS2 – SI1 range should be examined on a case-by-case basis to see whether they are indeed eye-clean, it’s often not safe to rely on the grading report score.
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.
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 colors, 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 examine it for the type, location and severity of inclusions. However, it’s still a good idea for you to review a diamond’s clarity too.
If you are looking online, many diamond retailers provide magnified images of diamonds to allow you to assess the clarity for yourself.
If you are viewing diamonds in person, you can use a microscope or a jeweller’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.
How Diamond Clarity Price
Diamond clarity is one of the key factors that determine the price of a diamond, in addition to the other three Cs (cut, color, and carat).
The closer a diamond is to being Flawless on the clarity scale, the more expensive it will be. Diamonds with higher clarity grades, like Flawless and Internally Flawless, are extremely rare, which is why they’re significantly more expensive than diamonds that rank lower on the clarity scale.
Let’s compare the price of two diamonds with the same cut, color, and carat specifications but different clarity to see just how much difference clarity makes.
This 1-carat, G color round diamond with an excellent cut and IF clarity is priced at $7.070:
If we find a VS2 diamond with identical carat weight, cut grade and color, we can see it’s priced at $4,130:
If we revisit the definition of VS2, it is: “Diamonds have inclusions that are easily noticeable under 10x magnification, but they remain eye-clean.”
This diamond should have no inclusions visible to the naked eye, but costs $8,000 less than the Internally Flawless diamond above.
Finally, an SI2 clarity diamond with the same carat weight, cut grade, and color has a significantly lower price of $2,030:
This time, the inclusions on this diamond would be visible to the naked eye.
The table below demonstrates the pricing difference between diamonds with the same specifications as before but with different clarity ranges found at the local, Australian retailer:
|Clarity grade||Approx price||% difference|
Plotting these prices on a graph can make it easier to see the size of the difference between the clarity grades:
Significant savings can be made by choosing a lower clarity grade which won’t affect the appearance of the diamond when mounted in jewellery.
Clarity in Lab-Grown vs. Natural Diamonds
Every major diamond grading organisation recognises the same clarity rating scale and both natural and lab-grown diamonds are graded using the same diamond clarity scale, ranging from Flawless to Included.
Where they differ, however, is in the types of inclusions they are likely to contain.
Natural diamonds display the types of inclusions we explored above, such as feathers, crystals, clouds, and pinpoints. These are formed over millions of years and come from the intense heat and pressure that the carbon undergoes when transforming into a diamond.
Unlike natural diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are created in a controlled environment. However, this doesn’t mean that they have no inclusions.
While lab-grown diamonds often have fewer inclusions and blemishes than natural diamonds, and therefore a higher average clarity grade than natural diamonds, lab-grown diamonds typically have inclusions relating to their manufacturing process. These can differ depending on the manufacturing technique used.
- Lab diamonds grown using High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) method may display metallic inclusions from the catalyst used in the growing process.
- Lab-grown diamonds grown using the Chemical Vapor Disposition (CVD) method may also contain striation lines that are caused by slight changes in the growing conditions.
Additionally, lab-grown diamonds are also prone to ‘dendritic remnants’, which are inclusions with tree-like patterns that occur as a result of flux being trapped in the growing crystal. So, while lab-grown diamonds aren’t inherently flawless, the number of inclusions they have depends on the specific conditions under which they were created.
Things to Consider When Choosing Clarity Grade
When it comes to the ‘best’ clarity grade, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Every diamond buyer will have different tastes, preferences, expectations, and a different budget to work with.
The ‘best’ diamond clarity grade can depend on the following factors.
- The size and the shape of a diamond: larger diamonds often need a higher clarity grade to ensure that inclusions aren’t visible.
- The setting and style of the ring: some settings and styles can either mitigate or accentuate the flaws and inclusions in a diamond. For instance, if the inclusions are present near the edge of a diamond, they can easily be hidden by the prong of the ring setting.
- The personal taste and preference of the buyer and the recipient: some buyers are set on purchasing a flawless diamond, whereas others don’t mind if the diamond has inclusions that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
- Budget and value for money: each buyer has a different budget to work with. Some aim to maximise their budget by opting for a lower clarity grade that is eye-clean.
When deciding on the clarity grade for your diamond, it’s important to consider the balance you wish to achieve between clarity, color, and carat weight. Reducing the weight of a diamond allows you to allocate more of your budget towards enhancing other qualities, like clarity and cut.
Equally, if the weight of the diamond is important to you and you have a specific budget in mind, it might be worthwhile to consider lowering the clarity grade.
Let’s take a look at this G color 1-carat round diamond with an Excellent cut. If you purchase it with an IF clarity, it will cost you $6,340.
If you decide to compromise on the clarity and opt for something lower on the diamond clarity scale, like VS2 clarity, you could get a diamond that’s 0.22 carat larger but actually costs less:
This diamond should also be ‘eye clean’, meaning that you have a stone that looks significantly larger, for the same price.
Diamond Clarity in USA: What You Need To Know
In the United States, retailers usually use the GIA International Diamond Grading System to determine the clarity of a diamond.
As we already covered, GIA’s scale includes a total of 11 grades, ranging from Flawless to Included.
When buying from a brick-and-mortar retailer, look at the diamond with both a magnifying device e.g. a microscope or a jeweller’s loupe and with the naked eye to get a better glimpse of the clarity. If you’re buying from an online retailer and you’re looking to purchase a diamond clarity of VS2 or below, look for the magnified imagery to ensure that the diamond is eye-clean. Avoid buying a diamond with VS2 clarity or below without seeing an image of the individual diamond.
Things to Watch Out For When Considering Diamond Clarity
Now that we’ve covered all the essentials about diamond clarity, let’s go over some things to watch out for when contemplating a diamond’s clarity grade.
- Some types of diamond inclusions can make the diamond more prone to damage, especially if they’re located near the edge of the diamond. Before purchasing a diamond, review the diamond clarity chart on its grading report and take note of where they’re located.
- The color of the inclusions can have an impact on a diamond’s appearance – if a diamond has clear or white inclusions, they’ll be much harder to spot than darker inclusions.
- ‘Eye clean’ means that inclusions aren’t visible from a distance of 10 inches, which is similar to how closely a person might examine a diamond when set into a ring. A supposedly ‘eye clean’ diamond may therefore have inclusions that can be seen with the naked eye when viewed very closely.
Choosing the best diamond clarity grade for your needs and budget can be tricky, and it’s important to strike a balance between the 4Cs that feels right for you. Choosing the higher or lower end of the grading scale for any one of the 4Cs will affect how much of your budget you have available to spend on the others.
One final point to consider when it comes to diamond clarity is whether you feel it’s worth allocating a significant proportion of your budget to a higher clarity grade if the inclusions aren’t visible to the naked eye.
We encourage you to research and familiarise yourself with the other Cs to find the exact diamond you’re looking for according to your preferences.