No two diamonds are alike. These wondrous gems are unique in so many ways that it would be impossible to find two exactly the same. This is because each diamond exhibits its own unique markings, which occur naturally while the gemstone forms deep within the Earth’s crust. These identifiers are the diamond’s fingerprints, birthmarks, inclusions, or flaws. Whatever word you choose, the official term is “clarity characteristics”. Clarity is one of the 4C’s, and therefore an important factor in the valuation of a diamond. But what does diamond clarity mean, and how does it impact the value of your diamond?
What is diamond clarity?
Whether you’ve looked at a diamond so clear you could see your reflection in it, or seen a diamond so peppered with spots it looked like the milky way, you’re experiencing a diamond’s clarity. There are many characteristics both on the inside and on the surface of a diamond which could affect its clarity. So what is the best diamond clarity and how is it defined? The less imperfections the diamond has, the better its clarity would be. Inclusions are natural flaws located inside the diamond and might be the result of overwhelming heat and pressure that the gemstone experienced during its formation. Other inclusions are the result of foreign materials getting caught in the diamond growth. Examples of inclusions are crystals, feathers, black carbon spots, and graining. Blemishes that appear on the outside of a diamond are usually the result of human wear and tear. Blemishes include chips, abrasions, and surface scratches. When gemologists grade a diamond’s clarity, the size, type, number, and position of these imperfections all matter.
How is diamond clarity graded?
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) follows a series of strict criteria for clarity grading, and it is all conducted under an industry standard 10x microscope. Diamonds which, without a loupe or a microscope, have undetectable imperfections are referred to by gemologists as eye-clean. These diamonds are more expensive because their flaws haven’t altered the stone’s natural beauty. Diamonds with large imperfections that are easily visible to the naked eye are less desirable. Their flaws have an impact on the look, and therefore the value of a stone. However, there are many diamonds which fall somewhere in between these two categories. Let’s explore all the different ways a diamond’s clarity can be graded below.
What is the best diamond clarity according to the scale?
Flawless, Internally Flawless, & Very Very Slightly Included Diamonds
Flawless (FL) diamonds sit at the very top of the clarity grading scale. Truly flawless diamonds with no visible inclusions or blemishes at 10x magnification are extremely rare, and proportionally expensive.
Internally Flawless (IF) diamonds are next in line and are impossible to differentiate between FL diamonds without the aid of a powerful microscope. IF diamonds contain no internal inclusions but have a miniscule blemish somewhere on the surface. This means that the diamond was originally FL, but experienced a misfortunate chip or scratch by human err sometime after its formation. Following suit are Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2) diamonds, which contain nearly invisible inclusions such as pinpoints, needles, and graining.
Very Slightly Included & Slightly Included Diamonds
Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2) diamonds have very small flaws that are hard, but not impossible, to detect with the naked eye. Some examples of VS diamond imperfections may include black carbon spots, crystals, and feathers. Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2) diamonds feature many of the same imperfections as a VS stone. What differentiates the two clarity grades is the number, size, position, and type of inclusions. For example, a diamond can have a single carbon spot and be considered a VS stone. However, if that same spot were located at an angle which, like a funhouse mirror, reflected onto other facets, multiplying the spot, it could be SI. VS and SI diamonds are very popular in the US because these grades fall into a market sweet spot; they are less expensive than the microscopically clearer diamonds because they do contain some imperfections, but the flaws are so minimal to the untrained eye that it can feel like having a VVS diamond without the high price tag, thus giving consumers a bigger bang for their buck at purchase.
Included (I1, I2, and I3) diamonds are the lowest and least desirable grade on the clarity scale. This is mainly because the inclusions are so numerous and visible, and can even affect the way light flows inside the stone, that the natural beauty and brilliance of the diamond is severely impaired.
Clarity versus appearance
On the other hand, it’s important to note that not all clarity grades are created equal. A relatively high-clarity diamond, like a VS2, could have a small crystal directly under the largest facet, called the table, and although the diamond has a high clarity grade, its appearance is affected by this rather noticeable spot. Meanwhile, an SI1 diamond with a few small crystals hidden near the outside edge, or girdle, of the stone might have imperfections that are nearly invisible to the naked eye. This SI diamond would be less valuable based on its GIA clarity grade, yet its overall appearance is more esthetically pleasing than the VS2. Bargain hunters can also find diamonds that may appear at the borderline between SI2 and I1, where the imperfections, while obvious enough when graded, don’t severely impact the diamond’s beauty.
We should also consider the shape of the diamond. Imperfections will be more apparent in brilliant-cut stones, such as Round brilliants, Cushions, and Radiants, than they are in other diamond shapes, such as Emerald and Asscher cuts. A VS inclusion in an Asscher cut may be more visible than an SI inclusion in a Radiant cut diamond. The cutting styles in Emerald cuts and Asschers use large, flat facets which act like magnifying mirrors, making even small inclusions detectable with the unaided eye. For these shapes, imperfections may be quite noticeable even at the VS level. And while shape and clarity are important factors of a diamond’s brilliance, only the combination of all 4C’s will ultimately define the beauty of the stone.
How are diamond clarity and value related?
If you want to know the value of your diamond, understanding its clarity is important. As mentioned above, the GIA is an excellent resource to grade your stone. But while a Diamond Grading Report is always helpful, it may not always be necessary when selling your diamond. Mondiamo’s team of Graduate Gemologsits inspect each diamond we receive to assess its color, cut, fluorescence, brilliance, symmetry, and of course, its clarity. Evaluating the diamond visually is necessary when making an offer to maximize the price for your diamond when you’re ready to sell. Try Mondiamo’s free and insured shipping service today and see for yourself the difference between getting “fair” value and getting a great purchase offer.