The Best Diamond Clarity: What You Get For Your Money

Has C become your favorite letter in the alphabet yet? No? Okay good cause its odd to have a favorite letter. Given the importance of Diamond Clarity as a major factor in determining diamond quality, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain how this fits into the 4 Cs of Diamonds and how to find a diamond with a good clarity.

So exactly is Diamond Clarity?

Natural diamonds are formed from extreme heat and pressure being applied to carbon elements in the earth’s crust and mantle, which can be 80 to 120 miles deep, exposing the diamonds intensely high levels of heat – upwards to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit, over millions of years. During this process, small imperfections can appear inside of a diamond and also on the surface, kind of like birth marks. Diamond clarity refers to the degree to which these imperfections are present. Two terms you’ll hear often when discussing diamond clarity are inclusions and blemishes:

  • Inclusions – Imperfections inside of a diamond
  • Blemishes – Imperfections on the surface of a diamond

So why is this relevant? Because these inclusions or blemishes can interfere with the path of light through the diamond, affecting the ability of light to reflect back up through the diamond’s table, thus affecting the diamond’s brilliance (or its sparkle). When a diamond cutter is provided with a rough stone, they do their best to cut the stone so these imperfections are not visible through the table, but even the best cutter can’t cut the stones to be completely flawless. So almost all diamonds have imperfections or blemishes, except for flawless diamonds – which are quite rare to find.  

A little Information on Inclusions

Every diamond is unique and inclusions are distributed differently from diamond to diamond. The location of the diamond inclusion can affect its appeal. In general, people tend to focus their attention towards the center of the object they’re looking at. So if a diamond has an inclusion that is located in the center, directly under the table facet, it becomes easily visible. Other inclusions are on the sides of diamonds, where they are much less noticeable and can even be covered by certain settings (such as prong setting). Also keep in mind that inclusions can in various forms – some inclusions have a shiny appearance, others transparent, some flat white, or even bold black. Again, if you’re looking at a diamond that is good, a diamond expert will be able to let you know how inclusions are positioned and what color they are. Quite often, you won’t be able to see this stuff with your naked eye.

So how do I gauge a diamond’s clarity?

It’s tough for the typical consumer to look at a diamond and be able to understand the nature of the imperfections in a diamond, and have a sense of those imperfections means in relation to other diamonds. To be honest, if you’re trying to become an expert on clarity just to buy an engagement ring, you’re probably going to waste a ton of time! I recommend you rely on the diamond agencies who provide a qualitative grading to the diamond based up on the imperfections (clarity grading ranges from Flawless to Included). Diamonds with higher clarity grades have fewer blemishes and inclusions (if any), and diamonds with lower clarity grades have obvious blemishes and inclusions. Clarity definitely impacts the monetary value of a diamond, however, without a trained eye, you can’t see the imperfections in diamonds. 

Diamond Clarity Chart

Almost all diamonds are graded within the classification created by GIA (also called a diamond clarity chart). Here is the clarity chart, along with a brief description of each grading.

Clarity GradeLevelDescription
FL (Best Clarity)FlawlessRarest Clarity grade, inclusions are not visible. Less than 1% of diamonds have this classification
IFInternally FlawlessNo inclusions or blemishes visible by a skilled grader under 10x magnification. Less than 3% of diamonds have this classification
VVS1Very, Very Slightly Included 1Inclusions very hard to find under 10x magnification. Experts can detect very minor inclusions only from pavilion (bottom)
VVS2Very, Very Slightly Included 2Inclusions just barely visible under 10x magnification. Experts can detect very minor inclusions from crown (the top of diamond)
VS1Very Slightly Included 1Minor inclusions barely visible under 10x magnification but not by naked eye.
VS2Very Slightly Included 2Minor inclusions clearly visible under 10x magnification but not by naked eye.
SI1Slightly Included 1Inclusions often visible to the naked eye without magnification
SI2Slightly Included 2Inclusions most likely visible to the naked eye from top (crown) and bottom (pavilion) without magnification
I1 - I3 (Worst Clarity)Included 1 - 3Inclusions clearly obvious to the naked eye

Which Grade of Diamond is Right for You?

Many people make the error of purchasing diamonds with clarity grades that are too high for their needs. For an engagement ring, you don’t need to pay extra for a diamond with exceptional clarity because unless you end up buying a very low clarity diamond (Low Clarity equals SI1 or below), the naked eye is not going to notice the difference. In other words, you can’t see imperfections for almost all diamonds with a clarity of VS2 and above, so why pay extra. Check out the prices between the two diamonds below which have the exact same characteristics – round, E color, very good polish, symmetry, 1 carat. Except the first one is VS2, the other one is VVS1.

Diamond #1 – Clarity VS2

Diamond Example #2 – VVS1

If you were to put both of these diamonds side by side, you wouldn’t notice that one was of higher clarity vs the other just by the naked eye. But under 10x magnification (using a jeweler’s loupe), you’d see that the first one (vs2) has inclusions visible as opposed to the second one (VVS1).  But let’s get real though, you’re not walking around with a loupe attached to your face, so who cares how it looks under 10x magnification, so you might as well pay $3500 less and get a diamond that looks the same as something more expensive. Keep this in mind when shopping for diamonds; you may be able to save a lot of money by choosing a diamond of lower grade which has inclusions, but not visible to the naked eye. In my opinion, the only time it makes sense to purchase a diamond with the high clarity grades is for investment purposes.

Tips for Diamond Buyers

  • Diamonds with clarity grades SI1 and below tend to have flaws which may be clearly visible by the naked eye. As opposed to diamonds with a clarity grade VS2 or greater which you have to work hard in order to find flaws in diamonds.
  • If you’re shopping around online, makes sure you find an online diamond store which offers superb photographs of their diamonds – we recommend James Allen.
  • You should be looking for a diamond which is “eye clean”, which means that flaws are not visible to the naked eye (assuming 20/20 vision) when viewed with the diamond face-up from a distance 6 – 12 inches away under normal lighting conditions – either daylight or fluorescent light.

Diamond Clarity Eye Clean Chart

Clarity GradeLevelEye Clean
FL
(Best Clarity)
FlawlessYes
IFInternally FlawlessYes
VVS1Very, Very Slightly Included 1Yes
VVS2Very, Very Slightly Included 2Yes
VS1Very Slightly Included 1Yes
VS2Very Slightly Included 2Generally Yes
SI1Slightly Included 1Generally No
SI2Slightly Included 2Generally No
I1 - I3
(Worst Clarity)
Included 1 - 3No
  • If you want something more affordable, such as an SI1 or SI2 diamond, make sure you buy from an online retailer that provides detailed photographs and make sure you chat with a customer service representative to confirm that the diamond is eye clean. Companies such as James Allen or Blue Nile should be able to tell you this.
  • Think about why you are buying, is it for beauty or for resale value? If you do want the diamond as an investment, go for a higher diamond clarity classification. Otherwise, choosing a higher-grade diamond may be buying more diamond that you need.

Learn About Clarity Enhanced Diamonds

While you’re looking for diamonds online, you may run across some gemstones which are marketed as “clarity enhanced diamonds”. These are diamonds which have imperfections which are “treated” in order to appear less noticeable or completely invisible through a process called fracture filling. Think of this the way dentists fill cavities, which are essentially inclusions inside of a tooth. The fillings are used to mask the diamond’s imperfections, improving the clarity to make it give it a higher clarity grade. Most clarity enhanced diamonds were I1, I2 or I3 classifications prior to being enhanced. I personally think it’s a waste of money to buy clarity enhanced diamond as I believe in buying the real thing, especially when it comes to buying something of great value. Of course some people don’t care that the diamond may not be 100% natural, in which case these may not be a bad option as the price of the enhanced diamond is not greater than what it was before. How do you know if the diamond was clarity enhanced? Well GIA will not issue lab reports for clarity enhanced diamonds, so if you see a diamond without a certification attached to it, you can inquire if it has been clarity enhanced. Beware of untrustworthy jewelers who may try to pull a fast one by you. The reality is that if you buy online, you’ll be buying a diamond engagement ring or diamond jewelry with ample buyer protection. The only grading agency that will grade a clarity enhanced diamond is “EGL” – if a diamond previously of I2 clarity was enhanced to be made into SI2, EGL will put SI2 on the certificate with a footnote denoting that it has been enhanced.

PhD’s Conclusion

The bottom line is that diamond clarity can greatly affect the price of a diamond. If you’re buying a diamond engagement ring or diamond jewelry and are confined to a budget (which most of us are!), I recommend you purchase a diamond with the lowest clarity that is still “eye clean”. Some websites will designate if a diamond is “eye-clean”. If the website doesn’t, be sure to look for clear, full-color photographs of professional quality and make sure you reach out to a diamond expert online to ask questions. If you’re buying a diamond for investment purposes, stay above a clarity level of VVS2.