Diamond Clarity – A PriceScope Guide

Diamond Clarity Basics

 

What is diamond clarity?

Clarity refers to the existence of internal and external imperfections that characterize an individual diamond. A diamond’s clarity determines value, along with the other 4 Cs of Carat Weight, Cut, and Color. You may also hear clarity referred to as “purity” or “quality” in the diamond trade. Diamonds with perfect clarity are very rare, as most diamonds will have microscopic inclusions or blemishes.

As diamonds form naturally in the earth over millions of years, other materials can grow or become trapped in the diamond during their formation. However, in many cases the changes have a negative effect on the diamond; white and black crystals, pits and cracks…there are lots of ways that inclusions and blemishes impact on the appearance of a diamond. These flaws are most readily seen in I clarity diamonds and below.

Centenary Diamond
The Centenary Diamond
273.85 carats – D Color, Flawless Clarity
©De Beers Group

 

How important is diamond clarity?

Clarity has a big impact on price. and the higher the color the more clarity grades raise prices Choosing the right clarity for your diamond will involve finding a balance between beauty and budget. In terms of the Four C’s, clarity is extremely important, as an unfortunately positioned inclusions can have hugely detrimental effect on the light performance of the diamond. Without the intense fire and sparkling brilliance and diamond can look flat and dull. Heavily included diamonds give almost no light return; no light return means no sparkle!

It is important to note that opting for a high clarity will not guarantee a beautiful diamond. You must consider all of the Four C’s, which should work together in harmony to bring your diamond to life. The mistake many buyers make is placing all of their emphasis of carat weight. A big diamond can be a thing of exceptional beauty, however a high carat weight combined with a poor cut quality/low color grade/low clarity grade will give disappointing results.

Cut should always be placed top of the list when it comes to diamond quality – the cut is essentially the key to unleashing the optical properties of the diamond.

There are many reasons why people choose higher clarity diamonds over those with lower clarity. In some cultures, higher clarity is symbolic of purity, and higher clarity diamonds are certainly rarer, but for many, a medium clarity diamond is desirable. The choice is yours.

 

What are the different diamond clarity grades?

There are competing grading labs, the two leading gemological institutes in the USA are the GIA and AGS. In Asia IGI is big and for lab-grown IGI and GCA are the most commonly seen. Below you will see the clarity grading system developed by GIA.

F – Flawless

Flawless diamonds show no inclusions or external blemishes at 10X magnification.

IF – Internally Flawless

IF diamonds show no inclusions at 10X magnification, but they may show very subtle external blemishes that could be removed with minor repolishing.

VVS1 and VVS2 – Very Very Slightly Included

VVS1 and VVS2 diamonds have very minute inclusions that are exceedingly difficult to see at 10X magnification. You won’t see inclusions with your naked eye, and they will be difficult to find with a microscope or a loupe. Click for more pictures and video of VVS1 and VVS2 clarity diamonds.

VVS1 VVS2 Diamond Clarity
Very, Very Slight – VVS

VS1 and VS2 – Very Slightly Included

VS1 and VS2 diamonds have minor inclusions that are seen under 10X magnification, but inclusions typically cannot be seen without the aid of a loupe or microscope. Click for more pictures and video of VS1 and VS2 clarity diamonds.

VS1 VS2 Diamond Clarity
Very Slight – VS

SI1 and SI2 – Slightly Included

SI1 and SI2 diamonds have inclusions that are noticeable under 10X magnification, and inclusions may be eye-visible. The degree of visibility varies with SI clarity diamonds. Click for more pictures and video of SI1 and SI2 clarity diamonds. Some Vs2 and SI diamond that appear to have very few inclusions under magnification can have clouds or internal graining that dull the passage of light.

SI1 SI2 Diamond Clarity
Slightly Included – SI

I1, I2, and I3 – Included (In Europe P for Pique pronounced PeeKay)

Included stones have obvious inclusions at 10X magnification, and depending on the degree, included diamonds will have obvious eye visible inclusions. In this category, durability may also be compromised by inclusions. Click for more pictures and video of I1, I2, I3 clarity diamonds.

I1 I2 I3 Diamond Clarity
Imperfect – I (Pique – P)
*Fun Fact – Did you know that approximately 1 in 100 people can see VS2 inclusions? If you are one of these nearsighted individuals, then you may prefer a VS1 clarity diamond…or you can always wait a decade until your ability to focus up-close drops away. 😉

 

How is diamond clarity graded?

Expert gemmologists will examine the diamond under a high-power microscope and by eye in optimum viewing conditions. To determine the diamond clarity grade, they will consider the following factors:

Size – What size is the inclusion?

Quantity – How many inclusions?

Type – What kind of inclusion? Feathers, crystals, pinpoints, needles, and clouds are examples of different types of inclusions.

Color or Relief (reflectivity) – How much does an inclusion stand out from the diamond?

Placement – Where is the inclusion located within the diamond?

However, it would be impossible to include all the information about how each of these variants affect the other. For example, an inclusion in the table of the diamond may be dark black, or it could be almost clear. Generally, a lab will focus on the size of the inclusion when the diamond is graded. This is actually good news for buyers. A diamond may receive a lower clarity grade but be eye-clean, which we will look at shortly.

* Top Tip… Don’t get caught up in carat weight! A big diamond in weight may be smaller in diameter and doesn’t always mean a beautiful diamond. Invest your money in a good cut, color and clarity to yield the best results from your diamond.

 

Do Different Labs have Different Clarity Grades?

In the 1950s, the clarity grades F, VVS, VS, SI, and I were established by GIA from terms already used in the diamond trade. All labs use the same grade names, but some labs use variations and different systems. For example, AGS uses a numerical grading scale. Here is AGS lab’s approximate clarity grading equivalents. For more information visit: AGS Laboratories

  • AGS 0 = GIA FL and IF
  • AGS 1 and 2 = GIA VVS1and VVS2
  • AGS 3 and 4 = GIA VS1 and VS2
  • AGS 5 and 6 = GIA SI1 and SI2
  • AGS 7,8,9,10 = GIA I1, I2, and I3

 

Some European and other international gem labs use the term “Pique” (pronounced Peekay) for the Included grades – using the abbreviations P1, P2, and P3, rather than I1, I2, and I3.

For more information from different diamond grading labs, visit EGL USA, EGL , HRD Antwerp, and IGI. Generally these labs will apply the same strictness or a grade higher than GIA.

 

What is SI3?

EGL and EGL USA introduced an SI3 grade in 1992. Because of the big price difference between I1 and SI2, many dealers used SI3 for decades. The World Federation of Diamond Bourses wants labs to introduce SI3, and most refuse, but many have softened their SI2 grades.

* Note – Ultimately diamond grading reports are just “expert opinions” under 10 power magnification. Even GIA has given different clarity grades for the same diamond. Remember, humans are still performing a lot of the grading of clarity in the labs, and while they are highly skilled, there will be a certain level of subjectivity among graders. Now Clarity grades are mostly done with machine assistance and GIA inscribes with a GIA number.

Clarity Grading Plots

Grading reports above 1 ct have inclusion plots. (marked in red for internal and green for external features) They are useful for identification. Often only the main “grade makers” are plotted, and additional inclusions are listed in comments; “pin points not shown” etc. Most GIA graded diamonds under 1 ct have a dossier report and for identification, GIA insists on a laser inscribed number on the girdle.

A worrying comment is “Clouds Not Shown,” because a cloud drawn on plots can look so bad that no one would buy the diamond. Clouds are only a problem on VS2  and lower clarity diamonds if no other inclusion is marked on the plot, i.e. the cloud is the grade maker. Big clouds can dull the diamond. Interna graining can have the same effect as clouds..

 

I1 Clarity Diamond PlotI1 Clarity Diamond
(left) clarity grading plot of an I1 clarity diamond (right)
photos courtesy of Russian Gemology Center

There are different kinds of inclusions and blemishes that can affect a diamond. Feathers are one of the most common diamond inclusions. Diamond feathers are not necessarily a cause for alarm. Remember that diamond inclusions should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. We asked several participating diamond appraisers and diamond cutters to give us their analysis of feathers.

Expert opinions can be found in this article: Diamond Feather Inclusions: A Durability Risk?

What is an “Eye Clean” Diamond?

Eye clean is a trade term that is used to describe diamonds that do not show inclusions without the aid of a loupe or microscope. The term is a subjective one, as people will have varying vision levels and personal tolerances for inclusions. Pricescope did a survey asking trade members to define eye clean. The consensus is:

No inclusions visible to the unaided eye when viewed from the face up position in daylight equivalent or fluorescent lighting from approximately 6-12 inches from the eye using 20/20 vision.

You can read about eye-clean diamonds  here: What is an Eye Clean Diamond?

What Diamond Clarity Grade Should I Choose?

The most popular clarities PriceScope forum members recommend are VS2 and SI1 for round diamonds and VS1 to VS2 for step cut diamonds like emerald cuts or much larger diamonds. There are two schools of thought when it comes to choosing the right clarity grade for your diamond. The first of these is to go for the super-high grades (VVS2 – IF) as a way of guaranteeing that there will be no impactful inclusions. Although this makes sense, the truth is that these diamonds will carry huge price tags and the difference between them will only be seen in the price. You will not be able to see a noticeable difference between a VVS2 and an IF diamond, for example. The grades are simply too high to differentiate between by human eye (even for an expert). A high diamond clarity does not immediately mean a good investment. As well as considering the other properties of a diamond, remember that like any luxury purchase there will still be a degree of depreciation when you sell the diamond on. In the meantime, you will be paying tens of thousands of dollars more for a clarity that simply cannot be appreciated by eye.

The second trend sees buyers looking for low clarity diamonds as a way of saving money. When we say low clarity, we are talking about I clarity diamonds. I clarity diamonds are often visible by eye.

Diamond Clarity Summary

Included diamonds such as those with an I clarity grade will not deliver the desired appearance. We covet diamonds for their intense fire, their hypnotic brilliance and knock-out sparkle – these unique traits are entirely lost in a heavily included diamond.

However, a good clarity grade does not a good diamond make! It must be partnered with an excellent cut and a good color grade to reach its full potential. Avoid the temptation to focus on carat weight – cut, certification, clarity, color and size in millimetres over carat weight should be considered in that order. All important, but with a little wiggle room on the final three.

For brilliant cuts, we recommend starting your search at an SI1 clarity. If you find you are still able to see small inclusions at this grade, begin working your way up. Beyond a VS1 it is unlikely that you will notice any difference at all. For step cuts, begin a little higher at a VS1.

Taking the time to understand how inclusions impact upon a diamond will allow you to make the best choices and help you to avoid paying over the odds for imperceptible changes.

Check what others choose in our most popular diamond searches here:

Related Threads:

Should I care about Clouds and Feathers in a VS2 Stone?

Does anyone have an SI3 diamond?

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“Eye Clean SI2” an oxymoron?

Have more questions? Ask our knowledgable and friendly community.

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