Diamond Clarity: Education & Buying Guide

There are two types of flaws within a natural diamond: inclusions & blemishes. Inclusions refer to the internal flaws of a diamond and blemishes refer to external or surface flaws. Clarity ratings are determined by the amount and visibility of inclusions in a diamond. Inclusions consist of tiny pinpoints, markings, and clouding which affect the overall appearance of the diamond.

In general, diamonds with fewer inclusions and blemishes will have a better clarity rating. This increases their brilliance and value. Diamonds with clarity grades VVS1 through SI2 have slight inclusions that may be visible to varying degrees under 10 x magnifications, but are generally not visible to the unaided eye. Diamonds with I1 clarity ratings contain inclusions that are easily seen under 10 x magnifications and may be visible to the unaided eye. Diamonds with I2 and I3 clarities have major inclusions that are easily seen without magnification.

Often times the inclusions are microscopic diamonds that were absorbed by the larger crystal before the diamond was carried to the surface of the Earth. The quantity, size, color, location (position), orientation and visibility (nature) of inclusions all affect the final clarity grade of a diamond. Diamonds with no or few inclusions are considered particularly rare and highly valued.

Diamond Clarity Scale

The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) grades diamond clarity on an 11 point scale ranging from Flawless and Internally Flawless (FL/IF) to Included (I1, I2, I3). These categories are founded upon the ability to see the inclusions under 10x magnification. FL/IF to VS2 categories are referred to by diamond experts as eye-clean and are the categories of the highest clarity. Diamonds classified as eye-clean are considered to have no imperfections visible to the naked eye.


Diamond Clarity FL


Diamond Clarity IF


Diamond Clarity VVS1


Diamond Clarity VVS2


Diamond Clarity VS1


Diamond Clarity VS2


Diamond Clarity SI1


Diamond Clarity SI2


Diamond Clarity I1


Diamond Clarity I2


Diamond Clarity I3

Select Diamond Clarity


Diamond clarity scale.

Key To Inclusion Symbols

Inclusion Symbols Key.

Diamond Clarity Chart

Clarity Clarity Description
FL Flawless: No inclusions under 10x. A stone that is completely flawless. This is an extremely rare find.
IF Internally Flawless: No internal imperfections. A stone that has no internal flaws at all but does have surface flaws. Also, an extremely rare find.
VVS1-VVS2 Very Very Slightly Included: A stone with very minute internal inclusions that are extremely difficult to see under a 10X magnification.
VS1-VS2 Very Slightly Included: A stone with very minor internal inclusions that range from difficult to somehwat easy see under a 10X magnification.
SI1-SI2 Slightly Included: A stone that has imperfections visible under X10 magnification and may be visible with the unaided eye.
I1-I3 Included: A stone that has significant inclusions most often visible with the naked eye. Inclusions of this level drastically bring down the diamonds value.

Diamond clarity chart.

Diamond Clarity Chart Description

Flawless (FL) And Internally Flawless (IF)

Flawless and Internally Flawless certified diamonds are extremely rare. No inclusions and no blemishes visible to a skilled grader using 10x magnification. The difference between the two is that internally flawless diamonds (IF), like the FL, are 100% flawless from the inside but IF diamonds will contain surface graining blemishes on the outside. These tiny blemishes do not affect sparkle and are known as minor details of polish such as polish lines.

These imperfections can be found only by a skilled grader in 10x magnification. These are not technically considered a flaw, but consist in the only point of differentiation between the extremely rare Flawless and the very rare IF clarity grades. FL or IF diamonds may also be referred to as 'LC,' meaning "Loupe Clean". Flawless and Internally Flawless diamond can have naturals confined to the width of the girdle, extra facets on the pavilion that are not visible face-up, laser inscriptions confined to the girdle and internal graining that is not white, colored or reflective.

Very Very Slightly Included 1 (VVS1)

Minute inclusions that range from extremely difficult to very difficult to see are visible to a skilled grader using 10x magnification. A diamond of this clarity grade would have one tiny inclusion that can only be located using a powerful microscope. This clarity grade guarantees that the inclusion is invisible even under a 10x magnification loupe. This clarity grade is almost as rare as the IF clarity and as such is highly regarded although not quite as expensive.

VVS1 offers a much better value than FL or IF and still has virtually the same appeal. Diamond sparkle is unaffected as the inclusions are so small that light is barely affected. The most common VVS1 inclusions are pinpoint and natural. The inclusion in a VVS1 diamond are extremely difficult to see face-up. Typically, VVS1 inclusions are only visible from the pavilion, under magnification. To the naked eye, the inclusions are not visible making these diamonds eye-clean.

Very Very Slightly Included 2 (VVS2)

Minute inclusions that range from extremely difficult to very difficult to see are visible to a skilled grader using 10x magnification. These diamonds would only have two tiny inclusions and consistent with the VVS1 grading only a microscope would identify inclusions. However, expert graders may be able to locate a VVS2 inclusion using a 10x magnification loupe but VVS2 still offer a very high level of clarity and are less expensive price than a VVS1.

This clarity grade is considered the best value of the higher clarities and does not compromise your diamond's brilliance. Inclusions can rarely be found, even under 10x magnification. The most common VVS2 inclusions include cloud, pinpoint or two, feather and natural. Inclusions in a VVS2 diamond are very difficult to see. However, characteristics like a bearded girdle or tin chips might also be present in VVS diamonds depending on their visibility.

Very Slightly Included 1 (VS1)

Minor inclusions that range from difficult to somewhat easy to see are visible to a skilled grader using 10x magnification. VS1 diamonds have one small or a few very tiny inclusions that are not visible to the unaided eye (eye-clean) and have minimal impact on diamond sparkle. Inclusions can only be located, often with difficulty, using a 10x magnification loupe. VS1 clarity diamonds are an excellent choice as they are still eye-clean whilst being less expensive than the VVS categories. The largest factor in grading a VS1 is the size of the grade setting inclusion. The most common VS1 inclusions include cloud, feather, needle, crystal, indented natural and distinct groups of pinpoints.

As magnification is needed to see impurities in diamonds with a VS1 grading or higher, a choice of VS1 or higher is a subjective quality choice which goes beyond what can be seen to the unaided eye. Larger Diamonds with these higher grades are much rarer and therefore command greater pricing premiums, and also tend to perform better as an investment.

Very Slightly Included 2 (VS2)

Minor inclusions that range from difficult to somewhat easy to see are visible to a skilled grader using 10x magnification. Usually VS2 diamonds have a series of tiny inclusions that like the VS1 grade can only be located using a 10x magnification loupe. VS2 clarity diamonds are an extremely popular as it is the last grade which virtually guarantees an eye-clean diamond. In 95% of cases VS2 diamonds are eye-clean. Rare exceptions, may include VS2 diamonds on EGL or IGI certificates (extremely rare on IGI) and in certain cases, emerald and asscher cut diamonds, which may not always be eye-clean, even on GIA certificates. The type of inclusions here would generally be two small inclusions or a series of tiny ones.

A VS2 is not noticeable to the unaided eye and is extremely popular because its value allows you to focus your budget on another cut, color or carat. VS2 diamonds tend to have a few more inclusions than VS1 and the size is slightly larger, while still microscopic. The common VS2 inclusions include crystal, feather, indented natural, cloud and twinning wisp. The location of inclusions isn't very impactful in VS diamonds.

Slightly Included 1 (SI1)

Noticeable inclusions that range from easy to very easy to see are visible to a skilled grader using 10x magnification. SI1 graded diamonds have two medium or many small inclusions that will almost always be visible to the unaided eye and are easy to locate using a 10x magnification loupe. Depending on how well placed and lightly colored the inclusions are the stones can appear almost eye-clean and therefore SI1 clarity diamonds can offer exceptional value for those wishing to maximise their budget. An SI1 diamond on a GIA, HRD or AGS certificate will in over 50% of cases be eye-clean depending on the chosen shape. However, as with the VVS2, this grade of diamonds probably won't be eye-clean on emerald and asscher cuts, on any certificate.

Additionally, we recommend choosing SI diamonds with more inclusions rather than a single inclusion. With a single grade setting inclusion, it must be larger and more visible in order to be an SI clarity diamond. The common SI1 diamond inclusions are crystal Slightly Included 1: a SI1 diamond will sparkle brilliantly even with its minor inclusions that may be invisible to the unaided eye. SI1 is extremely popular because its value allows you to focus your budget on another cut, color or carat. It is considered a high clarity grade at a great price. In SI diamonds, it is recommended to choose diamonds with inclusions that are off center and closer to the girdle of the diamond. These are rarer to find and so they carry a premium feather, twinning wisp, cloud, knot and indented natural. Be wary of single crystals or clouds that they can be eye visible or make the diamond look hazy, cloudy or milky. Be sure to analyze diamonds on a case by case basis so that you are getting one of excellent quality.

Slightly Included 2 (SI2)

Noticeable inclusions that range from easy to very easy to see are visible to a skilled grader using 10x magnification. SI2 diamonds have a greater number of inclusions that will almost always be visible to the unaided eye. As with the SI1 clarity diamonds, they can offer great value for money and depending on the inclusions it can be possible to find an eye-clean stone at a fraction of the price of higher clarity grades. Like SI1 diamonds, avoid larger, single inclusions. On the GIA report, these can be identified by the diamond plot where inclusions are marked or by the inclusion comments.

Avoid SI2 diamonds that have a grade setting inclusion that is cloud or a large, center crystal. Crystals in SI diamonds are typically black and so they are more visible without magnification. Common SI2 inclusions are larger crystals, twinning wisps, feathers, clouds and knots.

Although SI1 and SI2 are in general not eye-clean, the impurities may be light in color or scattered and so in up to 20% of cases, SI1 graded diamonds may appear to be eye-clean. That number falls to just 5% for SI2s.

I1 Or Lower

Obvious inclusions are visible to a skilled grader using 10x magnification and can often times be seen face-up without magnification, sometimes affect the stone's durability and can be so numerous or large that they affect transparency and brilliance. These diamonds will always have inclusions clearly visible to the naked eye, even on the strictest certificates, such as those of the GIA. Even though it is still possible for reputable jeweller's to source such diamonds upon request, we would recommend choosing SI2 clarity diamonds or above.

I1 clarity grades can be very budget conscious, and can really allow you to reach a greater carat weight or desirable color grade. Diamonds in this category have little or no structural impact from inclusions, but it is recommended to avoid diamonds with a single, larger grade setting inclusion. Often, inclusions will reflect in other diamond facets, making them more noticeable. Common I1 inclusions are large crystals, feathers, clouds, knots and activities.

However if you must choose an I diamond, stay within the I1 clarity range. For these diamonds, be sure to choose one in which the inclusions are scattered or spread on the diamond. If inclusions are very large or are concentrated in one area, this can really inhibit the sparkle of the diamond. Inclusions that are on the otsides of the diamonds or closer to the edges can also potentially be covered by prongs. One more important consideration to make is that I clarity grade diamonds that have very clean looking plots but are still graded in the I range can be cloudy or hazy with a lack of sparkle. If selecting an I1 diamond be sure to consult a gemologist to understand the look and value of the diamond before moving ahead with your purchase.

Diamond Clarity - Eye-Clean & Non Eye-Clean Diamonds

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Eye-Clean & Non Eye-Clean Diamonds

Eye-clean & non eye-clean diamonds.

As mentioned, when diamonds are formed, deep underground and under extreme pressure and heat, imperfections in the crystal structure can form and mineral impurities become trapped inside the stone. The size of these impurities and imperfections determine the clarity grading of a diamond. Diamonds without such impurities are very rare.

An eye-clean diamond is one that has no imperfections visible to the unaided eye. They offer excellent value, being much less expensive than flawless (FL) or internally flawless (IF) diamonds, which are extremely rare and therefore command a higher price.

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Diamond clarity Scale Showing Eye-Clean & Non Eye-Clean Diamonds

Diamond clarity scale & eye-clean and non eye-clean diamonds.

Imperfections in diamonds graded Slightly Included (SI) are often not visible to the unaided eye, making them excellent value for money, however the location of the inclusion is important. Therefore, it always advisable to speak to a diamond and jewellery consultant to check that the stone is eye-clean, if you're considering a diamond of this clarity grade.

Selecting A Clarity - Buying Guide

The differences in clarity are larger than the differences in color because the scale is smaller. Diamond prices can therefore be quite large between clarity grades. Naturally, the highest clarity grade are much rarer and so the price jumps are quite large. Because inclusions are often microscopic, it becomes exponentially rarer to find IF of FL diamonds, hence the exponential price increase.

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>Diamond Clarity Grade Effect On Diamonds

Diamond clarity grade effect on diamonds.

The differences in price can range from 15%-25% between diamond clarity grades and the differences within the same clarity grade can range from 5%-15%. As previously mentioned, no two diamonds are the same. Therefore, no two diamonds with the same clarity grade are the same. Because clarity grade is set by a subjective range (for example, greater than SI1, but less than VS1 is VS2), the location, size, number and type of inclusion can impact the price. An SI1 diamond with an eye visible black crystal under the center of the table will be substantially less expensive than an SI1 diamond with an eye clean feather on the corner of the diamond that can be covered by a prong.

When a diamond within a clarity grade range is much less expensive than other diamonds within the same range, there is generally a reason for it. Diamond suppliers know the quality of their diamonds and price them accordingly so it's not always a good strategy to pursue the least expensive diamond.

Clarity grade should always be selected in conjunction with the other 4Cs of diamonds. For example, we do not recommend to select a D color, I1 clarity diamond. The most popular clarity grades are VS2 and SI1 because they offer the best value without disrupting diamond sparkle. Choose diamonds with inclusions that aren't in the absolute center of the diamond. More inclusions isn't typically a bad thing. Avoid diamonds with a single large grade setting inclusion because it is more likely to be visible. In diamonds under 0.75 ct, inclusions are smaller and more difficult to identify. In diamonds larger than 0.75 ct, consider an SI1 or higher clarity grade to avoid distracting eye visible inclusions. Additionally, if selecting a lower clarity grade, consider a higher cut grade as a well cut diamond can mask clarity setting inclusions to keep sparkle and brilliance high. Another tip is to consider diamonds that have clarity inclusions that are not in the table or central facet of the diamond are more desirable. A better location for inclusions is under the bezel facets of near the girdle as they are harder to see or can be covered as well when being set in the ring.

Also consider shapes when selecting a clarity. Brilliant cut diamonds hide inclusions better than other cuts like step Cuts. When purchasing a step cut diamond, try to select one clarity grade one level better than that of a brilliant cut.

Select an eye-clean diamond. An excellent value, diamonds of this clarity are much less expensive than flawless (FL) or internally flawless (IF) diamonds, which are extremely rare and demand high prices.

For diamonds that are VS2 or below, try to see an image or video of the diamond. Oftentimes diamonds within the same clarity grade can have differing appearances based on the location and size of the inclusions. At this stage the expert eye of a gemologist can help you determine which diamond is better.

Diamond under 1.00 carat that are GIA certified have a diamond dossier that does not have a plot of the diamond inclusions. For these sizes, in clarity grades below VS2, be sure to check with a gemologist if the diamond has any overly visible inclusions. While the diamond certificate can give you a good idea of the inclusions, it is always best to double-check.

One critical thing to look out for in jewellery purchases is the quality of sidestones and the accent diamonds, particularly in three stone rings or ones with larger accents. The jewellery must have gemologists inspect and carefully select matching stones. If they don't match, the jewellery looks odd and unappealing. Larger diamonds tend to have larger more visible inclusions so you need to ensure your accent stones match, partciularly with halo ring settings. The metal selection should not affect the choice of clarity as it pertains more to color.

Diamond Clarity Grading

Gemologists always grade diamond clarity at 10x magnification. They identify and plot as many inclusions as possible. In diamonds below 1.00 ct, there is typically a smaller GIA report called a dossier. A dossier has no diamond plot on the certificate. Diamonds larger than 1.00 ct have a diamond plot on the GIA certificate.

Clarity grading is a subjective process. Trained gemologists identify the type, size, location and number of inclusions (see below). They determine the grade based on a couple of inclusions and assign the grade. The diamond clarity rating or grade is an important factor to consider regardless of the size and shape of the diamond. Once a the inclusions on the diamond have been noted and mapped out. A diamond plot is used to record the location and size of these inclusions. The diamond plot is a sketch of the diamond face-up. It is shown on the GIA certificate or the dossier of the diamond. The different inclusions are shown with different symbols. Be sure to look at the diamond grade as well as the plot. GIA uses the color red to show internal inclusions and green for surface blemishes while black is used to convey extra facets. Oftentimes, the plot will not tell you about the severity of the inclusion so it is always important to also look at the clarity grade. Also be sure to look at the comments section on the GIA certificate to understand if there are certain inclusions that are not visible. Typically very small inclusions that are not visible under 10x magnification are noted in the comments section. For rule of thumb, a very busy looking plot with lots of inclusion markings means that the diamond is a bit less desirable.

Plotting diagram

A plotting diagram is a map of a diamond's clarity characteristics. These are the blemishes that reside on a diamond's surface and the inclusions which are internal characteristics. The diagram is an important part of the GIA diamond grading report for D-to-Z color and colored diamonds. It documents the diamond's present condition, supports the diamond's clarity grade, and because no two diamonds will have the same diagram, it serves as a means of identification.

Diamond Inclusions Noted On The GIA Certificate

Clarity characteristics - Diamond inclusions noted on the GIA certificate.

The look of the plotting diagram

The diagram itself will match or closely resemble the shape of your stone and its facet arrangement, which allows you to understand where each identifying feature is located on the diamond. Also, the plotting diagram will feature two views of your diamond: the crown view (from the top) and pavilion view (from the bottom). The crown and pavilion orientations will show how the face-up view corresponds to the face-down view.

The caracteristics that are plotted

When plotting the diamond, each category of clarity characteristics is assigned a color. The colors and markings will help you identify each type of characteristic:

Here is a list of the characteristics that may appear on a plotting diagram, along with their corresponding symbols:

Key To Inclusion Symbols

Inclusion Symbols Key.

The plotting procedure

First your diamond is cleaned with a gem cloth and an appropriate facet diagram is selected that matches or most closely resembles the shape and cutting style of your diamond. Next, using a gemological microscope, graders use a systematic methodology to examine the diamond in order to find and identify its clarity characteristics. Graders draw clarity characteristics to scale in their approximate shape and location, as seen under 10x magnification.

The plotting details, along with the rest of data captured during the grading process, become part of the diamond's permanent record and are stored in GIA's global database for future reference.

For diamond reports without a plotting diagram, such as the GIA Diamond Dossier and GIA Diamond eReport, GIA follows the same standards and criteria to determine the clarity grade. Up to four of the diamond's significant clarity characteristics are listed to support the clarity grade. A laser inscription or digital image of the diamond is provided on the report to help identify it.

How to read a plotting diagram

As you look at the plotting diagram, you will see a "Key to Symbols" with the appropriate colors to demarcate the diamond's characteristics. The characteristics will be listed in order of their importance to the clarity grade. If the diamond has a laser drill-hole, it will be listed first for disclosure purposes.

Listing order for characteristics:

  1. Laser drill-holes, if present.

  2. Grade-setting inclusions.

  3. Other inclusions.

  4. Naturals.

  5. Extra facets.

With the help of this plotting diagram guide, you will be able to better understand the unique characteristics of your diamond's clarity grade.

Most Common Diamond Clarity

We have compiled some extra data for the most common diamond clarity, and diamond clarity categories below:

Most Common Diamond Clarity

Most common diamond clarity.

Diamond clarity categories:

SI1: The budget buy  |  VS1-VS2: The value buy  |  VVS1-VVS2: The quality buy  |  FL-IF: The perfectionist

More On Diamond Inclusions & Blemishes

As explained earlier, inclusions and blemishes are structural imperfections which affect the clarity grading of diamonds. Inclusions are largely crystals of diamond or a foreign material that has formed within the stone affecting the internal composition, while blemishes are flaws which affect the stone's surface. The size, number, color, location (position), orientation and visibility (nature) of inclusions and blemishes are all taken into account when evaluating the clarity of a diamond.

Some inclusions can be hidden by a mounting, thus having little effect on the beauty of a diamond. An inclusion in the middle or top of a diamond, however, could impact the dispersion of light, sometimes making the diamond less brilliant. There are many different types of impurities, but feathers and crystals are the most common forms of inclusions found in diamonds.

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Five Factors That Determine Clarity

Five factors that determine clarity.

Diamond Clarity Characteristic - Inclusions

There are two basic categories of clarity characteristics, inclusions and blemishes. Inclusions are clarity characteristics that are completely enclosed in a polished gem or those extending into it from the surface. Examples of inclusions are as follows:

Diamond Clarity Characteristic - Blemishes

Blemishes are external clarity characteristics caused by wear, the cutting process or the diamonds crystal structure. Examples of blemishes are as follows:

Diamond Clarity Enhancement Or Fracture Filled Diamonds

'Fracture filled' or 'clarity enhanced' diamonds are those whose fractures or cracks have been filled in to restore and enhance their brilliance. The process for fracture filling diamonds was developed in 1982 by Israeli diamond cutter Zvi Yehuda and involves filling surface-reaching cracks with molten glass to improve the diamond's clarity. Yet, it was not until the 1990s that fracture filled diamonds began to appear in the market in abundance.

The glass used has a high refractive index similar to that of diamond, making the fractures less visible. The treatment is performed under heat and pressure, sufficient to force the liquid glass into the fractures. This method tends to improve a diamond's clarity by one grade but it doesn't affect the color or weight of the gem. Only diamonds with small cracks can be fracture filled. However, it is important to note that many diamonds contain minute internal "cracks", sometimes described as "feathers" by the retailer, that do not pose a threat to the integrity or life span of the diamond.

The process of fracture filling divides opinion among jewellers, with many attesting to their advantages and disadvantages. Yehuda originally said that the advantage to fracture filled diamonds is their lower cost, creating the potential for someone to purchase a larger, cleaner diamond than they otherwise would have been able to afford. However, purchasing a fracture filled diamond doesn't guarantee a discount as they will be paying the same price for the grading of the stone before the fracture was filled. The only difference being that a visible inclusion has now been made "invisible" to the naked eye. Furthermore, fracture filled stones are often too small or too low quality and are therefore rarely submitted to gemological laboratories. Laboratories will not provide a clarity grade as the enhancement is not a permanent treatment and the stone's appearance can diminish over time. Subsequently, it is difficult for the buyer to know exactly what they are buying or if the price is right.

Fortunately it is easy to spot a fracture-filled diamond; simply shake the stone from side to side under a microscope and you will notice a 'flash effect', a play of bright color spanning from a purple to an orangey-yellow. If a diamond has been tampered with the color of the glass can also be a giveaway as a yellow-brownish shade is often made visible in transmitted light, even impacting upon the overall color of the stone.