There are two types of flaws within a natural diamond: inclusions and 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.
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.
|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.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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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.
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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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.
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.
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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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:
Crystals or Mineral Inclusions - A clarity inclusion that forms during the diamond growth process within a diamond. It is used to determine the clarity grade. Crystals can exist in different colors within the diamond. Most commonly, they are found in black and white. White crystals are not always very distracting or visible. However, be careful if your diamond has black crystals, expecially larger ones. These are obvious, even without magnification at times. Black crystals are the result of embeded carbon. Other colored crystals are far less common within diamonds. Although the majority of these cannot be viewed prior to magnification, a significantly sized cluster or mass of crystals does detract from a diamond's appearance, lowering its clarity grade and value.
Feathers - A clarity inclusion that describes a break in the surface of a gemstone that extends inside. It is a common clarity characteristic that can occur naturally. Feathers can look transparent and almost be invisible. Or in certain angles and lights have a grayish or white appearance. Feathers that are more visible detract from the clarity of the diamond. Try to avoid very large feathers that are near the surface or girdle of the diamond, as those can be more visible. Cleavage planes or internal stress fractures can look like feathers, although these are more commonly found, surrounding included-crystals.
Natural - A small manufacturing remnant of the rough diamond skin that remains after the diamond cutting and manufacturing process. Naturals are typically located on or near the diamond's girdle.
Indented Natural - A portion of a diamond's natural, rough skin that is left on a polished diamond during the manufacturing process in order to maintain diamond weight. It differs from a natural in that it is slightly protrudes inward. Typically indented natural can happen when a portion of the rough diamond is left unpolished during the cutting process. Indented natural can be found near the girdles of diamonds.
Knots - Refers to a crystal inclusion that appears on the surface of the diamond as a knot. Diamonds with a knot inclusion are usually awarded a lower clarity grade as the flaw is visible to the naked eye (but not always).
Chip - A chip is a small nick or opening that occurs on the surface of the diamond. This can happen on the edges of the diamond. Typically chips happen as a result of wear and tear or manufacturing accidents. Avoid diamonds that have large chips.
Cavity - An opening created when part of a feather breaks away. This can happen when a diamond is being manufactured, as a small piece of it falls or breaks away as the diamond is being shaped. Small cavities are not typically a problem, however you should avoid larger cavities.
Needles - These are long thin needle-shaped inclusions inside a diamond. They appear as a streak of light inside the stone and can sometimes appear in clusters, affecting the overall clarity and value.
Pinpoints - A very small crystal inclusion that looks like a tiny dot at 10x magnification. Pinpoints are tiny light or dark crystals present within a diamond that appear either by themselves or in clusters.
Pinpoint Clouds - More significant clusters of tiny pinpoints are referred to as pinpoint clouds due to the white haze they create. Clouds are defined as a dense grouping of tiny pinpoints, consisting of microscopically small dust-like voids or impurities. The clusters create a cloudy zone which even at 10x magnification may not resolve as individual pinpoints, thus affecting the clarity. Smaller coluds are typically not a major problem. When clouds cover a majority of the diamond area, they can cause an undesirable veil of haze that diminishes the sparkle. This is often hard to spot, however when looking at two magnified diamonds, one that is cloudy and another that is not, it is easier to see the difference.
Twinning Wisps - clarity inclusion formed by a series of cloud, pinpoints or crystals. It may look like a large marking on a diamond plot, but is often difficult to see. Twinning wisps are the result of irregularites in the crystal structure of the diamond that occur as it is forming. Typically when diamonds are forming, specific environmental conditions are needed. When a diamond stops and starts regrowing the twinning wisps can form. Twinning wisps are a more desirable inclusion than crystals.
Internal Graining - Lines sometimes visible under 10x magnification that result from irregular crystallization. Internal graining lines cannot be polished away and follow no particular pattern. They cross facet junctions. Graining is typically caused by uneven crystal growth within the diamond and can look like white or colored lines. When larger, they can also appear like bigger creases.
Surface Graining - Transparent line-like formations on the surface of a diamond caused by crystal structure irregularities. Surface Graining can be difficult to identify even under magnification.
Etched Channel - This is a narrow and small tunnel that is found on the diamonds surface and and goes into the body of the diamond. This is a natural inclusion but can look similiar to a internal laser drill treatment. This inclusion forms when diamonds are coming up to the surface of the earth. When judging the impact of the etched channel, look at the clarity grade of the diamond. This will help you understand how much of an impact the inclusions has on the diamond.
Blemishes are external clarity characteristics caused by wear, the cutting process or the diamonds crystal structure. Examples of blemishes are as follows:
Nick - A small chip-like characteristic.
Abrasion - A series of minute nicks along a facet junction.
Scratch - A thin, dull, white line across the diamond's surface.
Natural - A portion of the original skin that remains on the diamond.
Pit - Small surface characteristic that looks like a tiny dot.
'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 adiscount 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.