Diamonds 101

Fast Facts on Diamond Clarity

  • Diamond clarity grade refers to how many imperfections are present in a diamond.
  • These are inclusions, which are internal characteristics, or surface blemishes.
  • The clarity characteristics can save you money or cost you a dull looking stone, depending on how you use them.

More on Clarity


Let’s start with the basics. When we talk about the clarity of a diamond, we are referring to how many - or indeed how few - natural imperfections are present in the stone. These imperfections are generally called inclusions (found within the diamond) or blemishes (found on the surface of the diamond). These imperfections can be your (wallet’s) best friend or worst enemy, depending on how you utilize them. By now I’m sure you have come across the ubiquitous (yet kind of weirdly worded ‘slightly/very slightly/very very slightly included’) GIA clarity scale from the Gemological Institute of America. But just in case you have not, here it is again;

Clarity Chart

I want to break down the diamond clarity scale a little for you, and by doing so hopefully you can cherry pick the range that works best for you. Now, first of all, here’s a small home truth. Worrying about inclusions in a diamond that is graded anywhere above VS2 is probably not the best use of your time. Anything from VS1 to FL is going to be eye-clean, meaning these inclusions will definitely not be visible to the naked eye (not even those beady eyes of your cousin Brenda). On the other hand, trying to find a good quality diamond in the I1, I2 or I3 clarity grades, will be like trying to find a parking space at Walmart on Black Friday (not entirely impossible, but super time consuming and kind of depressing). Inclusions in this range are usually (but not always) visible to the naked eye. In fact, visible inclusions can be so prominent that they negatively impact the way the light travels through the stone, ruining the fire and brilliance and all those awesome things that make a diamond so beautiful.

Of course, if you want to buy a higher clarity stone, this is completely fine, and many people do want to go for the absolute best their money can buy with a flawless diamond. However, it is best to go into this type of purchase with your eyes open, knowing in this case that you’ll most likely be forking out your hard-earned cash for a feature that will not actually be noticeable to the untrained or unaided eye.

"VS2, SI1 and SI2 are the holy grail of diamond clarity."

Equally, it is possible to find I1 diamonds that are pretty, especially if you don’t mind a few character flaws. You might hit the jackpot and find an I1 that is eye-clean, even if the inclusions are very obvious under 10x magnification. This is the diamond equivalent of the classic movie makeover scene; at first, it looks like the situation is bleak, but with a few crafty teenage girls (or skilled jeweler) a beauty can be created... until the character realizes at the end that she was beautiful on the inside all along! Yay, Hollywood.

I hope by now you see where I’m going with this people; VS2, SI1 and SI2 are the holy grail of diamond clarity. Within this range, you are most likely to find a gorgeous eye-clean diamond that doesn’t cost the same as a small car (#winning). This does NOT mean, however, that you are home free and will definitely find a fantastic stone within this range. Just like the opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, there are pitfalls and traps that many before you have fallen prey to. With that in mind, here are a few key things to identify regarding the inclusions within the stone before you take the plunge;

Where are the inclusions? The location of the inclusions is crucial both in terms of the stone’s aesthetics and its durability. Aesthetically speaking, if you have a fairly large inclusion but it is positioned in such a way that an engagement ring setting with disguise it, then this might be a great option for you. However, if the same flaw is smack bang in the center of the table, not only might you be able to see it more easily, but it could also hamper the way the light travels through the stone which will impact the overall look of the diamond. When it comes to inclusions that can impact a diamond’s durability, you might be looking at imperfections that lay near the girdle (edge) of the stone. Over time this will be more vulnerable to chipping, even on the most responsible of hands.

What type of inclusions? Just like potential mates, there are many types of inclusions and not all are created equal. While some might be tiny flaws (didn’t wash your cup after coffee? No biggy) others can be glaringly obvious issues that need to be someone else’s problem (we are entering bunny boiling territory here). For example, you might have a diamond with a large crystal, but that crystal is almost translucent and therefore isn’t that noticeable (dirty coffee cup scenario). On the other hand, the crystal might be black - which is not only noticeable but could actually reflect inside the stone in such a way that it looks like there’s more than one (bunny boiler scenario).

And just to add a little more complexity (sorry), it is not merely the position or type of inclusions that can make a difference. The size of the diamond will also play a part in the impact of these imperfections. This is because flaws become more obvious as the carat size increases (larger table means more surface area to spot issues). To avoid this problem, I would suggest going for at least a VS2 if you are thinking of purchasing a diamond over 1.5 carats, just to be safe.

Let’s Talk About Clarity Plots

A clarity plot is a little diagram found on most grading reports for diamonds 1ct or above and is basically a map of where the inclusions are within the stone. Think of these plots as a bit like movie trailers, in that they can be a great way to get your bearings and pick up some information on what to expect. However, just like an awesome trailer for what turns out to be a terrible film, they can be misleading (I’m looking at you Prometheus). The problem lies in the fact that the plot cannot tell you what the diamond looks like in real life. Let’s go back to our ‘bunny boiler’ diamond above and compare what the plot might look like with the actual stone;

The plot looks promising, with only a few small crystals dotted around the center of the table. However - just like the Prometheus trailer - the real thing is a bit of an anti-climax. For example, we didn’t know that these crystals were black and reflecting in such a way that it’s making the stone look even dirtier. On the other hand, a messy plot doesn’t have to mean a bad looking diamond! Let’s take a look at our ‘coffee cup in the sink’ diamond;

Just looking at the plot this diamond looks like it’s going to be all types of trouble, but IRL it isn’t that bad! Add to that the fact that this is 10x magnification, and those inclusions will be hard to spot with the naked eye.

Both of these stones are actually graded as SI2, but perform very differently. Because diamond grading is not an exact science, and because these clarity grades are ‘ranges’, our coffee cup diamond (although graded as an SI2) might in fact be on the cusp of an SI1 while our bunny boiler diamond could be SI2 bordering I1. This is very important to understand, especially if you are presented with a list of diamonds that look identical but are still priced differently. When you take a closer look, you might learn that they are less ‘Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’ and more ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito’.

What is the moral of this very long story? Relying on a grading report alone is a bad idea. Using them as a tool is great, but in order to make sure you are getting the best bling for your buck, make sure you have access to a 10x magnified picture at the very least (and if they are not readily available, ask the retailer!). That way you can identify those pesky DeVitos.

Until next time (I couldn’t resist, nor should I)...

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Read More..

Guide to Inclusions

FL (Flawless)

IF (Internally Flawless)

VVS1 (Very Very Slightly Included)

VVS2 (Very Very Slightly Included 2)

VS1 (Very Slightly Included)

VS2 (Very Slightly Included 2)

SI1 (Slightly Included)

SI2 (Slightly Included 2)

Diamond Clarity Grade Scale

Eye clean Diamonds

Which Diamond Inclusions are the Worst?


DIAMOND INCLUSIONS FAQ

Are inclusions bad in a diamond?

A diamond that has inclusions isn't a bad thing. Most of us will buy a diamond with some inclusions. However the more inclusions there are the lower the clarity grade it receives and the lower the value then becomes. What is important when looking at a diamond is to make sure the inclusions are not noticeable and that they don't hinder the durability of the stone. As long as the diamond checks these boxes then the inclusions are not bad at all. In fact, they can be good to recognize your diamond. When leaving your stone at a jeweler for repairs it’s always nice to be able to look back at your diamond under magnification at a specific inclusion to know it is your stone.

How do inclusions affect a diamond?

Inclusions can affect multiple areas of the stone. It can affect how it appears if the inclusions are visible to the naked eye. Certain inclusions that can be black, like crystals and twinning wisps, are ones that you always need to see an image of to ensure that they cannot be seen unless under magnification.

Inclusions can also affect the durability of the stone depending on the type and placement of certain inclusions. We recommend avoiding inclusions that hinder the durability of the stone like cavities, knots, laser drill holes, etch channels and chips. All of these can cause future damage to the stone if hit in these areas and are ones to always avoid. It’s also a good idea to avoid any inclusions that are near corners or points of any stones as these areas are more vulnerable as it is let alone with any inclusions in that area causing it to be more vulnerable to chipping.

Lastly if there are enough inclusions it can hinder the light return and overall brilliance of the stone. This is because the light hits the inclusions and bounces out of the sides or bottom of the stone as opposed to returning back to your eye as sparkle. We recommend staying within the Flawless to SI2 clarity range as anything lower in clarity will have more chances of any of these affecting the stone.

What are the best inclusions to have in a diamond?

Some inclusions are better to have as they are less noticeable. Pinpoints, feathers, indented naturals,naturals and sometimes clouds. When these are found in diamonds they are more difficult to see to the naked eye. Clouds are a bit tricker as they can be noticeable when there are a lot of them in any single stone. So seeing these listed along with other inclusions are usually fine, however when it is listed as the only inclusion it’s something to look into a bit more.

How can you tell if a diamond is included?

You can tell when a diamond is included if you notice it appears white as opposed to transparent. This tells you there are a lot of white inclusions blending together not allowing the light to reflect out of the stone. You can also tell if it appears to have black spots sprinkled throughout the stone. These are usually black crystals that make it look as if the diamond was sprinkled with pepper. This is how lower clarity diamonds appear. Higher clarity stones are more difficult to see the individual inclusions. I recommend staying within the range of flawless to SI1/SI2 for diamonds that do not appear this way.

Do diamond inclusions get worse?

Most inclusions do not get worse over time. However there are a small handful that cause a durability issue and if hit with the right amount of force they can do more damage. These inclusions include cavities, knots, etch channels and chips. All of these are different types of holes in the stone and can become larger which is why we recommend avoiding to begin with. Other inclusions cannot change over time, becoming larger or changing color.

What are the worst diamond inclusions?

The worst inclusions to have are ones that can cause a durability concern. You don't want any inclusions that can cause future damage. These inclusions that you want to avoid are cavities, knots, etch channels, laser drill holes, and chips. All of these inclusions are holes or can become a hole if hit with the right amount of force. No matter what the size of these inclusions they should always be avoided.

What clarity diamond is the best value?

This can vary depending on the shape a bit however the VS2 grade is a great range that usually ensures an eye clean stone without paying for a higher grade. A lot of times an SI1 is a great value as well as long as the inclusions are white and not dark. Having white inclusions makes them much more difficult to see which is just what you want!

Do inclusions affect diamond sparkle?

Yes, they can. Brightness and fire are reduced in diamonds that have lower grades which lowers the overall appearance and sparkle. I recommend staying at a clarity grade of SI2 and higher to avoid this. Having a few minor inclusions will not visibly affect the brilliance. When you venture into the included range (I1-I3) this is where you will notice the reduced sparkle.
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