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;
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.
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)...