Diamond Clarity Grade
Clarity grading describes the relative ease of visibility of physical features or characteristics either in or on a diamond. Those characteristics that are either completely internal or extend into the body of the diamond are referred to as “inclusions”. The term “blemish” is used to describe those features that are limited to the surface of the diamond.
Diamonds crystals grow deep within the earth, under enormous heat and pressure, and there are many features which occur within diamonds that are attributable to their complex growth processes. It is very common to see crystals of other minerals within diamonds which got caught up and surrounded by the larger diamond crystals. Occasionally, smaller diamonds are found within a much larger diamond. Cracks and fissures, from very small to very large, are also quite common. These are generally called “feathers”. Viewing these features microscopically can be fascinating as they are commonly very beautiful and interesting. They also can serve to act much like a “finger-print” from an identification standpoint.
Much like color grading, clarity grading is a statement of relative rarity. Diamond crystals that are completely “flawless” are extremely rare and that rarity factor has a very significant effect upon value. As the inclusions and blemishes become increasingly numerous, larger, darker, and easier to see, the clarity grade comes down accordingly. They are less rare as well and the value also decreases.
Clarity grading is performed, like color grading, by highly skilled, trained, and experienced gemologists under very specialized conditions.
The international standard for clarity grading is a 10x magnification loupe but most fine jewelers and laboratories use specially designed binocular microscopes. If a physical feature is visible at 10x, to a trained expert, it can be considered when setting a clarity grade.
|FL / IF||Flawless or Internally Flawless. Internally Flawless diamonds may demonstrate extremely tiny surface nicks or scratches. Also, very small “naturals” (portions of the “skin” of the rough crystal that were never polished away) may be present. Nothing visible, internally, to a trained gemologist at 10x magnification under idealized conditions.|
|VVS1 / VVS2||VVS = Very, Very Small Inclusions. Extremely difficult for a trained gemologist to perceive under 10x magnification under idealized conditions.|
|VS1 / VS2||VS = Very Small inclusions. Somewhat difficult for a trained gemologist to perceive at 10x magnification under idealized conditions. Generally invisible to the unaided eye, with extremely large diamonds and step-cut/emerald cuts being an exception to the rule.|
|SI1 / SI2||Small Inclusions. Easy for a trained gemologists to see at 10x magnification under idealized conditions. Generally not visible to the unaided eye, in the “face up” position with most cutting patterns. Potentially visible from the pavilion side of the diamond. Very large diamonds and certain cutting patterns can demonstrate eye-visible inclusions, particularly emerald cuts.|
|I1||Imperfect. Obvious to a trained gemologist under magnification. Generally visible, to some degree, to the naked, unaided eye. It might be a beautiful diamond and it might not!|
|I2 / I3||Imperfect. Extremely obvious to a trained gemologist. Diamonds in these grades commonly have pieces missing, large fractures that can easily expand and threaten the diamond’s physical integrity, and/or very large and dark inclusions. Generally obvious to the unaided eye.|
The most commonly encountered clarity grading terminology was developed by the Gemological Institute of America. Below is a chart that briefly describes the terms.
Although grading and “grade setting” is done at 10x, there is nothing wrong with using higher power magnification to determine the nature of an inclusion or if a tiny feature is a scratch, a tiny pit in the surface, or simply a speck of dust or a fingerprint. Also, many inclusions are very beautiful features…Mother Nature’s handiwork, if you will…and many people are excited to learn about the inclusions in their diamonds as they help to tell the story of how the diamond formed and they become a part of the diamond’s individual personality.
Only you can determine how important a clarity grade is to you. Some people put enormous value in the rarity of a flawless or nearly flawless diamond. As such, very high clarity grade diamonds are much more valuable than those with “VS” or “SI” clarity grades…but it is because of rarity, NOT because they are intrinsically more beautiful. Other people treasure the unique features that Mother Nature chose to put into their diamonds. That is a highly personal issue and the best way for you to form an opinion on clarity grade is to sit down with one of our highly trained Graduate Gemologists and have them demonstrate to you, microscopically, what the internal features of diamonds are all about. Then you can form an educated and informed decision on what is right for you.