Diamond Clarity Chart, GIA Clarity Scale & Buying Guide
Diamond Clarity Chart, GIA Clarity Scale & Buying Guide
Posted by Sharif Khan on 12th Jun 2022
- The number of natural flaws in a diamond determines the clarity grade. A diamond has two clarity factors: blemishes (external flaws, such as chips and scratches) and inclusions (internal defects, such as crystals and feathers). See more below on clarity types.
- Diamond clarity is a technical factor in assessing quality. If you know how to play around with it, it is one of the most flexible Cs among the 4Cs to compromise on while prioritizing the quality of a diamond. Therefore, it is essential to know which inclusions are better and which ones to avoid.
- The location of the inclusion is also important. If it is located at the center of the diamond and on the table, it is considered a bad inclusion, especially if it is in the shape of large black crystals. If they are on the side of the girdle and are white feathers or pinpoints, they are generally preferred if they do not weaken the girdle, making it prone to chipping.
- Use James Allen's 360 Degree 40X Magnified HD Video Technology to view diamonds for inclusions before buying them.
A practical example of a Diamond Clarity
Below are two examples of SI1 clarity GIA graded diamonds. There are three critical areas to pay attention to in a grading report: 1) the comments section, 2) the clarity characteristics, and 3) the key to symbols.
By looking at these two SI1s, you might select the one on the left because it might show fewer inclusions in the report than the one on the right. However, the one on the right is a much better option. Here are the key reasons:
- The one on the right has a clarity grade based on clouds—a negative factor. The other one, however, does not.
- The one on the right has black crystals on the table, whereas the other has no significant inclusions.
- Moreover, the left one has slight inclusions across the diamond (a desirable factor) and does not generally have big black crystals.
Our key Observations on the Diamond Clarity Scale
The Gemological Institute of America's (GIA) diamond clarity scale is divided into the following categories:
Flawless or FL: A diamond with no blemishes and inclusions would fall within this category, also known as the best clarity grade.
Internally Flawless or IF: A diamond with extremely minimal external blemishes but no internal inclusions would fall into this category. It is considered the top clarity grade.
Very Very Slightly Included 1 or VVS1: VVS diamonds are extremely high clarity grade diamonds. You would need a microscope with a 60-100X magnification to locate inclusions in this clarity grade; often, only trained gemologists can identify them. Given that inclusions are considered natural birthmarks, they are unique to each diamond, much like our fingerprints. You can verify a diamond by the location and type of inclusions. VVS1 diamonds are cherished like flawless ones because their unique inclusion patterns create a unique identity.
Very Very Slightly Included 2 or VVS2: Falling right next to the VVS1 clarity grade, it is a very high clarity grade, which is why untrained individuals may not find inclusions without a jeweler's loupe. Gemologists would also need a microscope with a higher magnification power to locate inclusions in this grade. If you can easily find inclusions with a loupe in a diamond, it is probably not a VVS grade diamond.
Very Slightly Included 1 or VS1: This is one of the best clarity grades in a diamond. VS1 diamonds are completely eye-clean and considered investment grade, similar to VVS ones. However, the boundary between VVS2 and VS1 is also tight. Hence, while VVS would have a higher price tag, you cannot go with a VS1 clarity-grade diamond.
Hint: If one diamond is VVS2 G and the other is VS1 F, all other factors being equal, go for the latter.
Very Slightly Included 2 or VS2: If you are on a budget but do not want to compromise on quality, VS2 is the best clarity grade to consider. Diamonds in the VS2 clarity grade range are eye-clean, especially in less than 2-carat diamonds. It is an excellent option if you want a big diamond for a reasonable price without losing the quality.
Slightly Included 1 or SI1: What we stated for VS2 is true for SI1 in the 1-carat range of diamonds. SI1 diamonds in the 1-carat weight range are generally eye-clean if GIA grades them; other certification labs are not as reliable in the SI1 range. In the 2-carat range, SI1 diamond clarity should be closely inspected to ensure that the diamond is eye-clean or that the clarity grade does not overly affect its brilliance. SI1 is a great budget option that can help you get a great—eye-clean to the naked eye—diamond affordably.
Slightly Included 2 or SI2: There are SI2 diamonds in the 1-carat range that are eye-clean, while some, on the contrary, are not. The type and location of inclusions matter significantly. The stone will be eye-clean if there are white feathers and spread out inclusions across the diamond; if they are big, black crystals, it will not be desirable. In the 2-carat range or above, it is hard to find an excellent eye-clean SI2 diamond unless you are fortunate. Carefully inspect SI2 diamonds before buying.
Included 1-3 (I1, I2, I3): These are the lowest clarity grade diamonds on the GIA scale. Diamonds in this range are not eye-clean and will often have imperfect brilliance and fire because of too many flaws. I1 could still be a decent clarity grade for people with budget constraints, though I2/I3 would be pushing it.
Type of Inclusions
There are several types of diamond inclusions and blemishes, but the most common ones that you should be familiar with include:
Bearding: These inclusions form at the girdle of a diamond during the bruting (cutting) process. If a girdle is bruted improperly, it will affect the clarity grade.
Graining: These are caused by the growth of crystals in a diamond. If the graining in a diamond is widespread, it can look hazy.
Cavity: You should avoid large cavities because they can affect the overall structure of a diamond. A cavity is caused during the polishing process when crystals are moved, leaving a space or void.
Crystals: This is a common inclusion in a diamond. Black crystals, such as carbons, should be avoided, though colorless white crystals are not as bad. The presence of large single crystals is also less desirable in a diamond.
Cloud: Clouds are generally a cluster of crystals pinpointed in one area. When they are small, they are not a cause for concern. However, large clouds can affect the brilliance of the diamond by making it look hazy/cloudy. Therefore, a diamond having "clarity grade is based on clouds" in its GIA report implies it is full of clouds and, therefore, untransparent.
Etch Channel: It is a hollow tunnel at the surface of a diamond that goes deep into its body, like a channel. Though it can sometimes look like a laser-drilled treatment, it is a natural flaw.
Feather: It is caused by a fracture in a diamond and can be an issue if it is significant and affects the structure, making it subject to chipping in the long term. Also, if the crack has coloration to it, it can affect the brilliance of the diamond. Small feathers are not a problem and are preferred to black crystals.
Manufacturing Remnant: It is a man-made error in a diamond during the cutting process (the GIA calls it a "manufacturing remnant") that occurs when cutters use advanced machines to cut diamonds. These are merely residual/minor effects of the cutting process and should not be seen as clarity enhancement.
Pinpoints: These are tiny crystals (black or white) and are generally considered less harmful inclusions and, therefore, more desirable, primarily when the white ones.
Twinning Wisps: These can be any inclusions (pinpoints, crystals, feathers, etc.) resulting from growth defects or distortion during the forming/growth process over billions of years. If small, they are not harmful.
Chips: These are generally caused during the cutting process. Small chips are not harmful and can occur during the polishing of the facets.
Indented Natural: Usually found near the girdle, it is a flaw left untouched beneath a diamond's surface while polishing it. It is usually a slight inclusion and does not harm the brilliance of a diamond.
Why is Diamond Clarity Important?
Clarity of mind, soul, expression, immersion, and diamonds sound very similar except for the relationship between clarity and the subject following it. The word itself is relatively self-explanatory.
In the case of a diamond, clarity is vital. A diamond's ability to sparkle comes from its purity, allowing the light rays to cross through it, producing a rainbow and similar sparkle patterns. Therefore, the consistency, properties, presence, or absence of inclusions will count for the difference in diamonds' clarity. Clarity summarizes the outside appearance of the inner being of a diamond.
Since diamonds go through a long birth process, most have birthmarks on the surface, which lead to surface defects—blemishes—or internal defects—inclusions. There are different inclusions, including cloudy and pinpoint inclusions, cavities, and cleavages. Moreover, blemishes also occur in different shapes, such as nicks, pits, and breaks. Almost all diamonds will have some of these clarity issues since they take millions of years to form. They can also result from the cutting process, which is very intense. Some clarity issues would be microscopic, while others would be macroscopic. This is where the difference comes from, which is why different diamonds have different prices and demands in the market.
While searching for a good diamond, you will encounter different clarity grades in diamonds. The clarity grades by GIA range from FL to I3, where FL stands for "Flawless Diamond with No Inclusions" and is the best. At the same time, I3 is the lowest grade of diamond clarity, with inclusions visible to the unaided eye. The clarity enhancement techniques, most of which are permanent, available in the market can help uplift the quality of a diamond. One such treatment is called "fracture filling diamonds," which improves the clarity of a diamond by filling its breaks or problems. Sometimes, lasers may also be used. One of the main factors why diamonds are expensive is because they are natural. Once we alter that quality of a diamond, it changes its nature; the diamond is not natural anymore.
Clarity is a relative term, and very few diamonds will be FL or inclusion-free. Choose a diamond that you like, which sparkles the most and is affordable. Stay above the SI2 GIA clarity grade and avoid diamonds whose clarity is severely affected by clouds. Inclusions in a diamond are its birthmarks and are essential factors in confirming a diamond based on a GIA or AGS report if it has no laser inscription. It is the reason some people prefer VVS diamonds to Flawless ones.
The GIA's clarity grade scale is the industry standard for determining the clarity of a diamond. It is among the four famous Cs (carat, cut, color, and clarity) and is critical in determining a diamond's price. Diamond clarity ranges from Flawless to I3 (or included 3). Consider diamonds with a clarity grade of SI2 or higher for under a 1-carat stone and SI1 or above for 1.5ct or higher. Avoid SI2 diamonds with a clarity grade solely based on clouds because they look ugly. However, clouds in VS clarity grade diamonds should not be a significant issue.