Diamond Clarity Scale & Chart

Diamond Clarity Scale & Chart

Diamond Clarity Scale & Chart

Posted by Sharif Khan on 16th May 2015

GIA Diamond Clarity Scale

Bottom Line…

  • The amount of natural flaws in a diamond determines the clarity grade of a diamond. There are two types of clarity factors in a diamond in general – blemishes (external flaws such as chips and scratches etc.) and inclusions (internal flaws such as crystals and feathers etc.). See more below on clarity types.
  • Diamond clarity is a very technical factor in assessing the quality of a diamond. If you know how to play around it, clarity is one of the most flexible Cs among the 4Cs to compromise on while prioritizing the quality of a diamond. Therefore, it is important to know what to type of inclusions are generally better than other types and what type 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 generally considered as a bad inclusion, especially black large crystals. If they are on the side to the girdle and are white feathers or pinepoints, such inclusions are generally preferred, as long as they don’t weaken the girdle, making it prone to chipping. 
  • Use James Allen’s 360 Degree 40X Magnified HD Video Technology to view diamonds for inclusions prior to buying them.

A practical example... 

Below are two examples of SI1 clarity GIA graded diamonds. There are three important 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 of the left because it might show lesser inclusions on the report than the one on the right. However, the one of the right is a much better option than the one on the left. Here are the key reason why:

  • The one one the right has clarity grade based on clouds, which is a very negative factor. The other one doesn't. 
  • The one on the right has black crystals in the table where as the other one has no major inclusions in the table. 
  • Moreover, the on the left has small inclusions across the diamond (a desirable factor) and do not have big black crystals in general. 

Clarity diamond examples

Our key Observations on the Diamond Clarity Scale…

The Gemological Institute of America’ (GIA) diamond clarity scale is divided into the following categories:

Flawless or FL: a diamond that has no blemishes and inclusions would fall within this category. The best clarity grade.

Internally Flawless or IF : a diamond that has extremely minimal external blemishes, but no internal inclusions would fall within this category. 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 the inclusions of the diamond in this clarity grade. Often only trained gemologists can identify small inclusions in this grade. Because inclusions are considered as the natural birthmarks of a diamond, they are unique to each diamond just like our fingerprints are to us. You can verify a diamond by the location and type of inclusions in it. It is for this reason, VVS1 diamonds are cherished as much as flawless diamonds since they have a unique inclusion pattern, thus a unique identity.

Very Very Slightly Included 2 or VVS2: Right next to VVS1 is VVS2 clarity grade. Again, it is a very high clarity grade and untrained individuals would not be able to find inclusions in this clarity grade with a jeweler’s loupe. Gemologists would also need a microscope with higher magnification power to locate inclusions in this grade. If you can easily find inclusions with a loupe in a diamond, it is most 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 just like VVS diamonds. The boundary between VVS2 and VS1 is also very tight. While obviously VVS would have a higher price tag, you can’t go with a VS1 clarity grade diamond. Hint: if a diamond is VVS2 G and another is VS1 F, all other factors being equal, go for the later.

Very Slightly Included 2 or VS2: if you are on a budget and do not want to compromise on quality either, 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 not at all a bad clarity grade and definitely a great option if you want a big diamond for a good price without compromising on quality.

Slightly Included 1 or SI1: What we stated for VS2 is true for SI1 in the 1 carat range diamonds. SI1 diamonds in the 1 carat weight range are generally eye-clean if they are graded by GIA. 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 the brilliance of the diamond. SI1 is a great budget option that can help you get a great diamond for a good price that is still eye-clean to the naked eye.

Slightly Included 2 or SI2: There are SI2 diamonds in the 1 carat range that are eye-clean and there are some that are not eye-clean. It all depends on the type and location of the inclusion. If they are white feathers and spread out inclusions across the diamond, it would be eye-clean generally. If they are big black crystals, the diamond won’t be eye clean. In the 2 carat range or above, it is hard to find a good eye-clean SI2 diamond unless you are very lucky – it is possible. Carefully inspect SI2 diamonds before buying.

Included 1-3 (I1, I2, I3): These are the lowest clarity grade diamonds in GIA scale. Diamonds in this range are not eye clean and would often have bad brilliance and fire because of too many flaws. I1 could still be a decent clarity grade for people with budget constraints, but I2/I3 would be pushing it.

James Allen

Type of Inclusions…

There are several type diamond inclusions and blemishes, but the most common ones that you should be familiar with include:

Bearding: these inclusions form at the girdle of the diamond during the bruting (cutting) process. If a girdle is improperly brutted, it would affect the clarity grade.

Graining: these inclusions are caused by the growth of crystals in a diamond. If there are too much graining in a diamond, it can make the diamond look hazy.

Cavity: large cavities should be avoided as they can affect the overall structure of a diamond. Cavity is caused during the polishing process when crystals are moved, leaving an empty space or void as a result.

Crystals: this is very a common inclusion in a diamond. Black crystals such as carbons should be avoided. However, white colorless crystals are not as bad. Presence of large single crystals is also less desirable in a diamond.

Cloud: clouds are generally a cluster of crystals and pinpoints in one area. When clouds 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. Avoid a diamond which states “clarity grade is based on clouds” in the GIA report because that diamond is full of clouds and therefore not transparent.

Etch Channel: a hallow tunnel at the surface of the diamond that goes deep into its body like a channel. It can sometime look like a laser drilled treatment, but is actually a natural flaw.

Feather: is caused by a fracture in a diamond. It can be an issue if it is large and affects the structure of the diamond, making it prone 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 actually preferred to say black crystals.

Manufacturing Remnant: men made error in a diamond during the cutting process (this is what GIA call manufacturing remnant). This can happen especially when cutters use advance machines to cut diamonds. These are just residual/miner effects of the cutting process and should not be seen as clarity enhancement etc.

Pinpoints: these are small crystals (black or white). These are generally considered as less harmful inclusions and therefore more desirable, especially white pinpoints.

Twinning Wisps: these can be any inclusions (pinpoints, crystals, feathers etc.) that are the result of growth defects or distortion during the forming/growth process of a diamond over billions of years. Not harmful if small.

Chip: these are generally caused during the cutting process. Small chips are generally not harmful and can happen during the polishing of the facets.

Indented Natural: usually found near the girdle, it is a flaw that is left untouched beneath the surface of the diamond. It is often left untouched while polishing the diamond. It is usually a small inclusion and not as harmful to the brilliance of the diamond.

Why clarity?…

Clarity of mind, clarity of soul, clarity of expressions, clarity of immersions, and now clarity of diamonds. All of the above sound very similar except for the relation between clarity and the subject following it. The word clarity in itself is quite self-explanatory.

In the case of a diamond, clarity is very important. The ability of diamond to sparkle comes from its purity which allows the light rays to cross through it producing a rainbow and similar patterns of sparkle. Therefore, the consistency, properties and presence or absence of inclusions will count for the difference of clarity in diamonds. Clarity actually summarizes the outside appearance of the internal being of a diamond.

Since diamond goes through a long birth process, most diamonds have birth marks on the surface leading to surface defects known as blemishes or internal defects called inclusions. There are different types of inclusions including cloudy inclusions, pinpoint inclusions, cavities, cleavagesand so on. Moreover, there are different types of blemishes like nicks, pits and breaks etc. Almost all diamonds will have some of these clarity issues since it toke millions of years for them to form as well as due to the cutting process which is very intense. Some of the clarity issues would be microscopic while others are macroscopic. This is where the difference arises and hence the market value and demand variation of different diamonds.

There are different grades of clarity of diamonds that you will come across while searching for a good diamond. Clarity grades by GIA range from FL to I3, where FL stands for Flawless diamond that has no inclusions and is the best diamond clarity while I3 is the lowest grade of diamond clarity that has inclusions visible through an unaided eye. There are clarity enhancement techniques available in the market that can be helpful in uplifting the quality of a diamond, and most of such treatments are permanent. One such treatment is called “fracture filling diamonds”that improves the clarity of a diamond by filling the breaks or problems in the diamond. Sometimes laser may also be used for such treatments. One of the main factors why diamonds are expensive is because they are natural, and once we alter that quality of a diamond, to us, it changes the nature of that diamond - it's not natural anymore!

Clarity is a relative term and very few diamonds would be FL or inclusion free. Choose a diamond that you like, which sparkles best and is affordable. Stay above SI2 GIA clarity grade. Avoid diamonds the clarity of which is severally affected by clouds! Inclusions in a diamond are its birthmarks and are some of the most important factors in confirming a diamond based off a GIA or AGS report if the diamond has no laser inscription. Some people actually prefer VVS diamonds to Flawless diamond due to this fact!

Conclusion…

GIA’s clarity grade scale is the industry standard for determining the clarity of a diamond. Clarity is among one of the four famous Cs (carat, cut, color & clarity) and a critical factor in determining the price of a diamond. Diamond Clarity ranges from Flawless to I3 (or included 3). Consider diamonds that have clarity grade of SI2 or higher for under 1 carat stone and SI1 or above for 1.5ct or above. Avoid SI2 diamonds that have clarity grade solely based off clouds as they look ugly. Clouds in VS clarity grade diamonds should not be a major issue!