Diamond Clarity

Clarity, according to Socrates… Not found in the female mind, anywhere.

Webster’s Dictionary defines clarity as “clearness”.  Clearly he agreed with Socrates.

According to the superior male mind, flaws are not to be found in men.  However, diamonds have long been recognized as “A Girls Best Friend” and just as with men, these “little guys” definitely have flaws, which by the way, women tend to overlook to get what they want.

The Moral of the Story:  Since women don’t make sense to men, and men can’t see their flaws, then the flaws in a diamond should be accepted as they are, and priced accordingly.

The term “Clarity” refers to how clear or pure a diamond is internally. As with everything else in the world, the better a characteristic is perceived the more it costs. And like most things, there is a point on the scale where an improvement in clarity does not result in better performance beyond that of mere perception within our minds eye.

The clarity grade of a diamond is determined by a skilled diamond grader based upon the number, size, nature, and location of the internal (inclusions) and external (blemishes) or imperfections that are part of the overall structure of the diamond crystal.

Inclusions are defined by The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) as “characteristics which are entirely inside a stone, or extend into it from the surface.” These internal clarity characteristics, refer to natural impurities or markings such as: other mineral crystals, or small diamond particles that are present within the host diamond; feathers, fractures, chips and/or breaks in the diamond crystal; carbon spots; air bubbles; pin points; clouds; knots; cavities; naturals (think tree bark); visible distortions of the crystal structure; and even laser drill holes left by man’s attempts to remove and/or lighten other natural inclusions (see Clarity Treatments & Fracture Filled Diamonds). In short, inclusions are nothing more than Mother Nature’s little fingerprints and therein can be found perfection in the imperfection of nature.

Blemishes according to the GIA are “characteristics confined to, or primarily affecting the surface of the diamond.” These can be in the form of scratches, small nicks, chips, abraded facet edges, and portions of the rough crystals surface left on the finished diamond (naturals).

Most of our industry relies on the diamond clarity grading scale developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). The clarity grading scale is as follows:

FLAWLESS (FL): Describes a diamond in which a skilled observer, under favorable lighting conditions, cannot see any inclusions (internal imperfections) or surface blemishes, after thorough examination with a binocular microscope at ten power magnification or with a 10x corrected loupe. Internal graining is permitted, provided it does not draw any color or texture and is not observable through the crown (upper portion). Small extra facets on the pavilion (bottom portion) near the girdle (ridge between crown and pavilion) are permitted, provided they are not visible when viewed from above. So are small naturals, provided they are confined to the girdle and do not flatten the girdle outline. It is standard industry practice for the laboratories to add the comment “minor details of polish are not shown” on grading reports for Flawless and Internally Flawless diamonds, it’s one of those legal catch-all phrases to limit their liability and seems to appear on all FL and IF lab reports so don’t be freaked out by it.

INTERNALLY FLAWLESS (IF): Describes diamonds which have no internal characteristics observable under the same conditions as previously described, but which have minor surface blemishes that do not penetrate the diamond. Internal graining is permitted, provided it does not draw any color or texture. Surface grain lines are permitted provided they are not too thick or numerous as to detract from the beauty of the diamond.

VERY, VERY SLIGHTLY INCLUDED (VVS-1 & VVS-2): Describes diamonds which have very, very small inclusions which are difficult for a trained observer to detect under the aforementioned conditions. Colored or textured graining is permitted, provided it is not observable through the crown. Note: Because the inclusions in such a diamond are so minute, we usually locate them under 30 – 40x magnification and work our way down.

VVS-1: The plotting diagram above is for a round brilliant cut diamond with a clarity grade of VVS-1, the blue arrow indicates the location of symbols used by the laboratory to indicate the presence of small feathers. The second picture shows the diamond from a top down position using 20x magnification, the inclusions are not visible. The third picture shows the side profile of the diamond where the feathers are located as seen through 40x magnification, the feathers are very slight even at this higher degree of magnification. Remember that the industry standard for diamond grading is 10x magnification.

VVS-2: The plotting diagram pictured above is for a round brilliant cut diamond with a clarity grade of VVS-2. The primary inclusions consist of a few small diamond crystals located within the center region of the table facet. The second picture shows the diamond as seen through our Gem Scope using 20x magnification, the inclusions are not readily visible at this focal depth. The third picture shows the diamond crystals as seen through our Gem Scope using 40x magnification. As you can see, the inclusions are Very Very Slight yet they are more visible in this VVS-2 clarity diamond than those within the VVS-1 clarity diamond reference on the last page.

VERY SLIGHTLY INCLUDED (VS-1): The plotting diagram pictured above is for a round brilliant cut diamond with a clarity grade of VS-1. The primary inclusions consist of a few small diamond crystals located within the center region of the table facet. The second picture shows the table facet of the diamond as seen through our Gem Scope using 20x magnification, the inclusions are readily visible at this focal depth although they are still only slight. The third and fourth pictures show the diamond crystals as seen through our Gem Scope using 40x magnification. As you can see, the inclusions are Very Slight yet they are more visible in this VS-1 clarity diamond than those within the VVS-2 clarity diamond referenced previously.

VERY SLIGHTLY INCLUDED (VS-2): The plotting diagram pictured above is for a round brilliant cut diamond with a clarity grade of VS-2. The primary inclusions consist of several small diamond crystals located within the center region of the table facet and within the crown facets as indicated in the nine and twelve o’clock regions. The second picture shows the diamond as seen through our Gem Scope using 20x magnification, the inclusions are readily visible at this focal depth and will be relatively easy for most people to find through a 10x diamond grading loupe. As you can see, the inclusions are Very Slight yet they are more visible in this VS-2 clarity diamond than those within the VS-1 clarity diamond referenced previously.

SLIGHTLY INCLUDED (SI-1): The plotting diagram pictured above is for a round brilliant cut diamond with a clarity grade of SI-1. The primary inclusions consist of clouds of pinpoint size diamond crystals and a myriad of small diamond crystals and small fractures called feathers. The second picture shows the diamond as seen through our Gem Scope using 20x magnification, the inclusions are readily visible at this focal depth and will be easy for most people to find through a 10x diamond grading loupe. The third picture is a close-up of the table facet as seen through our Gem Scope using 20x magnification. The inclusions within this diamond are readily and immediately visible to a trained grader through 10x magnification and thus the clarity grade of this diamond is SI-1. It may be possible for you to locate the inclusions within an SI-1 clarity diamond without magnification from a top down perspective or you might not be able to, it varies from stone to stone and is dependent on your eyesight.

 

SLIGHTLY INCLUDED (SI-2): Inclusions are easier to find within diamonds which are graded as SI-2 in clarity and may be seen without magnification with careful scrutiny of the diamond. The easiest way to determine whether inclusions are visible without magnification within an SI-2 clarity diamond is to first locate the inclusions with a 10x diamond grading loupe and then remove the loupe from your field of vision and determine whether you can still locate the inclusions. We will be adding clarity photographs of an SI-2 clarity diamond to this page shortly.

Note: you might hear the clarity term SI-3 bantered about by jewelers who sell diamonds graded by the European Gemological Laboratories (EGL). The SI-3 clarity grade is not recognized by the GIA or AGS gemological laboratories and in our opinion is equivalent to the I-1 clarity grade on the GIA grading system.

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IMPERFECT (I-1, I-2 & I-3): Describes diamonds with medium or large inclusions which are usually obvious to a skilled observer with the unaided eye under favorable lighting conditions. Most people can see the inclusions within an I-1 clarity diamond without magnification if they relax and look past the brilliance of the diamond for breaks in the pattern of light return. The visibility of inclusions varies depending on the type, location, and size of the inclusion as well as whether it is light or dark in color. It is easy to mistake translucent or light colored inclusions for extra facets or sparkle within the diamond as is the case with the inclusions within the I-1 clarity diamond pictured here. The primary inclusions within this diamond are feathers, diamond crystals, and clouds of pinpoint size diamond crystals. Note that none of the feathers present within this I-1 clarity diamond are actually breaking the edge of the diamond which makes it a better specimen than many of the I-1 clarity diamonds that we see. The first image shows the plotting diagram and the second picture shows how the diamond faces up through our Gem Scope as seen using 20x magnification.

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This round brilliant cut diamond, pictured here at 20x magnification, is quite included. It is graded as I-2 and looks similar to this without magnification. Notice how much clearer the I-1 featured on the previous page is in comparison to this diamond. Many lower-end mall jewelry stores, department stores, television shopping channels & warehouse type discount outlets sell merchandise of this quality. It resembles crushed rock quartz, but is technically a diamond. By the way, if you just have to have the “fine” three quarter carat, I-2 clarity, specimen pictured above, we’re accepting sealed bids starting at $450.00 and that includes the solitaire mounting. The best thing we have to say about it is “well, it faces up white from across the room”.

DEAD: Yes, there really is an unofficial grade called “dead” in the world of diamonds and it refers to diamonds that are technically lower in clarity than I-3 but which are still too nice to be pressed into service in an industrial application. Diamonds which are “dead” often find their way into “promotional” or “commercial” quality jewelry. The word quality as used in the preceding sentence really should be “quality” but we thought that “promotional” or “commercial” “quality” “jewelry” might look “odd”.

Note: All of the preceding photographs were taken by, and are the exclusive property of Nice Ice, Inc. and NiceIce.com and serve to provide you with examples of each clarity grade and familiarize you with different types of inclusion patterns. They should not be considered, nor are they intended to be, absolute definitive examples for each clarity grade represented. Clarity grading consists of more than just visual identification of a diamond’s inclusions and inclusion pattern. A diamond should be examined with the unaided eye and under 10x magnification so that an overall visual impression of the stone may be considered. As you grade for clarity, consider the following factors:

Diamonds are not defective if they have inclusions, they are normal characteristics and all natural diamonds have inclusions, even those graded as Flawless (FL) or Internally Flawless (IF) may contain inclusions which are visible when the diamond is evaluated using 20x and higher magnification. The clarity grade of a diamond is determined using the industry standard of 10x magnification, thus additional inclusions may be visible when the diamond is viewed using higher degrees of magnification. Learn to appreciate the perfection within the imperfection of this wondrous creation of nature and recognize that the inclusion pattern within a diamond is similar to our fingerprints.

Diamonds must be clean for accurate grading. It is quite easy to mistake dust, dirt, oil, and water spots, for inclusions. The lint from a cloth used to wipe a diamond clean prior to grading may also resemble a clarity characteristic. Consult the services of a trained professional for assistance in locating and identifying the inclusions within your diamond.

Is the diamond being graded mounted or unmounted? Metal prongs and bezels (metal frames) can hide inclusions, blemishes, and chips.

Large inclusions tend to lower clarity grades more than small inclusions. Usually a clarity grade is based on one or two of the largest inclusions and small dust-like inclusions (called pinpoints) are generally ignored.

The type of inclusion can have a dramatic affect on the grade. For example, the feather (a minor fracture) in the round brilliant cut diamond graded as I-1 (pictured previously) would have a greater affect on the stone than a small garnet crystal.

Inclusions that appear in the diamond’s table (center)tend to lower clarity grades more than inclusions located near the girdle edge of the stone.

Dark inclusions tend to lower clarity grades more than colorless or white inclusions, simply because they are more visible.

If it is easy for you to detect inclusions through the top of a diamond without magnification, it is almost certainly an “I” grade. For a diamond to be graded as SI-2 or SI-3 in clarity you should have to locate the inclusions under 10x magnification or have them pointed out to you before you could locate them clearly with the unaided eye.

Remember that your opinion of a diamond can be affected by the quality of diamonds you have available for comparison. If you compare an SI-1 clarity diamond with the I-2 pictured above, the SI-1 will probably look better assuming that all other factors such as carat weight, cut quality, and color are equal. Many jewelry stores carry only one or two qualities of diamonds so that all of their merchandise looks comparable and no one diamond ring will look better than another. If you are looking for a diamond of higher quality, shop at stores that specialize in higher end merchandise.

Higher clarity grades are not always more desirable than lower clarity grades. A diamond graded as I-1 in clarity might look better than an SI-1 clarity diamond in terms of the actual visual performance because of cut quality (polish, symmetry, proportions) or it might have a higher body color which could make it look brighter.

The clarity grade of a diamond is not fixed and can change due circumstances such as scratches or chips which might be a result of wear. A diamond graded by the GIA in 1991 as being VS-1 in clarity that sustained a chip might be re-graded as an I-2 today, which would represent a substantial reduction in value. Thus if you are considering the purchase of a diamond which has been previously worn and/or which is on consignment, you should have the condition of the diamond verified by an independent GIA Graduate Gemologist or a gem appraiser with similar credentials and experience.

Clarity Enhanced or Fracture Filled diamonds are graded as to what they face up as after treatment. Generally the clarity enhancement process can improve a diamond by one full clarity grade, therefore an I-1 might grade as high as SI-1 after treatment.

Grading is an intricate process and a large portion of it is subjective. One diamond, graded by several different Graduate Gemologists is likely to be given several different, but similar grades. Likewise, diamonds sent to multiple gemological laboratories for certification frequently come back with slightly different grades. Sometimes, a diamond can even be sent back to the same laboratory that previously graded it and receive an entirely different, but similar grade just a few weeks later because it was evaluated by a different grader. What’s important is that the grades are similar and not at opposite ends of the scale. By the way, the same conditions apply to color grading.

Diamond grading is subjective, and not an exact science. So, don’t get stuck in hard rules and absolutes because there aren’t any. There are however guidelines and individual interpretations based on education and experience. If you’re looking at a diamond and you doubt the grade a store has given it, simply ask them to explain their basis for the grade. If they can’t, or won’t take the time to explain it, they probably aren’t the store for you.

When we had our retail jewelry store, we used a binocular microscope and video camera set-up to take pictures of the inside of diamonds and put them up on a television screen to explain diamond clarity to our customers. We used the same technology to provide our online customers with detailed clarity photographs for the diamonds that we represented when we sold diamonds online and many online diamond dealers use the same technology to provide diamond clarity photographs on their diamond details pages.

When taking clarity photographs, we use higher degrees of magnification than the 10x standard used for diamond grading in order to compensate for the resolution of most computer monitors. Most of the pictures that we place online were taken at 20x to 70x magnification and are 640 x 480 pixels so the inclusions might seem substantial, because we blew the diameter of the diamond up using considerable magnification! Take a moment to consider that it’s a little difficult to hide the inclusions in a diamond when the diameter of the stone has been increased from 6.5 mm (average diameter of a one carat round and the eraser on a #2 pencil in diameter) to the size of a basketball! It might be a hard sell to get your fiancé to say “yes” if she was examining the pores in your skin at the same degree of magnification that we use to produce our online clarity photographs. You bet the diamond is going to look better through a 10x diamond grading loupe! It is much more difficult to find the inclusions within a diamond with a 10x diamond grading loupe than it is to find them online using 20x – 70x magnification, especially when we’re helping you cheat by placing little arrows on the pictures to point out the inclusions!

Many people have told us that we are one of the few people in the diamond business who really seem to want people to know what’s inside of the diamond they are buying. Apparently, it’s like pulling teeth to get some jewelers to give you a 10x diamond grading loupe, not to worry there are many vendors online who will sell you a 10x diamond grading loupe and most of the vendors we work with will ship a free diamond grading loupe with the diamond at the time of your purchase.

Want to have a little bit of fun? Now that you have a better understanding of the different diamond clarity grades, take a moment to really look at the quality of the diamonds featured by various jewelry stores on their television commercials. We’re able to see how included the “Special, Featured, SALE Diamonds” are in the television commercials aired in our region, it gets to be pretty entertaining. Apparently there is truth in advertising; you just have to look for it. Once you see it, we believe that you’ll be amazed how you didn’t see it before. Life through a loupe, it’s a whole new world! Welcome to The Adventure!

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