If you go shopping for diamonds, you may notice something interesting. As you evaluate the clarity of two stones, you might notice that even though they are graded the same, one looks clearer than the other. Why is that?
Diamond Clarity Crash Course
Diamond clarity is graded according to how easy it is to see internal flaws (inclusions) inside the stone and external flaws (blemishes) on its surface.
The most popular grading scale is that of the Gemological Institute of America (G.I.A.) and is presented below:
FL (Flawless) – These diamonds have no visible flaws when looked at under a 10x loupe.
IF (Internally Flawless) – These stones have only surface flaws that are visible under magnification.
VVS1 and VVS2 (Very Very Slightly Included) – Only small inclusions are present, and they are hard to see; VVS1 is a higher clarity grade than VVS2.
VS1 and VS2 (Very Slightly Included) – Most inclusions in this range are invisible without magnification, but some flaws can occasionally be seen.
SI1 and SI2 (Slightly Included) – These diamonds have inclusions that are easy to see with magnification; some may be visible with the naked eye.
I1, I2 and I3 (Included) – Inclusions in these stones can easily be seen with the naked eye; diamonds in the lowest grade, I3, can have inclusions that can affect the integrity of the stone.
Why Clarity Grades Are Not Clear-Cut
Since clarity grades are based on a variety of criteria that are not easily expressed as exact numbers, determining the right grade requires some judgment on the part of the appraiser.
Therefore, there is some leeway when putting a stone in a certain category.
For example, one diamond may have five visible inclusions and another might have eight, and they could both end up in the same grade.
Since clarity grading is not an exact science, there is some variation among the diamonds classified in the same category.
This is also why individual clarity grades should be viewed as mini-ranges. For example, it is entirely possible for a diamond at the very low end of the SI2 grade to look like a stone from the very high end of I1.
How You Should Evaluate Diamonds on Clarity
Being aware of the variation of clarity within each grade can help you pick a better stone and save some money when buying diamonds.
Imagine that you like VVS2 clarity diamonds. Ask the jeweler to also show you stones one grade lower (VS1) and look at the clearest one among them to see if you are satisfied with its appearance.
Buying a diamond at the highest clarity end of this grade may save you a lot of money, and the stone will look very similar to the diamonds at the lower end of VVS2.
Alternatively, if you’ve decided that your budget allows you to buy an IF-grade diamond, ask to see many different stones of that clarity, and choose the best among them. This way you will buy a diamond that looks much more like a stone that is one grade higher, or virtually flawless.
The bottom line is, always ask to see different diamonds from the same clarity grade and also one grade lower.
Look at the stones under a loupe or microscope and you will see that they are different. Pick the best stone your money can buy, and don’t assume that all stones in a certain grade are the same.
A Note of Caution
Always ask for a certificate that documents the grade of the stone you are about to buy.
If the stone doesn’t have a certificate, the jeweler may sell you a diamond that is at the higher end of a certain clarity grade as a stone that is one grade higher.
Needless to say, this difference may translate into a sizable dollar amount. This is why you should never buy diamonds without a grading report.
Where to Buy Diamonds and Diamond Jewelry?
For diamond jewelry, we highly recommend James Allen because it shows real photos and videos for each diamond so you can take a 360-degree look at any stone before buying it.
For colored diamonds, we recommend Leibish & Co., which specializes in fancy color diamonds (use code JewelryNotes200 at checkout to get a 5% discount).