You may have heard that the clarity of some diamonds sold in jewelry stores has been enhanced, but do you know what such treatment entails? Let’s take a closer look at diamond clarity enhancements.
What Are Clarity-Enhanced Diamonds?
Clarity-enhanced diamonds are diamonds that have been treated with heat or certain substances to make these stones look clearer than they naturally are. Diamonds that have undergone such treatment are real diamonds, but some of their most visible flaws have been removed or masked.
How Is Diamond Clarity Enhanced?
There are two main ways to enhance the clarity of diamonds: laser drilling and fracture filling.
Laser drilling is a technique used to remove inclusions such as black spots of non-crystallized carbon or foreign crystals embedded into the diamond. The method involves making a small hole in the diamond and drilling a very thin tunnel from the stone’s surface to an inclusion inside the stone.
This tunnel is then used to remove the inclusion by using heat or acid. For example, a black spot inside a diamond can be burned out with laser and vaporized. This enhancement method improves clarity permanently.
After the procedure has been completed, there is an empty space left where there was previously the inclusion.
Technically, the resulting hollow inside the diamond would be considered a type of flaw, but it is not visible.
As for the tunnel drilled in the stone, it is usually thinner than a hair and is practically invisible; it can be seen only with a microscope.
The clarity of diamonds whose inclusions have been removed through laser drilling can usually increase by up to one grade (sometimes more).Black Friday Deal: Click here to get up to 50% OFF engagement ring settings from James Allen.
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The downside of laser drilling is that it can weaken the structure of the diamond. That’s not an issue if there are only a few holes drilled; however, if a stone has had a lot of inclusions removed this way, the sheer number of resulting channels and cavities inside it can make it easier to break.
After the clarity of a diamond has been enhanced through laser drilling, the channels and the empty space that are left after the inclusions have been removed are filled with a crystalline, glass-like substance. This treatment is called “fracture filling.”
The goal of this procedure is to make the traces from laser drilling less visible by masking the remaining cavities, making the diamond look better.
The problem with fracture filling is that it is not permanent. The material used to fill the tunnels can melt or break if a jeweler uses heat to repair your diamond jewelry.
Not to mention that once a diamond is fracture-filled, it should not be put in an ultrasonic cleaner as it can damage the filling.
Another issue with fracture filling is that the injected substance in the diamond reflects light differently and can change the stone’s sparkle or even alter its color.
A problem worth mentioning is that if you have a laser-drilled or fracture-filled diamond and decide to sell it, many jewelers will not buy it because they prefer not to carry treated stones.
While not strictly considered a diamond enhancement in the way fracture filling and laser drilling are, re-cutting is another way to improve the clarity of a diamond. This means that the jeweler will simply take the stone and cut some material from all sides, removing some of the inclusions of the diamond in the process.
The problem with this solution is that it reduces the carat weight of your diamond and you end up with a smaller and cheaper stone.
Needless to say, this method works if the inclusions are mostly close to the surface of the stone; if they are towards the center, you can’t really cut them out.
Clarity-Enhanced vs. Untreated Diamonds: What Is The Difference?
In general, clarity-enhanced diamonds are cheaper than stones of similar clarity but without any treatments.
There are also some other differences in appearance and durability.
Laser-Drilled vs. Untreated Diamonds
The channels in a laser-drilled diamond can make its structure weaker compared to that of an untreated stone.
If only a small number of inclusions are removed, the resulting channels won’t be numerous and are unlikely to cause problems.
However, if the stone is heavily included and a lot of tunnels are drilled in it, the diamond may become easy to crack.
Not all vendors disclose that a diamond has been laser-drilled.
However, the tiny channels can be seen if you look at the stone under a microscope.
If the diamond has been certified by the G.I.A. (Gemological Institute of America), the grading report of the stone will contain information on whether it has been drilled.
Fracture-Filled Diamonds vs. Untreated Diamonds
Laser-drilled diamonds whose channels have been filled do not look much different from regular diamonds at first glance.
However, since the crystalline filling has different refractive properties from those of diamond, the sparkle and color of the stone can be somewhat altered, especially if the filled channels are numerous.
A more important difference is that fracture-filled diamonds are more vulnerable to high temperatures, which can destroy the filling.
This is why repairing jewelry with such stones can be tricky if the jeweler needs to use heat.
In addition, fracture-filled diamonds should not be cleaned in ultrasonic cleaners because they can damage the filling of these stones.
Note: Because of the impermanent nature of its results, fracture filling has to be disclosed by the vendor for diamonds sold in the U.S.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Clarity-Enhanced Diamonds?
Pros of Clarity-Enhanced Diamonds
The most obvious pros of enhanced diamonds are their relative affordability and improved looks.
The biggest advantage to buying clarity-enhanced diamonds is their price.
A stone that has been treated to improve clarity can cost 20-30% less than an untreated diamond of the same clarity grade.
So, if you consider enhanced diamonds, you can get a pretty good deal on a stone with the clarity grade you are looking for.
Clarity-enhancing techniques can remove some prominently located flaws and turn a stone that has one or more visible inclusions into an eye-clean diamond.
Coupled with the bargain prices such stones are usually sold at, this improvement in appearance can be considered pretty good value.
Cons of Clarity-Enhanced Diamonds
The biggest potential issues with treated diamonds are related to durability, endurance, and altered appearance.
Potential Durability Issues
One problem with diamonds enhanced through laser drilling is that the tunnels created in the stone can undermine its durability.
This is usually not a problem with diamonds that have had only a few inclusions removed.
However, low-clarity diamonds that have had numerous and big inclusions cleared off through laser drilling can end up with a lot of tunnels, which could weaken the structure of such stones.
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Fracture Filling Is Not Permanent
Diamonds that have been laser-drilled and whose channels have then been filled with a transparent substance should not be subjected to high temperatures or ultrasonic cleaning. Otherwise, the crystal filling could be destroyed.
This is actually one of the biggest downsides of fracture filling – its results are not permanent.
Diamond Brilliance and Color May Be Affected
Another disadvantage of fracture-filled diamonds is that the filler can affect their brilliance or color.
Since the glasslike filling substance has refractive properties that are different from those of diamond, the filled tubes reflect light differently and can thus create some odd optical effects (such as unusual colors in the stone’s sparkle).
Clarity-Enhanced Diamonds Are Hard to Resell
Unlike untreated diamonds, which can often be resold or exchanged for another stone, clarity-enhanced diamonds cannot be sold or traded in as easily once bought.
Many jewelers do not want to carry treated stones, especially if they have been fracture-filled.
A Note on Buying Enhanced Diamonds
If you are about to buy a diamond, you should keep in mind that since fracture filling is a treatment that is considered impermanent, the seller is obligated to disclose it to the customer.
On the other hand, if a diamond has undergone only laser drilling, this enhancement is not required to be explicitly disclosed as it is deemed to have a permanent effect.
However, laser drilling is indicated on the diamond grading reports issued by the GIA – the laser drill holes on the stone are listed there, so if you want to find out whether a diamond has been enhanced, ask to see its certificate.
From the GIA:
GIA does not issue grading reports for any diamond that has undergone a treatment process that’s considered nonpermanent or unstable, such as coating or fracture filling.
GIA will issue reports for diamonds that have been laser drilled or HPHT processed, disclosing the presence of treatments on the report.