Have you heard the term “laser-drilled diamond”? If you are wondering what this means, read on. Let’s see what laser drilling is and whether you should buy diamonds treated this way.
What Is Laser Drilling?
Laser drilling is a way to enhance the clarity of a diamond.
The process involves using laser to drill tiny holes (thinner than a hair) in the stone, all the way from its surface to an inclusion inside.
This channel is then used to remove the inclusion by either melting it with heat or dissolving it with acid.
Laser drilling is usually used to remove more obvious inclusions such as black spots.
How Much Can Laser Drilling Improve Clarity?
Most often, the clarity improvement that can be seen in a laser-drilled diamond is about one grade up.
For example, if you have a stone that is graded I1, laser drilling can remove some of the more visible inclusions, bumping the diamond’s clarity up into the SI range (turning the diamond into an SI2 or SI1 stone).
It is rare to see an improvement of more than two grades. It’s not that it is impossible to see such a jump, but it comes down to a tradeoff between looks and sturdiness: The bigger the clarity improvement, the more drill holes it entails, and the more channels drilled in the diamond, the weaker its structure becomes.
A Note of Caution: Laser Drilling May Be Undisclosed
In the U.S., the F.T.C. does not require an explicit disclosure of laser drilling enhancements when diamonds are sold.
The logic behind this is that the change in clarity is permanent: If you buy an enhanced diamond that was improved from SI2 to SI1, it remains an SI1 stone forever.
Disclosure regulations can always change, but you as a customer should do the best to protect your interests. Ask explicitly and check if the diamond you are going to buy has been laser-drilled, even if there’s no mention of such a treatment in writing.
But why is it so important to know if a diamond has been treated this way? Well, it turns out that laser drilling can sometimes cause problems.
Potential Problems with Laser Drilling
Drilling tiny channels within a diamond weakens its structure, even if this effect is not significant. In most cases, diamonds that have been laser drilled hold up well as long as the drill holes are not too numerous.
The problem with durability becomes more serious when there are a lot of tunnels drilled in the stone.
You should remember that removing an inclusion this way not only leaves a channel within the diamond but also creates an empty space where the removed inclusion was.
In general, be wary of diamonds with too many drill holes. If you happen to buy such a stone, keep in mind that you should protect it more carefully against accidental hits or bumps, which may cause the diamond to crack or chip.
How to Tell If a Diamond Has Been Laser Drilled
The easiest way to find out if a diamond has been laser drilled is to look at its certificate. A diamond report issued by the G.I.A. (Gemological Institute of America) will list the drill holes in the stone, if there are any.
If you don’t have a certificate, or if you just want to inspect the stone yourself, you can always ask to see the diamond under a microscope. Such an examination will allow you to see firsthand how many channels are drilled in the stone you are about to buy.
What Is Fracture Filling?
Now that you know what laser drilling is, you may also want to know if there is a way to fix the holes drilled in a diamond after its inclusions have been removed.
Fracture filling is a process that attempts to do exactly that: Jewelers fill the tunnels and cavities with a crystal substance, making the results of laser drilling even less visible.
Unlike laser drilling, however, fracture filling does not yield permanent result, and this is why it must be disclosed. Subjecting a fracture-filled diamond to heat or ultrasonic cleaning can destroy the crystal filling and damage the stone.
Buying Laser Drilled Diamonds
Should you buy a naturally clear diamond or pay less money for an enhanced one?
The decision comes down to whether you think the savings are worth it considering the lower durability of a laser-drilled stone.
This is a personal choice, but when weighing the pros and cons of each alternative, be aware that the more drill holes a diamond has, the less durable it is, and vice versa.
If you are concerned about the risk of cracking or chipping your diamond, pick a stone that has as few drill holes as possible.