One of the most important quality characteristics of diamonds is clarity, and the good news is that it is not that hard to evaluate it. Let’s see how you can buy a reasonably clean diamond at the best possible price.
The Diamond Clarity Grading Scale
Diamond clarity is graded according to how many inclusions (internal flaws) can be found in a stone and how visible they are.
The G.I.A. (Gemological Institute of America) classifies the clarity of diamonds into the following categories (from highest to lowest):
FL – Flawless
IF – Internally Flawless
VVS – Very, Very Slightly Included (with sub-grades VVS1 and VVS2, which is the lower grade)
VS – Very Slightly Included (further divided into VS1 and VS2 clarity)
SI – Slightly Included (further split into SI1 and SI2 clarity)Black Friday Deal: Click here to get up to 50% OFF engagement ring settings from James Allen.
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I – Included (includes the sub-grades I1, I2 and I3)
Should You Go for the Highest Clarity?
There’s no question that if you buy a Flawless or an Internally Flawless diamond, you won’t see any inclusions inside the stone.
However, diamonds with these clarity grades are very rare and expensive (and many stores don’t actually carry FL diamonds). The truth is, you can find a diamond that looks as clean as an FL or IF stone but at a much lower price.
It is true that the main difference between FL/IF diamonds and lower graded stones is in the visibility of their inclusions.
However, it is also true that most of these differences are visible only under a 10x loupe. In fact, in most diamonds with a clarity grade of SI1 and higher, you are unlikely to see inclusions with the naked eye.
So, if you want to get a diamond that is both clean and affordable, you can take a look at diamonds in the clarity grades below IF. But how much lower should you go?
Picking an Eye-Clean Diamond
The rule of thumb for saving money on clarity is to go for an eye-clean diamond of the lowest possible clarity grade.
“Eye clean” is a term used to describe a stone that doesn’t have inclusions visible with the naked eye when the diamond is looked at from the top, from a normal viewing distance.
As for how low you should go down the clarity scale, generally, most diamonds graded SI1 are eye clean. SI2 diamonds are likely to have some visible inclusions, but you may still find an eye-clean stone in this grade.
Once you get into the I1 grade, diamonds with non-visible inclusions are the exception, and I2 and I3 stones will certainly not be eye clean.
How To Determine Diamond Clarity
Unless you look at a diamond under 10x magnification, it would be very hard to determine the exact clarity grade of a stone.
Even if you do use a jeweler’s loupe, you would have a hard time pinpointing what level of clarity you are looking at unless you are experienced in diamond grading.
Nevertheless, you can still get a rough idea of the broader clarity range a stone falls into just by looking at it.
Here is a quick guide to how different clarity grades may look when you inspect a stone:
FL / IF / VVS Clarity: FL diamonds do not have any inclusions visible inside them, even when using a 10x loupe. The only difference between this grade and IF clarity is that IF diamonds have some blemishes on their surface, but not inside.
VVS-clarity diamonds have some tiny inclusions within, but these flaws are so small that even experienced graders have a hard time seeing them under magnification.
So, if you cannot readily discern any inclusions in a stone under 10x magnification, then it is likely that its clarity is in the FL-IF-VVS range.
VS1-VS2 / SI1 Clarity: Diamonds with clarity graded VS1, VS2, or SI1 have inclusions that can be seen under magnification but are usually invisible to the naked eye.
Occasionally, some flaws may be visible without a loupe, but these inclusions will usually be few and small, and will not be located prominently.
If you can see inclusions in a stone with a 10x loupe but not without it, then it is likely that the diamond falls into this clarity range.
SI2 Clarity: Stones in this clarity grade have inclusions that are easily seen under magnification. Often, they are also visible with the naked eye. You may find eye-clean diamonds among these stones if you take the time to sort through them, but most of them aren’t. The inclusions are more numerous compared to those in SI1 stones, but they are usually not as prominent as in I-clarity diamonds.
I1 / I2 / I3 Clarity: If a stone has inclusions clearly visible to the naked eye, and if the flaws are numerous and/or located centrally (i.e., easily visible through the center of the stone’s top surface), then the diamond’s clarity is most likely in the I1-I2-I3 range.
Keep in mind that these guidelines are only approximate.
For example, sometimes you might see a VS-clarity stone with a clearly visible inclusion or an I1 diamond that doesn’t look much more included than an SI2 one.
The best way to find out the clarity grade of a stone is to read its grading report or to have the diamond evaluated by a grading lab.
Clarity Grades Are Not Everything
An important thing to remember when examining diamonds is that not all stones within a certain clarity grade are created equal.
For example, while most diamonds in the VS2-clarity grade won’t have inclusions visible with the naked eye, occasionally, you may see a stone with a noticeable flaw.
In general, whether an inclusion will be visible without magnification depends on the color, transparency, size and location of the flaw.
Since no two diamonds are alike, you should examine each stone you are considering regardless of its formal clarity grade and see if the diamond has any visible inclusions. Don’t rely blindly on the clarity grading scale – use it only as a guideline.
How the Setting Can Hide Diamond Inclusions
Even if you have a diamond with a visible inclusion, if you can mount the stone in a setting that will hide the flaw, your diamond will still look eye clean.
In such a case, you may find that an SI2 stone with a visible inclusion is a viable option if the flaw is only noticeable from the diamond’s side, which can be hidden by a bezel or prong when the stone is set in a ring.
Don’t discount the setting when choosing among clarity grades. By factoring it into your decision, you may be able to save some money on clarity and end up with a stone that still looks clean.