Wondering what diamond clarity is and how it affects the price of diamond?
Perfect, you're in the right place!
In this Learning Jewelry guide, you'll learn:
- What diamond clarity is
- How clarity of a diamond affects price
- What the different types of inclusions are in most diamonds
- The diamond clarity scale (SI2 vs VS1, etc)
- And our buying advice when it comes to considering clarity
As someone who wants the best deal on a diamond, clarity can make a HUGE difference in price, but almost NO difference in what you can actually see with your naked eye (i.e., an eye-clean diamond).
Read this guide to get the skinny on what you need to know to make the best buying decision within this critical "C" in the 4C's.
The clarity of a diamond is driven by its absence of flaws. The location, visibility, and nature of inclusions in a diamond affect the diamond’s clarity grade. Since no two specimens are identical, defining a clarity grade can be subjective and more often requires a few gemologists to come to an agreement before establishing a clarity grade.
However, the clarity grade is by no means the most important way of defining the value of a diamond. It is common for stones of equal clarity grades to have different prices. You may find a diamond of less clarity grade commanding higher prices simply because the inclusions are somewhat more attractive and symmetrical.
Furthermore, dealers may buy diamonds with unusual inclusions and sell at discount rates without buyers even noticing the nature of inclusions. A diamond’s clarity can only be assessed using a trained eye or under a 10x microscope. If you’re not sure on how to value a diamond in terms of inclusions/flaws, then keep reading.
What is “Diamond Clarity”?
As one of the important 4Cs of a diamond’s classification, clarity is an evaluation of the spread and number of inclusions (internal) or blemishes (external) in a diamond. Each point of inclusion or blemish will cause a bend in the refraction of light as it passes through the diamond.
Diamond clarity grade is qualitative and stones with fewer inclusions receive a higher clarity grade. The GIA came up with rather interesting names as a way of scaling the best to worst diamonds in terms of clarity. Here it goes (worst to best):
Inclusions 3 (I3), Inclusions 2 (I2), Inclusions 1 (I1), Small Inclusions 2 (SI2), Small Inclusions 1 (SI1), Very Small Inclusions 2 (VS2), Very Small Inclusions 1 (VS1), Very Very Small Inclusions 2 (VVS2), Very Very small Inclusions 1 (VVS1), Internally Flawless (IF,), Flawless (FL). If you were wondering were the term VVS diamond comes from, now you know! We’ll get into details later on.
How Does Diamond Clarity Affect Price?
Clarity is one of the biggest influencers on a diamonds price and the fewer the inclusions, the higher the prices. However, GIA’s clarity grades are just too many and you might get confused in the middle. For instance, Flawless grade is the most expensive but not necessarily the best option if you are shopping for a diamond. Sometimes the price also takes into account the rarity of the stone.
Technically, it is impossible to distinguish between an FL diamond and VS2 diamond with a naked eye, even though the latter has minor inclusions. These inclusions are, however, visible under 10x magnification when examined by a person who trained in gemology. Perhaps the most intriguing part is that a VS2 diamond costs a fraction of what you would have spent buying a Flawless diamond.
Looking at the right price for clarity, moving up a few grades may not heavily affect the price of a diamond, especially in the lower grades (VS and SI). Jumping from a VVS1 to IF will definitely cost you a bunch even though the stone is a few grades higher. Apart from clarity, also be keen on other factors such as table and depth percentages.
What Are Inclusions?
Due to the environment where diamond forms, finding a flawless diamond is very rare. Small crystals that find themselves trapped during its formation are what we call inclusions.
As the diamond’s crystal grows, the inclusions interfere with its atomic structure forming different shapes. Many inclusions are too tiny to be seen by the naked eye and as such, clarity grades like VS1 and SI2 may look exactly the same to an untrained eye.
What Are The Different Types Of Inclusions?
When determining the clarity of a diamond, inclusions take several forms. Here are the most common categories of inclusions:
Once a diamond is cut, sometimes white/clear lines form around the girdle of the stone. This is commonly referred to as bearding and may give the diamond a hazy look. These lines can be re-cut or polished so they are removed.
When the crystal growth rate of a diamond becomes irregular (due to inclusions), the extra stress may cause lines to form around the diamond. These lines could be either white or colorless and could also make the stone appear fuzzy.
Inclusions in the diamonds may cause cavities, which can appear colorless or take the color of the inclusion. If the inclusions were orange, then it would be visible and possible to notice the color with an unaided eye.
A feather is a crack within the diamond’s crystal and depending on where it is located, it can have adverse effects on the structure of the diamond. Feather inclusions are common causes of chips in polished stones.
Wisps are usually a result of breaks in crystal growth. Every now and then, a diamond will stop growing due to sudden environmental changes. Ultimately, favorable conditions will resume and it will continue to grow. This effect causes hazy areas at the start/stop points.
Pinpoint and Needle
Pinpoint is where a trace mineral becomes trapped during the formation of a diamond. Needles are a little different in appearance, as they appear to have been stretched during crystal growth. In essence, needle and pinpoint may have a few implications on the overall appearance of a diamond.
What Is the Diamond Clarity Scale?
The clarity of a diamond has significant implications on the price. To differentiate these clarity levels, the Gemological Institute of America formulated a diamond clarity scale. They go from Flawless to included with 6 major grades. Here’s a lay definition of the levels of clarity in GIA’s diamond clarity scale:
As the name states, a flawless diamond has zero flaws or inclusions under 10x magnification. Finding such a diamond is so rare that you’ll hardly find them in stores. They are mostly on sale in auction houses.
Internally flawless diamonds have a few surface blemishes and no internal inclusions under a 10x microscope. An IF diamond will be a retailer’s highest quality diamond but are also not very common. Here's where you can buy an IF diamond.
VVS1 diamonds may have an inclusion but it will be very hard to see, even by a skilled gemologist. The inclusion may be seen only under 20x magnification.
Check out our VVS diamond buying guide here.
Inclusions in VVS2 diamonds are also hardly noticeable under 10x magnification. The differences between VVS2 vs VVS1 are merely in terms of quantity, type, or shape of inclusion.
In this category, inclusions are still invisible to the naked eye and even experienced graders may have a difficult time locating them under a 10x microscope. To the naked eye, there would not be much difference between a VS1 and a VVS1 diamond, all other things being equal.
Diamonds placed under this category may have groups of inclusions that are visible under 10x magnification. Most specimens will also not be eye-clean.
By the time a diamond is graded at this level, inclusions are visible under magnification. As much as 50% of SI1 diamonds may have no visible inclusions, so it’s important to look for eye-clean diamonds in this category.
SI2 diamonds are rarely eye-clean and most jewelers avoid stocking these diamonds due to their low pricing. Furthermore, steps like Asscher and Emerald in an SI2 make the inclusions more visible to the naked eye.
We have this SI Diamond Buying Guide if you're interested in acquiring SI1 or SI2 clarity diamonds.
Note: SI2 is where GIA's official SI clarity grade tier ends. If you encounter anything about SI3 diamonds, I caution you to stay away because that isn't a legit GIA grade.
I1 inclusions are pretty obvious to the naked eye even with brilliant cuts. Diamonds in this grade may not be the best for jewelry, but there are ways to navigating your purchase of an I clarity grade diamond that can allow you to make the most of it and end up with something you can live with.
As with the first degree, diamonds in this scale have visible inclusions and can sometimes skew the brilliance properties of the diamond. Diamonds with such grades are rarely cut into valuable jewelry pieces and most are sold at discounted prices.
These tend to be mush lower quality and should be avoided.
The Other C's
Don't forget that there are three other factors other than clarity that are used to grade and evaluate diamonds:
When buying a diamond, it's important to consider all four of these factors to ensure that you're getting a high-quality and valuable stone. A diamond that scores high in all four categories will be more expensive, but it will also be more beautiful and enduring.
Read more on how to find the right balance of color vs clarity in a diamond and still stay within your budget.
My Recommendations When It Comes to Diamond Clarity
To wrap things up, clarity is but one component which affects both the value and appearance of a diamond. An expert’s eye is really important when assessing whether a diamond is the best option. If you are purchasing online, you should consider stores that offer at least 10x magnification photos or videos for a clear assessment. James Allen and Blue Nile would be your best bet!
Purchasing a diamond is just like any other investment. You should always consider resale options. Keeping in mind that even cars lose roughly 15% of their value, choose a diamond with tolerable inclusions that may have lesser impacts during your next resale pitch.