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The John Atencio Jewelry Glossary The John Atencio Jewelry Glossary
Glossary › Diamond Clarity

Glossary: Diamond Clarity

Among the Four Cs used to determine a diamond’s quality, clarity may be the most difficult to understand. While factors like carat and color seem self-explanatory, clarity is more nuanced – especially when it comes to choosing an engagement ring gemstone. Read on to learn the basics of clarity and find out how much it contributes to a diamond’s brilliance and fire.

What is Diamond Clarity?

woman showing off an engagement ring with great diamond clarity

 

Specifically, clarity refers to the absence of inclusions and blemishes inside — and on the surface of — a diamond. It essentially determines how closely the stone approaches flawless purity when examined under 10x magnification by an expert gemologist.

Together, inclusions and blemishes make up the clarity characteristics of any specific diamond. But what do we mean when we say the word ‘inclusions?’ Essentially, these are tiny natural imperfections trapped inside the stone during its formation process deep below the Earth’s crust. They are also what makes each individual diamond unique. 

Common types of diamond inclusions include:

  • Crystals of non-diamond minerals
  • Small cracks called feathers
  • Tiny cavities known as clouds
  • Knot lines resembling tiny threads of straw

Surface blemishes, on the other hand, occur during the cutting and polishing steps. They include nicks, scratches, and abrasions on the external facets of the diamond. Surface blemishes are considered less critical than inclusions in grading clarity.

Whether it’s natural or lab-grown, every diamond contains some combination of inclusions and other tiny imperfections. That said, the less visible they are to the naked eye, the higher the clarity and the greater the appeal. Clarity directly influences diamond value — the more flawless it looks, the rarer and more precious the stone.

Delving Into the Clarity Grading Process

Evaluating a diamond’s clarity occurs under the scrutinizing gaze of a professionally trained grader. Clarity characteristics become much more apparent when the gemstone is viewed under 10x magnification, which is the industry standard for analyzing clarity. This careful inspection reveals even barely perceptible feathers, crystals, clouds, and knots trapped during the diamond's formation.

Graders meticulously consider the number, size, type, position, and relief of imperfections to assign a clarity grade. To do this, they follow the clarity grading methodology outlined by the GIA, the creator of the universally accepted 4Cs grading system.

Location plays a key role, as inclusions in the center area or table of the diamond have more impact on clarity compared to flaws around the edges near the girdle.

The AGS, America’s leading authority on diamond quality, takes clarity assessment one step further. By using stronger microscopes and specialized lighting techniques, AGS appraisers reveal minute details impossible to see under 10x magnification. This emphasis on more detailed evaluation helps safeguard diamond buyers from hidden, problematic imperfections.

What Is the Best Diamond Clarity?

Diamond clarity ratings range from completely flawless to heavily included, based on close examination with 10x magnification. This clarity scale contains 11 possible grades, from flawless down to imperfect, assigned by professional gem labs:

Flawless (FL): No inclusions or blemishes visible under 10x magnification. Note that this is extremely rare — less than 1% of diamonds achieve this clarity grade.

Internally Flawless (IF): No inclusions, only minor external blemishes seen under 10x magnification. This is also very rare, applied to only around 3% of diamonds.

Very Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2): Miniscule inclusions are incredibly difficult for graders to spot under 10x magnification. Noticeable only by seasoned experts. About 5% of diamonds receive these high clarity ratings.

Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2): Minor inclusions seen from 10x magnification, yet faint and difficult to locate for untrained eyes. Around 14% of graded diamonds achieve these ratings.

Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2): Inclusions are somewhat easy for trained graders to spot under 10x magnification. These subtle flaws are not typically visible without magnification, but they do reduce value compared to higher clarity grades. Note that this rating is assigned to over 60% of diamonds submitted for grading.

Included (I1, I2, and I3): Obvious inclusions are seen under 10x magnification and may be visible to the naked eye in some cases. This significantly impacts beauty and decreases value. Roughly 20% of graded diamonds display these highly apparent imperfections.

As this scale demonstrates, higher clarity equals greater rarity in the world of diamonds. Premium VVS, VS, and SI clarity gems command significantly higher prices compared to low I1, I2, or I3 grades with noticeable inclusions.

 

photo of an engagement ring with great diamond clarity by John Atencio

 

Navigating the Nuances Between Clarity and Cost

So, is it all about ratings when it comes to diamond clarity? Not exactly. Beyond the clearly delineated GIA ratings, deciding between clarity grades involves some finer nuances. 

A diamond just barely rating an IF clarity may not appear any different face-up than one near the high end of VVS. Yet, due to minute differences in the grader’s analysis, they could be separated by thousands of dollars in cost.

Small changes in clarity can lead to big price variations without the diamond looking significantly more beautiful to the naked eye. Take the example below of 1-carat round diamonds with excellent cut, color, and clarity just one grade apart:

GIA 1 carat VS1 clarity, G color vs. GIA 1 carat VS2 clarity, G color

You could save a considerable amount on essentially the same perceived diamond beauty by opting for VS2 over VS1 clarity. Situations like this make it crucial to learn where your eyes perceive differences on the clarity scale when viewing diamonds in real life. 

Comparison shopping can prove that it’s better to invest extra budget into size or color over minor clarity differences imperceptible without a microscope. But this all depends on numerous factors, including the setting and shape of the gemstone. That’s why it’s important to shop at a reputable designer like John Atencio, who has a team of attentive consultants who can help guide you to the exact right diamond for your needs and budget.

 

woman showing off an engagement ring with great diamond clarity

 

Common Clarity Questions Made Clear

Many people share questions and concerns when it comes to diamond clarity. Below, we provide answers to some of the commonly asked questions:

What impact does a diamond’s clarity have on its durability?

Inclusions and blemishes can actually weaken a gemstone if they are large or located in specific areas. While flaws don’t inherently increase fragility, significant inclusions can pose durability risks when reaching the surface in vulnerable areas.

What does it mean for a diamond to qualify as flawless?

Flawless diamonds contain no blemishes or inclusions visible under 10x magnification when examined by trained graders. As previously mentioned, this exceptional clarity occurs in less than 1% of diamonds.

Do all diamonds have some inclusions?

In general, the answer to this question is ‘yes.’ Virtually every diamond contains microscopic irregularities resulting from trace minerals or extreme pressure during formation. A flawless rating means no imperfections detectable even by experts at 10x magnification. That said, even in flawless diamonds, there are almost certainly some flaws that are too small to see.

How should one judge inclusions when inspecting diamond clarity?

When assessing inclusions, focus most of your attention on the size, position, number, and visibility. Larger inclusions, especially near the center or table, detract more from clarity. Numerous smaller inclusions also reduce clarity in aggregate.

What areas on a diamond potentially impact clarity the most?

Inclusions under the table facets, near the culet, or extending to the surface significantly detract from clarity. These areas are more visible face-up and could increase the likelihood of breakage. Bear in mind that inclusions at the edges near the girdle have less effect on clarity rating.

Can small differences in clarity grade make a big price difference?

Minor changes between high clarity grades like IF and VVS do not impact naked-eye appearance much, yet carry large price jumps. Select clarity based more on your eyes than the rating scale. If you’re uncertain, talk to one of John Atencio’s knowledgeable jewelry consultants.

How to Make the Clarity Choice That’s Right for You

We’ve covered the science behind diamond clarity. But with so many nuanced factors affecting grading and value, how do you pick that perfect stone? Follow these expert tips when navigating diamond clarity for your engagement ring or jewelry purchase:

View diamonds in person when possible.

Comparison shop various clarity ratings up close rather than relying on paper grades alone. Let your eyes guide you on optimal combinations of size, cut, color, and clarity by prioritizing beauty over technical metrics that may not make a real difference up close.

Learn when higher clarity grades are essential.

Flawless or Internally Flawless ratings are non-negotiable for those wanting virtually perfect diamonds. But for many, differences between VVS through SI may be imperceptible without microscope magnification. Again, the setting and shape of your diamond play a big role in determining whether you need higher clarity or moderate clarity for your gemstone.

Seek input from a trusted source.

Work with experienced specialists who understand how inclusions can impact beauty and durability based on the 4Cs as a whole. John Atencio’s team will candidly guide you based more on real-world beauty than just aiming for the highest clarity grade.

Set your clarity bar just above visible inclusions.

Most inclusions don’t impact brilliance until they reach a visible SI1 level. Target just above that threshold, so you pay for factors you can see rather than theoretical microscopic details.

Compare clarity grading reports when possible.

When choosing between high-clarity diamonds with minute differences, request grading reports from more than one lab. Varying techniques and opinions from GIA, AGS, or other gemologists may provide greater insight if high clarity grades are important to you.

Let your budget guide the process.

Be willing to reduce clarity expectations if needed to achieve your ideal diamond size, cut style, or color grade. With the right setting and diamond shape, small clarity compromises can be hard to discern to the naked eye, which is generally how people will view your jewelry.

By taking scientific and emotional factors around diamond clarity into account, you’ll end up with a stone that completely captivates. And by carefully balancing sparkle, size, durability, and price, you can ensure long-lasting satisfaction and value no matter which clarity grade you select. 

Your diamond’s scintillating brilliance originates from deep within the Earth — unleash its full clarity potential by picking the perfect gemstone at John Atencio. Explore online, visit one of our locations, or make an appointment to meet with our attentive consultants, who can help you choose the perfect diamond for your budget.