Diamond Clarity

A Beginner's Guide

image of a diamond ring

What is diamond clarity?

Almost every diamond will have some sort of inclusions or blemishes. Finding a diamond that is 100% pure is extremely rare. Clarity is the term used to describe the level of internal and external imperfections that make up part of an individual diamond. A flawless diamond is rare. The fewer flaws a diamond has the more it is worth. Simple supply and demand. Clarity is only one of the major four factors that determines value, along with the other 4 Cs of Carat Weight, Cut, and Color. In the diamond trade clarity may also be referred to using the words “purity” or “quality”.

As diamonds form naturally in the earth other materials can grow or become trapped in the diamond during their formation. In many cases these changes do not make the stone look more attractive; It’s not hard to see that inclusions and blemishes can have an impact on the appearance of a diamond. These flaws are most readily seen among the lower grades of clarity.

Diamond clarity is an important factor in assessing the beauty of a diamond. Light needs to pass through the diamond for it to sparkle. Clarity therefore, as the quality of diamonds that relates to the existence and visual appearance of internal characteristics of a diamond called inclusions, and surface defects, called blemishes, impacts the way light interacts with the stone. Clarity, though it is only one of the four Cs of diamond grading, the others being carat, color, and cut, is still a major factor. Diamonds with higher clarity grades do not have inclusions that have much effect on the diamond’s beauty. It is difficult for an untrained eye to see any difference between a completely flawless diamond and one that is very very slightly included.

It stands to reason that most diamonds are not going to be flawless. Natural diamonds are the result of carbon placed under tremendous heat and pressure deep in the earth. This process almost invariably results in producing diamonds with a variety of internal characteristics called ‘inclusions’ and external characteristics. Anything that is not part of the perfect matrix of carbon atoms and which can be seen under magnification or with the unaided eye is considered a ‘blemish.’ The exception to this is when the diamond includes trace elements that create stunning colors.

Evaluating diamond clarity by a lab technician involves noting the amount, size, relief, nature, and location of these characteristics. They take into account how these blemishes affect the overall appearance of the stone. The closer a diamond comes to looking perfectly clear the higher it is valued.

The GIA Diamond Clarity Scale has six categories. Some of these categories have further subdivisions. This makes a total of 11 clarity grades in the GIA grading system.

Many inclusions and blemishes are only obvious under 10X magnification. They are simply too tiny to be seen by anyone other than a trained jeweler or diamond grader. To the unaided eye, a VS1 and an SI2 diamond may look no different. In actuality VS1 and SI2 diamonds are not at all the same in terms of overall quality. This is why expert and accurate assessment of diamond clarity is extremely important.

Like the color scale, GIA’s clarity grading system was created because jewelers were using terms that were unclear to consumers. Terms like “loupe clean” or “piqué.” are not readily understood. The GIA clarity grading system is now widely used and is understood around the world. Even if you buy a diamond outisde of the United States, the jeweler will quite likely use GIA terms like VVS1 and the like.

Does diamond clarity matter?

Clarity affects the price of all diamonds. The higher the color the more clarity grades increase a stone's price. In order to decide on what clarity you want in your diamond you will have to make a decision on how you want to balance beauty and budget. It’s not possible to completely ignore clarity. Clarity matters. An inclusion, if placed in an obvious spot in the diamond can have a serious effect on the diamond’s light performance. And nobody wants a dull diamond. A diamond that is heavily included can have close to zero light return; You’re not going to get any sparkle from that kind of stone!

But don’t get too caught up in only looking for a high clarity grade. All of the Four C’s come into play. The most common mistake many buyers make is only thinking about carat weight. Once you know about clarity it’s important to not go overboard and think that clarity is the most important factor. A nice big rock can look great, but not if is has a poor cut quality has a low color grade and a low clarity grade.

While clarity is important, it isn’t more important than cut quality. The cut grade should always have first priority when it comes to diamond quality. If a diamond has an excellent cut then it can supersede other qualities that would otherwise be a big detriment.

There are of course other reasons than mere aesthetics why some people might choose higher clarity diamonds over those with lower clarity. In some cultures it has to do with the image and symbolism of purity. Higher clarity is seen as representative of higher purity.

Naturally this is only in some cultures and may not play a role in the way you select your diamond. If a salesperson is very pushy on the level of clarity they want you to buy it could be that they don't stock a wide range of diamonds. There may be some merit to whatever argument they put forth, but also remember that a diamond purchase comes down to many personal preferences. The sales person or jeweler's job should be to educate you and allow you to make up your own mind as to what you want.