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Diamond clarity is the assessment of small imperfections on the surface and within the stone. Surface flaws are called blemishes, while internal defects are known as inclusions. In most cases, a diamond’s beauty is not affected by these in any way since most inclusions can’t be seen with the naked eye. When referring to inclusions, gemologists often use the term “internal characteristics” instead of flaws. Internal characteristics are what give a natural diamond its character. It’s also important to note that diamonds with the fewest and smallest inclusions receive the highest clarity grades—and higher price tags to reflect that.
Remember, all diamonds are unique, not perfect. They are made underground through enormous pressure and heat. Natural inclusions and blemishes are inevitable.
There are many misconceptions around the clarity of diamonds, including the belief that you need to buy a high clarity grade to avoid seeing imperfections. Another common falsehood is that a higher clarity grade results in more sparkle. Neither of these is true! Here are some tips to get you started on your diamond search:
In 1953, Richard T. Liddicoat and colleagues established the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) diamond grading system and clarity scale. The GIA diamond grading scale is divided into 6 categories and 11 diamond clarity grades.
Slide left and right to compare diamond clarity
I2 and I3 diamonds may have more obvious inclusions at 10x and may be visible to the naked eye. Diamond BAYOU does not carry I2 or I3 diamonds.
I1 diamonds have minor inclusions that may be visible to the naked eye. Diamond BAYOU offers a limited selection of jewelry preset with I1 diamonds.
Inclusions are noticeable at 10x magnification with SI diamonds, the best value diamonds. With SI1 diamonds, inclusions are sometimes visible to the keen eye without magnification. SI2 clarity grade diamond inclusions are usually visible from the pavilion, or cone-shaped lower portion, and from the top. Thirty percent of all diamond customers buy SI diamonds.
VS diamonds have minor inclusions that cannot be seen without 10x magnification. VS1 is a higher clarity grade than VS2, which may have some visible inclusions. A VS grade diamond is less expensive than a VVS diamond. Forty-three percent of customers buy VS diamonds.
VVS diamonds have miniscule inclusions that are difficult even for trained eyes to see under 10x magnification. VVS2 clarity diamonds have slightly more inclusions than the VVS1 grade. A VVS diamond is an excellent quality diamond and clarity grade. Twenty-one percent of customers buy VVS diamonds.
Inclusions aren’t visible in internally flawless diamonds under 10x magnification. Some small surface blemishes may be visible on IF diamonds. Six percent of customers buy IF diamonds.
Inclusions and blemishes aren’t visible on flawless diamonds, even under 10x magnification. Less than 1% of all diamonds are FL clarity. A flawless diamond is incredibly rare because it's nearly impossible to find a diamond 100% free of inclusions. Six percent of customers buy FL diamonds.
Size: The larger or more noticeable a characteristic, the lower the likely clarity grade.
Number: This is the number of easily seen characteristics. Having fewer characteristics means a higher clarity grade.
Position: What is the position of any given characteristic? Is it under the table (most visible) and close to a pavilion? This position turns inclusions into reflectors, which have a bigger impact on the clarity grade.
Nature: The nature of a diamond characteristic relates to the type of inclusion and its impact on durability.
Color and relief: Color and relief are essentially a measure of how easily a characteristic is seen, or how much contrast there is between the characteristic and surrounding diamond.
While the extremely rare Flawless (FL) or Internally Flawless (IF) diamonds are the highest quality diamond clarity, you may want to consider a diamond that won’t break the bank. For the best value, select a diamond with inclusions that can’t be seen through the crown without magnification (also known as eye clean diamonds), like a diamond with an SI or VS clarity grade. These diamonds are much less expensive and look the same as the higher grades, visually.
Some diamond shapes require a higher clarity grade than others. Emerald and Asscher-shaped diamonds (referred to as step cut) are designed with rectangular facets that emphasize transparency and let you see farther down into the diamond, which can make inclusions more visible. For these diamond shapes, choose a clarity grade of VS1 or better to ensure that the inclusions will not be visible.
Conversely, round, princess, oval, marquise, pear, and heart-shaped diamonds may not require as high of a clarity grade. Cut with a brilliant facet pattern, which reflects light from many different angles, these shapes naturally hide many inclusions.
As diamond size increases, the size of the facets (the multiple mirror-like surfaces on the diamond) become more abundant. This can make inclusions more visible. Be sure to prioritize a higher clarity grade as the size of your diamond goes up.
Clarity plots are diagrams that show the location of clarity characteristics—mapping the blemishes on a diamond’s surface and the inclusions within a diamond’s interior. The inclusions are identified by a certified diamond grader using a device with 10x magnification.
Any characteristics that don’t get factored into the diamond’s assigned grade may still be noted on the GIA grading report or clarity plot (if there is one). As is common practice in the industry, you’ll only find a clarity plot when the diamond is over one carat.
If you find the whole topic of internal and external diamond characteristics as fascinating as we do, take a deep dive and learn more about the various types of inclusions and blemishes in your diamond of interest.