I’ve gone wedding ring shopping with enough buddies to know that no two diamonds are exactly alike. But even knowing that, it’s hard to know exactly why one diamond looks different from the other. Aside from diamond cut, what makes a diamond different from its peers? The answer is diamond clarity.
A diamond’s grade is determined by the 4 C’s: clarity, color, carat, and cut. Most of these are pretty self-explanatory, but clarity is harder to tell by the naked eye. That’s where the diamond clarity scale and diamond clarity chart come in.
What is Diamond Clarity?
Diamond clarity is a catch-all term to describe anything in a diamond that affects how it catches the light. A perfect diamond perfectly sparkles in the light and has nothing to obstruct that. But of course, few things in life are perfect. So when buying a diamond, one of the key factors to consider is what level of clarity you want.
When a gemologist evaluates a diamond to determine its clarity, they consider the diamond’s inclusions, transparency, and any blemishes on the surface. An inclusion is any material that’s been trapped inside the diamond while the diamond was forming. Sometimes they can be seen to the naked eye and sometimes they can’t. Diamond graders evaluate diamonds for quality using 10x magnification.
Depending on what the gemologist sees, they’ll give the diamond a rating on the GIA clarity scale:
The diamond is free of inclusions and blemishes, as determined by a qualified diamond grader.
Internally Flawless (IF)
The diamond has some blemishes, but no inclusions.
Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2)
The diamond has inclusions, but they’re difficult for even a skilled grader to see.
Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2)
The diamond has minor inclusions that can range from difficult to relatively easy for the grader to see.
Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2)
The diamond’s inclusions are easily visible to the grader.
Included (I1, I2, and I3)
The diamond’s inclusions are clearly visible under magnification. These might affect how it catches the light.
What can Affect Diamond Clarity?
The size and quantity of inclusions is the biggest factor in determining diamond clarity. But there are other factors at play as well.
The size of an inclusion is the most important factor in determining diamond clarity. Obviously, the larger the inclusion, the greater the impact on clarity. This is also relative to the rest of the diamond’s size.
How many inclusions a diamond has matters as well. While a single small inclusion won’t drastically affect a diamond’s clarity rating, several small inclusions will add up and can affect a diamond’s overall look.
The table facet is the largest facet on the diamond. In most cuts, it’s the flat, central facet. An inclusion on the table facet will have a big impact on the diamond’s overall clarity. Some cuts can conceal inclusions in other parts of the diamond. All of this factors into the overall rating and the diamond’s appearance.
“Relief” is a term for the level of contrast in color of the inclusion compared to the rest of the diamond. Some inclusions are translucent or white-colored, which will have less of an impact on a white diamond than black or gray inclusions. Inclusions with little impact on the diamond’s appearance are said to have “low relief.”
There are several types of inclusions, and their type matters in terms of clarity. Twinning wisps are white strain marks that form if a diamond shifts the direction it’s growing in while it’s developing. They’re very visible and have a big impact on clarity rating. Pinpoints are tiny crystals inside the diamond. They’re barely visible under 10x magnification, so they usually have very little effect on the diamond’s clarity. Feathers and chips can have either a large or minor impact on diamond clarity, depending on their location and size. A few minor feathers can have little impact on a diamond’s sparkle. But large feathers can crack the diamond, which will drastically decrease clarity. Similarly, a large chip will have a large impact on clarity.
How to Use the Diamond Clarity Scale to Choose the Right Diamond
Consider Clarity in Context
Clarity is important, but it’s not everything. Factor it into your search, but don’t forget about the 3 other C’s: cut, color, and carat. I recommend starting with finding the cut and color you like best. You can determine carat from there. Then, use clarity to choose the specific diamond you want to buy. But starting from “I want this clarity level of diamond” won’t help you much during the early stages of shopping.
Choose Your Inclusions Wisely
Unless you’re exclusively shopping for perfect or near-perfect diamonds, chances are, your diamond will have inclusions. Choose those inclusions carefully. You want them to be as far from the center of the diamond as possible. That way, the diamond will still reflect light beautifully.
Remember, the human eye has limitations. Diamond clarity is determined at 10x magnification. When you’re considering buying a diamond, place higher importance on what it looks like to the naked eye than to what it looks like under a super-strong microscope. If a diamond fits your budget and looks great to you, don’t get too hung up on inclusions too tiny for you to notice.
Remember, the most important thing about a diamond is what it represents. If it’s going on a wedding ring, the symbolism matters more than the appearance. If you’re planning on wearing it as everyday jewelry, how it makes you feel should take precedent over how flawless it is. Knowing diamond clarity is valuable when you’re shopping to make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for, and it’s a useful guideline. But don’t let it take over your shopping experience. In the end, choose the diamond that feels right to you.