During the diamond growth process, microscopic impurities or imperfections become present within the diamond. These imperfections are known as diamond inclusions. Inclusions are extremely common within diamonds and are essentially birthmarks that give every diamond uniqueness. You may have heard the phrase “no two diamonds are ever alike.” Well, inclusions are the reason. No two diamonds will have the same number, size, location and type of inclusions, even if they have the same clarity grade assigned by GIA or IGI.
Inclusions have direct implications on a diamond's sparkle. Inclusions, again, depending on the size, number, location and type, can reduce diamond sparkle by preventing light from refracting and passing through the diamond and back to your eye. Based on the factors mentioned above, a diamond’s clarity is subjective graded and set in a range. This range is known as the diamond clarity scale. It was created by GIA and is the industry wide standard for diamond grading and comparison. This diamond clarity rating is the one that is most respected for accuracy and consistency.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- When evaluating the 4C's, clarity is the third most important characteristic because most imperfections cannot be seen unless under at least 10 times magnification. (Cut is the most important 4C to consider)
- Clarity refers to tiny imperfections that occur naturally called inclusions. Diamonds with the least and smallest inclusions obtain the highest clarity grades by GIA.
- To maximize your budget, consider an SI quality diamond, knowing that it may have very slight inclusions visible to the naked eye if the stone is examined very closely. Generally, it's not the case.
Clarity refers to the tiny, natural imperfections that are present in all but the rarest and highest quality diamonds. The less inclusions, the better the clarity. The better the clarity, the more sparkle and light performance. Gemologists refer to these imperfections by a variety of technical names, including blemishes and inclusions. Because these imperfections tend to be microscopic, they do not generally affect a diamond's beauty in any discernible way.
Diamonds range in clarity from FL - I3. Inclusions are examined at 10x magnification. Inclusions up to a certain range can only been seen under magnification oftentimes only by a diamond expert, but those in lower clarities that are not considered eye-clean have inclusions that can be seen by the naked eye as well.
A FL diamond has no inclusions or characteristics (blemishes) inside or on its surface. It is extremely rare and is an exquisite symbol of perfection. Less than 0.1% of all gem quality diamonds are in this category. They have the highest premium and are typically found in smaller sized diamonds. With this clarity you cannot see any inclusions or blemishes even with 10x magnification and those too can only be found by a skilled grader.
IF: Internally Flawless
An IF diamond has no inclusions and may possess very minute undetectable surface blemishes. It is extremely rare and truly gorgeous. These tiny blemishes do not affect sparkle and are known as minor details of polish such as polish lines. These imperfections can be found only by a skilled grader in 10x magnification.
VVS1: Very, Very Slightly Included 1
A VVS1 diamond has very minute inclusions that are extremely small, and often undetectable by many diamond professionals, even under 10x magnification. VVS1 offers a much better value than FL or IF and still has virtually the same appeal. Diamond sparkle is unaffected as the inclusions are so small that light is barely affected. The most common VVS1 inclusions are pinpoint and natural. Typically, VVS1 inclusions are only visible from the pavilion, under magnification. To the naked eye, the inclusions are not visible making these diamonds eye-clean. Learn more about VVS diamonds.
VVS2: Very, Very Slightly Included 2
A VVS2 diamond has very minute inclusions that are extremely small, but are slightly more visible under magnification than VVS1. This clarity grade is considered the best value of the higher clarities and does not compromise your diamond’s brilliance. Inclusions can rarely be found, even under 10x magnification. The most common VVS2 inclusions include cloud, pinpoint, feather and natural. Learn more about VVS diamonds.
VS1: Very Slightly Included 1
A VS1 diamond has very minor inclusions that can be seen only under magnification. VS is a very popular clarity range. The inclusions in VS1 diamonds cannot be viewed by the naked eye and have minimal impact on diamond sparkle. The largest factor in grading a VS1 is the size of the grade setting inclusion. The most common VS1 inclusions include cloud, feather, needle, crystal, indented natural. Learn more about VS diamonds.
VS2: Very Slightly Included 2
A VS2 diamond has very minor inclusions that look only slightly larger than a VS1 under magnification. A VS2 is not noticeable to the unaided eye and is extremely popular because its value allows you to focus your budget on another Cut, Color or Carat. VS2 diamonds tend to have a few more inclusions than VS1 and the size is slightly larger, while still microscopic. The common VS2 inclusions include crystal, feather, indented natural, cloud and twinning wisp. The location of inclusions isn't very impactful in VS diamonds. Learn more about VS2 diamonds.
SI1: Slightly Included 1
Additionally, we recommend choosing SI diamonds with more inclusions rather than a single inclusion. With a single grade setting inclusion, it must be larger and more visible in order to be an SI clarity diamond. The common SI1 diamond inclusions are crystal Slightly Included 1: a SI1 diamond will sparkle brilliantly even with its minor inclusions that may be invisible to the unaided eye. SI1 is extremely popular because its value allows you to focus your budget on another Cut, Color or Carat. It is considered a high clarity grade at a great price. In SI diamonds, it is recommended to choose diamonds with inclusions that are off center and closer to the girdle of the diamond. These are rarer to find and so they carry a Premium feather, twinning wisp, cloud, knot and indented natural. Learn more about SI diamonds.
Be wary of single crystals or clouds that they can be eye visible or make the diamond look hazy, cloudy or milky. Be sure to analyze diamonds on a case by case basis so that you are getting one of excellent quality.
SI2: Slightly Included 2
An SI2 diamond will possess high sparkle and is comprised by clarity inclusions that may be visible without magnification, when examined closely. Most SI2 inclusions are undetectable to the unaided eye. SI clarity grades tend to offer great value. Like SI1 diamonds, avoid larger, single inclusions. On the GIA report, these can be identified by the diamond plot where inclusions are marked or by the inclusion comments.
Avoid SI2 diamonds that have a grade setting inclusion that is cloud or a large, center crystal. Crystals in SI diamonds are typically black and so they are more visible without magnification. Common SI2 inclusions are larger crystals, twinning wisps, feathers, clouds and knots.
I1: Included 1
An I1 diamond will shine bright despite eye visible inclusions clarity inclusions. The inclusions can be visible without magnification when the diamond is closely examined, depending on size and location. I1 clarity grades can be very budget conscious, and can really allow you to reach a greater carat weight or desirable color grade. Diamonds in this category have little or no structural impact from inclusions, but it is recommended to avoid diamonds with a single, larger grade setting inclusion. Often, inclusions will reflect in other diamond facets, making them more noticeable.
Common I1 inclusions are large crystals, feathers, clouds, knots and activities. With Clarity does not carry any diamonds in the I2 or I3 range as the clarity inclusions in these really start to distract from the sparkle and the beauty of the diamond. I2 and I3 diamonds are not recommended for an engagement ring. However if you must choose an I diamond, stay within the I1 clarity range. For these diamonds, be sure to choose one in which the inclusions are scattered or spread on the diamond. If inclusions are very large or are concentrated in one area, this can really inhibit the sparkle of the diamond. Inclusions that are on the sides of the diamonds or closer to the edges can also potentially be covered by prongs. One more important consideration to make is that I clarity grade diamonds that have very clean looking plots but are still graded in the I range can be cloudy or hazy with a lack of sparkle. If selecting an I1 diamond be sure to consult with our gemologists to understand the look and value of the diamond before moving ahead with your purchase.
The differences in clarity are larger than the differences in color because the scale is smaller. Diamond prices can therefore be quite large between clarity grades. Naturally, the highest clarity grade are much rarer and so the price jumps are quite large. Because inclusions are often microscopic, it becomes exponentially rarer to find IF of FL diamonds, hence the exponential price increase.
The differences in price can range from 15% - 25% between diamond clarity grades and the differences within the same clarity grade can range from 5% - 15%. As previously mentioned, no two diamonds are the same. Therefore, no two diamonds with the same clarity grade are the same. Because clarity grade is set by a subjective range (for example, greater than SI1, but less than VS1 is VS2), the location, size, number and type of inclusion can impact the price. An SI1 diamond with an eye visible black crystal under the center of the table will be substantially less expensive than an SI1 diamond with an eye clean feather on the corner of the diamond that can be covered by a prong.
A final thought on diamond pricing: when a diamond within a clarity grade range is much less expensive than other diamonds within the same range, there is generally a reason for it. Diamond suppliers know the quality of their diamonds and price them accordingly so it's not always a good strategy to pursue the least expensive diamond.
Laboratory Grown Diamond Clarity vs Naturally Grown Diamond Clarity
Lab diamonds have been an increasingly popular option for engagement rings and jewelry. Moreover, traditional white (clear) lab diamonds are particularly popular. Lab made diamonds are created in controlled settings using carbon, a diamond seed, high pressure, and high temperature. There are two primary methods to making lab diamonds: High Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD).
Lab diamond inclusions can take place during diamond growth, or during cutting and polishing, just like mined diamonds. It is known that CVD diamonds tend to show more silicon inclusions.
Is Lab Diamond Clarity better than Natural Diamond Clarity?
When it comes to color and clarity, it's very difficult to tell the difference between laboratory grown diamonds and mined diamonds. Both lab made and natural diamonds possess the same razzle dazzle, physical, and chemical properties. The best and only way to tell the difference is by comparing their certificates.
At With Clarity, all of our diamonds come with an authentic report from an internationally-vetted lab. The International Gemological Institute (IGI) identifies all our lab stones and grades its cut, finish, proportions, clarity, and color. Whereas our natural diamonds come with an authentication report from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
Selecting a Clarity
Our key tips for selecting the right clarity grade:
- Clarity grade should always be selected in conjunction with the other 4 C's of diamonds. For example, we do not recommend select a D color, I1 clarity diamond. The most popular clarity grades are VS2 and SI1 because they offer the best value without disrupting diamond sparkle.
- Choose diamonds with inclusions that aren't in the absolute center of the diamond. More inclusions isn't typically a bad thing.
- Avoid diamonds with a single large grade setting inclusion because it is more likely to be visible. In diamonds under 0.75ct, inclusions are smaller and more difficult to identify. In diamonds larger than 0.75ct, consider an SI1 or higher clarity grade to avoid distracting eye visible inclusions. Additionally, if selecting a lower clarity grade, consider a higher cut grade as a well cut diamond can mask clarity setting inclusions to keep sparkle and brilliance high.
- Lastly, consider diamonds that have clarity inclusions that are not in the table or central facet of the diamond are more desirable. A better location for inclusions is under the bezel facets of near the girdle as they are harder to see or can be covered as well when being set in the ring.
Also consider shapes when selecting a clarity. Brilliant cut diamonds like round, princess, cushion, oval, pear, and marquise hide inclusions better than other cuts like asscher and emerald. When purchasing a step cut diamond, try to select one clarity grade one level better than that of a brilliant cut.
Diamond Clarity Popularity
Lab Diamond vs Natural Diamond Percentage in Inventory (due to demand).
|Clarity Grade (lowest to highest)||I1||SI2||SI1||VS2||VS1||VVS2||VVS1||IF|
|Natural Diamond Clarity||1%||4%||7%||30%||30%||26%||1%||1%|
|Lab Diamond Clarity||1%||5%||10%||30%||28%||21%||4%||1%|
Values are estimated and can vary based on our inventory.
- Select an "eye-clean" (no eye visible non magnified inclusions) diamond. An excellent value, diamonds of this clarity are much less expensive than flawless (FL) or internally flawless (IF) diamonds, which are extremely rare and demand high prices.
- If you're considering a diamond with an SI1 or SI2 clarity grade, call to speak to a diamond and jewelry consultant who will review the diamond to ensure the imperfections are not visible to the unaided eye. Contact us by phone at 1(844)-234-6463 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Live Chat is available during business hours Monday - Friday 10AM - 6PM ET.
- For diamonds that are VS2 or below, try to see an image or video of the diamond. Oftentimes diamonds within the same clarity grade can have differing appearances based on the location and size of the inclusions. At this stage the expert eye of a gemologist can help you determine which diamond is better.
- Diamond under 1.00 carat that are GIA certified have a diamond dossier that does not have a plot of the diamond inclusions. For these sizes, in clarity grades below VS2, be sure to check with a gemologist if the diamond has any overly visible inclusions. While the diamond certificate can give you a good idea of the inclusions, it is always best to double-check.
How is Clarity Graded
Gemologists always grade diamond clarity at 10x magnification. They identify and plot as many inclusions as possible. In diamonds below 1.00ct, there is typically a smaller GIA report called a dossier. A dossier has no diamond plot on the certificate. Diamonds larger than 1.00ct have a diamond plot on the GIA certificate.
Clarity grading is a subjective process. Trained gemologists identify the type, size, location and number of inclusions. They determine the grade based on a couple of inclusions and assign the grade. The diamond clarity rating or grade is an important factor to consider regardless of the size and shape of the diamond. Once a the inclusions on the diamond have been noted and mapped out. A diamond plot is used to record the location and size of these inclusions. The diamond plot is a sketch of the diamond face-up. It is shown on the GIA certificate or the dossier of the diamond. The different inclusions are shown with different symbols. Be sure to look at the diamond grade as well as the plot. GIA uses the color red to show internal inclusions and green for surface blemishes while black is used to convey extra facets. Oftentimes, the plot will not tell you about the severity of the inclusion so it is always important to also look at the clarity grade. Also be sure to look at the comments section on the GIA certificate to understand if there are certain inclusions that are not visible. Typically very small inclusions that are not visible under 10x magnification are noted in the comments section. For rule of thumb, a very busy looking plot with lots of inclusion markings means that the diamond is a bit less desirable.
Diamond Inclusion Types
Inclusions are natural, tiny imperfections that form either naturally or during the diamond cutting process. The majority of inclusions are naturally found within diamonds and are used to identify and distinguish diamonds. Here are the diamond inclusions you may find in a diamond or on a GIA grading report. All natural diamonds will have inclusions. It is immensely rare to find a diamond with no inclusions, and these diamonds carry a premium.
|Feather||A clarity inclusion that describes a break in the surface of a gemstone that extends inside. It is a common clarity characteristic that can occur naturally. Feathers can look transparent and almost be invisible. Or in certain angles and lights have a grayish or white appearance. Feathers that are more visible detract from the clarity of the diamond.Try to avaoid very large feathers that are near the surface or girdle of the diamond, as those can be more visible.|
|Crystal||A clarity inclusion that forms during the diamond growth process within a diamond. It is used to determine the clarity grade. Crystals can exist in different colors within the diamond. Most commonly, they are found in black and white. White crystals are not always very distracting or visible. However, be careful if your diamond has black crystals, especially larger ones. These are obvious, even without magnification at times. Black crystals are the result of embedded carbon. Other colored crystals are far less common within diamonds.|
|Cloud||A clarity inclusion that describes a group of tiny pinpoints within the diamond too small to individually distinguish under 10x magnification. A cloud can give a slightly hazy appearance where it is located within the diamond. Smaller coluds are typically not a major problem. When clouds cover a majority of the diamond area, they can cause an undesirable veil of haze that diminishes the sparkle. This is often hard to spot, however when looking at two magnified diamonds, one that is cloudy and another that is not, it is easier to see the difference.|
|Pinpoint||A very small crystal inclusion that looks like a tiny dot at 10x magnification. Pinpoints are usually quite small ad require magnification to view.|
|Natural||A small manufacturing remnant of the rough diamond skin that remains after the diamond cutting and manufacturing process. Naturals are typically located on or near the diamond's girdle.|
|Indented Natural||A portion of a diamond's natural, rough skin that is left on a polished diamond during the manufacturing process in order to maintain diamond weight. It differs from a natural in that it is slightly protrudes inward. Typically indented natural can happen when a portion of the rough diamond is left unpolished during the cutting process. Indented natural can be found near the girdles of diamonds.|
|Needle||A thin crystal that is visually needle-like and found inside the diamond. It is often as thick as a pinpoint but longer like a feather. Needles are typically white or transparent. Single needles are not as noticeable. However, in clusters or close together, needles can affect the clarity of the diamond negatively.|
|Knot||A crystal inclusion that extends to the surface of a diamond. Larger knots are not desirable as they are very visible even without magnification.|
|Chip||A chip is a small nick or opening that occurs on the surface of the diamond. This can happen on the edges of the diamond. Typically chips happen as a result of wear and tear or manufacturing accidents. Avoid diamonds that have large chips.|
|Cavity||An opening created when part of a feather breaks away. This can happen when a diamond is being manufactured, as a small piece of it falls or breaks away as the diamond is being shaped. Small cavities are not typically a problem, however you should avoid larger cavities.|
|Twinning Wisp||A clarity inclusion formed by a series of cloud, pinpoints or crystals. It may look like a large marking on a diamond plot, but is often difficult to see. Twinning wisps are the result of irregularites in the crystal structure of the diamond that occur as it is forming. Typically when diamonds are forming, specific environmental conditions are needed. When a diamond stops and starts regrowing the twinning wisps can form. Twinning wisps are a more desirable inclusion than crystals.|
|Internal Grading||Lines sometimes visible under 10x magnification that result from irregular crystallization. Internal graining lines cannot be polished away and follow no particular pattern. They cross facet junctions. Graining is typically caused by uneven crystal growth within the diamond and can look like white or colored lines. When larger, they can also appear like bigger creases.|
|Surface Graining||Transparent line-like formations on the surface of a diamond caused by crystal structure irregularities. Surface Graining can be difficult to identify even under magnification.|
|Etched Channel||This is a narrow and small tunnel that is found on the diamonds surface and goes into the body of the diamond. This is a natural inclusion but can look similar to a internal laser drill treatment. This inclusion forms when diamonds are coming up to the surface of the earth. When judging the impact of the etched channel, look at the clarity grade of the diamond. This will help you understand how much of an impact the inclusions has on the diamond.|
Below you can see examples off the most common inclusions on real diamonds. Remember that diamonds viewed under magnification will always appear to have displeasing inclusions. Always check with a With Clarity gemologist to see the impact of the inclusion on the actual beauty of the diamond.
Sidestones & Accent Diamonds
One critical thing to look out for in jewelry purchases is the quality of sidestones and the accent diamonds, particularly in three stone rings or ones with larger accents. The jewelry must have gemologists inspect and carefully select matching stones. If they don't match, the jewelry looks odd and unappealing. Larger diamonds tend to have larger more visible inclusions so you need to ensure your accent stones match, partciularly with halo ring settings. The metal selection should not affect the choice of clarity as it pertains more to color.