Diamond Clarity: Key Characteristics, Grading Chart, and Buying Tips

Diamond clarity: a crucial factor in a stone’s sparkle...

Although the cut of a diamond is typically its most important quality, there is another major factor in its brilliance that is sometimes overlooked. A diamond’s clarity rating accounts for all imperfections within the gemstone, and recognizing these flaws is crucial to evaluating a diamond’s sparkle.

For first-time buyers, good diamond clarity may seem irrelevant when on a budget. However, even with a modest budget, you can still find good clarity stones with no visible imperfections if you do your research. In this article, we will explain:

  • The concept of diamond clarity
  • How it is graded
  • Tips on how to find the best quality diamond for your budget.📝
Professional Inspecting and Grading Diamond Clarity

What is diamond clarity?

Gemologists judge a diamond’s clarity based on the presence or absence of “inclusions” and “blemishes”. In other words, they inspect the stone for flaws, which are caused by both natural occurrences and man-made tools.

Diamonds form in the earth’s hot, pressurized crust over millions of years, and this stressful process causes tiny imperfections before the stone is even polished. During the polishing process, gem cutters cut around these flaws to increase a diamond’s grade, but they can also make blemishes on the unfinished stone while working.

Regardless of their origins, inclusions and blemishes are part of 99% of diamonds on the market.

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What are the characteristics that impact a diamond’s clarity?

There are several factors that influence a diamond’s clarity rating, and each one affects the stone differently. 👉🏻Here is a breakdown of internal and external flaws and how they manifest in and on diamonds.

What are internal clarity characteristics?

“Inclusions”, or internal imperfections, can be natural or man-made. The most common inclusions you will find in a diamond grading report are listed below:

Diamond Clarity Flaw - Inclusion: Cloud
Cloud | GIA
  • Cloud: One pinpoint on a diamond may go ungraded, but a group of them that are close together and create a hazy or dull spot are known as a cloud. A stone with multiple sections of clouds may be called a “cloudy diamond”.
  • Feather: A feather is a small crack or break that appears white and somewhat feathery. A feather may or may not be seen by the naked eye: it depends on the angle of the crack and its location. If it is in a high traffic area for light, it may be more visible.
  • Cavity: When a crystal or feather breaks off of a diamond’s edge or surface during polishing, it can create a cavity. The mineral inclusion this cavity was made out of can indicate how visible the inclusion will be. If the crystal’s minerals were colorless, they will be much less visible than those made by a colored inclusion.
  • Graining: Another cause for hazy diamonds, graining is a series of white or colored lines, curves, or angles within the stone. They may be seen by the naked eye or with 10x magnification, caused by the natural irregularities in a diamond’s crystalline structure.
  • Bearded Girdle: Sometimes a byproduct of the diamond cutting process, a bearded girdle includes tiny, featherlike extensions from the edge of the girdle into the diamond.

Other inclusions you may see on your report

  • Bruises
  • Chips
  • Crystals
  • Grain centers
  • Indented naturals
  • Internal laser drilling
  • Knots
  • Laser drill-holes
  • Needles
  • Pinpoints
  • Twinning wisps

What are external clarity characteristics?

“Blemishes”, or external imperfections on a diamond’s surface, are typically man-made, but some do occur naturally. Here is an explanation of common blemishes listed on a diamond grading report:

Diamond Clarity Flaw - Blemish: Polish Lines
Polish Lines | GIA
  • Polish lines: A product of tools used in the polishing process, polish lines are clear or white grooves that run in a parallel structure. They may appear on any facet of a diamond, but they do not cross junctions or corners.
  • Scratch: Appearing on the surface of a diamond’s facets, scratches are thin and dull lines that look white in color. At 10x magnification, they show no depth and appear as shallow marks on the surface.
  • Nick: Usually located on the culet or girdle edges, nicks are small, missing notches of diamond from a facet junction. At 10x magnification, they show no depth.
  • Pit: If you see small, white dots on your diamond, they may be pits. They are miniscule openings in the diamond’s surface.
  • Extra facet: Often located near the girdle of a diamond, extra facets are additional cuts made by a gem cutter that do not benefit a diamond’s symmetry. They’re not a part of the diamond’s cut style and serve no positive benefit.

Other blemishes you may notice on your diamond report

  • Abrasions
  • Lizard skin
  • Naturals
  • Burn marks
  • Rough Girdle
  • Surface graining

How is diamond clarity graded?

Trained professionals grade diamond clarity in a lab, where they utilize high tech equipment to rate diamonds. The GIA developed their clarity grading scale when jewelers were using confusing terms to interpret a stone’s inclusions or blemishes. They used titles like “loupe clean” or “pique”, but these descriptions were too vague and did not properly extrapolate on inclusions and blemishes.

Nowadays, grading labs use a clear, defined scale and expertly trained professionals to ensure diamond clarity ratings are precise and fair.⚖️ To grade clarity, experts view a diamond through 10x magnification—face up and at multiple angles—to assess any blemishes to the gem’s exterior. The 10x magnification is what you would typically find on a jeweler’s loupe.

Diamond Gemologist Inspecting Diamond Clarity Using a Loupe

Once they examine the exterior, graders move to higher-powered tools, such as microscopes, to view any internal characteristics that might affect the clarity grade. Rather than note every little imperfection, professionals only note “grade setting inclusions” that can affect the face-up appearance, scintillation, or value of the diamond. However, lesser inclusions may still be noted on a diamond’s report for reference.

📝Finally, graders mark all inclusions and blemishes on a diamond plot, so buyers have a better idea of where exactly the imperfections sit in the stone.

Graders utilize five factors to determine a diamond’s clarity rating:

Size

The size of an inclusion determines its role in the clarity score. Larger inclusions are visible under lesser magnification or to the naked eye, affecting the diamond’s appeal.

Nature

As previously discussed, there are many types of inclusions and blemishes. The nature category identifies whether each imperfection is internal (inclusion) or external (blemish) and whether each one poses any threat to the diamond’s integrity. For instance, feathers, knots, crystals, and cleavage may all put a diamond at risk for breakage in the future.

Number

The amount of visible inclusions also affects a stone’s clarity rating. Typically, the larger the number of noticeable inclusions, the lower the diamond’s clarity grade.

Location

Location tracks the physical position of inclusions within a diamond. Inclusions that are closer to the center of the table are more visible to the naked eye, and so they greatly affect clarity ratings. Another issue arises when inclusions are close to table and pavilion facets: these inclusions are known as “reflectors” as they will actually affect the dispersion of light within the stone and decrease its value. However, inclusions closer to the girdle or under the crown facets are less likely to affect the “eye-clean” nature of a diamond’s face, though they may be noticeable from the sides.

Expert Inspecting and Confirming the Location of Diamond Inclusions

Relief

The “relief” of an inclusion refers to its color or visibility relative to the diamond. If an inclusion is colored or highly noticeable, it will lower the diamond’s overall clarity grade. Higher relief inclusions tend to make a diamond appear darker, except for black pinpoint inclusions which are not as visible as white pinpoints.

Diamond clarity chart: What are the different grades of diamond clarity? (With pics)

The diamond clarity scale incorporates levels of clarity that take the above five factors into account. Through diamond clarity grading, gemologists organize diamonds into digestible categories suitable for public understanding.

Take a look at this diamond clarity chart for a better grasp on what each category entails:👇🏻

Diamond Clarity Scale

GradeExampleDescription
FL FL Diamond - James Allen 10041868
SKU*: 10041868
Flawless

The best diamond clarity, they have no inclusions under 10x magnification and a perfect clarity score. When diamonds are FL or IF, their differentiating characteristic comes down to polish.

IF James Allen IF Diamond SKU 9880092
SKU*: 9880092
Internally Flawless

Similar to an FL grade, this diamond will have no internal inclusions visible to the naked eye. However, there may be minor blemishes on its surface.

VVS1 VVS1 Diamond Clarity - James Allen 9082554
SKU*: 9082554
Very Very Slightly Included (1)

Inclusions in this grade are so tiny that even experienced professionals have a hard time locating them under 10x magnification.

VVS2 VVS2 Clarity - James Allen 6959995
SKU*: 6959995
Very Very Slightly Included (2)

VVS2 diamonds have nearly undetectable inclusions just like VVS1 stones.

However, if the inclusions are visible from the pavilion side, the gem will be a VVS1. If inclusions are detectable from face-up view, it will be a VVS2 as these inclusions are more noticeable.

VS1 VS1 Clarity Grading - James Allen 9749294
SKU*: 9749294
Very Slightly Included (1)

Affordable and eye clean, VS1s are one of the best deals on the diamond market!

Inclusions are minute, and it would take 10x magnification and a trained eye to see them.

VS2 VS2 Clarity Grading - 10171203 James Allen Diamond
SKU*: 10171203
Very Slightly Included (2)

Unlike VS1 diamonds, VS2 stones will have inclusions that are visible to any grader with 10x magnification.

However, these inclusions are still tiny and leave the stone eye clean, so they are an affordable and quality gem for purchase.

SI1 SI1 Clarity Grading - James Allen 10171242 Round Diamond
SKU*: 10171242
Slightly Included (1)

SI1 diamonds may be eye clean or not depending on the type of inclusions they carry.

However, whether they grade as eye clean or not, the inclusions will always be visible under 10x magnification.

SI2 SI2 James Allen Diamond (SKU: 9749466)
SKU*: 9749466
Slightly Included (2)

Inclusions in SI2 gems are larger and more visible than those in SI1 diamonds, and they can affect color as well.

Eye clean SI2s do exist, but you’ll have to shop around to find them.

I1 I1 Clarity Diamond - Contains Major Flaws - James Allen SKU 9883508
SKU*: 9883508
Included (1)

I1 stones MAY be eye clean on rare occasions, but often they contain major flaws.

These inclusions tend to affect sparkle and transparency, causing the diamond to lose its characteristic luster.

I2-I3Most jewelers do not sell diamonds with a clarity grade in this range.Included (2 & 3)

Included 2 & 3 diamonds are not recommended for purchase, as they are never eye clean.

Note: *Diamonds in the chart are from James Allen; these diamonds have the same carat, cut and color gradings: 1 carat, Excellent (Ideal) and G.

Recognizing the differences between diamond clarity grades

Now that you understand diamond grades, how can you discern their differences in real-time? You may prefer shopping for a diamond online versus in a store, or maybe you’d rather visit a showroom to view your options in person.

Here are a couple of ways you can make sure you thoroughly examine your diamond in both scenarios:

Study the diamond plot

Pay close attention to the diamond plot, also known as a clarity plot. As mentioned earlier, graders take great care to chart all of a diamond’s inclusions and blemishes on a chart that is shaped like a diamond. This chart gives buyers a better understanding of where flaws are located in the stone.

Each diamond is unique, and so the clarity plot is tied to a specific diamond—as we are tied to our fingerprints—for identification purposes.

Gemologists map blemishes and inclusions in varying colors on diamond clarity plots. Graders use red to identify inclusions and green to indicate blemishes. There is also a key to help you recognize which flaws are represented, with common options including clouds, naturals, feathers, and crystals.

Diamond Plot: Diamond Clarity Characteristics on a GIA Grading Report

Reading the clarity plot will give you a better understanding of where you should be looking when examining a diamond. Many online retailers offer 360-degree videos and high-resolution imaging, so you can examine the clarity plot and follow along on the video to see how detectable the recorded inclusions and blemishes may be.

You can view clarity plots online through reputable jewelers like James Allen and Blue Nile, and they’re included in GIA or AGS reports. Or, if you’re in a store, you can review a diamond’s paperwork before purchase to make sure your questions are answered.  

Consult an expert

Many jewelers are trained gemologists who can walk you through a diamond plot, the differences between noted inclusions, and price variations.

While some may feel jewelers are an unreliable source of information because they are trying to make a sale, they typically have years of extensive training and want to provide you the facts. They want to help you make the best decision possible, and giving you the necessary information to find the right diamond is a huge part of their job. Make sure you do some research to find a jeweler that you trust.

While most jewelers you work with will simply try to help you find the right option for your needs, consider asking to use a jeweler’s loupe to view the diamond yourself through 10x magnification. Or, bring your own loupe to make things a bit easier.

You can even consult with an expert when shopping online! Certain online retailers—such as James Allen, Blue Nile, and Ritani—offer real-time inspections with non-commissioned diamond professionals while you shop. These experts can walk you through a diamond’s specifications, point out anything of interest, and answer any questions you may have.

How does diamond clarity impact price?

All 4Cs play into a diamond’s price, but clarity plays an important role in setting the price of a diamond.

The jump in price from one diamond clarity grade to the next can be unnerving in some cases. For instance, moving from SI to VS won’t steeply affect price, but a shift from VVS to IF could cost you thousands. 💡But, VVS inclusions aren’t typically detectable with the naked eye, so the price increase seems unnecessary if you won’t be deeply inspecting your stone under 10x magnification daily.

Examine a Diamond's Clarity Characteristics With a Magnification Loupe

Sometimes, prices can even vary within the same clarity grade. While the culprit is normally minute differences in cut, it can also denote inclusions that may be larger or more defined than others.

When shopping for a diamond, include clarity in your decision, but try not to focus too much on it when looking at stones within a grade of each other.

If clarity is your guiding factor, you may end up spending potentially thousands more on F and IF stones that are so slightly different from those a grade down in the VVS category. Try to find the balance between your requirements for eye cleanliness and cut, color, and carat weight.

Diamond clarity enhancement

It is possible to enhance lesser quality diamonds to make them appear almost perfect. Diamond clarity enhancement involves laser drilling or fracture filling, where flaws are either burned out of the stone or filled with a crystal-like substance to create a smoother, more consistent look.

Diamond clarity enhancement may seem like “the great equalizer”, as it makes cheaper SI and I diamonds appear nearly flawless, but there are some serious consequences. The major drawback is that these changes are not permanent, and they can wear away over the life of a diamond. 📝If that happens, you’ll end up spending even more money to fix the diamond over time, increasing your investment.

Purchasing enhanced diamonds is not a recommended practice, but the choice is up to you. If you’re willing to invest more money in your diamond over time, there are plenty of enhanced gems to choose from.

Interacting with clarity: Tips to choose the right clarity grade and get the best value

With all of these important facts about diamond clarity to keep in mind, it can be difficult to make sure you get the best value stone while balancing the 4Cs. 

Here are some helpful tips to help you in your quest to find the perfect diamond for your budget:

Differences between adjacent grades

Shop around and select from several potential diamonds to see if you can get a quality diamond for a lower price point. If you’re just looking for a stone that’s eye clean, then VS1 and VS2 diamonds will appear Flawless for a fraction of the price. 👉🏻In fact, this is the most popular range for diamond clarity, with VVS1 and VVS2 being the next most popular range. However, if you’re willing to put some time and research into your diamond buying journey, look at SI stones to see if you can find one that is eye clean and fits your needs.

Shapes and clarity grades

The diamond shape can have a significant impact on whether a diamond’s inclusions will be visible to wearers or not. Diamonds with larger tables—like emerald, Asscher, and baguette cuts—require higher clarity grades to conceal any imperfections, and you should purchase a VS2 or higher. In contrast, princess, radiant, oval, marquise, and pear-shaped stones conceal inclusions much more easily, and so SI clarity will keep stones eye-clean. Round and heart-shaped diamonds can also usually remain eye clean at SI clarity. If you’re looking for a fancy shape diamond, consider adjusting your budget to account for a higher quality stone.

Balancing Between Diamond Shape and Clarity Grade

Color and clarity grades

Balancing color and clarity is also always a good idea when investing in a diamond. If you’re looking at diamonds in the G-I color range, you can get away with SI clarity much more easily. However, higher quality diamonds in the D-F color range require a VS2 color grade or higher to shine as brightly. But, in the end, if you prefer the color of a stone that doesn’t meet these requirements, then purchase the diamond that will make you happy!

Carat weight and clarity grades

Similar to shape, the larger the diamond, the more visible the inclusions will be. As such, if you are considering a 2-carat diamond or larger, think about spending a bit more on a stone with a high clarity rating. A VS2 or higher would be best for these larger stones, while anything SI1 or higher can work for a 1-carat diamond. For any stone under 1 carat, clarity will not be as discernible and therefore is not as crucial.

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Understand clarity grades before purchasing a diamond

Diamond clarity is a complex grading system that even highly trained professionals must study extensively to master. However, this shouldn’t dissuade you from learning all you can about this crucial characteristic in a diamond’s overall value.

👉🏻Clarity could mean the difference between a sparkling diamond and a dull, lackluster stone. When paying so much for diamonds, you’ll want to make sure you get the best bang for your buck.

If you’re interested in learning more about the 4Cs of diamonds, we suggest reading our article about them. It carefully outlines the important points of diamond grading characteristics for easier shopping.

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