Diamond Clarity - Flawless, VVS2, Or SI1? A Rating Guide
By Bud Boland
What does Clarity mean?
When you are shopping for a diamond engagement ring, a diamond pendant, diamond earrings, or any piece of diamond jewelry; one important factor is the "Clarity" of the diamonds that you choose. Clarity is one of the 4Cs that are used in setting the price of diamonds. The definition of clarity is "the quality or state of being clear". Having a diamond without anything inside of it is extremely rare, especially in larger diamonds. Because of this rarity factor, as a diamond becomes "cleaner" it also becomes more expensive.
Of all the diamonds that are mined every year, only about 20% are "clean enough" to be used in diamond jewelry with the other 80% of the diamonds being used for industrial purposes. So if you have a diamond with the highest possible clarity grade then it really is one in a million, making it even that much more special!
What makes up the Clarity of a diamond?
The two factors that will determine a diamond's clarity are the things that are on the outside, these are called blemishes, and the stuff on the inside of the diamond, these are called inclusions. A diamond will almost always have some other things that were caught up inside of it as it was growing below the surface of the earth. Because diamonds are on average 3.3 billions years old, they have grown very slowly. As they grew, the diamond encountered other materials in their neighborhood where they were formed. The process of having something "included" inside of a diamond crystal took hundreds, thousands, or millions of years to happen. So when you see inclusions inside of a diamond it is like looking back in time over millions or even billions of years. Diamonds most commonly have other diamonds captured inside of them... that's pretty cool, you get more than one diamond with your purchase!
Common inclusions are as follows-
Blemishes are the things on the outside of the diamond. Most of these are a result of the diamond cutting process and could be removed by a diamond cutter. These are not such serious items and usually don't play a major part in determining the clarity grade of a diamond.
Common blemishes are as follows-
The clarity grades are as follows-
FL (Flawless)- No inclusions or blemishes of any sort under 10x magnification when observed by an experienced grader.
IF (Internally Flawless)- Has no inclusions when examined by an experienced grader using 10x magnification, but will still have some minor blemishes.
VVS1 and VVS2 (Very, Very Slightly Included)- Contains minute inclusions that are difficult even for experienced graders to see under 10x magnification.
VS1 and VS2 (Very Slightly Included)- Contains minute inclusions such as small crystals, clouds or feathers, when observed with effort under 10x magnification.
SI1 and SI2 (Slightly Included)- Contains inclusions (clouds, included crystals, knots, cavities, and feathers) that are noticeable to an experienced grader under 10x magnification.
I1, I2, I3 (Included)- Contains inclusions (possibly large feathers or large included crystals) that are obvious under 10x magnification and may affect transparency and brilliance.
It is the combination of the inclusions and the blemishes along with their size, their number, their position, their nature, and their color that will determine a diamond's clarity. There are a lot of variables involved in making a diamond a certain clarity... it is because diamonds are kind of like snowflakes, where each one is different.
A bit of history about the Clarity system.
Currently we have a diamond clarity grading system that everyone understands and has worked well for many years... it wasn't always this way. Years ago, if someone was describing the clarity of a diamond and they said that it was a "clean", a "piqué", or a "loupe clean" diamond, would you know what they meant?
Richard T. Liddicoat of the Gemological Institute of America introduced the current system in 1953 and it was immediately adopted as the universal system to classify the clarity of a diamond. The eleven different clarity grades communicate the clarity quality of a diamond regardless of the geographic location or the language of the consumer.
Along with the definition of these eleven clarity grades, GIA also states that the clarity grading be done by a trained person using a controlled "darkfield" lighting environment, and a 10X magnification corrected for spherical and chromatic aberration. Wow! that sounds pretty technical! however it's relatively easy to understand this system.
How will you be able to know the Clarity of a diamond?
You, a person who is not fully trained in this system, probably might not be able to accurately determine the clarity grade of a diamond. A Gemologist who has been trained as to all the variables involved will be able to determine the clarity grade and they will also be able to show you why a diamond is a certain clarity.
The best way to be assured of the clarity of a diamond will be to have a diamond grading report issued by a credible gemological laboratory. The best reports will be from GIA, AGSL, or GCAL. These nationally known and well respected labs do use a number of graders who must agree on all of the qualities of the diamond before a report is issued.
What is the best Diamond Clarity for me?
The price of diamonds will change, go up or go down, as the clarity moves higher or lower. For diamonds in the most common color, cut, and weight range, as a general rule, look for about a 15 to 20% change in pricing for each change in clarity. A diamond with a clarity grade of FL (Flawless) is no more beautiful than a diamond with a clarity grade of SI1 (Slightly Included 1) but a FL clarity can be more than twice the price of a SI1 diamond.
From the FL to the SI1 clarity grades, any inclusions and/or blemishes are only visible when you look at them using 10X magnification. I don't know of anyone who walks around with a 10X magnifier in their pocket in order to look at people's diamonds... sorry, let me correct that, I don't know of anyone except for jewelers and Gemologists (including myself) that walk around with a 10X magnifier in their pocket.
You will need to see for yourself what these different clarity grades actually look like. I know many people who have looked at the clarity grading chart and see that the VVS2 or VS1 are "in the middle" of the chart so they think it is what they would like to consider when buying a diamond.
There are only a few diamonds that can fit into the nearly impossible FL and IF grades and just a few more diamonds that are able to fit into the extremely tight VVS1 and VVS2 grades... a single tiny, microscopic, pinpoint inclusion will easily move a diamond out of these grades. As you move down into the VS, SI, and I grades it widens out and many move diamonds will fit into these grades. SI1 is more "in the middle" than either VVS2 or VS1.
Find a good Gemologist to teach you or do some research online about diamond clarity grades, it's really not too complicated. When you buy larger diamonds, make sure they come along with a diamond grading report that you trust.
Bud Boland has been in the jewelry business for 40 years and has done everything from watchmaking, diamond setting, jewelry making, and has been a Gemologist for nearly 35 years. He is a Graduate Gemologist from GIA (Gemological Institute of America), which is also the place where he was an Instructor. He has taught about diamonds to hundreds of students from all around the world.
He is currently committed to producing the only diamond buying guide a smart consumer would ever need... unbiased advice from inside of the jewelry business... Diamond-Buying-Made-Easier.com [http://www.diamond-buying-made-easier.com]
Additional important tips can be found a Diamond Clarity [http://www.diamond-buying-made-easier.com/diamond-clarity.html] on his website!
Here are some other related pages on this website:
Guide 2 Diamonds
Diamond Clarity Enhancements
Diamond Color Grading
Diamond Scams & Tricks
What are Diamonds?
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