I think besides Cut, Clarity is the next hardest thing to understand and yet it can significantly impact the price of a diamond (much more so than cut). So, what does Clarity even mean?
Clarity is how inclusion-free the diamond is.
You may ask what is an inclusion then and how are they formed?
Inclusions are imperfections found inside the diamond or on the surface of a diamond. There are many different types of inclusions ranging from harmless microscopic white crystals within the diamond to large ‘cracks’ visible to the naked eye. A clarity grade can be given depending on how many, what type, and the location of the inclusions within the diamond.
How are inclusions formed? Internal inclusions are formed during and at the same time as the diamond formation itself. Surface inclusions (yes, it’s an oxymoron to call it a ‘surface inclusion’ … ) are usually caused by the way diamonds are brought near the Earth’s surface – through violent eruptions. Alternatively, surface inclusions like chips or scratches to the diamond can also be caused through normal wear and tear.
DIAMOND CLARITY GRADES:
FL –> Flawless
IF –> Internally Flawless
VVS1, VVS2 –> Very Very Slightly Included 1 and 2
VS1, VS2 –> Very Slightly Included 1 and 2
SI1, SI2 –> Slightly Included 1 and 2
I1, I2, I3 –> Included 1, 2, and 3
One should NOT be able to see any inclusions in any diamond with a VS grade and above with the naked eye according to G.I.A. (Gemological Institute of America) and AGS (American Gem Society) standards. These two labs are the strictest in their grading and are the most respected.
There are many other labs out there that grade and certify diamonds. However, beware that the other labs are much more lax in their grading. This may be a problem if you ever decide to resell your diamond or for insurance purposes.
So … what does this all mean for you?
Well, whenever you go from one grade to the next (i.e. SI to VS), there will be a big price jump. Within the same grade, for example, going from VS2 to VS1, the price difference is much less dramatic. Most people looking for a traditional diamond engagement ring opt for something in the VS and SI range.
Tip: Because clarity grade is determined by 3 different factors combined (location, quantity and type of inclusion), there are times when you can find an SI2 diamond (priced significantly lower than VS2 for example) that doesn’t have very obvious flaws.
How, you ask? Well, a diamond can get a SI2 clarity grade if it has various small WHITE crystals within it (visible to the naked eye, if you look hard and close only). These small white crystals would not be easily noticeable by someone standing at a normal distance from the wearer. This diamond would be considered a ‘nice’ SI2 and a good deal. A ‘bad’ SI2 would be a diamond with, let’s say, only ONE black crystal right under the table (the largest facet of a diamond located on top of the stone) – this would make the inclusion extremely noticeable.
Remember that Clarity is only ONE of the factors that determine the value of a diamond. It is also the LEAST visible to the naked eye (in my opinion.) When choosing your diamond, you must determine which of the 4C’s matter to you the most and put them in order in terms of significance to you. For example, for me personally, this is how I would order my 4C’s:
This means, the size of the diamond is the least significant to me but the cut is the most important. Remember that I’ve been around gemstones a long time and what I prefer is different from people not in the business and are simply shopping for a ring they like. I would say that most people would order the 4C’s like this:
It is important for you to note that I’m talking mostly about TRADITIONAL ROUND CERTIFIED DIAMONDS here.
Many brides are now opting for non-traditional diamonds like gray, brown or yellow rose cut diamonds that are opaque, in which case, you can just throw the rules out the window. Check out my post on them here.
At the end of the day, traditional or non, the MOST IMPORTANT thing is to pick the stone you like, that speaks to you, or jumps out at you for whatever reason. Just because a diamond got a lower grade than what you had hoped for in your mind, doesn’t mean you should automatically rule it out. Diamonds have a funny way of talking to you regardless of what the certificate says.
Picking out a diamond is a lot like picking out a partner. If you limit yourself with ideas of must-have’s or what looks good on paper, you might miss out on the perfect thing. Like picking out a partner, go with your heart and let everything else fall away.