Understanding Diamond Clarity

How clear is your diamond jewelry? Understand how to evaluate diamond clarity and how it affects the quality of your diamond jewelry investment.


Clarity, one of The Four “C”s of judging diamond quality, refers to the presence of surface or internal flaws within a diamond caused during its formation or during the cutting process.

As one of the easiest of the 4 C’s to understand, clarity receives a lot of emphasis by diamond buyers. Sometimes it may receive -too- much emphasis as many diamond experts will tell you that diamond cut quality¬†has a lot more to do with a diamond’s brilliance and shine than clarity. Certainly it is true that a diamond’s flaws are more apparent and important in larger stones. For smaller “accent” diamonds (e.g. 1/8 carat or less), a lower clarity grade is often used as the ‘fire’ and ‘flash’ of these stones is less impeded by flaws, and offers great cost savings without sacrificing flash and brilliance, versus using less-flawed, more-expensive stones at smaller sizes.

When the marks occur on the surface, they are known as blemishes. The most common types of blemishes include naturals, a small part of the original rough diamond’s surface which has been left on the cut diamond; surface graining, transparent stress lines that appear on a diamond’s surface; and extra facets, that are usually cut to remove a near-surface inclusion and raise the clarity
grade of a stone.

When these marks occur internally, they are called inclusions. The most common types of inclusions include crystals, tiny bubbles representing small minerals that were absorbed into the diamond while it was growing; pinpoints, crystals so tiny that they only appear as little dots under 10x magnification; needles, needle-shaped included crystals; knots, an included diamond crystal
that reaches from the inside to the surface of a polished diamond; chips, small, shallow openings on a diamond’s surface; cavities, larger chips often created when an included crystal is removed from near the surface, leaving an indentation; feathers, small stress fractures within a diamond; internal graining, stress lines inside a diamond; and clouds, a grouping of inclusions that resembles a cloud under magnification.

All diamonds have such flaws. These imperfections serve as the “fingerprint” of a stone and make each one unique. However, inclusions and other flaws can interfere with the passage of light through a stone, diminishing its sparkle – therefore, the fewer (or smaller) the inclusions, the more valuable the diamond.

In the rarest and most expensive diamonds, the inclusions are too tiny to see even at 10x magnification in good light, which is why these stones are called “flawless” (FL) or “internally flawless” (IF) according to the quality analysis system of the Gemological Institute of America. At the other end of the scale are “imperfect” stones (I grades) with visible faults that mar their natural
beauty. Here is the GIA clarity grading system:

Diagram of Flawless Diamond Diagram of IF - Internally Flawless Diamond Diagram of VVS1 - VVS2 Diamond (very very slight inclusions)
Diagram showing VS1 - VS2 Diamond (very slight inclusions) Diagram showing SI1 - SI2 Diamone (Slightly Included) Diagram showing I - I1 - I2 - I3 Diamond (included)
  • FL (flawless) – No external marks or internal inclusions visible to a trained eye under 10x magnification.
  • IF (internally flawless) – Only minor surface blemishes but no internal inclusions visible to a trained eye under 10x magnification.
  • VVS1, VVS2 (very, very slightly included) – Few, very small inclusions and/or finish faults, difficult for a trained eye to see under 10x magnification. Typical flaws include tiny pinpoints, faint clouds, tiny feathers, or internal graining.
  • VS1, VS2 (very slightly included) – Very small inclusions and/or finish faults, somewhat difficult for a trained eye to see under 10x magnification. Typical flaws include crystals, feathers, distinct clouds and groupings of pinpoints.
  • SI1, SI2 (slightly included) – Small inclusions and/or surface blemishes easily seen under 10x magnification, but not visible to the naked eye (with SI2, slight flaws may be eye-visible to the trained eye, but virtually impossible to see to the untrained eye). Typical flaws include crystals, clouds and feathers.
  • I1 (imperfect 1) – Inclusions and/or finish faults visible under 10x magnification, but hard to see with the naked eye. Little effect on the brilliancy of a stone, depending on cut quality.
  • I2 (imperfect 2) – More inclusions and surface blemishes visible without 10x magnification. Possible slight¬†diminished brilliancy within stone, depending on cut quality.
  • I3 (imperfect 3) – Many and/or large inclusions and surface faults clearly visible without 10x magnification. Slight diminished brilliancy within stone, depending on cut quality.

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