Diamond shoppers typically want a diamond that is big, bright and has lots of sparkle. Yet when they go to the jewelry store, the attention seems to be on carat weight, color and clarity. What is diamond clarity and how does it influence the beauty of the diamond?
All diamonds have inclusions in them because nature forms diamonds in the high temperature, high-pressure regions deep below the earth’s surface. Diamonds are crystals of carbon and the crystals formed in this harsh environment are never perfect. Inclusions are the tiny identifying characteristics inside a diamond. Some of the more common types of inclusions are feathers, crystals, pinpoints, clouds, needles, and twinning wisps. Diamonds also have characteristics on the surface, called blemishes. Clarity affects a diamond purchase when inclusions and blemishes are visible to the eye, when they adversely influence the path of light through the diamond, or when they negatively affect the durability of the diamond.
The diamond industry has established clarity grades to identify various levels of clarity in terms of visibility. The visibility of a particular inclusion or blemish is dependent on its location within the diamond, its physical size and the affect it has when viewed under different lighting conditions. The clarity grades rate diamonds on the visibility of inclusions and blemishes under 10-power magnification.
Flawless and Internally Flawless (IF) are the highest clarity grades and indicate no inclusions are visible under 10-power magnification, with the Internally Flawless allowing only very minor blemishes. Even Internally Flawless diamonds have visible inclusions when viewed under higher magnification.
VVS1 and VVS2 grades indicate very, very small inclusions, which might take 30 minutes to find with a microscope.
VS1 and VS2 grades have very small inclusions that are visible under the microscope but seldom every visible to the unaided eye.
SI1 and SI2 grades have small inclusions under the microscope and are sometimes visible with the aided eye.
I1, I2 and I3 grades have inclusions that are obvious with the unaided eye.
It is important to have the clarity grade designated by one of the top diamond grading laboratories such as the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) or AGS (American Gem Society). Clarity grades on other documentation can be exaggerated and inaccurate relative to industry standards.
What do these clarity grades mean for the diamond shopper? There are many clarity grades and often a big price difference between Flawless clarity and clean to the eye clarity. Most diamond shoppers want a diamond that has no visible inclusions. For brilliant shapes like rounds, ovals, princess, and radiant cuts, that usually means at least SI1 clarity. For step-cut shapes like the emerald and Asscher that have fewer facets to hide the inclusions, at least VS2 clarity is generally preferred.
If these are the target clarity grades, why do shoppers buy diamond with higher or lower clarity? Sometimes shoppers are under the false impression that higher clarity will make a diamond more beautiful. This is a myth promoted by jewelers who have high clarity diamonds they need to sell or want to sell because they require higher prices and therefore more profit. Some men feel only a perfect diamond (flawless) is good enough for a perfect woman. Some shoppers simply want to buy higher clarity, just because they can.
Shoppers who purchase lower clarity diamonds with eye visible inclusions often do so because lower clarity is the only way they can achieve bigger size within their budget. Sometimes diamond shoppers are swept up in the excitement of the purchase and end up with a diamond that looked great in the store lighting but has visible inclusions in normal lighting with closer examination. The bright lights in a jewelry store often make it hard to see inclusions that are easy to see at home or in office lighting.
The purchase decision of a diamond is a mix of logic, emotion and convenience. The shoppers who are happiest with their purchase long term are those who understand their own shopping priorities and then find a diamond that best meets those requirements. For diamond clarity, the shoppers need to determine how important it is to them not to see any inclusions with the unaided eye. Then they have to decide how important the higher clarity grades are regardless of whether they influence the beauty of the diamond or not.
Of course, the price of the diamond ultimately comes into play; even for those shoppers who claim price is not an issue. Most shoppers are seeking their own personalized mix of size, color, clarity, cut, and price when making the purchase decision for their special diamond.