What a Diamond Clarity Chart Won’t Tell You
By Stephanie Dore
While you, darling, might wake up flawless, most diamonds definitely don’t. And one look at the possible inclusions and blemishes on a diamond clarity chart can have your head spinning. Yet countless celebs seem to be rocking these inclusion-free giant jawbreakers, making it seem like a super common thing that perhaps anyone can have. But the truth is, less than 0.5% of diamonds in the entire world are flawless. That’s ridiculously rare. And frankly, my dear, not worth the premium price tag if we do say so ourselves. Why? Well, because buying a flawless diamond is the literal definition of paying for something you’ll never see. Let us explain.
What is Diamond Clarity?
First off, clarity is the most misunderstood of the four Cs. This is mostly due to the word “flawless” which, unfortunately, is riddled with a lot of heavy social yuckiness. Simply because it makes us think that anything that isn’t labeled “flawless” is, of course, flawed. And, for obvious reasons, most folks don’t want this major symbol of their love to be flawed. But all those diamonds out there, the non-flawless ones, aren’t actually flawed. They’re gorgeous! And unless you’ve got superpowers, applying hand cream with your ring on is going to have more visual impact on the sparkle of your diamond than its clarity grade.
Tell Me More
In simple terms, diamonds with the smallest and fewest characteristics get the highest clarity grades—and the price tags to match. When gemologists are assessing diamond clarity, they’re looking at the number, size, relief, nature, and position of a diamond’s internal characteristics, called inclusions, and surface characteristics, called blemishes. And they’re doing this under powerful 10x magnification. They’re also looking at how and whether (at all) these characteristics affect the overall appearance of the stone. And most of the time, they don’t!
While this can still seem a bit daunting, it’s important to remember that diamonds (or at least the ones we’re wearing) are, in relative terms, pretty small things. This means their clarity characteristics are super duper tiny. In fact, inclusions don’t appear like a crack across your windshield, but are much more like a speck of dust. Maybe you can see it if you squint really hard and at just the right angle, but you’re not going to find it at a glance. Even in some lower clarity grades, these characteristics won’t ever be visible to the naked eye. In the industry, we call this an eye-clean diamond, and it’s what we typically recommend for someone who wants a nice clear stone and has some dollars to spare.
The IRL of Diamond Clarity Chart Grades
The reality of diamond clarity grades and industry pricing is that you will pay way more for flawless and internally flawless stones. And the truth is, you won’t ever see the difference between that and an eye-clean stone, such as a VS2 or SI1 grade. What’s more? The eye-clean but less clear dazzler will also cost you significantly less. Sure, you’ll know the difference, but trust us — so will your wallet. Because we’re all about helping you get the most for your money. Here’s the breakdown of each grade.
The Flawless to Near Flawless On the Diamond Clarity Chart
IF (internally flawless)
Pretty darn close to flawless, an IF stone will have no inclusions visible under 10x magnification, but could have minute blemishes limited to its surface. These blemishes are still completely invisible to the naked eye and might be something like a polish mark left over from the diamond’s finishing or natural graining from the diamond’s crystal structure. Regardless, they’re only on the surface and only visible under magnification to a trained eye.
VVS1-VVS2 (very, very slightly included)
While inclusions in these grades are internal, they are so minute that they’re extremely difficult (VVS1) or very difficult (VVS2) for even a trained gemologist to see under 10x magnification. Trust us, we’ve hunted for them for hours. No reasonable human would ever see them with their naked eye. As far as availability, VVS grade diamonds are still pretty rare, with a price tag to match.
VS1-VS2 (very slightly included)
Full transparency — this is the grade where you’ll get the most balance of eye-clean and wallet-friendly. These inclusions will be difficult (VS1) or somewhat easy (VS2) for a trained gemologist to identify under 10x magnification. In the overall scheme of things, though, they’d still be characterized as minor.
The Included to Salt and Pepper on the Diamond Clarity Chart
SI1-S12 (slightly included)
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, you can definitely explore the SI clarity range. They can potentially still be eye-clean (meaning the average human won’t spot inclusions with their naked eye), but inclusions will be easy (SI1) or very easy (SI2) for a grader to see under 10x magnification. Read more about SI1 and SI2 diamonds to learn if this clarity grade is right for you.
The “included” grades go from I1 to I3, and have obvious inclusions under 10x magnification. We don’t suggest anything below an I1 for fine jewelry, as that’s about as low as you can go without inclusions that are visible to the naked eye. The inclusions in these grades could also impact the diamond’s transparency or brilliance, depending on their characteristics.
Salt and pepper
Now, if you want to really go for it, you can check out salt and pepper diamonds (some of our favorites!) for a totally different look. These diamonds, in shades of almost metallic gray, actually show off diamond inclusions! That’s right, you’ll totally see all of those cool characteristics and get something super unique in the process.
The Nitty Gritty
Now, it’s also important to remember that not all inclusions are created equal, and some are less noticeable than others.
Common inclusions in lab grown diamonds:
The world’s tiniest crystal (just like a diamond itself), barely visible under magnification
An elongated crystal, like if you stretched a pinpoint out a bit
Many pinpoints hanging out together, like a microscopic, say, cloud…
Common inclusions in natural diamonds:
Often white—and feathery—in appearance, feathers are tiny breaks in the stone; much like cracked glass, they are often visible from a particular angle
- Twinning Wisps
A bit like a streak of cotton candy, this characteristic happens during diamond growth, when the crystal pattern changes, and often consists of a series of pinpoints, clouds, or crystals
Literally, a microscopic mineral crystal trapped inside a diamond, which could include another diamond!
While some of these might sound scary, trust us, they’re actually pretty cool once you know what you’re looking at. Gemologists are known for geeking out about all the cool sights to see under a microscope. Inclusions can even be a great way to identify your diamond from all the rest. You know, in case it’s ever in a lineup.
Now, think of a clarity plot—those little diagrams you’ll find on the grading certificates of most diamonds .75-carats or larger—like a tiny map of your diamond’s fingerprint. These diagrams can show you just how many characteristics your diamond has, along with what type, their scale compared to the overall diamond size, and where they’re located.
The plotting diagram should have both a top-down and a bottom-up view of the diamond and might have different colored markings on it depending on type of characteristic. These include red for internal characteristics, and green for characteristics that reach the surface. If you don’t see a full diagram, your diamond grading certificate should note the types of characteristics present, which can still be a helpful identifier.
Flawless? Fine. Included? That’s Cool Too.
Ultimately, if you simply must have a flawless diamond, then go for it! But in our humble opinion, clarity shouldn’t be at the top of your MVCs (most valuable Cs) list. Flawless clarity doesn’t mean you’re getting a bigger, more sparkly diamond. So we say keep cut, color, and carat—all of which you can see—prioritized and you’ll get more bang for your buck. If you’re exploring some of the lower clarity grades, or staring at super-magnified videos of diamonds online and freaking yourself out over inclusion visibility, reach out to our team. We can help you track down the perfect eye-clean stone for your budget.
Still Unsure? Need Help Deciphering Your Diamond Clarity Chart Needs?
Check out our diamond search where you can view 360-degree images of more than 10,000 diamonds and don’t forget to zoom out (because size can be deceiving), or book an appointment at our New York salon to view certified lab-grown and natural diamonds in person.
Not finding what you’re looking for? Email us with what you’re looking for at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll curate a list of 5-7 exclusive stones that are just right for you.