Diamond clarity refers to the presence or absence of imperfections in a diamond. Imperfections, also called flaws, occur in more than 99% of natural diamonds.
A diamond’s clarity grade is assigned along a diamond clarity chart or scale, getting lower the more flaws the diamond has and how prominent they are. Diamonds with perfect clarity grades are extremely rare and shockingly expensive.
The good news is, you don’t need a perfect clarity grade if your goal is to buy a beautiful diamond. In fact, it’s a waste of money – many stones in the more affordable mid-ranges of the diamond clarity chart look just as stunning, because their flaws are too small and few to be noticeable.
Diamonds like these are called “eye-clean”, which means their imperfections can’t be seen with the naked eye. As an informed consumer, your goal should be to find an eye-clean diamond in the lowest and least expensive clarity grade you can get away with.
This guide covers everything you need to know to do just that.
Types of Diamond Flaws
Diamond flaws fall into two categories: inclusions and blemishes.
- Inclusions: Internal flaws within the stone. They’re essentially birthmarks, resulting from the turbulent geological conditions of diamond crystal formations deep within the Earth. Inclusions can be caused by issues such as trapped trace minerals, internal fractures, or variations in the crystal growth process.
- Blemishes: External flaws on the diamond’s surface. Most blemishes are inadvertently introduced during the diamond’s journey from rough stone to finished gem. For instance, by the use of too much heat or improper technique at the polishing stage.
Of the two, inclusions by far have the greatest impact on diamond clarity grades, so we’ll be giving them the lion’s share of attention going forward.
Understanding Diamond Inclusions
Some common inclusions that you might encounter are:
- Crystals: Foreign minerals or other diamond crystals trapped inside the primary diamond.
- Pinpoints: Very tiny crystals. Pinpoints are the most common and benign type of inclusion.
- Needles: Crystal inclusions with a long, thin, needle-like shape.
- Feathers: Internal fractures that have a “feathery” appearance when viewed under magnification.
- Clouds: Many pinpoints or other tiny inclusions grouped closely together.
It’s important to keep in mind that inclusions are normal. They don’t mean that a diamond is “bad” – or at least, not necessarily. Inclusions only become a problem if they’re visible to the naked eye, and/or if they impact the diamond’s structural integrity.
This typically happens when a diamond’s inclusions are:
Large in size
As the size of an inclusion increases, the more likely it will be noticeable to the naked eye.
Generally speaking, you’re better off with multiple small inclusions scattered throughout the stone, rather than fewer inclusions of larger size. Even a single large inclusion can make or break a diamond’s eye-clean status.
Closely grouped together
Having multiple tiny inclusions in a diamond is usually not an issue. But they need to be spread widely throughout the diamond so they can fly under the radar, instead of being heavily concentrated in one area.
For example, clouds – which are multiple small inclusions tightly clustered together – can look as bad (or worse) as a single large inclusion.
Any colors other than transparent or white
Inclusions come in a range of colors. To stand the best chance of staying hidden, the color of a diamond’s inclusions should match the color of the diamond itself.
In the case of white diamonds, transparent (colorless) inclusions are the best options. White inclusions can also be okay, depending on their size and location.
Located under the table
Inclusions under the diamond’s table (its central and largest facet) are usually more prominent, as the table is a very wide and open facet to which the eye is naturally drawn.
Also, inclusions can sometimes be reflected within a diamond (effectively “multiplying” one inclusion into the appearance of many), and this can be especially noticeable in the table.
Located at the girdle
Inclusions located at the diamond’s girdle – that is, the thin band that separates the crown (upper half) from the pavilion (lower half) – can sometimes be prominent.
And because the girdle is a structural weak point, inclusions here can also reduce the diamond’s durability, making it more likely to chip or break.
Most inclusions are surrounded by diamond on all sides, but some touch against the stone’s surface. Because these inclusions aren’t “contained” by the diamond’s mass, they’re magnets for trapping dirt and oil (which is obviously not a good look).
Surface-breaking inclusions can also be at risk of becoming bigger over time.
TL;DR: Diamond clarity is mostly based on inclusions (internal flaws) and how noticeable they are. Avoid stones with inclusions that are large, discolored, clustered together, surface-reaching, or located under the table or at the girdle.
How Is Diamond Clarity Determined?
When we talk about diamond clarity, we’re referencing the 4Cs of diamonds – cut, color, clarity, and carat weight – which are the globally recognized standard for assessing a diamond’s value and beauty. This framework was developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in the mid-20th century to standardize diamond grading.
Within the diamond clarity component of the 4Cs system, diamonds are examined by trained professionals under 10x magnification. They’re then categorized into one of six clarity ranges and eleven individual clarity grades, according to the type, size, location, color, and number of their inclusions.
Take note of that “under 10x magnification” part, because it’s a key point. It means that clarity grades are based on flaws that are visible when the diamond is magnified 10x, not on flaws that are visible to the naked eye.
TL;DR: Diamonds are clarity graded based on the visibility and prominence of their flaws under 10x magnification. A diamond can have a less than perfect clarity grade and still appear perfectly eye-clean.
Diamond Clarity Grades and Prices
Here are the ranges and grades on the GIA clarity scale from highest to lowest, along with the approximate prices you can expect to pay for each grade.
Note that diamond pricing is highly complex, with additional aspects like shape, color, cut, carat weight, and others all playing a role. For the sake of consistency, the cost estimates below are all based on a 1 carat round brilliant diamond with G color and Excellent cut.
Flawless Diamonds (FL)
A Flawless diamond is the pinnacle of diamond clarity. FL grade diamonds are entirely free from inclusions and blemishes when examined under 10x magnification, and are by definition always eye-clean.
FL Diamond Price Guide: $9,000+
Internally Flawless Diamonds (IF)
Internally Flawless diamonds are just a step below Flawless. While they’re free from inclusions, they do have minor blemishes. Like F diamonds, IF diamonds are always eye-clean.
IF Diamond Price Guide: $6,000 to $8,000
Very Very Slightly Included Diamonds (VVS1 & VVS2)
Very Very Slightly Included diamonds feature minor inclusions that are challenging for even a skilled diamond grader to see under 10x magnification. This clarity range has two grades: VVS1 and VVS2. Between 95% to 99% of VVS diamonds are eye-clean.
VVS Diamond Price Guide: $5,000 to $7,000
Very Slightly Included Diamonds (VS1 & VS2)
Very Slightly Included diamonds consist of the VS1 and VS2 grades. They have inclusions that are more noticeable under magnification, but mostly remain invisible to the naked eye. Between 85% to 95% of VS diamonds are eye-clean.
VS Diamond Price Guide: $4,000 to $6,000
Slightly Included (SI1 & SI2)
In the SI1 and SI2 grades of the Slightly Included range, inclusions are easily visible under 10x magnification. While about 50% of SI1 diamonds are eye-clean, the same can be said for only around 10% of SI2 diamonds.
SI Diamond Price Guide: $3,000 to $4,000
Included (I1, I2, & I3)
An Included diamond has visible inclusions that compromise its beauty, and also in some cases its structural integrity and durability. These diamonds are almost never eye-clean and should be avoided.
I Diamond Price Guide: $1,500 to $3,500
TL;DR: VS and SI are the best value clarity ranges to shop for eye-clean diamonds. FL, IF, and VVS are unnecessarily high, while I is too low.
Diamond Clarity Grading and Reporting
To get assigned a clarity grade, a diamond must be sent to a grading institution for professional gemological testing and assessment. The institution then produces a report that grades the diamond on each of the 4Cs, including clarity.
For your own peace of mind, you should always view a diamond’s grading report before you buy it. Here’s why:
- It guarantees that the stone has been independently verified as a genuine diamond.
- Clarity grade significantly affects a diamond’s cost, so knowing it informs the price you should expect to pay.
- The report highlights particular flaws you should know about, such as inclusions under the table or at the girdle.
At popular online stores like James Allen, Blue Nile, and White Flash, a grading report can be accessed directly from each diamond’s product page. At other online stores or physical retailers, you can request to see reports for the diamonds you’re considering.
However, not all diamond reports are created equal. You should only buy diamonds that were graded by GIA, as GIA has the strictest grading standards. Many other institutions are known for over-grading diamonds – that is, they’ll give a diamond a higher clarity grade than GIA would, which can mislead consumers into overpaying for subpar quality.
The only exception is the American Gem Society (AGS), which used to be the other premier provider of diamond assessments until it merged operations with GIA at the end of 2022. If you come across a diamond with a pre-2023 AGS report, you can trust that it was assessed to a high standard.
Understanding Clarity in a Grading Report
A GIA report shows a diamond’s clarity grade, along with its carat weight, its color grade, and (for round brilliant diamonds only) its cut grade. For reference, a sample GIA report can be found here.
Inside a diamond’s GIA report, you’ll find its clarity grade marked under the Grading Results heading. In the screenshot from the sample diamond report below, you can see that this diamond’s grade is SI1.
SI1 is relatively low down the diamond clarity chart – but remember, 50% of SI1s are eye-clean, and eye-clean is what matters most here.
Next, look under the report’s Clarity Characteristics heading, where you’ll see a clarity plot showing the types and locations of the diamond’s imperfections. (Note that a clarity plot is often not provided if the diamond is less than 1 carat.)
The sample report’s clarity plot above shows the locations and approximate sizes of each significant flaw, while the Key to Symbols list identifies the flaws by type.
In this clarity plot, we can see a cloud and a crystal in the face-up view, located inside the diamond’s table. This indicates that the diamond might not be eye-clean. Crystals and clouds can both be quite noticeable, especially in the table.
We can also see a feather and a natural (a type of blemish) in the face-down view, both situated near the girdle. Flaws in the face-down view typically aren’t as significant since they’re often hidden when the diamond is mounted in an engagment ring. However, the fact that this feather is near the girdle isn’t ideal, as it could be detrimental to the diamond’s durability.
The Limitations of a Grading Report
Here’s what a diamond report doesn’t tell you:
- The colors and exact shapes of inclusions.
- If any inclusions are reflected within the diamond.
- If any inclusions reach the diamond’s surface.
- If the diamond is eye-clean, unless its clarity grade is very high (F, IF) or very low (I2, I3).
In other words, you shouldn’t buy a diamond based solely its grading report. You need to see the stone with your own eyes.
TL;DR: Always view a diamond’s GIA report to verify its authenticity, clarity grade, and the types and locations of its major inclusions. But unless the clarity grade is very high or very low, a report can’t tell you whether the diamond is eye-clean.
How to Pick an Eye-Clean Diamond
Now that you’re familiar with the fundamentals of diamond clarity, let’s get to the good stuff: how to identify an eye-clean diamond within the “sweet spot” clarity ranges of VS1 to SI2.
How to Assess a Diamond In Person
First, verify the diamond’s clarity grade and note the types and positions of any flaws in its clarity plot. Then look at the diamond up close and from multiple angles, trying to spot its documented flaws, along with any others that might have been too minor to make it into the grading report. Focus mostly on the face-up view, as this is what will be visible when the diamond is set in a ring.
Take the diamond around the store to view it under different lighting conditions. Jewelry stores deliberately use unnaturally bright lighting to enhance a diamond’s beauty and sparkle, but this can also disguise flaws that would otherwise be noticeable. Try to view the diamond near a window or other source of natural light.
When holding the diamond about six inches away from your face under natural lighting conditions, can you see any flaws? If you can’t, then it’s a good bet nobody else will be able to either – meaning you’ve found yourself an eye-clean diamond.
How to Assess a Diamond Online
One of the benefits of shopping for diamonds online is the far greater selections available compared to brick-and-mortar stores. Another is the ease of quickly narrowing in on diamonds that fit your chosen parameters. For instance, you can limit your search parameters to only the clarity grades that offer the best value. In most cases, this is between VS1 to SI2.
Once you’ve found a diamond you like and reviewed its grading report, it’s time to take a close look at it. Online jewelry stores like Blue Nile, White Flash, and James Allen make this easy by providing magnified photos and videos of their diamonds, giving you an extreme close-up view to examine imperfections.
While this is an excellent service that brick-and-mortar stores don’t provide, seeing diamonds blown up to extreme magnification can make it easy to get spooked by the appearance of flaws that you’d never see if the diamond was viewed true-to-size.
To see how the diamond’s flaws will appear in real life, you need to reduce the image size to be closer to the diamond’s actual dimensions as listed in its GIA report. For a 1 carat round brilliant, this will be about 6.4mm in diameter.
Some online stores that provide magnified photos let you adjust the zoom slider to reduce image sizes, as shown below:
The maximum zoomed-out view for this 1 carat diamond is still a few millimeters wider than 6.4cm, but that’s actually a good thing. Your eye will always be able to notice more details about a physical diamond than a photo of one, no matter how high quality the photo is – so this extra 2-3mm acts as a safety buffer.
If the store doesn’t have an image zoom function, you can adjust the photo size manually. Here’s how:
- Copy and paste the diamond image into a Word document, Photoshop file, or even good old Microsoft Paint. Any program that lets you manually adjust image sizes will work fine.
- Use the program’s ruler function (if available) to mark a point that’s 2-3 mm longer than your diamond’s diameter. For a 1 carat round brilliant, go for around the 8-9mm mark.
- Drag in the corner of the image to align with your measurement point. Or, if you don’t have a digital ruler, you can use a physical tape measure held against your monitor screen to help you pinpoint the right size.
From about 6 inches away from your monitor, look over the size-reduced diamond image for flaws. If you can’t make out any, then the diamond is eye-clean.
TL;DR: Examine diamonds from multiple vantage points to uncover flaws and – more importantly! – determine whether they’re eye-clean when viewed true-to-size.
Other Factors That Affect Diamond Clarity
The shape, cut, and size of your diamond all have an impact on how prominently it shows imperfections. This section deals with what you need to know about each of these factors in terms of their effects on diamond clarity.
Round Brilliant Cut Diamonds
Of all diamond shapes, the classic round brilliant cut is the best at hiding inclusions and blemishes. This is due to its numerous facets that act like mirrors, reflecting and refracting light within the stone.
Or, put another way: round brilliants are very sparkly, which can distract the eye from noticing flaws.
A round brilliant can’t work miracles – very obvious imperfections on the crown will still be noticeable, no matter your diamond’s shape. But in general, you can get away with a lower clarity grade for a round diamond than for other shapes.
Recommended Clarity for a 1 Carat Round Brilliant Cut: SI1 to SI2
Modified Brilliant Cut Diamonds
Modified brilliant cuts are derived from the original round brilliant cut, adapting its mirror-like faceting to fit other shapes. Shapes with this brilliant-style faceting include the princess, oval, cushion, pear, and marquise cut.
Recommended Clarity for a 1 Carat Modified Brilliant Cut: VS2 to SI1
Step Cut Diamonds
Step cuts like emerald and Asscher shaped diamonds have broad, open facets that can highlight the presence of inclusions. Therefore, for step cut diamond shapes, you’ll typically need a higher clarity grade.
Recommended Clarity for a 1 Carat Step Cut: VS1 to VS2
Diamond Size (Carat Weight)
As diamond size increases, it’s generally a good idea to opt for a higher clarity grade. This is because a larger diamond offers a bigger canvas for inclusions to make their presence felt. In a 2 carat diamond, an inclusion that’s negligible in a 1 carat stone can become conspicuous.
Diamond cut plays a pivotal role in masking or highlighting inclusions. A well-cut round brilliant can make inclusions less detectable due to its superior light performance. Always opt for an Excellent cut when choosing round brilliants.
For fancy shape diamonds, which lack a GIA cut grade, pick a stone that has proportions in line with that shape’s recommended guidelines to ensure maximum brilliance and beauty.
Note that in step cut shapes, a high quality cut doesn’t really help to conceal inclusions like it does in a brilliant style shape. Saying that, you should still opt for the best cut you can get, as well-cut stones always look better than those with mediocre cuts.
TL;DR: A diamond’s shape, size, and cut all affect how prominently it shows inclusions. A higher clarity grade is generally required if your diamond is a step cut shape, more than 2 carats, or lacks a high quality cut.
Recap: Selecting the Best Diamond Clarity Grade
Navigating the complexities of diamond clarity can seem daunting. Just keep in mind that with what you’ve learned from this guide, you now know more about this subject than 99% of people out there, which makes you well-equipped to make an informed selection. Here are the key takeaways to remember:
- Eye-clean is more important than clarity grade. No need to splurge on the highest clarity grade. Eye-clean VS and SI diamonds offer the best value.
- Know which flaws to look out for. Familiarize yourself with the different types of diamond inclusions. Avoid stones with inclusions that are large, discolored, clustered together, surface-reaching, or located under the table or at the girdle.
- Make use of grading reports. Only consider diamonds that come with GIA or AGS-issued grading reports. Examine the diamond’s clarity plot and take note of the types, sizes, and locations of inclusions.
- Account for diamond shape, size, and cut. Brilliant diamond shapes can obscure flaws, while step cut shapes are unforgiving of them. As diamonds grow in size, aim for higher clarity grades. Get best diamond cut you can, as well-cut diamonds camouflage inclusions better than poorly cut ones.
- Decide with your eyes. Look at a diamond from multiple vantage points: zoomed in and zoomed out if buying online; and close up and under natural lighting if examining in person. If you can’t make out flaws when viewing a true-to-size diamond from about 6 inches away, then the stone is eye-clean.
We hope you found this information helpful. To learn about another important aspect of diamond quality and beauty, we recommend reading our guide to diamond color next.