Diamond Clarity

The clarity grade of a diamond refers to the amount of flaws that can be found in a diamond. These flaws can either be inclusions (internal flaws consisting of twigs, pinpoints etc.) or blemishes (external flaws like scratches which belong to the diamond polish).

Nearly all diamonds have some kind of blemishes on the surface which can mostly not be seen by the naked eye. Inclusions inside a diamond however can really take away from the beauty of a diamond if the inclusion can be easily seen by the naked eye.

Flaws usually consist and ranges from Flawless (FL) to Included (I3) with FL being the highest clarity grading and I3 being the lowest clarity grading. The clarity of a diamond is rated with a 10x magnification loupe.

diamond clarity grading system

What do the diamond clarity grades look like?

In general you can imagine the different diamond clarity grades to be something like this:

Diamond clarity grades BUT and this is a big BUT: you do have to be aware that the specific kind of inclusion can greatly differ from diamond to diamond. Diamond graders only take into consideration the size of the inclusion but not whether its dark black or hardly noticeable because it is nearly transparent. This is the reason why sometimes diamonds with the same clarity grade can look completely different:

Comparison between an eye-clean and a not eye-clean SI1 diamond For this particular reason it becomes particularly important to actually have a look at the diamond before buying it. James Allen as the only online vendor offers a magnified high definition 360° view of all its diamonds and makes it particularly easy to spot inclusions in a diamond.

Which clarity grade to chose?

Ideally you want to buy a diamond that does not include any flaws that are visible to the naked eye. Such diamonds are called eye clean diamonds. During my experience of working 2 years in the diamond business I have come up with three rules regarding diamond clarity:

I can say with confidence that any diamond rated by GIA or AGS with a clarity grade of VS1 or higher will definitely be eye clean! During all my years in the diamond industry I was never able to make out an inclusion in a VS1 or better graded diamond with my naked eyes. Therefore, if you want to make a good deal for your money it does not pay to buy any diamond with a higher clarity grade than VS1. Of course, many people still do it for idealistic reasons and this is completely okay. You just have to be aware that it would not be necessary to have the diamond just eye clean.

Furthermore any diamond with a clarity grade of I1, I2 or I3 will definitely not be eye clean! You should definitely abstain from these clarity grades.

And last but not least, any diamond with a clarity grade of VS2, SI1 and SI2 can be eye-clean depending on the kind of inclusion! Thus, if you want to get the biggest bang for your buck this is the sweet spot where you can save yourself lots of money! These are the clarity grades I recommend to choose.

Let’s have a closer look at my three main rules regarding diamond clarity:

1. Never choose a clarity grade of I1, I2 or I3

Diamonds of such clarity grades invariably ALWAYS contain inclusions that can be viewed with the naked eye.

In fact, I have never held an I1, I2 or I3 diamond in my hand in which I could not detect an inclusion with my bare eyes. Seriously: Forget about I1, I2 and I3 diamonds. They are really worthless and your girlfriend will most likely not like such a diamond.

This is what you can expect when buying I1 clarity grade diamonds for instance:

Three different I1 clarity grade diamonds

2. Any clarity grade from FL, IF, VVS1, VVS2 and VS1 can be guaranteed to be eye-clean

Any clarity grade of VS1 or better will definitely be eye-clean. This means that all these clarity grades will look just the same to the naked eye: perfectly clean as though there were no flaws at all.

The more you go up the in color grade the cleaner the diamond will be under a 10x magnification loupe. When I have a VS1 diamond in front of me I usually have to look several minutes with a 10x powered loupe to find an inclusion. This means that buying a VS1 diamond is a sure bet to have an eye-clean diamond.

It is absolutely okay to buy a diamond with an even higher clarity grade as long as you are aware that you are paying more money for a premium feature that is not directly noticeable to the bare eye.

3. Clarity grades from VS2, SI1 and SI2 can be eye-clean and are much cheaper

Now comes the interesting part: VS2, SI1 and SI2 clarity grades are cheaper than the “guaranteed” eye-clean grades and very often they are eye-clean, too! VS2 and SI1 inclusions can be found without any difficulty with a 10x magnification loupe. But very often these inclusions remain invisible to the naked eye!

This is why to me the VS2, SI1 and SI2 clarity grades are the magic region of saving a lot of money if you pay attention to the details. The reason is simply that inclusions in a diamond can be very different. The clarity grades only take the size of the inclusion into account and rather not its color, opaqueness and the position of the inclusion.

In reality though, while some inclusions are completely white, others might be entirely black. Some inclusions might be found at the outter region of a diamond, while other inclusions might be situated directly in the middle of a diamond and furthermore be reflected by the diamond in such a way that it looks as though there were several inclusions. Still, such diamonds with differing inclusions could get the same clarity grade!

Here you can clearly see that it really pays off to have a close look at the diamonds within the VS2 – SI2 clarity range. Some diamonds are eye-clean and some are not:

The sweet spot of VS2 - SI2 clarity diamonds Therefore, for clarity grades of VS2, SI1 and SI2 it is especially important to have a real look at the diamond before buying it. If you only rely on the grading report alone you will not be able to know what the diamond looks like in real life.

James Allen as the only online vendor has introduced a revolutionary photography technique called the 360° Diamond Display Technology. It allows you to review a diamond in 18x magnification from every angle so that all inclusions can be made out! This is a great way to get the best eye-clean diamonds within VS2, SI1 and SI2 clarity gradings and save a lot of money!

The myth about diamond clarity for investment diamonds

If you want to get the best deal for your money I recommend to have a specific look at a diamond and buy a diamond with a clarity grade between VS2, SI1 or SI2. Now, I know that there are people who argue that they necessarily need to buy an “Internally Flawless” diamond because this would be investment quality. This way it could be ensured that the diamond would not lose any of its value. Sadly, the truth is that investment diamonds are a myth. The truth is that you will ALWAYS lose a considerable amount of money when reselling your diamond.

Please read this very accurate article titled “Have you ever tried to sell a diamond?“ if you are interested in this topic. The article is from 1982 but in terms of reselling diamonds nothing has changed. Thus, there is nothing wrong with choosing the highest clarity grade possible but please don’t do it because you think that this will be a good investment.