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Carat, Color & Clarity in Detail

Scratch beneath the surface on what makes certain clarity grades more appealing as well as a discussion on tradeoffs between size & quality as well as color & clarity.

Diamond Clarity

Of all the diamond quality characteristics, clarity is perhaps the most misunderstood term. The clarity of a diamond describes the natural imperfections, referred to as inclusions or blemishes. There are different grades of clarity which depend on several factors: size, number, position, nature, and relief.  While having a flawless diamond is not a necessity, it is important to have one that would be clean to the eye of most imperfections and not have any hazy or milky appearance.  We find that most of our clients are happy with diamonds in the VS (very slight) to SI (slightly included) range as these provide the best value and usually ensure a beautiful face up appearance. There are about 30 different classifications of inclusion types from internal mineral crystals, feathers, needles, and clouds, to external imperfections like extra facets, polish lines, and pits. These inclusions can come in every shape, color, and nature, therefore, each diamond’s inclusions pattern will be unique.

Size & Amount: A large crystal is more noticeable than a tiny one, so the larger it is, the lower the clarity grade will be. The number of inclusions also greatly influences clarity, where one tiny crystal will make a much higher grade than many large crystals.

Position: An inclusion directly in the center of a diamond’s table automatically makes it more visible, whereas an inclusion closer to the side of a diamond will raise the clarity grade, depending on how easy it is to see without magnification.

Nature: There are many types of inclusions. For instance, a large black crystal in the table would usually be visible to the naked eye.  Also diamonds with a large collection of pinpoints, referred to as clouds, can sometimes appear hazy and cause it to lose its brilliance and sparkle.

Relief is how the inclusion appears, as well as its color. A black, opaque inclusion is not only easy to see, but will reflect throughout the stone. A completely colorless and transparent feather or needle is very difficult to see and in many instances is a very desirable type of inclusion to have.

All these factors are taken into account as a whole by the gemologist when determining its clarity grade. Once these questions are answered, a clarity grade can be given to the diamond, which in the GIA laboratory is done by three diamond graders before officially recorded on a grading report. The clarity grades are: Flawless, Internally Flawless, VVS1, VVS2, VS1, VS2, SI1, SI2, I1, I2, and I3. Keep in mind these grades are based on a range, meaning there are strong SI’s that will be a great deal and weak SI2’s that you want to avoid completely. The same can be said for each individual clarity grade.

Eye Clean SI2's

SI2 clarity (slightly included) is the lowest clarity grade we will offer to our clients. In some circumstances finding the right one will offer you a beautiful diamond at a lower price point than something of VS or higher clarity. What makes an eye clean SI2 diamond attractive is that you can pass those savings along to yourself or put that money towards a higher color grade or larger carat weigh, both of which are easier for your eye to pick up on.

Keep in mind all SI2 clarity diamonds will appear different based on their inclusion pattern so they need to be inspected carefully. Many have obvious imperfections and inclusions that can be seen by the untrained eye, however others will contain inclusions that are transparent or positioned where they are undetectable unless under high magnification. Another factor to consider is the luster of the diamond, and there are SI2’s that are so heavily included (usually by clouds) that they lose their transparency and will appear hazy.

In general, we find that oval, pear, radiant, and round cut diamonds hide imperfections really well because the brilliant faceting of the diamond will mask many imperfections. On the flip side, step cut diamonds like emerald and asscher cut have a clear faceting structure that allows you to see right through the stone. Check out this video showing some examples of top rated SI2 clarity diamonds from our past loose diamond inventory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVoZ27t0eIA

As an example, let’s take this SI2 clarity pear shape diamond which has imperfection of twinning wisps and feathers: https://www.gia.edu/report-check?reportno=1253071520. You would easily find a similar plot on a VS2 clarity diamond. The imperfections are clear/white and therefore blend in perfectly with the brilliant faceting of the diamond. You will see these are almost undetectable at 10x magnification and equally important they do not inhibit the sparkle or brilliance of this stone.

Size VS Quality

The concept of sacrificing quality to get a larger stone, or vice versa, will vary based on someone's opinion and perception to the eye. In general, we don't believe you should work in extremes by focusing on one of the 4 C’s while “over-sacrificing” on another. In simple terms, do not devote your entire budget to get the biggest diamond only to forget about quality. In the same sense, it is not recommended to spend on getting the highest quality diamond like a D Flawless when you can get something equally nice in the E-F color/VS clarity range with a slightly bigger size.

Watch this video showing different size vs quality trade-offs across various shape diamonds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbiuYD6dXi4&feature=youtu.be While the cut on each diamond shown is excellent, the carat weights and color/clarity grades vary for each pair shown causing them to be priced relatively the same.  You will notice the degree of trade off varies based on how many quality rankings you move up or down, and the relative size of each stone.  For instance, the cushion cut diamonds you can jump a full carat in size from 3 to 4, by giving up five color and two clarity grades. While you may be going down a fair amount of quality on paper, you will notice the size difference between the two more easily in person, which makes this an appealing trade off. For the oval diamonds, there is a two clarity grade differential which is why there is only a half carat difference in size; the SI2 is perfectly eye clean so many clients would opt for that choice.  In the round examples, you are moving just one grade in clarity (which is not detectable to the naked eye in most instances) and dropping two grades in color while still remaining in the near-colorless range.  For that reason, there is only a .30 carat differential between these equally priced stones.  Lastly, for the emerald cuts moving from "H" to "I” color will only gain about .25 carats more of carat weight. Emerald cuts are excellent at hiding color so moving the color rating by one grade will not have a huge impact on the price.  One important caveat to the above, when comparing size do not base it solely on carat weight as that is only an indication of face up appearance; take the cut of the diamond into account as well and ensure you are not only getting a larger carat weight but also something that appears larger as per its millimeter measurements.

Color VS Clarity

Color is a natural property of a diamond and refers to the amount of detectable yellow or brown tint present within. It is caused by the amount of nitrogen atoms in the structure of the diamond from when it was created. Clarity refers to natural diamond inclusions, which can be crystals of other minerals, black carbon, tiny internal breaks called feathers, clouds or groups of mixed inclusion types, etc.

Color: When viewing a single diamond on its own face-up, or looking at the top of the stone, the ones from “D” to “J” color will usually not show any noticeable tint; however, comparing these diamonds (which vary by seven color grades) and in a controlled lighting environment, you will notice the difference rather quickly. Many argue that color is more important than clarity because it is the first thing you see. That may be true but any stone in the colorless (D-G) or near colorless (H-J) range will present a diamond that does not have highly noticeable tint.  Certain shapes do show more color than others most notably ovals, radiant and pear shapes so it is wise to stay in the higher "D-I" color for these stones.  Conversely, round brilliants, emerald cuts, and asschers do a better job at masking color so you can get away with a lower color option in these cuts.

Clarity: Clarity can be extremely important as well because inclusions can block light in a more included stone. Any stone ranging from Flawless to Slightly Included 1, and sometimes SI2, has the potential to be eye clean when viewed face on. A safe middle ground is VS2 to SI1 because you will usually not see any inclusions with the naked eye at all in the stone but will have a much lower cost than extremely rare Fl, IF, VVS1, and VVS2 clarity graded stones.  Clarity is crucial in step cut diamonds like emerald and asscher cuts because they have large tables and any inclusion in the center can easily be seen. Conversely many of the other shape, which are brilliant cuts, will mask any inclusions under their faceting. Both color and clarity are important to an extent, but it all boils down to the individual client’s preference. One is not more important than the other, so we suggest finding the largest, most well-balanced stone for your budget: as a rule of thumb stay between F-J in color, VVS1-SI2 in clarity, and you will find a beautiful diamond where you see no noticeable traces of color and eye clean of any inclusions. Keep in mind that working one on one with a trained professional who can guide you to the ring stone is a must.

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