What does clarity really mean to a diamond? And if you can only see it in a microscope does it really matter? Carrying on in our "Diamond Deep Dive" series, we're going to talk about diamond clarity and how it affects the performance of a diamond.
By now, I assume you have already read the first part in our series, Diamond Deep Dive: The Cut where we talk about how the diamond "cut" affects the brilliance of a diamond. If you haven't yet, then be sure to check it out.
Every diamond is unique, and thus every diamond has different aspects to it that affect its appearance. Just like finding rocks on the ground you'll find that each one is formed in its own way and its own environment. Diamonds are no different in this way. That uniqueness in diamonds comes in the form of "inclusions" such as minerals and fractures within the diamond. How many of these inclusions, and to what extent they affect the performance of a diamond, is what we call "Clarity".
Clarity is graded by gemologists and diamond experts. When you look at a diamond certificate you will find ratings such as "I1", "VS1", etc. That means that a diamond grading professional, such as a gemologist, has reviewed the diamond and has given that diamond an assessment of the diamond's quality - a "grade", if you will.
We can liken these grades to school grades as it's an easy analogy. We all know what an A+ grade is right? Well, in diamond terms, that's akin to "FL", which stands for "Flawless". So, if you have an FL diamond then, congrats, you're head of the class!
The scale that is used goes from FL (Flawless) to I3 (Inclusions 3). This scale was created by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). It was created so that everyone would have a consistent way to assess diamonds.
Established in 1931, GIA is the world’s foremost authority on diamonds, colored stones, and pearls. A public benefit, nonprofit institute, GIA is the leading source of knowledge, standards, and education in gems and jewelry.
Grading a Diamond Under Magnification
When gemologists grade a diamond they look at the diamond under 10x magnification. This is typically done using a "loupe", or a microscope (which we just refer to as a "scope"). While there are some specific standards to lens manufacturing to get to what exactly 10x is, suffice it to say that it's meant to make the object you are looking at look 10 times larger than what it actually is.
All diamond grading is done at 10x. This ensures that there is a consistent standard across every diamond grade possible. While human interpretation always plays a factor in any process, the GIA looks to minimize this variation by creating a very specific set of standards conducted under very specific settings to ensure a high level of consistency. Diamond graders are now even starting to use computer vision with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to grade diamonds, looking to further reduce variance in grading.
This is a picture of Kelly using a loupe. We use these all the time when inspecting your jewelry. We all carry them in our pockets so that we can look at the piece at 10x magnification quickly and easily.
When we want to get a deeper look into your jewelry we take a look at it under the scope. This allows us to look at it in "stereovision", meaning we get to use both of our eyes. Our scope, in particular, zooms from a 10x magnification to a 50x magnification which lets us get deeper into the details as well; and to take it one step further, we have even attached a camera to our scope so that we can show you what we are looking at easily and describe to you the differences between the diamonds you might be looking at.
What Diamond Grades Mean
Before talking about grades we have to understand inclusions. Inclusions are "flaws" in a diamond. Inclusions can live on the surface of a diamond as something like scratches or pits. Inclusions can also live inside the diamond, such as mineral deposits or fractures. The thing about inclusions is that it's not necessarily a bad thing to have what we call "flaws". Just like people, each diamond is formed in a unique environment and thus has different characteristics that make it unique in itself.
So, as I mentioned earlier, diamonds get a clarity grade based on the number of inclusions found within the diamond. This grade will range from FL to I3 (think A+ to F). The reason why the grade is important is because it can affect the performance of the diamond. When we say "performance" of a diamond we really mean how much light is reflected out of the diamond. That reflection is affected by the number of inclusions within the diamond so that can affect its brilliance and intensity.
The table below outlines the various diamond grades and their meanings.
|FL||Internally and Externally Flawless|
|VVS1||Very, Very Slightly Included 1|
|VVS2||Very, Very Slightly Included 2|
|VS1||Very Slightly Included 1|
|VS2||Very Slightly Included 2|
|SI1||Slightly Included 1|
|SI2||Slightly Included 2|
So, let's think about looking through a glass window. If that glass window is new, perfectly clean and flawless it's going to look almost like there is nothing there, right? That's FL (Flawless). In being flawless that means that light passes straight through. Well, it's the same idea for a diamond, an FL grade means that light is not affected while passing in and reflecting back out. There are no scratches on its surface and there are no impurities in the glass.
Now let's think about that window being a little older and with some scratches on it. There might be just a few, so it doesn't have a huge impact on the performance of the glass. It may be that only "glass experts" can see the scratches, and to us normal people we don't even see them. That would be something like a VS (Very Slightly Included).
Now, let's imagine that pane of glass being really old and there are impurities within the glass itself - like bubbles. People have scratched it a lot over the years, too. Now we're moving into the I1 - I3 territory.
When a diamond has an I1 - I3 rating that means that the flaws of the diamond can be seen without magnification and are easily discernible to even the untrained eye under magnification. As you move up in the scale, to SI (Slightly Included), to VS (Very Slightly Included), and up, the flaws get increasingly difficult for the untrained eye to see - even under magnification.
When a grader determines the clarity of a diamond they will create a "plot" of the diamond. A plot, in the way that we use it for diamonds, is a graphical representation - sort of like a diagram of the inclusions. The grader will draw the inclusions that they find in the diamond onto a diamond diagram, and then that diagram becomes the "signature" of that diamond. You will find these plots in diamond certifications.
Diamond certifications are a full description of a diamond and includes items other than just clarity - items such as color, polish, symmetry, and much more are also covered. But, in the case of the clarity the certification will really get into the details and include the grade as well as the plot.
Certifications are conducted by independent agencies, such as the GIA. There are others, such as AGS and EGL. The agencies stay independent so that the industry can be sure they're not biased.<
Keep an eye out on those certifications, though, it's best to ensure that it comes from one of these agencies. We have seen certifications that from less than reputable agencies. If you have any questions about which agency created the most high quality certifications just ask one of our experts - we're happy to help guide you.
Not all diamonds are sold with certifications but having a certification will add value to your diamond because you know that the specifications have been independently verified. Diamonds that are certified often have the certification number laser etched on the "girdle" of the diamond as well (the girdle is the side edge). This is very helpful because it can be verified that the certification is the correct one for your diamond. It's also helpful in instances of theft because the GIA will track known-stolen diamonds by certification number.
Each diamond is Unique
If your diamond is not "Flawless", don't worry! They are exceedingly rare. Each diamond has its own mix of unique characteristics that make it "speak to you", as we like to say. Sometimes the clarity is a little lower than others, but the color is whiter and thus the diamond may "face up" brighter than a diamond with the same clarity and lower color. Sometimes the symmetry of the cut of the diamond is such that it presents better than others. Each diamond has its own unique qualities that make it special and make it speak to you.
Our goal at Jewelry Creations has always been to not just sell a product, but to educate people on that product so that they can make the most informed decision possible and meet the goals they are trying to achieve. I hope that this blog post helped teach you a little something you didn't know about diamonds before.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the next blog post in this series, "Diamond Deep Dive: Carat Weight", as we continue on our journey exploring the "4 C's" in depth — and be sure to read the previous blog post "Diamond Deep Dive: The Cut" if you have not already.