Diamond Clarity

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Bottom Line Recommendation: 

Buy the lowest clarity grade you can that is still “naked eye-clean.”  It is imperative that you buy a diamond utilizing high quality photos. Take a look at these two diamonds; this SI2 is 30% cheaper than this VS2. If you put them side by side, you would not be able to tell them apart.

Nobody Can Tell the Difference Between SI2 and VVS2


The Greatest Myth About Diamonds

The greatest myth about diamonds is that they are a smart investment.  Edward Jay Epstein, in his industry-shaking exposè on the “Diamond Invention” entitled “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” clearly and emphatically puts this idea to rest.

I recommend any prospective diamond buyer first read this article from start to finish.  It’s important to be in the right frame of mind when making such a major purchase and not be influenced by all the magic and emotion thrown at you from DeBeers advertising.

Diamonds Are Retail Products

Diamonds are a retail product just like any other.  The product goes through various stages of production and distribution (mining, polishing, distribution, retail, and finally customer).

As the diamond changes hands, each participant takes their cut.  By the time the finished product ends up in the customers’ hands, the price is sufficiently inflated that you could never sell it without losing money.

If cars lose 15% when they leave the lot, then figure most diamonds probably lose at least 30-40% when they leave the store.

The Most Common Mistake

I began with this because the most common mistake people make when buying diamonds is they purchase a diamond with a clarity grade that is simply too high to appreciate in order to buy a “good investment.”

Lets review the basics really quickly.  The scale of diamond clarity (GIA scale – other labs have added some other interim grades) goes like this (from best to worst):

Internally Flawless (IF), Very Very Small Inclusions 1 (VVS1), Very Very Small Inclusions 2 (VVS2), Very Small Inclusions 1 (VS1), Very Small Inclusions 2 (VS2), Small Inclusions 1 (SI1), Small Inclusions 2 (SI2), Inclusions 1 (I1), Inclusions 2 (I2).

Invisible Features

I worked in the diamond business for 6+ years.  If you gave me a diamond with a VVS2 clarity grade, it might take me a few minutes with a 10x powered loupe to find the actual pinpoint of an imperfection that is the “Very Very Small Inclusion.”

I could find a VS1 in less time, but it’s only marginally larger than a VVS2.  VS2s clarity grade inclusions can be spotted right away with a 10x powered loupe, but are usually invisible to the naked eye.

When you reach SI1 and SI2 clarity grades, however, you begin to find a much higher concentration of diamonds with eye visible inclusions. Because of this, it is imperative to limit your search to vendors with high quality photos. Of course, we encourage you to reach out to us and we’ll gladly help you choose the perfect SI1 or SI2 that is eye clean.

Now, if a diamond is simply a product that has features that you want to benefit from (i.e., its beauty), why pay a lot more for features from which you will never benefit?

Figure 1: I1 at 9x

Figure 1: I1 at 9x

Sliced Features

Think of your total investment in a diamond ring as a pie.  Each feature of the diamond has its own slice of the pie and the more you spend on a feature the larger its slice (and therefore, another slice or slices must become smaller).

Wouldn’t it make sense to apportion the largest slices to the features you can actually derive benefit from? All you have to do for the other features is make sure the slice is sufficiently large that it doesn’t detract from the beauty of the diamond.

Unequal Inclusions

Unfortunately, though, things aren’t quite as simple as I’ve made them seem.  An important thing to remember is that not all inclusions are created equal.

Some inclusions are shiny and some are almost completely clear.  Some inclusions, though, are dead white and some are even stark black.  Some inclusions are dead center in the middle of the diamond, and some are pushed so far off to the side, they aren’t noticed.

The clarity grade mainly takes into account the size of the inclusion, and rarely considers the color and opaqueness of the inclusion nor its position.

Cutting-Edge Photography

Thankfully, James Allen has some truly fantastic cutting-edge photography that will allow us to review actual clarity examples with a tool they call 360° Diamond Display Technology that provides 18x magnification around the entire stone.

Diamond Clarity – A Real World Test

The first diamond I want to review is a 1.00 carat I1.

Figure 2: I1 at 18x

Figure 2: I1 at 18

This diamond is a perfect example of the great value you can find if you take advantage of technological breakthroughs like James Allen’s 360° Diamond Display Technology or Brian Gavin Diamonds’ high quality photographs.

In Figure 1, which is at 9x magnification, you can barely see anything.  Had I not marked the inclusion in red, you probably would not have noticed it at all.

The inclusion is only slightly opaque, but best of all it is completely on the perimeter of the diamond.  A skilled jeweler could easily cover this with a prong to give your diamond the appearance of being completely clean.

Hidden Inclusions

In Figure 2, you can see the same diamond, but with 18x magnification.  In this picture, I have focused on the inclusion so you can better see how its color allows it to blend in with the natural color of the diamond.

The next diamond I want to review is a 1.01 carat VS2.  As you can see in Figure 3, there is a very small inclusion almost dead center in the table of the diamond. Unfortunately, however, the inclusion is stark black.

Due to the combination of the inclusion’s position and its color, it is very possible it would be visible to the naked eye despite the fact that it has a clarity grade of VS2.

Figure 3: VS2 at 9x

Figure 3: VS2 at 9x

Figure 4: VS2 at 18x

Figure 4: VS2 at 18x

Comparing Inclusions

In Figure 4, you see the same inclusion, but at 18x magnification.

Now take a look at the table below (Figure 5) of the two different diamonds’ features.  They are virtually identical, save for three slight advantages the I1 has over the VS2 (No Fluorescence and Excellent polish, and slightly larger dimensions).

Now try to guess their prices. The VS2? Listed on JamesAllen.com for $5,010.

The I1, which as I have shown isn’t simply a better value for your money spent, but is objectively speaking a better looking diamond?  $3,290.

Don’t Invest in a Bad Decision

The VS2 costs over 50% more than the I1!  And you know what you get in return for that $1720 extra you spent on the VS2?  A little black dot to always remind you of what a bad decision you made.

Shape Weight Color Clarity Polish Symmetry Fluorescence Measurements
Round 1.00 H I1 EX VG None 6.38×6.45×3.97
Round 1.01 H VS2 VG VG Medium Blue 6.36×6.40×3.99

To wrap things up, recall the pie analogy I mentioned earlier.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to take keep the Clarity slice nice and small (like the I1 from Figures 1 and 2) and instead increase the size of the Weight slice?

In our example here, you could easily upgrade to a 1.25ct diamond and you would still end up spending less than $5,010.

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  1. Mike     Reply

    Hi Meredith,

    I’m really sorry to hear about your plight, but I’m going to have to defend the jeweler in this case. It is absolutely false that SI2 diamonds should be eye-clean. SI2 means that the inclusion is a certain size in relation to the size of the diamond. Harshness, location and reflection also factor into eye-cleanliness. It is my experience that about 80% of SI2 diamonds in the 1.00-1.20 ct range have eye-visible inclusions. That is why we are so adamant about buying from sites that provide high quality photos.

    Additionally, I’m guessing that diamond is not legitimately certified. No jeweler in his right mind would recommend lasering a GIA certified diamond. If that is the case, I can only imagine he felt incredibly pressured by you. As unethical as selling a non-certified (or illegitimately certified) diamond may be (and we deplore the fact that jewelers don’t use GIA/AGS certificates), that is your responsibility as a consumer to navigate.

    The overwhelming majority of jewelers do not have experience dealing with lasering diamonds. I don’t know where the jeweler sent it, but 3 months in inexcusable. I highly doubt you can get your money back (judging by the facts you’ve laid out, he didn’t lie or commit fraud) especially after you had it lasered, but you should try.

  2. Deanna     Reply

    Do you think this diamond is worth considering?
    They told me It is eye clean when viewed over the top of the stone and he inclusions won’t affect the brilliance.
    They sent me a photo as well.
    Sorry if my link doesn’t work I’m not sure how to make links

    • Mike     Reply

      Send me a copy of the photo through the ‘Ask A Question’ button, and I’ll take a look. Please include the link there as well (so I don’t have to search through these as well).

  3. Scott     Reply

    I have been looking at rings on Blue Nile and now James Allen after coming across this site. I am concerned about having a diamond that is eye clean. I was hoping you can give me your opinion about a few stone. I am looking for something in the 2.0 ct range or around 8mm




    Any input or guidance would be greatly appreciated.

  4. Dan     Reply

    Hi Mike – here are the two stones I’m considering:

    Price: $10,800
    Carat: 1.32
    Color: H
    Clarity: VS1
    Cut: Excellent
    Measurements: 7.01 – 7.06 x 4.41 MM
    table: 56%
    depth: 62.7%
    girdle: medium
    culet: none


    Price: $11,200
    Carat: 1.31
    Color: G
    Clarity: VS1
    Cut: VG
    Measurements: 7.22 – 7.30 X 4.24 mm
    Table: 58%
    Girdle: thin-medium
    Depth: 58.4
    Culet: none

    Thanks in advance!

    • Mike     Reply

      Are these GIA certified?

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