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A Guide To The Diamond Clarity Chart

Understanding diamond clarity charts and how to choose the best clarity grade for you.

By Mike Fried,

Diamond clarity refers to the grade given to a diamond based on the imperfections and inclusions found in a diamond. The fewer inclusions and blemishes a diamond has, the higher grade it will receive on the diamond clarity chart. The clarity can have a significant impact on a diamond’s cost (it’s one of the diamond 4Cs – the main characteristics of a diamond). However, many imperfections that affect a diamond’s clarity grade aren’t visible to the naked or unaided eye.

In this article, we will discuss the different diamond grades and what the different types of inclusions are. More importantly, we will explain how you can use clarity to get the best bang for your buck when purchasing a diamond.

To help you with the diamond buying process we lean on our expertise and experience. The author of this article, our CEO, Mike Fried has over 20 years of experience in the diamond industry. Mike started from the bottom, sorting and evaluating hundreds of thousands of diamonds to learn every facet (pun intended) of diamond quality and value. Mike followed that up by spending years buying and selling diamonds on the wholesale market as well as selling tens of millions of dollars worth of diamonds to diamond retailers.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

What is a diamond clarity chart?
What is the best clarity grade?
How to choose the right clarity grade
How are clarity grades determined?
What are the types of inclusions in diamond clarity?
Buying tips for diamond clarity
FAQs about clarity
Bottom line recommendation

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The Diamond Clarity Chart That Actually Matters

While it’s true that you need to understand the GIA clarity scale (diamond prices are calculated in large part due to their clarity grade), what you need to know is how to find an eye-clean diamond. This chart shows you what your chances are of finding an eye-clean diamond in a particular grade.

Diamond Clarity chart graph

Those percentages are based on your typical one carat diamonds. So you are best off looking for a diamond in the VS2 – SI2 range when purchasing a one carat diamond. It’s true that the overwhelming majority of SI2 diamonds will not be eye-clean, but who cares? You aren’t buying all the SI2 diamonds, you are picking out the one for you.

As diamonds get larger, the inclusions get larger as well. You’ll find that it’s harder to find an eye-clean 2 carat SI2 diamond than it is to find a one carat. It’s a bit of an art form to pick a diamond based off of the videos on James Allen or Blue Nile (or other reputable online retailers), so feel free to contact us and we’ll help you find the perfect diamond. Everyone on our team has picked out thousands of diamonds for our readers.

If you are looking at the diamond in a physical retailer, be sure to walk around the store and see if you can find the inclusions in different lighting scenarios. Some inclusions will be hidden by the sparkle under the perfect lighting at the desk, then you’ll be sitting in your kitchen and notice a black mark. Once you see it, that is all you’ll ever see when looking at your diamond.

What is the GIA Diamond Clarity Scale?

To provide shoppers with an understanding of each diamond’s clarity level, grading institutes like the Gemological Institute Of America (GIA) use diamond clarity charts to judge diamonds based on their appearance and give each stone a clarity grade within a given scale. 

Diamond clarity scales range from I (meaning “included”) to FL (meaning “flawless”). Each clarity grade has subgrades that provide more information about the visibility of inclusions in the diamond.

Very Very Small Inclusions 2 (VVS2)

Very Very Slightly Included (2nd Degree) – Diamond clarity inclusions rated VVS2 are sometimes just barely visible under 10x magnification (standard jeweler’s loupe). When they are visible, they are quite difficult to find and can often take quite a while to locate.

Here's an example of an VVS2 diamond

If you want some help finding a diamond that has inclusions, yet is eye-clean, feel free to contact us.

The Best Clarity Grade vs. The Best Clarity Grade for You

When educating yourself about diamonds, it’s easy to get lost in the technical details. You may end up asking a question and receiving a technically correct answer, but it will result in you making a bad choice when purchasing a diamond. “What is the best clarity grade for a diamond” is a perfect example of this.

The answer to that question is seemingly simple. A Flawless (FL) diamond clarity grade is the highest possible grade a diamond can receive. Since it’s the best grade, you should try to get one with that grade (or as close to it as possible), right? WRONG!

In many ways a diamond clarity grade is meaningless. We’ll explain all the technical parameters regarding clarity below, but the most important factor is this: Can you see the inclusions with your naked eye (without a magnifying glass or microscope) once the diamond is mounted in the ring? Everything else (with a few exceptions) is just noise.

According to the GIA, “Many inclusions and blemishes are too tiny to be seen by anyone other than a trained diamond grader. To the naked eye, a VS1 and an SI2 diamond may look exactly the same..”

Eye-Cleanliness is More Important Than the Clarity Grade

Take a look at this beautiful 1 carat SI1 diamond from James Allen. There is absolutely no way you will see the inclusions once the diamond is mounted in a ring. Compare it to this 1 carat internally flawless diamond. If you would have those diamonds side by side you would not be able to tell the difference.

There is one big difference between those two diamonds that everyone can notice, that is the price. The SI1 clarity grade costs $3,540 while the internally flawless diamond is slightly over $9,360. So you are paying a whopping 180% premium for a characteristic that has zero impact on how the diamond looks.

You are better off putting that money towards something that will make the diamond look better. For example, you can get a larger diamond or you can focus on the cut (which will make the diamond more brilliant). Better yet, you can just save that money.

How Are Clarity Grades Determined?

Natural diamonds are formed in the earth’s mantle layer at a depth ranging between 80-120 miles, and they face extreme heat up to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. While their growth takes between one billion to three billion years, only the rarest diamonds emerge in perfect condition. Most often they are imperfect and contain varying amounts of internal inclusions and surface blemishes.

As the AGS explains, inclusions usually develop as a result of heat and pressure, while blemishes tend to appear during the cutting and polishing process, or as a result of wear that affects the surface of the diamond.

When determining the clarity of diamonds on a clarity scale, experts will note the appearance of the diamond when it is face up, with a microscope at 10x magnification and eye visibility. However, to identify any diamond inclusions there may be, a higher power than 10x will be used. Otherwise, it may be too difficult to determine.

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Artificial Intelligence is playing a more prominent role in diamond grading. According to Rapaport Magazine, “Today, using artificial intelligence (AI) has become a go-to method for grading diamonds.” The GIA developed its own AI-based system for grading diamonds in partnership with IBM, with the system going into operation in GIA labs in 2020.

The GIA AI clarity grading “is built on globally accepted standards — the GIA International Diamond Grading System — and [on the] GIA’s decades of research and analysis from tens of millions of diamonds” added Tom Moses of the GIA.

Five factors play a significant role in how a diamond is graded, and how its “score” on the diamond clarity chart is determined. These five roles in diamond grading include size, nature, number, location, and the relief of the inclusions.

1. Size – The size of the inclusions in a diamond is one of the most important factors in determining its clarity grade. The bigger the inclusions, the larger the impact they’ll have on a diamond’s appearance.

2. Nature – Nature refers to the type of inclusions that can be seen in the diamond, as well as the depth of these inclusions within the diamond.

3. Number – Grading entities also take into account the number of inclusions within a diamond. If a diamond has a large number of inclusions, even if small, they can have a large impact on its appearance and clarity. 

4. Location – The location of an inclusion refers to where on the diamond the inclusion is located. If the inclusion is situated in closer proximity to the center of the table, then the inclusion is more visible to the eye and the clarity grade will be impacted much more.

5. Relief – The relief is referring to how noticeable the inclusions are in comparison with the diamond — put simply, how much contrast there is between the diamond and the inclusions. The higher the relief, the darker the color may seem which can affect diamond grading.

Clear clarity diamond in a yellow gold solitaire ring
Simple and elegant – a very clear VS1 diamond in a yellow gold setting made by Abe Mor

Different Types of Inclusions in Diamond Clarity

Although the term inclusion is often used to refer to any type of imperfection in a diamond, there are several different types of inclusions that can affect a diamond’s appearance.

Here are some of the most common types of inclusions and the effect each type can have on a diamond’s clarity:

  • Cloud – A cloud isn’t one imperfection in a diamond — instead, it’s a group of very small pinpoints that are clustered together. Clouds can affect a diamond’s brilliance by giving it a dull, hazy look. If there are lots of large clouds within a diamond, we call it a cloudy diamond.
  • Graining – Graining is a type of internal inclusion that develops because of irregular crystal growth. When a diamond has graining, it will show white, colored, or reflective internal lines that give the diamond a very hazy appearance.
  • Cavity –Cavities are surface dents or cracks in a diamond. They can appear colorless or colored based on the type of minerals that exist within the body of the diamond. If the crystal inclusions of the cavity are colored, they will then be much more obvious in appearance and can most likely be seen with the unaided eye.
  • Feather – Feathers are small cracks that, as their name suggests, have a feathery look when viewed from certain angles. Some feathers are obvious, while others are barely noticeable. When a diamond has feathers, they can either appear clear or capture light and give off a white appearance.

When it comes to assessing a diamond’s inclusions, it’s always best to consider the advice of a professional. You should also look at the diamond’s GIA certificate for a fuller understanding of its inclusions and imperfections.

Top 3 Buying Tips For Diamond Clarity

Before purchasing a diamond, there are a few things to keep in mind to get the best value and beauty, especially when it comes to clarity. 

1. Don’t overpay

It’s very easy to overpay for clarity. In most cases, a VS1 or VS2 diamond will be eye-clean just like an FL diamond, but cost far less. Instead of focusing on a certain clarity grade, choose the lowest clarity grade that still presents an eye-clean diamond. Your budget is better spent on factors that more greatly impact a diamond’s beauty, like the quality of a diamond cut.

2. Aim for the Best Diamond Clarity

The best clarity grade depends on the shape of your diamond. As we mentioned above, some diamond shapes are much better at hiding inclusions and other imperfections than others.

Round Cut DiamondsThe facet pattern of the round brilliant cut makes it excellent at making inclusions less visible. Choose a clarity grade of VS2 or SI1 for a round brilliant cut diamond of under 1 carat (sometimes even SI2 doesn’t have visible inclusions). For Round Cut diamonds 1 carat or over, a VS1 or VS2 will give you an eye-clean stone. The larger the diamond (carat weight can be a factor), the easier it is to see inclusions.
Emerald Cuts, Asscher Cuts and BaguettesAll these step-cut diamond shapes have large tables (top surface areas) that allow for a clear, unobstructed look into the diamond. This means that they display inclusions more clearly than other diamond shapes. 
For these diamond shapes, we recommend limiting your search only to diamonds with a clarity grade of VS2 or better.
Cushion Cut, Oval Cut, Radiant Cut, Marquise, and Pear Shaped (Princess Cut)As these shapes hide inclusions better than other shapes, you can drop down to the SI1 to SI2 clarity grade range and still find eye-clean diamonds. These clarity grades will help you to get more for your budget.
Follow these recommendations to get the most value from your purchase

3. Review the diamond closely

Besides looking at the certificate and clarity plot, carefully review the diamond to look for visible inclusions. Online vendors, particularly James Allen and Blue Nile, have high-end photography for just this purpose.

Look to see if you notice any blemishes or inclusions. If you do notice some, take note of where they are on the diamond. Are they in the middle of the table, where they’ll be visible, or near the edge of the diamond, where they could be covered up by the setting?

The main goal is to find a diamond that’s eye-clean without overpaying. If you’re not sure, get an expert’s opinion.

Pro Tip: We recommend buying a diamond online, not just because of the value that’s available, but also because of the ease of comparing diamonds. Instead of the bright lighting in jewelry stores that can hide imperfections, online vendors offer objective, high-quality photography.

FAQs About Diamond Clarity

Which diamond clarity is best?

The best diamond clarity grade is Flawless (FL) clarity. Flawless diamonds are extremely rare, with no internal or external imperfections, even when viewed under intense magnification.

What is the best diamond clarity to get?

Though Flawless/Internally Flawless is the highest diamond clarity rating, the best clarity to get is the lowest grade which appears clean to the naked eye, which can be anything from VS1 to, in some cases, as low as SI1 or SI2. Under normal viewing conditions, it’s virtually impossible for the regular person to tell the difference between one of these diamonds and a Flawless diamond.

Is SI clarity good for a diamond?

SI clarity diamonds can, in some cases, look as good under normal viewing conditions as a Flawless diamond. Inspect each diamond individually to be sure, as approximately 50% of SI1 diamonds qualify as eye-clean.

What clarity sparkles the most?

Clarity has little effect on a diamond’s sparkle (or, more accurately, its fire and brilliance). As long as the diamond’s clarity grade is SI2 or higher, there should be no effect on the way it interacts with and reflects light.

Contact Our Experts For Assistance With Buying Engagement Rings Online

We understand that buying a diamond can be a confusing process, especially when it comes to subjective things such as determining if a diamond is eye-clean.

If you’re not sure what to look for, confused by different clarity grades or diamond color grading, or just want an expert to guide you through the process, don’t hesitate to contact us.

We’ve helped thousands of our readers buy beautiful engagement rings and other high-quality diamond jewelry, and we’re happy to help you too.

Bottom Line Recommendation:

A lower clarity eye-clean diamond will look identical to a flawless diamond assuming all else is equal (yet will cost far far less).  Be sure to focus on an online retailer that has high quality videos of each diamond (like James Allen and Blue Nile).

What to look for:
What to avoid:
Look for a diamond that is eye-clean. There can be inclusions, as long as you can't see them with a naked eye
Don't spend too much money on higher clarity grades (IF, VVS etc) Once eye-clean, there is no difference between an SI and IF
Find diamonds with inclusions that are dispersed and around the edges. These are not noticeable and may be covered with a prong
Avoid harsh inclusions under the table of a diamond. This is where inclusions will be most noticeable once the diamond is mounted
When looking at a diamond, be sure to move away from harsh lighting. The unnatural sparkle will mask noticeable inclusions
Reject VS/SI clarity diamonds that say "clarity grade is based on cloud not shown". 'Cloud not shown' on its own is fine
Having trouble navigating the diamond buying minefield? We are happy to help. CONTACT US

Here are more specific clarity topics to browse:

James Allen James Allen is the leader in online diamond sales. Their imaging technology is the same as inspecting a diamond with a jeweler's loupe. They have the largest exclusive loose diamond inventory online and fantastic prices. They also have the nicest collection of lab-created diamonds online.
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. James Allen will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free International Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisals
  • One free resizing within 60 days of purchase
  • Free ring inscriptions
  • Best-in-class high quality imagery of all diamonds in stock
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • Best-in-class packaging
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Blue Nile Blue Nile is the largest and most well-known internet jewelry seller. They have a very large exclusive online inventory. Their high-quality images are catching up to James Allens' and their prices are amazing. 
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. Blue Nile will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisal
  • One free resizing within the first year of purchase
  • High quality images of about half of their diamonds
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • 100% credit towards future upgrades (must be at least double in value)
  • Best in class fulfillment
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Comments

JP

Isn’t a VS2 more likely to be eye-clean than an SI1?
December 18, 2023
Reply:

Mike Fried

VS2s are more likely to be eye-clean, but that doesn’t matter to you, the consumer. Say you have 100 VS2 diamonds and 100 SI1 diamonds. 75 of the VS2 diamonds may be eye-clean compared to only 20 SI1s. So what? You aren’t buying one hundred diamonds; you are selecting the one perfect diamond for your needs. Finding one of those eye-clean SI1 diamonds at a lower price than the VS2 diamond lets you maximize your value without sacrificing one bit on quality.
December 19, 2023

RA

I am looking at a 1.01 G SI1 but on the clarity comments it says “cloud not shown”. Should I be concerned?
December 22, 2023
Reply:

Mike Fried

Clouds can be tricky, but you are in the clear here. If the only clarity comment would be “Clarity grade based on cloud not shown,” that means the majority of the diamond has a strong cloud and it will completely lack brilliance. A simple “cloud not shown” signifies a minor wisp of a cloud somewhere that shouldn’t have any impact on the diamond. I would have no problem recommending that diamond to you.
December 23, 2023

LO

Is clarity more important than color?
January 3, 2024
Reply:

Mike Fried

Both color and clarity are “line in the sand” qualities. There is a certain point where a diamond goes from eye-clean to noticing the inclusion. At that point, you shouldn’t purchase the diamond, as all you’ll notice is the glaring black dot or white line. Same for color. Once you notice the diamond doesn’t look clear, it’ll frustrate you, and that will be all you see. You are better off sacrificing size to ensure you don’t cross those lines. As long as the diamond is eye-clean and clear, the specific color and clarity grades don’t matter much. I would say they are about equal in that regard.
January 5, 2024

About the author

Mike Fried Mike Fried Mike Fried has over 25 years experience in the diamond industry working with Leo Schachter Diamonds, Moshe Namdar Diamonds, and joining The Diamond Pro in 2007. He is recognized as an industry expert and has been quoted in publications such as Us, People, Page Six, The Next Web and more.

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