The Diamond Pro

I1 Clarity Diamonds: Don’t Be Fooled

By Michael Fried
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I1 diamonds fall on the low end of the Clarity scale. Clarity refers to the blemishes and inclusions present in the stone. Third-party labs, like the GIA, give out clarity grades when they issue a report for a diamond. For I1 diamonds, you can easily see imperfections with 10X magnification and with the naked eye.

In general, we advise against I1 diamonds, because inclusions at this level impact the brilliance and fire of the diamond. Large imperfections or a large number of imperfections obstruct light as it travels through the diamond, making it dull. Obvious imperfections also detract from the beauty of the diamond, because your eye is drawn to the blemish.

Included I1 diamond
I1 Diamond from James Allen with visible inclusions

Instead, we recommend going for a clarity grade like VS2 or SI1, because you can get an eye-clean diamond but pay far less than you would for a VVS or an FL diamond. You’ll still save your budget and can spend more on the aspect that most greatly impacts a diamond’s beauty: Cut quality.

Learn more about I1 diamonds, why you should avoid them, and which clarity grades you should choose instead.

What is an I1 clarity diamond?

An I1 diamond is included to the 1st degree—meaning it has noticeable inclusions under a standard jeweler’s loupe at 10X magnification. I1 inclusions are also almost always visible to the naked eye, making them not eye-clean diamonds.

For step cut diamonds in particular—Asscher, Emerald Cuts and Baguettes—the imperfections in I1 diamonds are so obvious that they’re rarely produced. Diamond shapes like the Oval Cut and Cushion Cut hide inclusions well, so occasionally you can find a decent I1 diamond, but it’s still probably not eye-clean. You’d have to look through hundreds of diamonds to find an eye-clean I1. If the inclusions are spread out across the diamond, they can be less noticeable or the ring setting may cover them.

Besides impacting the diamond’s beauty, larger inclusions can lead to a less than durable diamond. It runs the risk of chipping easier, because the stone’s composition isn’t as sturdy.

To review I1 diamonds—or any diamond for that matter—you need magnified photos offered by a high-quality vendor like James Allen. Still, it can be difficult to determine if a diamond is eye-clean. You can ask an expert to help you review the diamond.

3 Tricks to Watch for with I1 Diamonds

Even though I1 diamonds have visible inclusions, some jewelers might try to get you to buy one. Here are three selling tricks to watch for.

They tell you an I1 diamond is eye-clean.

From our decades of experience, we know that an I1 diamond won’t be eye-clean unless it’s under 0.5 Carat. Any larger diamond won’t be eye-clean at an I1 grade, because the larger the stone, the easier it is to see imperfections. There might be a few exceptions to this, but they are hard to find.

They show you a clean clarity plot.

A clarity plot is a map of all the blemishes and inclusions in a diamond. Because an I1 grade means the diamond is included, it’s a red flag if the clarity plot doesn’t show any imperfections. You can’t trust the certificate or the jeweler or look for the reason (e.g. comments like “Clarity based on clouds that aren’t shown”).

They tell you that a noticeable inclusion doesn’t matter.

While we know Clarity isn’t the most important aspect of a diamond—Cut quality is—it still impacts a diamond’s beauty somewhat. A glaring blemish is an eyesore. It takes away from the beauty of the diamond. Large imperfections also impede light from traveling through the diamond, making it a duller stone. If a jeweler tries to convince you to buy a diamond with a noticeable inclusion, it’s time to look for a different jeweler.

You’ll also want to watch for jewelers that offer an SI3 clarity grade. This is a red flag because the SI3 grade is used by lab entities that aren’t reliable. You’ll end up with a diamond that lacks beauty and value.

SI1 diamond for I1 article
Eye-clean SI1 Marquise Diamond from James Allen

To get the most out of your budget, opt for an eye-clean diamond but don’t pay more than you need to. Typically, that’s a VS2 or SI1 diamond.

The GIA Diamond Clarity Scale

Before buying a diamond, ensure that it comes with a lab certificate. We only recommend an AGS or GIA certificate because they’re the most consistent and reliable.

The GIA grades diamond clarity from best to worst:

  • Flawless (FL)
  • 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)

As a diamond forms over billions of years, its structure picks up small imperfections along the way. A diamond’s clarity grade depends on the size, type, and location of its inclusions and blemishes. Diamonds with bigger inclusions, more inclusions, and darker inclusions will have a lower grade. Professional gemologists look at each diamond under magnification to determine the grading.

Are I1 diamonds good quality?

I1 diamonds are not a good quality for the center stones of engagement rings. You’ll be able to see imperfections that impact both the beauty and brilliance of the stone. As an example, this I1 round diamond halo ring shows a large inclusion in the upper right corner of the diamond’s table. Even though the stone is well-cut and is graded with an H color, it’s not a smart buy, because the large imperfection is so noticeable.

Pave diamond engagement ring for I1 article
Pave Engagement Ring from Blue Nile

For smaller stones, like the ones that line a pave band, or are featured as side stones, I1 diamonds are acceptable. In fact, there’s no reason to get a higher clarity grade for diamonds under 0.5 carat, because you won’t be able to see the imperfections anyway. Choosing I1 or even I2 diamonds for the small stones in a pave ring or a tennis bracelet is a wise choice and will save some of your budget for other qualities.

Should you buy an I1 diamond?

You shouldn’t buy an I1 diamond for the center stone in an engagement ring. Instead, look for an eye-clean VS2, SI1, or SI2 diamond. In most cases, you’ll get an eye-clean diamond in these grades and won’t pay as much as you would for higher grades, such as VVS1 and VVS2.

The best clarity grade depends on your diamond shape and carat weight. Follow our expert recommendations to get the most value.

Round Cut and Princess Cut: Opt for a VS2 or SI1 clarity grade for an eye-clean stone. Sometimes an SI2 won’t have visible inclusions either. For large diamonds, a VS1 or VS2 gives you an eye-clean stone at the lowest price.

Oval Cut, Cushion Cut, Radiant Cut, Marquise and Pear Shaped: Inclusions are harder to see in these shapes, so an SI1 or SI2 is usually still eye-clean.

vs2 emerald diamond for I1 article
Eye-clean VS2 Emerald Cut from James Allen

Emerald Cut, Asscher Cut and Baguette: It’s easier to see imperfections in step cut diamonds. In general, a VS2 in these shapes gives you the best value.

Heart Shaped Diamonds: A VS2 or SI1 is usually eye-clean, because heart shape diamonds hide inclusions better than Round Cuts, but not as well as shapes like the Cushion Cut and Marquise.

How much is a 1 carat I1 diamond worth?

A 1 carat well-cut round diamond with G-I color and I1 clarity can cost anywhere from approximately $2,100 to $3,500. Not every diamond vendor sells I1 diamonds, though, because the quality is so low.

Even though the price of I1 diamonds is lower than diamonds with a higher clarity grade, we don’t suggest buying them. It’s better to pay a little more to get an eye-clean stone.

I1 Diamonds: An Unwise Choice

While certain jewelers and other diamond educators might try to convince you that an I1 diamond gives you the best value, the truth is: you should find an eye-clean stone. It’s not worth paying slightly less for a diamond that will be dull and not-so-beautiful. Instead, opt for a slightly higher clarity grade to get an eye-clean stone. You’ll still save hundreds or thousands over a high clarity diamond.

For help in reviewing diamonds for Clarity, send our experts a note.

About the author
Mike learned the diamond business from the ground-up at Leo Schachter Diamonds - one of the world's top diamond manufacturers. He has been recognized as a diamond industry expert by Time, PeopleMoney, The Daily Mirror, NerdWallet, The Times Herald, Yahoo Finance Australia, The Art of Charm, The Washington Diplomat, The Next Web, and more. See more
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