The Diamond Pro

Lab-Created Diamond Clarity: What to Look For

By Michael Fried

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BOTTOM LINE RECOMMENDATION

We recommend looking for a diamond that’s eye-clean, meaning no blemishes or inclusions are visible when you look at it without magnification. In general, a low-graded eye-clean diamond looks identical to a flawless-graded diamond (assuming all else is equal) but will cost far less.

The only vendor who offers sufficiently high-quality images to review Clarity of their lab-created diamonds is James Allen. With their technology, you can find diamonds like this beautiful VS2 that saves you almost 63% over a mediocre VS2 diamond like this.

f you feel uncertain about evaluating Clarity, feel free to contact us. We’ve helped thousands of readers sift through images to determine which diamond is eye-clean.

In general, though, we don’t recommend buying a lab-created diamond. They have no resale value and their prices have plummeted over the last few years. You’re better off finding a beautiful natural diamond at a great price from James Allen or Blue Nile.

WHAT IS DIAMOND CLARITY?

Diamond clarity refers to the blemishes and inclusions a diamond has. The fewer imperfections, the better the clarity grade. While clarity can impact a diamond’s value, imperfections typically can’t be seen by the naked eye.

Different than natural diamonds, lab-created stones are formed through a high-temperature carbon growing and compression process. They’re complex structures that are then cut into the shape and carat weight that’s desired. While their growth and cutting process takes several weeks, only a few lab-created diamonds emerge in perfect condition. In most cases, the diamonds are imperfect and contain varying amounts of surface blemishes and internal inclusions.

While we strongly encourage a GIA certified natural diamond, we recommend the IGI certificate for lab-created diamonds. The IGI is the most thorough grading entity for lab-grown stones. They provide a specific grade for Color and Clarity.

Here’s the IGI Clarity Grading scale (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).

HOW ARE CLARITY GRADES DETERMINED?

When evaluating a diamond’s clarity, experts look at the diamond face-up under 10x magnification. With a microscope, they can review the diamond to determine if any inclusions are present internally. They’ll also look at the diamond closely to see if there are any surface blemishes.

In general, experts look at five main factors to determine a diamond’s clarity grade. The five aspects include size, nature, number, location, and the relief of the inclusions. All of these characteristics play into the Clarity grade.

Size

The size of inclusion is important. The bigger the inclusion, the lower the diamond’s clarity grade. If it’s a small inclusion, it’s likely to not impact the diamond’s beauty as much.

Nature

The type of inclusion and its nature also matters. If the inclusion is deep within the stone, it will impact the diamond more than if it’s just a surface blemish.

Number

Fewer imperfections mean a better Clarity grade. A diamond with many inclusions will likely have a lower clarity grade than a diamond with one or two imperfections.

Location

The location of an inclusion affects clarity grade as well. For example, if an inclusion lies close to the girdle (edge of the diamond), it’s not as noticeable. If an imperfection rests in the center of the diamond’s table, it’s more obvious and detracts from the stone’s beauty.

Relief

The relief of an inclusion refers to how noticeable it is in relation to the rest of the diamond. If a blemish is dark, it’s likely to stand out more than a lighter blemish.

DIAMOND CLARITY SCALE

Clarity GradeDescriptionSample
IF – FLInternally Flawless / Flawless – No internal or external imperfections. Flawless lab-diamonds are incredibly rare.
Click Here to See Original Stone
VVS1Very Very Slightly Included (1st Degree) – Inclusions are not visible at all under 10x magnification.
Click Here to See Original Stone
VVS2Very Very Slightly Included (2nd Degree) – Diamonds graded as VVS2 have inclusions that are sometimes barely visible under 10x magnification (a standard jeweler’s loupe). Even when the imperfections are visible, they’re quite difficult to find.
Click Here to See Original Stone
VS1Very Slightly Included (1st Degree) – VS1 inclusions are barely visible under 10x magnification. When looking for VS1 clarity inclusions under magnification, it can take some time to find them.
Click Here to See Original Stone
VS2Very Slightly Included (2nd Degree) – VS2 clarity inclusions are almost always noticeable at 10x magnification but are usually invisible to the naked eye.
Click Here to See Original Stone
SI1Slightly Included (1st Degree) – SI1 Clarity inclusions are easily found under magnification. In most shapes (excluding step cuts like Asscher and Emerald Cut Diamonds), SI1 clarity inclusions are almost always clean to the naked eye.
Click Here to See Original Stone
SI2Slightly Included (2nd Degree) – SI2 clarity inclusions are seen clearly with the help of magnification. In step cuts like Asscher and Emerald Cut Diamonds, SI2 clarity inclusions are visible to the naked eye.
Click Here to See Original Stone
I1Included (1st Degree) – I1 clarity inclusions are easier to spot than SI2 clarity inclusions. Most I1 inclusions are visible to the naked eye—even on step cuts like Emerald Cuts and Asscher diamonds.Sample image not available

THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE

The most common mistake people make when buying diamonds is purchasing a diamond with a clarity grade that’s too high to appreciate. For example, they might purchase a VVS1 diamond that’s eye clean when they could purchase an eye-clean VS1 diamond for far less.

The chart above contains real magnified sample images of IGI certified lab-created diamonds. I’ve chosen to show Round Cut diamonds because they’re the most popular Diamond Shape.

The chart helps to show why it’s so crucial to only buy from an online vendor (like James Allen) that provides high-quality images of every diamond. It’s essential to review each diamond closely to see if imperfections are visible.

IF/ FL (Internally Flawless / Flawless)

If you see anything on a diamond with a Flawless clarity grade, you can be assured that it’s merely dust. For instance, if you view this IF 1.25 Carat diamond,  you’ll notice on the bottom left of the table, there’s a tiny white speck. That small speck, if it were an inclusion inside the diamond, would probably render a VVS2 clarity grading.

VVS1 (Very Very Slightly Included – 1st Degree)

With a VVS1 clarity grade, tiny imperfections can only be seen under a powerful microscope. As you can see in this 1.31 Carat diamond, VVS1 size inclusions aren’t visible at this level. Even a highly magnified photograph can only focus on one layer of depth.

If a diamond has a VVS-size inclusion and the image is focused on a different layer of depth, there’s no chance a tiny inclusion is visible.

VVS2 (Very Slightly Included – 2nd Degree)

In most cases, you need a gemological microscope to identify a VVS2 inclusion. The inclusion pattern is not one larger speck, but a few separate VVS1-sized spots that collectively equal a VVS2 clarity grade. Since each speck is too small to be seen with a jeweler’s loupe, you need a microscope to identify the imperfections.

VS1 (Very Slightly Included – 1st Degree)

Unlike VVS2 clarity diamonds, a microscope isn’t needed to find a VS1 inclusion. You’ll still need 10x magnification, like a standard jeweler’s loupe. As you might be able to see in this sample diamond, a VS1 clarity inclusion is quite small and isn’t visible to the naked eye.

VS2 (Very Slightly Included – 2nd Degree)

VS2 Clarity inclusions are almost always invisible to the naked eye, as seen in this eye-clean 1.52 carat stone. In some cases, you can see inclusions in a VS2 clarity diamond, but that’s more unusual.

Keep in mind that the size of the diamond affects how easily the inclusion can be seen. For example, a VS2 inclusion is easier to see in a 3 carat diamond than in a 1 carat diamond.

SI1 (Slightly Included – 1st Degree)

A diamond’s clarity grade is based on many different inclusion factors, such as the location and number of imperfections. It’s uncommon (especially for SI1 and lower) that the clarity grade is based on just one concentrated inclusion.

Usually, there are a number of smaller spots and clouds that contribute to the diamond’s lower clarity grade. In these cases, since each inclusion is quite small, the diamond can still look clean to the naked eye.

If you’re looking for an SI1 diamond, you’re best off contacting us. We can help you find an eye-clean SI1 clarity diamond.

SI2 (Slightly Included – 2nd Degree)

With step cut diamonds like Asscher and Emerald cuts, an SI2 inclusion will most likely be visible to the naked eye (as is the case with this 1.04 Carat diamond). With almost every other shape, an SI2 clarity inclusion is usually clean to the naked eye.

I1 (Included – 1st Degree)

I1 clarity inclusions are obvious on almost any shape, especially step-cut diamonds (Emerald & Asscher Cuts). That’s why I1 lab-created diamonds are hardly ever produced. In some rare cases, you can still find an eye-clean I1 clarity diamond.

Most clarity grades are given based on several smaller inclusions spread out over the diamond. That’s why an I1 clarity inclusion is less noticeable to the naked eye. Sometimes it’s even invisible unless you look at the stone under magnification. Diamonds with concentrated inclusions in the center is the exception, not the rule.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF INCLUSIONS

There are several types of inclusions to consider when evaluating diamond clarity. Here are a few common types and what they mean:

Graining: Because of irregular crystal growth, this inclusion creates internal graining. It causes white, colored, or reflective lines—and gives the diamond a hazy appearance.

Feather: A feather is a small crack that’s found within a diamond. Depending on the angle, it can appear to be transparent, or it captures light to create a white appearance.

Cavity: A cavity can appear colorless depending on the type of included minerals that exist within the diamond. If the crystal inclusions within the cavity are colored, they’ll be more obvious and can often be seen with the unaided eye.

Bearding: These inclusions form near the girdle and can cause a blurred or fuzzy appearance.

Overall, these are just a few of the many possible inclusions you can find within lab-created diamonds. It’s always best to seek expert advice and rely on the IGI (International Gemological Institute) to determine the exact clarity grade of the diamond.

INVISIBLE FEATURES

When it comes to the Clarity grade of lab-created diamonds, there are some tricky features. Having worked in the diamond business for so many years, I have a lot of experience with different diamonds.

For example, if you gave me a diamond with a VVS2 clarity grade, it would probably take me a few minutes under 10x magnification to find the pinpoint of an imperfection that’s considered a “Very Very Small Inclusion.”

I could find a VS1 clarity inclusion in less time, but it’s only marginally larger than a VVS2 inclusion. And VS2 clarity grade inclusions can be spotted right away with a 10x powered loupe, but are usually invisible to the unaided eye.

On the other hand, when you reach the SI1 and SI2 diamond clarity grades, you begin to find a higher concentration of visible inclusions. That’s why you should limit your search to vendors with high-quality photos, like James Allen.

We also encourage you to reach out to us so we can help you choose a beautiful diamond that’s eye-clean.

UNEQUAL INCLUSIONS

It’s important to remember that not all inclusions are equal.

Some inclusions are shiny while some are almost entirely clear. Some are pure white while others are stark black. Some imperfections are located in the center of the diamond, and some are pushed off to the side.

In general, though, the clarity grade takes into account the size of the inclusion. The color and opaqueness of the inclusion and its position is rarely considered.

CUTTING-EDGE PHOTOGRAPHY

Thankfully, James Allen offers cutting-edge photography of each diamond. You can review actual clarity examples with a tool they call 360° Diamond Display Technology. It provides you with 18x magnification around the entire stone.

DON’T INVEST IN A BAD DECISION

While we believe diamonds shouldn’t be viewed as an investment, they carry far more value than lab-created diamonds. Natural diamonds usually retain about 50% or more of the original price, while lab-created diamonds have zero resale value.

If you do decide to pursue a lab-created diamond, we suggest shopping with James Allen, as they carry IGI certified lab-created stones at competitive prices. You’ll also be able to use their photography to view the diamond up close to ensure that it’s eye-clean.

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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