How to Assess the Clarity of Natural Diamonds

Natural diamonds are created in the earth’s crust after years of crystallization under high temperature and pressure. The environmental factors need to remain constant during this time in order to yield perfectly flawless diamonds. However, this is rarely the case.

Due to inconsistent environmental conditions, most natural diamonds develop imperfections, also known as birthmarks. Those that lie inside the diamond are called inclusions while those on the surface as usually referred to as blemishes. Lesser the inclusions and blemishes, the higher clarity a diamond is said to have.

Here’s how experts and enthusiasts assess the clarity of a diamond.

The Imperfect Beauty

All diamonds do not have asymmetric cores; most of the less fortunate ones have drastically misshapen lattice. This throws off the balance of the stone, robbing it of its perfection.

When light falls on the surface of a diamond, it is reflected both internally and externally. A perfect crystal lattice enables the light rays to reflect seamlessly, appearing flawless and brilliant. However, when the crystal lattice is distorted, the light rays do not reflect properly, hence making the diamond appear damaged.

Inclusions and blemishes manifest themselves differently. It depends on the location and size of the feature. Moreover, different lighting conditions may (or may not) highlight it. The clarity of the diamond changes accordingly.

To make matters simpler, the GIA and the AGS came up with grading scales to classify diamond clarity and hence standardize it.

Diamond Clarity Grading Scale

Diamond Clarity

The GIA and the AGS grading scales are slightly different. However, they’re broadly categorized into the following 5 categories:

• Flawless (FL) / Internally Flawless (IF)
Flawless diamonds are premium quality with no inclusions or blemishes that are visible under a 10x microscope. According to some estimations, 1 in every 5000 high-quality diamonds is categorized as truly flawless (FL).

Internally Flawless (IF) diamonds may have some blemishes that are only visible under a 10x microscope; however, the invisibility of inclusions is a must. They’re a little more frequent than FL.

The AGS addresses this category as “0” while the GIA certifies it as “FL/IF”.

• Very Very Slightly Included (VVS)
These diamonds are known to have inclusions that are extremely fine and difficult to spot. These can be spotted only under a 10x microscope (or another high-tech equipment) by a seasoned gemologist.
If the diamond has a single inclusion or a couple of inclusions spaced widely, it is categorized as VVS1 (GIA) or 1 (AGS). If the inclusions are present close by, the diamond is categorized as VVS2 (GIA) or 2 (AGS).

To the untrained eye, FL, IF, VVS1, and VVS2 will all appear the same. It takes a highly skilled expert and a high-tech microscope to differentiate between these categories.

• Very Slightly Included (VS)
The inclusions, in this case, are unmistakably visible under a 10x microscope even though they’re regarded as minor.

For the VS1 (GIA) / 3 (AGS), inclusions appear as minor dots. The VS2 (GIA) / 4 (AGS) inclusions may be visible without a microscope. These will typically not be evident if you’re not looking for them.

Diamonds classified as VS1 (or 3) or VS2 (or 4) usually have inclusions at difficult-to-spot locations which make the diamond appear flawless to the naked eye.

• Slightly Included (SI)
SI1 and SI2 (GIA scale) or 5, 6, and 7 (AGS scale) possess inclusions that are quite clearly visible to the naked eye. These are small and scattered, and hence do not attract much attention. Even so, they’re unmistakably discernible.

• Included (I)
Diamonds graded as I1, I2, I3 (GIA) or 7, 8, 9, 10 (AGS) possess inclusions and blemishes that are clearly visible, even without any equipment. They’re vulnerable to damage and hence have low durability. It is possible to disguise these faults by using specific cuts.

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