Diamond Clarity Grades Explained

Clarity is one of the two most misunderstood factors in diamond pricing, along with Color. They are both very technical when you go in depth, but at the surface they are quite simple.

While the color does affect a diamond’s appearance, obvious Inclusions (often called “flaws”) may distract your recipient’s eye from a stone’s overall beauty more than anything. We usually recommend diamonds without inclusions or flaws that are visible to the naked eye. This avoids inadvertent negative feedback from friends, and ensures the wonderful, lifelong enjoyment of your diamond.

To achieve this, stay well above the I-1 Clarity Grade. Clarity grades of SI2 or above are defined as flawless to the naked eye, but SI1 is safer in larger sizes. This is because the larger the diamond, the larger the allowed inclusions, so be careful when you go larger. Examine the diamond closely and do not make any assumptions based on a clarity grade.

For instance, a 0.50 carat diamond might look fine to the eye at SI2 clarity grade, but at 1.00 carat an SI2 might have something visible to your eye.

There are many factors that cause that possibility.

Also, the actual experience of “eye-clean” varies from stone to stone, even when they are both graded as the same clarity grade at the same lab.

To put it simply, if a diamond is graded as an SI2, it could have many small inclusions that give it that grade instead of something higher, while another diamond might have primarily one single inclusion that is easier to see (and makes it an SI2 rather than something higher). That single inclusion might be more visible to the eye, and still only warrant the SI2 grade.

You also need to consider the placement of the inclusions. Inclusions in the center of the diamond, near the top, could catch your eye a lot more easily than it would at the edge, or the bottom, where the faceting is more complicated.

It’s not necessary to go all the way up to IF (internally flawless) to get a beautiful diamond. From SI1 and above, diamonds will appear the same to the naked eye, differing only in the other factors of the 4 C’s: including Carat weight, Color and Cut.

Clarity greatly varies from one diamond to another, and no two are exactly alike. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) established standardized clarity grades for the diamond trade which are now used worldwide among dealers to help in trading and valuation.

The following chart gives an idea how each grade might look under a 10x loupe microscope:

Clarity Grades

Below are some simplified definitions of the various clarity grades set by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). For a comparison with other grading systems used in other countries, go to the clarity comparison chart.

FL = Flawless — no internal or external inclusions of any kind visible under 10x magnification to a trained eye, the most rare and expensive of all clarity grades

IF = Internally Flawless — no internal inclusions visible under 10x magnification to a trained eye, but there may be some tiny external irregularities in the finish

VVS-1 = Very Very Slightly Included 1 — usually just one tiny inclusion visible only to a trained eye under 10x magnification

VVS-2 = Very Very Slightly Included 2 — tiny inclusions visible only to a trained eye under 10x magnification

VS-1 = Very Slightly Included 1 — very small inclusions visible with 10x magnification

VS-2 = Very Slightly Included 2 — several very small inclusions visible with 10x magnification

SI-1 = Slightly Included 1 — small inclusions visible with 10x magnification

SI-2 = Slightly Included 2 — several small inclusions visible with 10x magnification

I-1 = Included 1 — flaws that are visible to the naked eye

I-2 = Included 2 — many flaws clearly visible to the naked eye that also decrease the brilliance

I-3 = Included 3 — many flaws clearly visible to the naked eye which decrease the brilliance and compromise the structure of the diamond, making it more easily cracked or chipped

The following chart compares the common nomenclature from different grading systems around the world ::

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NOTE: We feel that diamonds of clarity grades I-2 or I-3 (Imperfect 2 and Imperfect 3 as described by GIA) are not ideal as a representation of the bond of eternal love. Therefore, we do not recommend diamonds of these clarity grades for engagement rings.

GIA and AGS are both located here in the U.S., and are the most common terms used here. The other systems are less and less used, in Europe primarily.


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