Diamond Clarity Chart and Buying Guide

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Diamond Clarity Chart and Buying Guide


The Big Decision

Whether you’re ready to pop the biggest question of your life or simply treat yourself, the overwhelming amount of information on diamond grading can spoil some of the fun. You know you want a diamond with superior sparkle, and diamond clarity is an important attribute to consider. But what affects diamond clarity and how do you optimize for it without overspending?

Diamond clarity, one of the 4Cs, is critical to each stone’s sparkle and makes it as unique as the lucky recipient. You may have seen a diamond clarity chart somewhere online or had one thrust in front of you at your local jeweler, but what does it all mean? What impacts diamond clarity and how is it measured? Keep reading to answer these questions and much more as you learn all about diamond clarity.

What Is Diamond Clarity?

Part of what makes natural diamonds romantic and valuable is their origin story. Over time, carbon deposits that are hunkered down roughly 100 miles beneath the earth’s surface submit to incredible amounts of pressure and heat. That force of nature fuses carbon into the hardest known element on our planet — diamond. This process can take millions of years, and during that time imperfections are formed.

These imperfections, known in the industry as inclusions, arise when small crystals become trapped in the forming diamond. The size, position, and visibility of inclusions give each diamond its unique character but also the potential to disrupt the way light bounces throughout its facets. The more inclusions a diamond has, the lower its clarity and therefore value.


GIA Diamond Clarity Scale

Because no two diamonds are formed the same way with the same imperfections, no two diamonds are alike. However, as romantic as that is, it can lead to ambiguity when determining the value of a diamond based on its clarity. Many jewelers have used unclear terms like loupe clean and pique to describe diamond clarity, leaving many consumers scratching their heads and guarding their pocketbooks.

This is where the diamond clarity chart comes in. Today, various gemological societies grade diamond clarity using transparent and objective methods, with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) offering one of the most popular and trusted grading scales. However, it is still up to the individual grader to decide exactly where the diamond falls on the clarity chart.


An illustration of clarity in diamonds from Flawless to Included. As you move right from Flawless, more inclusions can be seen.


Diamond Clarity Chart

Every graded stone is carefully evaluated from a top-down view under a 10x microscope, or loupe, and given one of 11 possible diamond clarity grades from six overall categories.

  • Flawless (FL): This is the highest grade and signifies that no inclusions or blemishes are visible under 10x magnification.
  • Internally Flawless (IF): No inclusions are visible under 10x magnification but blemishes (external characteristics) may be visible under the loupe.
  • Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2): Inclusions are visible under 10x magnification, but so slight that it is difficult for even a skilled diamond grader to see them. Inclusions in a VVS2 diamond will be slightly more visible than in a VVS1 diamond.
  • Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2): A professional diamond grader can see minor inclusions under 10x magnification. As before, VS2 stones are slightly less clear than their VS1 counterparts.
  • Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2): Are you noticing a pattern? SI1 and SI2 diamonds bear inclusions that are noticeable under 10x magnification.
  • Included (I1, I2, and I3): The lowest three levels of diamond clarity signify that there are obvious inclusions that can affect transparency and brilliance.

It is important to note that while “Flawless” is the highest achievable diamond clarity grade, there is no such thing as a perfectly clear natural diamond. However, the inclusions of Flawless and even Internally Flawless diamonds are impossible to see under 10x magnification and certainly to the naked eye — so we’re betting you won’t notice either!

For those who want a truly breathtaking diamond in every respect, our own Shane Classic Diamonds are second to none. These diamonds meet strict specifications — including no visible inclusions — that less than 1% of the world’s diamonds qualify.

What Are The Types of Inclusions?

“Inclusions” is a broad term that actually encompasses a wide variety of diamond characteristics. Whether internal or external, large or small, each anomaly has its own impact on a diamond’s character and clarity.

Common Types of Inclusions

When a crystal forms and is stuck within the interior of a diamond, it is called an inclusion. Various elements and processes create the types of inclusions that we describe below.

  • Crystals - Also known as pinpoints, crystals are exactly that — mineral crystals that were trapped in the diamond as it formed and appear as small dots in the gem.
  • Clouding - A multitude of crystals crowded together, giving off a hazy or clouded appearance.
  • Feathers - Like the stem of a feather, these inclusions appear as a crack within a diamond. 
  • Graining - Crystal growth inside of a growing diamond can cause a milky or streaked appearance known as graining.
  • Knots - Similar to a knot in a tree trunk where a branch once protruded, knots in diamonds are raised bumps on one or more facets.

Common Types of Blemishes

External diamond anomalies are known as blemishes and appear on the surface of a diamond. They can be natural — such as pits, nicks, and abrasions — or caused by machinery when the stone is cut and polished.

  • Pits - Cavities resulting from inclusions being removed from a diamond during polishing.
  • Nicks - Surface damage that can appear over time due to wear and tear or rough handling.
  • Abrasions - A series of nicks that appear where two facets meet.
  • Naturals - Facets of a diamond that were missed during the polishing process and remain cloudy or rough.
  • Burns - Cloudy markings left from polishing wheels that spun too quickly on the surface of the stone.
  • Extra facets - Additional facets that appear due to poor or asymmetrical cutting of a diamond. The additional facets required for brilliant and step-cut diamonds are not considered extra facets.

Factors of Grading Clarity

In order to assign grades that appropriately reflect each diamond’s clarity, a diamond grader analyzes the number, size, relief, nature, and position of a diamond’s inclusions and how the inclusions affect its overall appearance. Not all factors are weighted evenly, and a diamond grader considers each in the following order.

The size of the inclusions is the most important factor since inclusions that are invisible to the naked eye do not affect a diamond’s beauty. A microscopic inclusion won’t have nearly as much of an effect on value as one that obstructs fire and brilliance.

The number of characteristics is the second priority. The more inclusions a diamond has, the more likely it is that they will be noticeable without assistance from a microscope. Fewer inclusions will boost a diamond’s clarity grade.

The position of blemishes or inclusions also affects clarity. Inclusions near a diamond’s table — the large central facet at the top — are far more visible than those that are closer to the bottom and likely to be hidden by the setting or prongs anyway.

Is the nature of the diamond’s characteristics internal or external? Inclusions can be harder to notice during everyday use than blemishes, making them less likely to be harmful to the clarity of the stone.

Finally, a diamond grader looks at the color and relief of the inclusions. The color of an inclusion is affected by its material (carbon is black, peridots are green, and garnets are red) and lighting conditions. Relief is another way of measuring how easy an inclusion is to see.

How Is Clarity Affected by Shape and Carat?

It’s not just the anomalies themselves that affect diamond clarity. Other characteristics of a diamond — like shape and carat — affect its overall clarity, too.

The angles, sizes, and shapes of a diamond’s facets can also affect a diamond’s clarity. Step-cut diamond shapes, like radiant, emerald, and asscher, feature sweeping rectangular facets that allow for easier visibility into the center of the stone. Naturally, this can emphasize any inclusions contained within. Non-fancy-shaped diamonds do a better job at reflecting the light and hiding potential inclusions with their brilliant fire.

Diamond clarity grading is also affected by diamond size. The larger a gem is, the larger its facets tend to be, essentially acting as big windows to peer inside and see inclusions more easily. As you shop for bigger diamonds, you may want to decide which of the 4Cs — cut, clarity, carat, and color — you want to prioritize.

How to Choose the Right Diamond Clarity for You

For most value-oriented shoppers, a good place to start shopping is SI or VS1, since inclusions found in these stones will not be easily visible in real-world use. These diamonds often have inclusions that are only visible through the crown when viewed under a microscope. This is what your local jeweler means when they use the term “eye clean.” After all, when was the last time you showed off your ring only to have onlookers pull out a 10x microscope for further inspection?

By the same token, while FL and IF diamonds are incredibly rare, valuable, and precious stones, they don’t provide the same value as SI or VS1 for shoppers who just want a stone that looks visually immaculate. Of course, the ravishing beauty of these gems is a great way to symbolize the one-of-a-kind nature of someone special in your life. That’s why so many hopeless romantics love our impossibly clear Shane Classic Diamonds with exceptionally high standards met by less than one percent of the world’s diamonds. 

In the end, an FL and VS1 diamond may look the same to the untrained eye but they are quite different in terms of overall quality. It is up to you to determine how much you prioritize the visible brilliance of a diamond over its actual rarity and value.

A sorting pad of loose round diamonds

Shopping Tips for Diamond Clarity

Are you ready to pick out the diamond that’s fit for your fairytale? Before we wrap up, here are a few tips to help you navigate the buying process and get a diamond that meets your expectations for clarity and beyond.

  • Ask to see a diamond clarity chart. This helpful plot visually maps out the number, size, and types of inclusions on that particular stone. 
  • If no clarity plot is available, look at the diamond’s grading report for more information on the stone’s clarity and the rest of the 4Cs.
  • When shopping for loose diamonds or engagement rings online, look for high-quality 360-degree video at 10x magnification. When shopping in person, don’t be afraid to get behind the microscope!
  • Because clarity is affected by the size and shape of any diamond, it’s best to find your ideal carat and cut grades first, then work out your ideal clarity to match.
  • Even diamonds with the same grade can appear different, due to the human element of diamond grading — this phenomenon is known as diamond subjectivity. At Shane Co., we have incredibly high standards when it comes to choosing diamonds and inspect every stone by hand to ensure every grade we offer has the highest quality and the most sparkle in every grade.

We want the experience of selecting your diamond to be as clear and transparent as the diamond you eventually slip onto your true love’s (or your own!) finger. So, with diamond clarity all cleared up, check out our detailed guide on the diamond color scale or learn more about how to choose the perfect diamond. Or, if you feel ready now, dive into our dazzling selection of loose diamonds today.