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Diamond Clarity

While the extreme heat and pressure located deep below the earth's surface does a beautiful job of forming diamonds, such elements can also leave behind inclusions and blemishes within them. When diamonds are being professionally graded, gemmologists and experts look for natural markings, bruises or cracks that reduce their overall clarity or clearness. Usually, these imperfections cannot be seen with the naked eye and require magnifying equipment to detect.

Inclusions are imperfections located inside diamonds, and are mostly made up of crystals, clouds and feathers. Crystals are tiny pieces of minerals that have become trapped inside diamonds. Clouds are smoky spots created by crystals and require a highly powerful microscope to be seen. Feathers are tiny cracks inside diamonds that are generally too small to affect their strength or structure. However, large feathers may reduce a diamond's strength and value.

Blemishes are external impurities or marks located on a diamond's surface, and typically appear as a tiny scratch imperceptible to the naked eye. Blemishes typically have less impact on a diamond's value, beauty and grade since they rarely affect its strength and structure.

Much like fingerprints, inclusions and blemishes are what make every diamond truly unique, and are considered to be their natural birthmark.

Diamond Clarity Grades

The diamond industry generally follows the Gemological Institute of America's (GIA) International Diamond Grading System as its industry standard. Diamond clarity is categorised across 11 grades that assess its inclusions and blemishes according to their type, size and location. Unsurprisingly, diamonds with the fewest flaws are the most valuable, and 'Internally Flawless' diamonds are commonly considered the most prized diamonds on earth, in comparison to other areas of value according to their carat weight, cut and colour.

Diamond clarity is evaluated by using a 10x-magnifying microscope to view the diamond from the top down. The easiest imperfections to spot are found on or underneath the top of the diamond (known as the 'table'), which make them the most important when determining clarity grade.

VS1 - VS2
SI1 / SI2
I1 - 3

The GIA grades diamond clarity as follows:

FL Flawless No internal or external imperfections detectable under 10X magnification. Extremely rare
IF Internally Flawless No internal imperfections. Extremely difficult to locate under 10x magnification.
VVS1 Very Very Slightly Included Contains inclusions invisible under 10x magnification
VVS2 Contains minute inclusions which are difficult to locate with 10x magnification
VS1 Very Slightly Included Inclusions barely visible under 10x magnification
VS2 Inclusions noticeable at 10x magnification
SI1 Slightly Included Inclusions are easily found with the help of a jeweler's loupe
SI2 Inclusions are obvious with the help of a jeweler's loupe

Flawless and Internally Flawless
Diamonds graded as Flawless contain no inclusions or blemishes detectable under 10x magnification and are among the rarest in the world. Internally Flawless diamonds contain no detectable inclusions and are also extremely rare and expensive.

Very Very Slightly Included
These diamonds contain the most minor of inclusions and/or blemishes that are very difficult to detect under 10x magnification.

Very Slightly Included
These diamonds contain inclusions and/or blemishes that can be detected under 10x magnification, but are generally not seen with the naked eye.

Slightly Included
Inclusions and/or blemishes in these diamonds are clear to see under 10x magnification and can often be detected by the naked eye if pointed out.

These diamonds contain inclusions and/or blemishes that are quite visible to the naked eye and pronounced under 10x magnification. The diamond's transparency and/or brilliance may be adversely affected by these significant markings.

Choosing a Clarity Grade

Flawless and Internally Flawless diamonds are actually misleading terms in a way, given that almost all diamonds contain some flaws, and that diamonds with these grades simply cannot detect them under 10x magnification. Many experts feel the best value clarity grades are actually Very Slightly Included or Slightly Included, given that they render such diamonds less expensive than higher-graded diamonds, but contain inclusions and blemishes that are typically invisible to the naked eye. A diamond's brilliance may also influence the visibility of its inclusions and blemishes, while diamonds with fewer facets in their cuts, such as emerald diamonds, make inclusions and blemishes easier to detect. Therefore, if selecting a diamond with a large table or few facets, it's advisable to choose a clarity grade of at least Very Slightly Included.
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