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shutterstock 317851175

A Concise Guide to Diamond Clarity

Categorized as Blog
Of all the four Cs of diamonds, clarity is the one that can cause the most confusion. This is perhaps understandable as carat, cut, and color are simple enough while the subject of this guide, especially as it relates to the other Cs, is slightly more complicated. With that in mind, and in the interests of, well… clarity, Peter Norman has put together this concise guide to diamond clarity. Let’s begin by reviewing the basics.

What is diamond clarity?

‘Clarity’ means the state or quality of being clear, and when we use this word to describe diamonds it carries a similar meaning: clarity is a measure of how many flaws a diamond has. These flaws may be blemishes on the stone’s surface or internal inclusions; both are accounted for when a diamond is graded against the clarity scale.

The clarity scale 

Clarity is graded according to an internationally recognized scale. This scale was first proposed by Richard Liddicoat Jnr. in the 1950s while he served as president of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). It quickly became a universal standard and, with the exception of minor modifications to Liddicoat’s original, has remained the same since it was invented.  It grades diamonds from ‘flawless’ (FL) to ‘included.’
  • Flawless (FL) – These gems have no inclusions or surface flaws, in terms of clarity, they are perfect.
  • Internally Flawless (IF) – As the name suggests, IF stones do not display internal inclusions but have blemishes on the surface. These are too small to be seen with the naked eye, though.
  • Very Very Slightly Included (VVS1, VVS2) – Diamonds with a VVS rating are of a very high clarity quality with some inclusions, these are generally minor such as feathers or internal graining. There are two VVS grades, 1 and 2, with 1 indicating fewer inclusions.
  • Very Slightly Included (VS1, VS2) – These gems have more inclusions than VVS diamonds but as the name indicates, are still only very slightly included. As with VVS stones, there are two possible sub-grades within this category.
  • Slightly Included (SI1, SI2) – Diamonds with an SI rating display inclusions that are noticeable, albeit mostly with the help of magnification. The size of these inclusions helps jewelers grade SI diamonds as SI1 or SI2.
  • Included (I1, I2, and I3) – Stones in this grade may feature flaws that can be seen with the naked eye. However, it should be noted that these flaws do not always affect the diamond’s durability or indeed, its beauty. Included gems are graded as 1, 2, or 3 with I1 diamonds indicating better clarity.
Diamond Color Chart
Diamond Color Chart

What is an eye-clear diamond?

In the course of your research, you’ve probably seen the term ‘eye clear’ which simply means a diamond’s inclusions cannot be seen with the naked eye. Diamonds that carry a GIA grade of VS or above are considered eye clear.

Why do diamonds have inclusions?

Diamonds have inclusions because of how they are formed. Diamonds are pure carbon and to transform into the sparkly gems we all admire, this carbon must be subjected to extreme temperatures and pressures. In the process, the gemstone’s final structure is affected.  Many people are surprised to learn that most lab-grown diamonds also have inclusions, but like naturally formed diamonds, these stones have to undergo a similar process of high temperatures and pressures. 

Flaws add character

It’s tempting to think of inclusions as a bad thing, and granted, too many flaws or large inclusions can mar an otherwise lovely stone’s appearance. But remember that the vast majority of diamonds have flaws. Perfection is incredibly rare, and when found, it comes with an incredible price tag to match. A diamond’s flaws add character and they make every stone unique, just as there are no two identical snowflakes no diamond can ever be replicated. An upshot to this is that inclusions offer us a way to identify gems. Diamond inclusions are often noted on a diamond plot, a detailed diagram that lists the gem’s flaws, the type, and the locations.  GIA-certified diamonds come with a report that includes a diamond plot. Certified gems are the wisest choice, and reputable jewelers, such as Peter Norman, will only sell GIA-certified stones. Meaning it’s easy to tell exactly what your gem’s clarity is, its value, and the type of inclusions it has.

How clarity can impact the other Cs

The four Cs of diamonds are cut, color, carat, and clarity. We’ve covered the latter, but how does it relate to the other Cs?
  • Clarity and color – A diamond’s color (graded from D for colorless to S-Z for light yellow) doesn’t directly impact a stone’s clarity. However, a gem with a stronger yellow tint may display its inclusions more readily.
  • Clarity and carat – The size of a diamond, that is, its carat weight can impact its chance of showing inclusions. As carat increases, so does table width, which means any inclusions may be more visible. 
  • Clarity and cut – Unlike the other Cs, cut is something expert diamond cutters have control over. Cut can be used to hide imperfections, and some cuts do a better job of this than others. Brilliant cuts, for instance, can be used to make a lower-clarity gem look better, while step cuts such as the Asscher or emerald, leave little room to hide flaws.
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Types of diamond inclusions 

There are numerous types of diamond inclusions, both natural and man-made, with some being more common than others. Let’s take a quick look at the flaws you may encounter when buying a diamond.
  • Bearding – This is a pattern of fine, hair-like lines that may occur when a diamond is cut.
  • Cavity – A ‘hole’ in the diamond’s surface that often occurs when the gem is being polished. Cavities are generally left in place as removing them impacts the gem’s carat weight.
  • Chips – Small surface openings that are often caused by unintentional damage. Chips are commonly found where facets join.
  • Cloud – A grouping of internal inclusions that are clustered together. These inclusions are generally caused by internal crystals or pinpoints (more on those below).
  • Crystals – Diamonds are crystals, and they can contain smaller, formed crystals within their structures. These crystals might be another diamond, carbon, or gemstones such as peridot or garnet, depending on the minerals that caused the crystal’s formation.
  • Feather – A crack or fissure in the diamond’s interior. Only pronounced feathers indicate a potential issue with durability.
  • Graining – This internal inclusion may give a diamond a slightly hazy appearance in places.
  • Knot – A crystal that is located near the diamond’s surface.
  • Pinpoints – Like knots, pinpoints are a crystal inclusion. They take their name from their diminutive size and are generally only visible under 10X magnification.
  • Wisps – Also called twinning wisps, this ribbon-like inclusion is an amalgam of various other inclusions, such as pinpoints and crystals, feathers, or clouds. Wisps may occur when the diamond’s formation process is interrupted, as such, this inclusion isn’t present in lab-grown gems.

Ready to add some sparkle to your life?

Peter Norman custom jewelers has been in the diamond business for more than 40 years, and we know a thing or three about diamonds. We are dedicated to providing our clients with the world’s finest gems, whether they are lab-grown or ethically mined and GIA-certified diamonds. We can create a bespoke engagement ring or any other piece of jewelry with a diamond of your choice. And because we source our gems wholesale, we can pass these savings on to our customers.  If you’d like to discuss your ideal engagement ring, or if you’d like to chat to us about high-clarity diamonds, please contact our team today and let’s add some sparkle to your life. If you still have questions about diamond clarity, please take a look at our frequently asked questions below:

Diamond Clarity FAQs

  • Is VS1 or VS2 better?

    VS1 is better. VS stands for ‘very slightly’ and it indicates how included (flawed) a diamond is. Among diamonds that have been graded VS, there are two subcategories: 1 and 2. The latter indicates a diamond with slightly better clarity.

  • What’s the best diamond clarity?

    FL, which stands for ‘flawless.’ A diamond with an FL clarity grade has zero inclusions and no blemishes on the surface. Diamonds of this clarity grade are rarer than lower-graded diamonds, and they are of higher quality. As such, the price of these gems is much higher. 

    For most people, an FL diamond isn’t a financially viable option and many people prefer a VVS (very very slightly included) or VS (very slightly included) rated gem. If you have your heart set on a higher clarity diamond, consider a lab-grown stone as these are more affordable, while being identical to mined diamonds.

  • What does S12 clarity mean in diamonds?

    SI stands for ‘slightly included’ and the 2 indicates that of the two SI grades, this diamond is of lower quality. 

    SI2 is frequently confused with S12, but this is a mistake because when it comes to diamond clarity, the GIA scale only uses the numbers 1, 2, and 3.

  • What does eye clean mean?

    Clear of inclusions and imperfections to the naked eye. That is, an ‘eye-clean’ diamond doesn’t display any blemishes or internal flaws if a jeweler looks at it without a microscope. With a microscope, however, the jeweler may be able to detect inclusions.

    The GIA scale considers flawless (FL), internally flawless (IF), very very slightly (VVS), and very slightly included (VS) diamonds eye-clean. 

    One issue with ‘eye-clear’ comes with buying diamonds online. These may seem visibly clear on one’s screen but not when viewed in person. The best way to avoid this situation when ordering a diamond or an engagement ring online is to work with a reputable jeweler such as Peter Norman.

  • Is VVS1 better than VS1?

    Yes. VVS1 is the higher of the two grades of ‘very very slightly’ included diamonds, while VS1 is the higher grade of ‘very slightly’ included diamonds. 

  • What is the difference between SI and VS diamonds?

    VS diamonds have a better clarity grade than SI diamonds with fewer inclusions (imperfections and flaws) on the surface and internally. VS stands for ‘very slightly’ included while SI stands for ‘slightly included’, indicating that VS diamonds are of better overall quality when it comes to clarity.

  • Does diamond clarity affect sparkle?

    Yes. The fewer inclusions and surface blemishes a stone has, the better it will sparkle. However, clarity isn’t the only thing to consider when looking at the level of sparkle. The cut is a major factor, for maximum sparkle, look into brilliant cuts with plenty of facets (sides).

  • Is size or clarity more important in diamonds?

    Neither is inherently more important. Clarity is a measure of quality while carat size refers to how large the diamond is. However, size can impact a diamond’s clarity, as can its cut.
    It’s ultimately down to your preferences. If you’re looking for an Asscher cut engagement ring, for example, you should prioritize clarity. But if you’d like a large and sparkly gem, clarity is less important than cut and color.

  • Is clarity or color more important?

    Both matter, but you may prefer to consider color first and clarity second. A good rule of thumb with clarity is to purchase the highest grade eye-clear diamond you can afford, there’s little point paying more for higher clarity if, for example, the stone isn’t the color you want. Remember too, that the cut you choose can go a long way to hiding any inclusions in the gem.

  • Is VS1 clarity good?

    Yes, VS1 indicated a quality diamond and stands for ‘very slightly’ included, that is, the number of inclusions (flaws) is minimal. VS1 is a popular choice for diamond engagement rings as the price is more accessible than VVS, IF, and FL diamonds yet the stones still boast high clarity.

    Remember that clarity is just one aspect of a diamond’s quality, though. You’ll also want to look at color, cut, and carat. The factors you prioritize really come down to the kind of engagement ring you want and its attributes. 

    Buying a custom-made engagement ring is the best way to ensure your preferences are met, plus you’ll be able to speak to an experienced jeweler who can help you balance the four Cs of diamond buying.

  • By Peter Norman

    Peter Norman is one of Los Angeles’ most celebrated wedding jewelers, with his custom-made engagement rings and wedding bands taking center place in hundreds of weddings over the last 20 years. Each engagement ring is custom designed, built to order, and can suit any budget: from the simply elegant 1-carat solitaires to the exquisite pieces fit for (and sometimes purchased by) royalty.


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