Diamond Clarity: How Flaws Affect Diamond Values
"Clarity" refers to the presence or absence of flaws inside or on the surface of a diamond. The more flaws found on or in a diamond, the less clear and structurally perfect it is. Its value will definitely be affected by flaws–and if they are noticeable enough, its beauty may also be affected. The bad news is that a truly flawless diamond is extremely rare and expensive. The good news is that many affordable diamonds on the market have flaws, but not severe enough to mar the brilliance of the diamond–and a skilled jeweler can often use a jewel's setting to hide visible flaws.
Interior flaws are called inclusions. These can be caused by internal fractures, natural cavities within the stone, clouds of mineral contamination, and tiny hairline cracks in the structure, among other things. Inclusions are usually natural results of the diamond's formation. If they are prominent enough, they can give the diamond a milky or cloudy look, which brings it down significantly in value.
Exterior flaws are called blemishes. These appear on the surface of the stone. While some blemishes are natural, many are caused by surface polishing. Nicks, scratches, and polish lines are all common byproducts of the polishing process. Naturally, a diamond might have a surface grain boundary that appears as a line or scratch, and would be counted as a blemish. Blemishes can negatively affect a diamond's brilliance, making it less valuable.
When grading diamond clarity, most appraisers use the GIA's clarity scale. The appraiser will examine the diamond under 10x magnification, and refer only to flaws visible at that level of magnification or greater. The clarity levels are as follows:
FL and IF: "FL" stands for "flawless" and is the highest clarity grade a diamond can receive. This indicates a diamond with no visible flaws whatsoever–a very rare gem in nature. "IF" stands for "internally flawless" and indicates a gem that may have slight blemishes, but no inclusions.
VVS1 and VVS2: This stands for "very very slight"–level 1 is higher in clarity than level 2. These inclusions or blemishes are very hard to see at 10x magnification, and can't be seen at all with the naked eye.
VS1 and VS2: "Very slight" flaws. These are more obvious under 10x magnification than VVS grades, but still will not be noticeable to the naked eye.
SI1 and SI2: "Slight inclusions." These inclusions are even more noticeable under magnification, and may be visible with the naked eye as well–although not always.
I1, I2, and I3: "Imperfect." This designation refers to diamonds with flaws clearly visible without magnification. In the lower I designations, the flaws damage the diamond's brilliance.
Although FL and IF diamonds are very rare and pricey, it's still possible to buy diamonds that look as good as they do–for much less. Because they look flawless but have a lower clarity grade, many retailers offer excellent prices on VVS, VS, and even some SI diamonds with flaws visible only under magnification. Unless your fiancee is a jeweler, the appraisal is likely to be the only time her diamond engagement ring is viewed under a microscope. Read more suggestions we offer on how to select a diamond engagement ring.
FL and IF diamonds used to be very clearly the most valuable. However, flaws are becoming more desirable these days because of the improvements in synthetic diamond technology. Real, flawless diamonds can now be manufactured in the lab–meaning that the flaws in your diamond certify it as genuine. In addition, every diamond has a unique set of flaws, providing valuable identification if the diamond is ever lost or stolen.
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