Diamond Clarity

During the diamond growth process, microscopic impurities or imperfections become present within the diamond. These imperfections are known as diamond inclusions. Inclusions are extremely common within diamonds and are essentially birthmarks that give every diamond uniqueness. You may have heard the phrase “no two diamonds are ever alike.” Well, inclusions are the reason. No two diamonds will have the same number, size, location and type of inclusions, even if they have the same clarity grade assigned by GIA. Inclusions have direct implications on a diamond’s sparkle. Inclusions, again, depending on the size, number, location and type, can reduce diamond sparkle by preventing light from refracting and passing through the diamond and back to your eye. Based on the factors mentioned above, a diamond’s clarity is subjective graded and set in a range. This range is known as the diamond clarity scale. It was created by GIA and is the industry wide standard for diamond grading and comparison.

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Clarity Scale

Diamonds range in clarity from FL - I3. Inclusions are examined at 10x magnification.

flawless diamond with no clarity inclusions

FL: Flawless

Flawless: a FL diamond has no inclusions or characteristics (blemishes) inside or on its surface. It is extremely rare and is an exquisite symbol of perfection. Less than 0.1% of all gem quality diamonds are in this category. They have the highest premium and are typically found in smaller sized diamonds.

internally flawless diamonds with no visible inclusions

IF: Internally Flawless

Internally Flawless: an IF diamond has no inclusions and may possess very minute undetectable surface blemishes. It is extremely rare and truly gorgeous. These tiny blemishes do not affect sparkle and are known as minor details of polish such as polish lines.

diamond with a VVS1 clarity grade

VVS1: Very, Very Slightly Included 1

Very, Very Slightly Included 1: a VVS1 diamond has very minute inclusions that are extremely small, and often undetectable by many diamond professionals, even under 10x magnification. VVS1 offers a much better value than FL or IF and still has virtually the same appeal. Diamond sparkle is unaffected as the inclusions are so small that light is barely affected. The most common VVS1 inclusions are pinpoint and natural.

diamond with a VVS2 clarity grade

VVS2: Very, Very Slightly Included 2

Very, Very Slightly Included 2: a VVS2 diamond has very minute inclusions that are extremely small, but are slightly more visible under magnification than VVS1. This clarity grade is considered the best value of the higher clarities and does not compromise your diamond’s brilliance. Inclusions can rarely be found, even under 10x magnification. The most common VVS2 inclusions include cloud, pinpoint, feather and natural.

VS1 clarity graded diamond with a very small inclusion

VS1: Very Slightly Included 1

Very Slightly Included 1: a VS1 diamond has very minor inclusions that can be seen only under magnification. VS is a very popular clarity range. The inclusions in VS1 diamonds cannot be viewed by the naked eye and have minimal impact on diamond sparkle. The largest factor in grading a VS1 is the size of the grade setting inclusion. The most common VS1 inclusions include cloud, feather, needle, crystal, indented natural.

VS2 clarity graded diamond with very small inclusions

VS2: Very Slightly Included 2

Very Slightly Included 2: a VS2 diamond has very minor inclusions that look only slightly larger than a VS1 under magnification. A VS2 is not noticeable to the unaided eye and is extremely popular because its value allows you to focus your budget on another Cut, Color or Carat. VS2 diamonds tend to have a few more inclusions than VS1 and the size is slightly larger, while still microscopic. The common VS2 inclusions include crystal, feather, indented natural, cloud and twinning wisp. The location of inclusions isn’t very impactful in VS diamonds.

diamond with an SI1 clarity grade with small eye visible inclusions

SI1: Slightly Included 1

Slightly Included 1: Additionally, we recommend choosing SI diamonds with more inclusions rather than a single inclusion. With a single grade setting inclusion, it must be larger and more visible in order to be an SI clarity diamond. The common SI1 diamond inclusions are crystal Slightly Included 1: a SI1 diamond will sparkle brilliantly even with its minor inclusions that may be invisible to the unaided eye. SI1 is extremely popular because its value allows you to focus your budget on another Cut, Color or Carat. It is considered a high clarity grade at a great price. In SI diamonds, it is recommended to choose diamonds with inclusions that are off center and closer to the girdle of the diamond. These are rarer to find and so they carry a Premium feather, twinning wisp, cloud, knot and indented natural.

Be wary of single crystals or clouds that they can be eye visible or make the diamond look hazy, cloudy or milky.

diamond with an SI2 clarity grade with noticeable inclusions

SI2: Slightly Included 2

Slightly Included 2: an SI2 diamond will possess high sparkle and is comprised by clarity inclusions that may be visible without magnification, when examined closely. Most SI2 inclusions are undetectable to the unaided eye. SI clarity grades tend to offer great value. Like SI1 diamonds, avoid larger, single inclusions. On the GIA report, these can be identified by the diamond plot where inclusions are marked or by the inclusion comments.

Avoid SI2 diamonds that have a grade setting inclusion that is cloud or a large, center crystal. Crystals in SI diamonds are typically black and so they are more visible without magnification. Common SI2 inclusions are larger crystals, twinning wisps, feathers, clouds and knots.

I1 clarity diamond with obvious inclusions visible

I1: Included 1

Included 1: an I1 diamond will shine bright despite eye visible inclusions clarity inclusions. The inclusions can be visible without magnification when the diamond is closely examined, depending on size and location. I1 clarity grades can be very budget conscious, and can really allow you to reach a greater carat weight or desirable color grade. Diamonds in this category have little or no structural impact from inclusions, but it is recommended to avoid diamonds with a single, larger grade setting inclusion. Often, inclusions will reflect in other diamond facets, making them more noticeable.

Common I1 inclusions are large crystals, feathers, clouds, knots and activities.


Pricing Effect

The differences in clarity are larger than the differences in color because the scale is smaller. Diamond prices can therefore be quite large between clarity grades. Naturally, the highest clarity grade are much rarer and so the price jumps are quite large. Because inclusions are often microscopic, it becomes exponentially rarer to find IF of FL diamonds, hence the exponential price increase.

The differences in price can range from 15% - 25% between diamond clarity grades and the differences within the same clarity grade can range from 5% - 15%. As previously mentioned, no two diamonds are the same. Therefore, no two diamonds with the same clarity grade are the same. Because clarity grade is set by a subjective range (for example, greater than SI1, but less than VS1 is VS2), the location, size, number and type of inclusion can impact the price. An SI1 diamond with an eye visible black crystal under the center of the table will be substantially less expensive than an SI1 diamond with an eye clean feather on the corner of the diamond that can be covered by a prong.

A final thought on pricing: when a diamond within a clarity grade range is much less expensive than other diamonds within the same range, there is generally a reason for it. Diamond suppliers know the quality of their diamonds and price them accordingly so it’s not always a good strategy to pursue the least expensive diamond.


Selecting a Clarity

Our key tips for selecting the right clarity grade: Clarity grade should always be selected in conjunction with the other 4 C’s of diamonds. For example, we do not recommend select a D color, I1 clarity diamond. The most popular clarity grades are VS2 and SI1 because they offer the best value without disrupting diamond sparkle. Choose diamonds with inclusions that aren’t in the absolute center of the diamond. More inclusions isn’t typically a bad thing. Avoid diamonds with a single large grade setting inclusion because it is more likely to be visible. In diamonds under 0.75ct, inclusions are smaller and more difficult to identify. In diamonds larger than 0.75ct, consider an SI1 or higher clarity grade to avoid distracting eye visible inclusions. Additionally, if selecting a lower clarity grade, consider a higher cut grade as a well cut diamond can mask clarity setting inclusions to keep sparkle and brilliance high.


How is Clarity Graded

Gemologists always grade diamond clarity at 10x magnification. They identify and plot as many inclusions as possible. In diamonds below 1.00ct, there is typically a smaller GIA report called a dossier. A dossier has no diamond plot on the certificate. Diamonds larger than 1.00ct have a diamond plot on the GIA certificate.

Clarity grading is a subjective process. Trained gemologists identify the type, size, location and number of inclusions. They determine the grade based on a couple of inclusions and assign the grade.

10x zoom magnified diamond example, typical for diamond clarity grading
10x zoom
10x zoom with I1 clarity inclusions
I1
10x zoom with SI2 clarity inclusions
SI2
10x zoom with SI1 clarity inclusions
SI1
10x zoom with VS2 clarity inclusions
VS2
10x zoom with VS1 clarity inclusions
VS1
10x zoom with VVS2 clarity inclusions
VVS2
10x zoom with VVS1 clarity inclusions
VVS1
10x zoom with IF clarity inclusions
IF
10x zoom with FL clarity inclusions
FL
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Inclusions

Inclusions are natural, tiny imperfections that form either naturally or during the diamond cutting process. The majority of inclusions are naturally found within diamonds and are used to identify and distinguish diamonds. Here are the diamond inclusions you may find in a diamond or on a GIA grading report.

Feather: A clarity inclusion that describes a break in the surface of a gemstone that extends inside. It is a common clarity characteristic that can occur naturally.

Crystal: A clarity inclusion that forms during the diamond growth process within a diamond. It is used to determine the clarity grade.

Cloud: A clarity inclusion that describes a group of tiny pinpoints within the diamond too small to individually distinguish under 10x magnification. A cloud can give a slightly hazy appearance where it is located within the diamond.

Pinpoint: A very small crystal inclusion that looks like a tiny dot at 10x magnification.

Natural: A small manufacturing remnant of the rough diamond skin that remains after the diamond cutting and manufacturing process. Naturals are typically located on or near the diamond’s girdle.

Indented Natural: A portion of a diamond’s natural, rough skin that is left on a polished diamond during the manufacturing process in order to maintain diamond weight. It differs from a natural in that it is slightly protrudes inward.

Needle: A thin crystal that is visually needle-like and found inside the diamond. It is often as thick as a pinpoint but longer like a feather.

Knot: A crystal inclusion that extends to the surface of a diamond.

Chip: A small break on the diamond surface, typically located on your near facet junctions. It is usually man made and caused by wear and tear.

Cavity: An opening created when part of a feather breaks away.

Twinning Wisp: A clarity inclusion formed by a series of cloud, pinpoints or crystals. It may look like a large marking on a diamond plot, but is often difficult to see.

Internal Graining: Lines sometimes visible under 10x magnification that result from irregular crystallization. Internal graining lines cannot be polished away and follow no particular pattern. They cross facet junctions.

Surface Graining: Transparent line-like formations on the surface of a diamond caused by crystal structure irregularities. Surface Graining can be difficult to identify even under magnification.

diamond with a zoomed in crystal inclusion

Crystal

an open feather in a diamond

Feather

cluster of pinpoints making a cloud inclusion

Cloud

striations of inclusions making up twinning wisps in a diamond

Twinning Wisp

small line inclusions known as needles in a diamond

Needle

a dot like inclusion that's very small inside a diamond

Pinpoint

Knot

naturally occurring lines that cannot be polished away crossing facet junctions inside a diamond

Internal Graining