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Diamond Clarity and Inclusions Explained

If you are thinking about purchasing a diamond, you have to learn how to buy diamonds correctly.

It is important to consider the 4C’s (cut, color, clarity, and carat weight) but diamond clarity is one of the most important things to consider.

Diamond Clarity refers to the absence of internal inclusions and surface irregularities called blemishes. Diamonds without inclusions or blemishes are graded as flawless on the scale but are rare, thus affecting its value.

The clarity of a diamond visible to one’s eye will affect it’s brilliance. That’s why clarity is often more important than the color of the diamond you choose.

What Are Diamond Inclusions and Blemishes?

Diamond Inclusions is basically a fancy way of referring to the flaws that are visible in different kinds of diamonds. Some are internal and others occur on the surface. Beyond this, there are different types of inclusions that are classified based on how they were formed.

When a diamond has inclusions, it does affect the way light interacts with the stone. Without inclusions the light is able to travel through the diamond without any “road blocks,” so to speak.

What Causes Inclusions?

When a diamond is forming, small crystals can become trapped inside the diamond.

As the crystal grows, irregularities can develop in its atomic structure. These crystals might remain after the stone has been cut and polished and they can affect a diamond’s appearance and even it’s durability.

Blemishes appear on the diamond’s surface and do not extend into the diamond’s inner structure. For instance, a simple scratch would be called a blemish, not an inclusion since it doesn’t extend beyond the surface of the stone.

Inclusion Types

There are many different types of inclusions:

  • Laser Drill Hole
  • Crystal
  • Needle, Pinpoint & Cloud
  • Twinning Wisp
  • Knot
  • Feather
  • Chip
  • Cavity
  • Bruise
  • Etch Channel
  • Indented Natural
  • Natural

That’s a lot of different inclusions to be aware of! Not all of these are visible to the naked eye, but it’s good to know they exist even if you don’t examine diamonds with a set of loupes.

Laser Drill Hole Diamond Inclusion
Zoomed in Laser Drill Hole

A laser drill hole is one such inclusion not usually visible to the naked eye. Usually, diamond cutters use lasers to drill into a diamond to remove a more obvious black inclusion. These inclusions are usually microscopic but can no doubt, affect the diamonds value. If you read anything about “laser drilling” in the diamond description then it’s likely this inclusion exists. On a diamond sketch it will be indicated as a red dot with a green circle around it.

A crystal is also known as a baby diamond because it often resembles small bits of mineral deposits within a larger diamond. In a diamond clarity plot a crystal will be denoted as a small red circle. These inclusions can occur in different colors including black, white, rarely green and sometimes red. If you do come across crystals it’s advised to only choose stones that have white crystals as they’re much more difficult to see with the naked eye. Darker crystals are easier to see with the naked eye, and thus you should avoid any diamonds with this type.

The needle, pinpoint and cloud inclusions are actually types of crystals. A needle is one that is long and thin (like a needle) and is usually white or translucent. The crystal is long instead of round due to pressure when being formed. You’ll notice these as diagonal lines on the clarity plot. Pinpoints are the most common types of crystal inclusions and look like tiny white dots, usually only visible under extreme magnification. Some pinpoints can occur in grey or black. A pinpoint is usually denoted as a tiny red dot on a plot. A cloud is formed from more than 3 pinpoints and denoted as a broken circle on the clarity plot. It appears white and hazy (like clouds). Tiny, subtle clouds don’t pose a huge threat but larger ones can affect light performance.

A twinning wisp is basically when the crystal plane in the diamond twists, and is formed when there are defects in the diamonds crystal structure. When a diamond is being formed, it can be stopped mid-way due to bad conditions. When the formation resumes it can cause twinning wisps to appear within the stone. On a diamond clarity plot it will usually show up as a twisting line with perpendicular lines through it (kind of like a railroad). These inclusions happen most in fancy shaped diamonds.

Diamond Knot
Zoomed in image of a diamond knot

Knots are inclusions that reach the finished surface of the diamond. These are inclusions that are easier to see with the naked eye. You may even be able to see where this inclusion meets the diamond surface, giving the impression the stone has a raised area on it. Knots do affect the durability of a diamond, and since they can be seen with your own eyes, they’re not ideal. On a diamond grading report you’ll see it as a red oval surrounded by a green oval.

As you may have guessed, feathers are called this because the inclusion resembles a birds feather. It’s generally transparent, but basically it’s just a tiny crack inside the diamond. Unfortunately, though they’re small they can affect durability. On a grading or clarity report, you’ll see feathers denoted as a squiggly line.

Diamond chips are exactly that – a small opening in the diamond surface, usually near the edges. These can be caused by anything and are often visible to the naked eye. They can be “fixed” if you want to re-cut or polish the diamond, but if it’s a rather large chip, you can end up losing overall size (i.e. carat weight). On a grading chart, it’s seen as a ^ symbol.

If you’ve ever been to a dentist, you know what a cavity is. In the diamond clarity world, it’s the same thing. When a pocket in the diamonds surface collects dust, dirt or oils and they become trapped. They’re usually tiny and can only be seen with magnification but they form when an internal inclusion falls out during polishing. These are denoted as ovals with lines going through the center on grading charts.

Indented Natural
A close up of an indented natural inclusion

A bruise usually appears on the crown part of a stone but can also show up anywhere. They are usually caused by diamond cutters via a hard hit to the surface of the diamond or excessive force when polishing. Because these bruises can extend down to the interior of a diamond, they are inclusions and not blemishes. On grading reports these are marked as an x.

If you happen to notice a hollow tunnel or worm-hole like channel, you may think it’s a laser drill hole. But these are actually called etch channels. They occur when the diamond is forming and being pushed from the inner mantle of the earth out to the surface crust. They are basically wounds from the intense heat in the earths crust and inner core. These inclusions can make cleaning difficult, as particles can trap in them.

The final two types of inclusions are natural and indented natural inclusions. These are often mistaken for chips, but on the contrary they are left in the diamond purposefully by the cutters. Usually found on the girdle edges of stones they are not usually anything to worry about. With indented naturals they are not only on the surface, but also slightly into the structure of the stone.

The GIA Diamond Clarity Scale

The GIA Clarity Scale contains 11 grades and is intended to gauge the level of flawlessness of a particular stone. The scale ranges from I to F (inclusions vs. flawless) and when judging a diamond 10x and 20x zoom is often used.

Most diamonds fall into the VS (very slightly included) or SI (slightly included) categories. Flawless diamonds are exceptionally rare that it is possible to spend a lifetime in the diamond jewelry business without seeing one.

diamond clarity chart
  • Flawless (FL) – No inclusions and no blemishes are visible to a skilled grader using 10× magnification
  • Internally Flawless (IF) – No inclusions and only blemishes are visible under 10× magnification
  • Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2) – Inclusions are so slight that they are difficult to see for a skilled grader under 10× magnification
  • Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2) – Inclusions are minor and are observed with difficult for a skilled grader to see under 10x magnification
  • Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2) – Inclusions are noticeable to a skilled grader under 10x magnification
  • Included (I1, I2, and I3) – Inclusions are obvious under 10× magnification. This may affect the transparency and brilliance of the diamond
sparkling diamond

Many inclusions and blemishes are too tiny to be seen by the naked eye. To someone who is untrained, A VS1 and SI2 may look the same. However, these diamonds quite different in terms of quality. This is the reason why loupes are used. Expert and accurate assessment of diamond clarity is a crucial factor in buying diamonds.

How Clarity Grades Look in Real Life

Here are some pictures that will help you recognize the various types of diamonds on the GIA scale.

All images are from James Allen Jewelers, who offer a full 360-degree look at all their inventory (currently at 200,000 stones!)

Flawless (Grade: FL – IF)

flawless diamond

Flawless diamonds are exactly that – they have no flaws. Internally flawless diamonds are diamonds that do not have any inclusions, but may have some surface blemishes only visible with more than 10x zoom. These are the priciest diamonds you’ll find.

Very Very Slightly Included (Grade: VVS1)

VVS Diamond

These diamonds are still very clear, but do contain inclusions only trained gemologists can find under 10x zoom. The main difference between VVS1 and VVS2 diamonds is that one has inclusions visible from the bottom, while the other has them visible from the top. Again, they are only visible under 10x zoom and are very difficult to find.

Very Very Slightly Included (Grade: VVS2)

VVS2 Diamond

Very Slightly Included (Grade: VS1)

VS1 Diamond

VS1 diamonds are a great choice for most people as they’re more affordable than higher grades, yet still very visibly beautiful. These are “eye-clean” diamonds meaning you can’t see any inclusions with the bare eye.

Very Slightly Included (Grade: VS2)

VS2 Diamond

VS2 diamonds are similar to VS1 diamonds, but the inclusions can be seen with less than 10x zoom. They are easy to spot by a professional using loupes, but they’re still invisible if looking at the stone without magnification.

Slightly Included (Grade: S1)

S1 Diamond

Slightly included diamonds contain noticeable inclusions, but with S1 diamonds they may or may not be visible to the naked eye.

Slightly Included (Grade: S2)

S2 Diamond

S2 diamonds have inclusions that are sometimes easier to see without intense magnification. That means they may not be “eye-clean.”

Included (Grade: I1)

I1 Diamond

Diamonds that are categorized or graded as I have noticeable inclusion in them. They are obvious and may affect the brilliance of the stone. They are usually not “eye-clean” meaning the inclusions and blemishes are visible to the naked eye. Sometimes they are eye-clean, but if you come across an I2 or I3 diamond it will definitely NOT be eye clean.

What Inclusions You Should Always Avoid When Buying Diamonds

In all honesty, some inclusions actually add character to a diamond. But if you’re trying to avoid the ones that are most noticeable then stay away from chips and crystals.

You may be thinking because of this, you should only buy diamonds in person but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Technology has truly revolutionized the diamond industry. For instance, many of the best jewelers offer high definition images of the exact diamond you’re considering purchasing.

Not only that, retailers like James Allen offer magnification of up to 40x! Try it out for yourself and you’ll see that buying online actually has more advantages to buying in person.

Choosing the Right Diamond Clarity Grade

So what should you be looking for when purchasing a diamond? Of course, everyone would love to only buy purely flawless diamonds, but the price can be so astronomically high that it’s prohibitive.

But you don’t need to buy Grade FL or IF stones to have a truly beautiful piece of jewelry. The grade you definitely want to stay away from is I2 and I3 – these are the lowest quality stones and will never be “eye-clean.”

On the other hand, SI grades are much cheaper and are sometimes eye-clean. If you’re doing your shopping with a store that has a large inventory, the chances of you finding a beautiful SI diamond that sparkles is high.

Be careful to inspect your diamond yourself and not just rely on the grading report.

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