Give me 7 minutes of reading time and I’ll save you hundreds of dollars — possibly thousands — that you might otherwise have spent on this important, sometimes overvalued quality in a diamond for your engagement ring.
Different Ways To Look At Diamond Clarity: Eye Clean Diamonds vs Technical Grades
The first, most important thing to know about Clarity as you’re shopping for a diamond engagement ring is that “Eye Clean” is good enough for almost everyone except the connoisseurs, collectors, and perfectionists.
“Eye Clean” has some carefully thought through definitions. I’ll cover those in just a minute.
A simple Explanation of “Eye Clean” Diamond Clarity
A diamond that looks clean to the eye is “eye clean.”
When to the naked eye, in natural circumstances, a diamond appears perfect, it is “eye clean” — even if it does, in fact, have some inclusions.
“Inclusions,” as you may already know, are small flaws in the diamond. They were formed as a result of slight impurities in the carbon from which they formed under extremely high heat and pressure a billion to 3 billion years ago.
Virtually every diamond has some inclusions.
A perfectly flawless diamond, free of all inclusions, is so rare that most jewelers will never lay loupe to one.
The Bodybuilder Metaphor
To flesh out this concept, imagine that you’re a bodybuilder who just passed a medical exam. You’re ready for the weekend competition. You’ve trained. You’ve eaten right. You’ve built an amazing body.
You’re the Second Coming of Arnold Swarzenegger. Or at least, locally you’re kinda famous.
You have no health problems. You have no aesthetic weaknesses. You’re perfectly healthy, and your body looks as good for competition as it ever has.
Good enough, right? Good to go.
Then a doctor might say, “Hey we noticed in the x-rays that well, you once cracked a rib. All healed perfectly now! But just so you know, we saw that there was once a small fracture, years ago. And there’s a little internal scarring from that. See it here as this line in the x-ray?”
There it is on the x-ray. A faint line in your seventh rib. Well?
Do you feel upset? Do you feel “less than”? Are you afraid that your fans, or the competition judges, will on competition day, as you strike poses, see that crack in your rib, and judge you harshly?
By no means. It’s invisible.
You’re eye perfect.
If your fans or the judges saw your medical report, they would know. Sure. And maybe they’d gossip. But only the most strange of fans or judges would care.
In reality, is there is no harm. A formerly fractured rib is nothing to worry about. No one will know. You wouldn’t even have remembered if the doctor hadn’t pointed it out.
A now-healed fractured rib is like inclusions in an “eye clean” diamond.
Inclusions in a eye clean diamond exist. If any expert, like the doctor taking x-rays, takes the trouble to look for them, the inclusions will be found.
But the only way most people would ever know is by reading the diamond’s certificate.
And many people agree: the extra levels of improvement in technical clarity aren’t worth the extra cost in dollars.
A very few shoppers disagree, of course, with the idea that “eye perfect” is good enough. They’re perfectionists. Connoisseurs. Collectors. Extreme romantics. (Or are they? Maybe they’re just extreme?)
Whatever they are, they want as perfect a diamond as they can afford. And enough of them are willing to pay for that, and there are few enough diamonds like that to go around, that the price of such diamonds goes up.
Each to their own, of course.
Which kind of shopper are you?
I’ve gone to some length to express these facts because the existence of “eye perfect,” is often unknown by people who are new to shopping for diamonds.
I may have just saved you a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Bookmark my site?
What’s the Definition of “Eye Clean” in Diamond Clarity?
Many people agree with James Allen, a diamond retailer wit
h an absolute sterling reputation, as determined by the BBB and TrustPilot:
“James Allen considers a diamond eye clean if it appears to be free of inclusions when viewed face up in daylight or fluorescent lighting by the naked eye from a relatively short distance (6-12 inches).”
(Italics are mine.)
The James Allen statement on eye clean diamonds goes on to point out:
- Even SI1 (“slightly included”) clarity and SI2 (a second “worse” level of “slightly included”) clarity diamonds can be eye clean.
Never mind the technical jargon of “SI1 clarity” and “SI2 clarity” for a minute.
(It just means, for our purposes in this section, a diamond pretty far down the scale of clarity, a diamond with quite a few inclusions.)
The takeaway here is that no less a retailer than the redoubtable James Allen is telling you right up front that you don’t have to dial up the dollars for near-perfect clarity in order to take home a perfectly stunning diamond.
What Is Diamond Clarity, Exactly?
Diamond clarity is a professionally graded assessment of how clear a diamond is of:
- “blemishes” (surface imperfections)
- “inclusions” (internal imperfections)
Inclusions by far get the most attention.
Who Makes the Assessment of Clarity for a Diamond?
Organizations such as the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) and the AGS (American Gemological Society) train professionals to grade individual diamonds on a range of scores.
These professionals then issue certificates for individual diamond gemstones which clearly state how the diamond scored in various criteria — including clarity.
In my opinion, only the clarity grade of a diamond from one of these two organizations should be trusted.
Does Diamond Clarity Matter?
Even if a diamond is “eye clear,” its actual professionally graded clarity — as stated on its GIA certificate — matters very much, to the retail price.
It matters less to many people, as long as the diamond is eye clear.
Clarity is one of the famous “Four Cs” for diamond valuation:
- Carats (weight)
Diamond Clarity Scale
What is the official GIA clarity grade scale, in a clear summary that even a newbie can understand immediately?
Here it is:
For all the official information, sometimes dry to my sensibilities, see the GIA website directly.
I’ll save you the long explorations there with my summary:
I1, I2, I3 Included Diamonds
- (I stands for “Included,” which in diamond jargon means “has inclusions.”) I clarity diamonds have inclusions that are obvious. They’re glaring.
- These three grades (I1, I2, and I3) are lowest on the scale of clarity. They have the most imperfections.
- I1 clarity is better than I2, and I2 clarity is better than I3.
- Many jewelers don’t even sell, for engagement rings, diamonds of I2 and worse clarity.
SI1, SI2 Slightly Included (SI) Diamonds
- (SI stands for “slightly included”.) SI clarity diamonds have inclusions that are easily visible at 10x magnification.
- Diamonds graded SI can be eye clean. It depends on where the inclusions happen to be located within the diamond.
- If an SI clarity diamond is eye clean, you can trim quite a bit of expense by choosing diamonds of Sl clarity.
- To see the stunning answer of “how much can you trim off?”, just click the image below to go to this page at James Allen, and set your diamond filter sliders as shown in the image below. See the Clarity slider? Move both ends of it so that you filter for only one clarity grade at a time.
Click the image to go to this page at James Allen. Set your filter sliders as shown. Then move BOTH ends of the Clarity slider to select ONLY for Clarity I1. (“I1 stands for “Included” Level One.)
Watch the prices fall as you dial down the clarity!
VS1, VS2 — Very Slightly Included (VS) Diamonds
- “VS” stands for “Very Slightly” Included Diamonds.
- VS1 is better (has higher Clarity) than VS2.
- These diamonds have small inclusions.
- Diamonds graded VS1 have inclusions that are hard to see, even at 10x magnification.
- Diamonds graded VS2 have inclusions that are fairly easy to see at 10x magnification.
- Diamonds graded VS are often eye-clean
VVS1, VVS2 — Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS) Diamonds
- “VVS” stands for, no joke, “Very, very slightly” included diamonds
- And they are very very slightly included. They are so slightly included that the inclusions are difficult to spot even for a professional grader armed with 10x magnification.
- VVS1 is better (has higher clarity) than VVS2
- Diamonds of VVS clarity are always totally eye clean in appearance
Internally Flawless (IF) Diamonds
- There may be some surface blemishes, visible under a microscope. But internally? Flawless.
- They’re visually eye clean, of course.
- They’re very expensive.
- They don’t look any different, to the naked eye in natural circumstances, from any other eye clean diamond, including eye clean SI diamonds.
- In my opinion, these are worth enjoying as Thoreau enjoyed his neighbors’ farms: by walking past them, admiring and enjoying them, without ever having to buy them.
- If you’re wealthy enough that you feel no pain in paying the extra cost, by all means, enjoy. But if you or your loved ones, or future loved ones, would feel the effect in another area of life (honeymoon? college fund?), then it may be an unwise expense to pony up for an IF clarity or better diamond.
Flawless (FL) Diamonds
- These have zero inclusions (internal flaws) or blemishes (external flaws). Zero.
- Less than 1% of all diamonds are FL clarity
- Most jewelers may never even see one.
- It’s worth a buy if you’re all about the bling and the humble brag (or narcissistic boast). But probably only if you are truly loaded. For anyone else, it’s an expense to pass over.
Final Consideration & Recommendations
Some of these would seem to go without saying. But before I learned them with experience, and careful attention to those with long experience, I certainly didn’t know these fundamental safety guidelines.
Take your time
Don’t be rushed into any purchase of a diamond engagement ring. There are no bargains or meaningful sales on diamonds.
That’s a difficult truth for many to believe, because we are so used to bargains and sales on almost everything else.
But diamonds are graded carefully. They are absolutely known quantities. And they have stable, well known market values.
No one marks a diamond down by 50%, 60%, 70%. Not even by 20%.
Diamonds are unique as a retail product. They’re not like clothes. They’re not like cars. They’re not even like houses. The prices of which can all wildly fluctuate in a retail market.
Diamonds don’t do that.
Don’t Think of Your Diamond as a Financial Investment
Diamonds are just not at all a good economic investment.
You’d be lucky to get 40% or 50% of what you paid retail, if you tried to resell a diamond.
They don’t grow in economic value. There are tons of diamonds in existence. They’re just released into the marketplace at a rate that keeps the retail price stable.
On the other hand, they may be an invaluable emotional investment.
A diamond is forever. That’s what it means. Forget the nonexistent monetary appreciation. The emotional and relational appreciation is steady.
There’s a reason many beloveds, when their time to pass away arrives, wear their diamond engagement rings into the great beyond.
And that reason is the inexpressible, lifelong meanings, echoing through eternity, of a diamond engagement ring. That diamond, which you bought for your beloved, is already at least a billion years old.
Always Rely on a GIA or AGS Diamond Certificate
Never buy an engagement ring of any significant expense unless the diamonds on it are accompanied by a GIA or AGS diamond certificate.
You can see the official clarity grade on any such certificate. Don’t trust any other source for that information.
This is extremely important. Many people new to shopping for diamond engagement rings at first don’t realize how important it is to trust only a certificate. And to require a certificate.
Buying a diamond without a certificate is like buying a home without a deed.
It’s even more dangerous, because you almost can’t buy a home without a deed.
But scores or hundreds of retailers across the Internet will try to sell you a diamond without a certificate. Don’t trust them because they — sorry, my deeply considered opinion — shouldn’t be trusted.
“Certificate or it isn’t true.”
A diamond without a certificate is not just a red flag. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll overpay, or be deceived into thinking you scored “70% off”, or some such insane and fantastical discount.
Most Importantly – Always Buy From a Highly Reputable Dealer
Even more important — because they’ll always include a certificate, and go above and beyond with support and service and advice — always buy a diamond engagement ring only from a reputable dealer.
Here are three that we recommend:
- James Allen
- Blue Nile
- Brian Gavin
Feel Free to Reach Out
Always feel free to reach out to us with any questions or requests for advice on clarity (or any other topics) when shopping for diamond engagement rings.
We’re here because we have a passion for helping people new to shopping for diamond engagement rings to understand the process, chart a course through the sometimes confusing choices, and get exactly what they and their beloved want, at a price they are happy with and can afford.