Picking the right engagement ring sounds simple at first glance – just find the right bling that looks nice and won’t drag you below the poverty line with its price tag. In reality, however, there are a great many factors to consider that go into the whole quality/price equation.
One such factor is the diamond clarity of your ring’s stone.
Choosing the best diamond clarity for your engagement ring is will help you avoid getting ripped off and assist you in choosing a quality diamond at the best quality/price ratio.
So, let’s dig in!
- What exactly is diamond clarity and how does it affect a stone’s sparkle?
- The relationship between clarity grades and your engagement ring style
- Diamond clarity and diamond cut
- Diamond clarity vs. price
- Is better clarity always “better”?
- What about diamond clarity enhancements?
- So, what clarity grade should you go for?
What exactly is diamond clarity and how does it affect a stone’s sparkle?
High clarity grade equates to better sparkle. See this ring here.
Even if you’re new to the world of diamonds and gemstones, you’ve probably heard about the 4Cs. These include, in no particular order, – carat weight, cut, color,and clarity.
The term “diamond clarity” refers to how clear each diamond is from any inclusions, protrusions, internal or external damage and other undesirable properties. The reason that it’s important for a diamond to be as clear as possible is that most inclusions get in the way of the light that passes through the stone, distorting it, and reducing its overall brilliance and sparkle.
It should be noted that it’s almost impossible to find a diamond or other gemstone that’s 100% devoid of any inclusions. However, the difference between having a couple of minor and near-invisible inclusions, and a couple of giant inclusions is very significant. That’s why most gemological institutes around the world use grading scales to evaluate and determine each stone’s clarity. Below we’ll quickly mention the basics of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) clarity scale.
Diamond clarity grades
There are 11 different diamond clarity grades in the GIA system but we don’t need to go over all of them in detail. Instead, here’s how they’re typically grouped:
- Flawless diamonds (FL) – these are very rare stones that have (little to) no blemishes or other inclusions.
- Internally flawless diamonds (IF) – These diamonds have no visible inclusions. Only trained experts with specialized equipment can possibly find the faults in these stones.
- Very, very slightly included diamonds (VVS1 & VVS2) – these stones have inclusions that could be seen by the untrained eye with the proper magnification but are typically invisible to the naked eye.
- Very slightly included diamonds (VS1 & VS2) – the inclusions in these stones are a bit easier to find under magnification.
- Slightly included diamonds (SI1 & SI2) – these stones have visible inclusions under magnification. SI2 diamonds can also have inclusions that are visible to the naked eye.
- Included diamonds (I1, I2 & I3) – the last three categories are all diamonds with inclusions visible to the naked eye. I1 diamonds can still be used in rings and other jewelry pieces with the right setting and cut but I2 and I3 are generally not suitable for any type of jewelry.
The image below shows a selection of Excellent Cut, 1.00 carat, D color diamonds with differing clarity grades. Notice the difference in price:
Is there a major difference in clarity? Check more diamonds here
So, which of these grades is better for you?
Obviously, the objectively better diamonds are the ones in the FL, IF, VVS1, and VVS2 categories. These are also needlessly expensive, however, as there are eye-clear diamonds in the lower grades which can look just as good on an engagement ring even if they are less prestigious.
If you’re looking for the perfect quality/price ratio, diamonds in the VS2, SI1, SI2, and sometimes even the I1 range can offer nearly eye-clear quality at very affordable prices. Of course, every stone is different and sometimes an I1 stone can look better than an SI2 stone.
That’s why it’s also better to consult with an independent gemstone expert before you make a purchase and to look very carefully at high quality images and videos of the exact diamond.
Never purchase a diamond blind by looking at a grading report or a stock image.
The relationship between clarity grades and your engagement ring style
Halo engagement ring settings tend to distract from inclusions. Check this here.
Another important factor when choosing your engagement ring’s diamond and its clarity is that even stones with imperfections and inclusions can be a great and seemingly perfect fit with the right ring setting. We won’t delve too deep into the different types of engagement ring settings here as their effectiveness depends on a lot of different factors.
However, the general rule of thumb is to choose a setting that’s good at hiding inclusions and nullifying their effect. For example, halo settings provide exceptional sparkle, and these can serve to distract from seeing inclusions, especially near the edges. Bezel settings can hide inclusions that are present around the corners of your diamond.
Still, every inclusion is different and requires different measures to be negated in the best possible way. That’s why it’s important to talk with a reputable and skilled jeweler so that the best solution can be found.
Diamond clarity and diamond cut
One of the key tasks of a diamond’s cut is to hide the stone’s inclusions as effectively as possible. Although this is all done before diamond reaches you, it’s important to understand how cut and quality work together because different diamond cuts and shapes can work differently with clarity grades.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Round cut diamonds under 1 carat can be eye-clean if they are VS2, SI1, or even SI2. Round cuts above 1-carat weight, however, are almost never eye-clean if their grade is any lower than VS2.
- Princess, oval, pear, marquise, and cushion cuts, on the other hand, hide inclusions much better and can often be eye-clean in the SI1 and SI2 grades, making them great for budget shoppers.
- Asscher, baguettes, and emerald cuts are on the other end of the spectrum and they show their blemishes and inclusions very clearly, so they are almost never eye-clean below the VS2 grade.
Diamond clarity vs. price
Many would say that the biggest challenge when shopping for an engagement ring is to balance the quality with the price. Clarity is a great part of that balance because if you can find a diamond with a lower clarity grade that’s still eye-clean or almost eye-clean, you can save a lot of money.
The jackpot in that regard is finding a cheap SI2 or even I1 diamond that has very few visible inclusions and then manage to put it in the right setting that’s not only beautiful but further masks the stone’s inclusions.
For this, you have to sift through hundreds of diamonds and evaluate each carefully. Because most retailers show their diamonds in 20 or even 40 times magnification, you can see any blemishes very clearly in each stone.
However, don’t get hung up on inclusions that are visible when viewed in magnification. For example, would you buy this SI2 diamond below viewed in 20 times magnification?
The diamond looks full of inclusions across its surface and you might be tempted to write it off straightaway. But now take a look at that same diamond magnified just 1 time. Suddenly, it looks just like any other diamond, beautiful and brilliant.
The price of this diamond? A mere $2,700 which is not bad for an excellent cut, F grade 1.00 carat stone. Had the clarity grade been higher, chances are this diamond would retail for over $10,000.
Is better clarity always “better”?
Technically, yes – the better the clarity is the more brilliance the stone will have and the better it’ll look in all situations. However, there’s not much difference between the upper clarity grades except price. Unless you’re going for the prestige factor of having a flawless diamond, we’d really recommend aiming for a good budget solution that just looks good.
Simply put – the price of the stone rises more drastically than its visible quality the further up the clarity scale you go so it’s economically unsound to buy an overpriced FL or IF diamond. To give you an idea of how diamond prices work – the price of and engagement ring diamond will typically jump by 15% to 25% between the different clarity grades and can fluctuate between 5% to 15% within the same grade depending on the visual quality of each stone. So, with 11 grades in the GIA scale and with 25% jumps between each grade, the prices can be quite staggering.
For example, take a look at this IF round diamond, this SI1 round diamond, and this SI2 round diamond. While they are quite similar in every other regard, their prices fluctuate by thousands of dollars solely because of their clarity.
What about diamond clarity enhancements?
A clarity enhanced SI1 diamond by MYD Jewelry. See it here.
There are certain clarity enhancement techniques that can mend some of the inclusion problems in diamonds. Most of them are done via laser drillings and fracture fillings. We’d generally advise against buying “enhanced” diamonds, however, for a couple of reasons:
- Even the best enhancement of a diamond will still leave visible traits behind it. At best, an enhancement can move the stone only one grade higher and that’s only in the lower grades. It’s usually better to just search a bit more for a better unenhanced diamond at a fair price.
- Most of the time these methods are not permanent, meaning that they tend to get worse over time. This can obviously be a problem when you’re shopping for an engagement ring.
- Enhanced diamonds may have fractured integrity and are more likely to crack or chip.
So, what clarity grade should you go for?
Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste but the main advice we’d suggest you take away from this article is that you shouldn’t just look at the grade on the paper. Instead, examine each stone separately and under different lights and angles. Consulting with an expert is also advisable as they can give you unbiased and very useful tips for which stones are worth it.