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An introduction to diamonds

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Clarity is a measure of the number and extent of flaws in the diamond. Generally speaking, the fewer the flaws, the more valuable the diamond. Completely flawless (FL) diamonds are extremely rare -- only a few hundred "FL" diamonds are produced per year worldwide.

There are several grading systems used to describe clarity. The most popular system is the Gemological Institute of America's (GIA) scale, which ranks diamonds as Flawless (FL), Internally Flawless (IF), Very Very Slightly Included (VVS), Very Slightly Included (VS), Slightly Imperfect (SI), and Imperfect (I):

very very slight
very slight
slightly imperfect

Although seemingly subjective, the GIA scale has specific criteria to differentiate between the different grades:

FL: Completely flawless.

IF: Internally flawless-- only external flaws are present, which can be removed by further polishing the stone.

VVS1 - VVS2: Only an expert can detect flaws (inclusions) with a 10X microscope. By definition, if an expert can see a flaw from the top of the diamond, it is a VVS2. Otherwise, if an expert can only detect flaws when viewing the bottom of the stone, then it is a VVS1.

VS1 - VS2: You can see flaws with a 10X microscope, but it takes a long time (more than about 10 seconds).

SI1 - SI2: You can see flaws with a 10X microscope.

I1 - I3: You can see flaws with the naked eye. Consider avoiding I2-I3 diamonds.

There are many different types of flaws. The best way to become acquainted with them is to look at lots of diamonds. The more common ones are as follows:

Pinpoint: A very small white dot on the surface of the stone-- by far, the most common flaw.

Carbons: A very small black dot on the surface of the stone. Less common than pinpoints.

Feathers: Small cracks within the stone, similar in look to broken glass. Small internal feathers are harmless (other than lowering the clarity rating of the diamond), but large feathers can become a problem since the crack can grow as the diamond ages.

Clouds: Hazy areas within the diamond, actually made up of many small crystals that are impossible to see individually.

Crystal Growth: A small crystalline growth within the diamond. Looks like a small diamond within the big diamond.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult for an inexperienced consumer to accurately judge a diamond's clarity. Your best bet is to gain an education by asking a reputable jeweler to show you a few diamonds under a microscope, until you get a good feel for the differences. Ask your jeweler to point out the flaws in several stones until you can detect pinpoints and other flaws by yourself. Any jeweler recommended by FindMyJeweler will be happy to assist you in gaining this valuable education.

One pitfall to avoid when shopping for clarity is the "clarity-enhanced" diamond. Clarity-enhancement is an artificial process used to "fix" flaws on an otherwise good stone. Although a clarity-enhanced diamond can look nearly flawless (in some cases it is impossible to detect the enhancement), it is intrinsically worth as much as a flawed stone. Furthermore, the stone's durability is nowhere that of a pure diamond. Be sure to confirm with your jeweler that the stone you are considering is not clarity-enhanced. Double-check this fact on the GIA certificate. If you do not receive a GIA certificate with your stone, ask the jeweler to state on the appraisal that the diamond is not clarity-enhanced.

Clarity vs. Cut. If you're purchasing an emerald cut (or any other step cut), consider purchasing a diamond with clarity greater than SI1. Clarity flaws are much more readily visible in step-cut stones than in brilliant-cut stones such as the traditional round brilliant, marquise, or princess cuts.

People often make clarity the least "important" of the 4 Cs when purchasing their diamonds. The rationale is obvious -- when viewing the ring with the naked eye, an SI1 diamond will look exactly the same as a perfectly flawless FL stone.

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Other great resources for quality diamond information:

Diamond Review
Diamond Helpers

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