Lab-Grown Diamond Clarity – What to know
Last Updated on March 26, 2022 by Rolf Hartmann
Lab-grown diamond clarity
Learn about lab-grown diamond clarity, what to be aware of when shopping for diamonds and how, with your newfound knowledge, you can both save money and get a better diamond.
Diamond clarity is the absence of internal inclusions trapped in the stone or surface blemishes. They appear like tiny cracks (internal) or scratches (external) and should not be confused with diamond color.
Both mined, and lab-created diamonds have inclusions and blemishes. Even in the sterile laboratory environment, the growing process leads to imperfections. Flawless diamonds are, just like in nature, very rare and costly.
Luckily, much like diamond color, clarity is a quality where you do not need to aim for perfection. In the following, we’ll explain what clarity is, how it’s graded, and which grades you should go for.
What are diamond inclusions and blemishes
As mentioned above, the growth process in nature and even in the controlled environment of the lab is not perfect. This leads to imperfections. These can be present inside the diamond and are referred to as inclusions. These are often worse than surface imperfections which are called blemishes. The reason being that internal flaws potentially have a bigger negative impact on light reflection.
Inclusions and blemishes can have various causes, from structural imperfections over tiny crystals trapped inside the stone to scratches running across the surface and by-products of the production process such as chipping. They come in various shapes and forms and combined with their size and placement as well as relief (color), they can have more or less impact on the diamond’s appearance and grade.
Examples of inclusions and blemishes include feathers, clouds, needles, pinpoints, chips, and more. We won’t go into every single type and combination but will instead guide you through what to look out for and how to buy smart.
Lab-grown diamond clarity assessment
When assessing diamond clarity as a consumer, you should do two things.
First, read through the grading report. It will tell you the clarity grading and show a clarity plot highlighting the location and type of the inclusions and blemishes. However, two inclusions looking exactly alike in a clarity plot can look completely different on the diamond. That’s why a second approach is necessary.
Second, see if you can find the inclusions and blemishes from the plot by inspecting the diamond images in detail. It’s crucial to look for any inclusions and blemishes and their impact on the brilliance that you can spot with the naked eye. Any diamond you consider should be what is called “eye clean” from every angle. That is, looking at HD images rotating the diamond in a 360-degree view, you should not be able to spot any issues.
Be sure to only buy through reputable sellers who offer these high-quality magnified and 360-degree images. We can recommend James Allen and Clean Origin since they both have the required images available at their site and, to boot, have some of the best prices and unrivaled service and support (read all our reviews here).
Why you should care
There are two key problems with inclusions and blemishes. The first is that they detract from the cleanliness or look of the stone. However, as most flaws are impossible to see with the naked eye, that is less of a worry (stay clear of I-graded diamonds). Most gem-quality diamonds fall between the VVS and SI grades (more on grading below).
The other problem is that even impurities that you cannot see can harm the diamond’s ability to reflect light and, therefore, its brilliance. However, as was the case with the diamond color, the cut quality matters much more than the clarity. If you look for visible inclusions and blemishes (visible in magnified high-quality images, that is) and stay clear of those, then you can safely go for lower clarity grades.
Clarity vs Cut vs Carat
During the cutting process, cutters will often try to cut around any imperfections. However, this requires more of the raw diamond to be cut away and thus hurts the overall carat weight.
Sometimes the cutter decides to sacrifice cut quality to avoid an inclusion or blemish. Knowing that cut is king, that seems odd. However, not all consumers know the importance of the diamond cut. And for that reason, sometimes diamonds with a lower cut but higher clarity may fetch a higher price. In the end, it’s all about the money.
Mined and lab-grown clarity grades
Both mined, and lab-created diamonds come with inclusions and blemishes. Most of these originate from the growth process, and they are present regardless of the creation taking millions or years or just a few weeks.
So when it comes to lab-grown diamond clarity, the origin of the diamond actually does not matter. But, as you know, lab-created and mined diamonds are structurally, chemically, and visibly exactly alike. We will, therefore in the following discuss diamond clarity in general.
Grading of lab-grown diamond clarity
Diamonds are graded on a scale from flawless (F) to I3 (the worst). The grading is done by magnifying the diamond under a microscope 10 times (in practice, often more) to inspect and determine the size, position, and severity of the imperfections. It is carried out by certified grading laboratories who award diamonds their clarity grading.
It is important to note that these flaws are only seen under 10X magnification by a highly trained grader. Therefore, most people will not be able to see these flaws with the naked eye, except perhaps in the worst graded diamonds (I).
The official grading scale and descriptions as developed by GIA, which IGI also use, are the following:
|Flawless (FL)||No inclusions or blemishes are visible to a skilled grader under magnification.|
|Internally Flawless (IF)||No inclusions and only blemishes are visible to a skilled grader under magnification.|
|Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2)||Inclusions are difficult for a skilled grader to see under magnification|
|Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2)||Inclusions are minor and range from difficult to somewhat easy for a skilled grader to see under magnification.|
|Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2)||Inclusions are noticeable to a skilled grader under magnification|
|Included (I1, I2, and I3)||Inclusions are obvious under magnification and may affect transparency and brilliance.|
The grading laboratories provide a clarity grade and produce a clarity plot so that you can locate the imperfections and gauge the severity. Below is an example of a large SI2-graded diamond and the clarity plot from the IGI grading report (it’s a lab-grown diamond) for sale at Clean Origin.
Lab-grown diamond clarity buying tips
Flawless and internally flawless diamonds are rare and are rarely not worth the high premium (unless you’re buying diamonds for investment purposes which we don’t think you should anyway). As you have learned, even small inclusions won’t have a visible and significant impact. The story is the same as the almost as costly “very, very slight” grades (VVS1/2).
Start your search with VS1 and downgrade as you narrow your searches (or exceed your budget). If you are buying a round brilliant or similar brilliant-type diamond, the sparkle will very likely outshine small impurities anyway, and you’ll be just fine with an SI1 or even 2 clarity grade. In particular, if you have chosen an excellent or ideal cut (which you should).
Grading is not a perfect science and relies on the particular grader and laboratory skill, which introduces variance in grading. So with the clarity plot from the grading report in hand, start inspecting the magnified images of the diamonds you are considering to learn what they actually look like.
When considering lab-grown diamond clarity, the most important thing to do is to assess whether the diamond is “eye clean”. That is, can you see any imperfections on the 10-20X magnifications that premium diamond sellers show on their websites? Unfortunately, the clarity grade and the plot alone will not show you how badly the diamond is affected by the presence of inclusions and blemishes.
Reach out to us if you feel lost and need help finding the right diamond and clarity grade for you.
We recommend buying at Clean Origin and James Allen since they both offer high-quality 360-degree images suitable for clarity inspection – and superior support where you can ask for unbiased (and uncommissioned) guidance.