Clarity Spotting

Believe it or not, clarity grading a diamond is easier than learning your ABC’s. There are two main categories we want to be concerned with: The diamond with inclusions1 and blemishes2 we can see with our own eyes, category I, and those that appear to be “eye clean,” category II. Once we’ve determined which category a diamond falls in, we can break it down into sub-categories.

Category I: The Imperfects – SI2, I1, I2, I3 (a.k.a., River Rocks, Bluff Diamonds, Commercial Grade and Drill Bit Dodgers) While the easiest way to determine the clarity grade of a diamond is just to ask the seller, this assumes he’s telling you the truth. But since these four grades are the bottom of the barrel, I’m met very few vendors who will brag about how bad their diamonds are. The vendor is also aware that even if you’re farsighted and they could misrepresent these dogs, it’s not very likely your fiancé or independent appraiser will fall into the same trap. Therefore, if a jeweler tells you your diamond is an SI2, I1, I2 or I3; know you’ve gone as low as you can go. These grades tend to be popular with people who want size over quality. In pictures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 you can see some great examples of the “bull in the china shop” kind of damage you can expect to find in these moon rocks.

imperfects 1, 2 and 3imperfects 4, 5 and 6imperfects 7, 8 and 9
Category II: “Eye Cleans”

A. The Investments – Flawless, Internally Flawless, VVS1, VVS2 (a.k.a., Bentleys, Rolls, Safe Deposit Rocks)
When you look at pictures 10A, 10B, 10C and 10D, you’d swear you’re looking at the same diamond, but you’re not! You’re looking at four different round diamonds viewed under 10X magnification. Which one is the Flawless, which one is Internally Flawless and which ones are the VVS? If all four grades look identical under magnification to the average bear, or are indistinguishable to gemologists without the aid of a loupe3 or microscope, then don’t worry about it. What makes these rocks distinguishable from the rocks in the first category is their LACK of inclusions, not the presence of any.

Click on any of the images to view an enlarged image.
B. The Street Legals – VS1, VS2 – appropriately named due to being the highest grade recommended to wear or mount into jewelry (a.k.a., Mercedes, The Benz, The Lambs [short for Lamborghini]). This category is my favorite for a variety of reasons; not only are they practically microscope clean and totally “eye clean,” they allow the purchaser to get good to exceptional quality without sacrificing too much on size. In pictures 11A and 11B the diamonds appear flawless, until we zoom in (11C) and easily find pinpoints and small crystals (smaller than a grain of salt) caught in the diamond’s lattice.
Click on any of the images to view an enlarged image.
C. The Slights – SI1 – named because they have slight problems but nothing that will effect the beauty. The SI1’s are easy to grade. They always look great to the eye, but the minute you pick up a loupe even a novice can locate the imperfections. Because all the inclusions are typically larger than a grain of salt but small enough to stay under the “eye clean” radar, SI1’s become a popular choice for maximum size but above average quality. In pictures 12A, 12B 12C and 12D we see classic crystals, feathers, abraded girdles and pinpoints one might expect to see in an SI1.
Click on any of the images to view an enlarged image.
1Inclusions – imperfections inside a diamond (carbon, feather, crystal, pinpoint, cloud)
2 Blemishes – imperfection on the outside of a diamond (chip, scratch, fracture, polishing lines)
3Loupe – a small magnifying glass used to view gemstones.
(All photographs were taken by acclaimed photographer and artist Ricky Fernandez)

by Fred Cuellar, author of the best-selling book “How to Buy a Diamond.” More questions? Ask the Diamond Guy®

Rough and Ready

Rough is the technical term to describe a diamond once retrieved from the ground and prior to being cut. In photograph #1 we see a classic example of an octahedral piece of rough. Much evaluation precedes any cutting. The cutter must decide, first and foremost, whether the diamond is “gemmy” (gem quality). Being “gemmy” is the first major audition that a piece of diamond rough must go through. If it’s “gemmy” it will be cut into a diamond for jewelry. If not, it gets tossed into the industrial grade pile. In photograph #2 we get a peak at a typical reject. It’s opaque; brown with nitrogen and heavily included. If it’s lucky it will end up at the end of a drill bit somewhere.

Once a diamond has passed the “gemmy” audition the cutter must decide the best way to attack it. There are two main types of cutters; those that cut for weight/profit and those that cut for beauty. Sometimes the two go hand in hand. The weight cutters focus on size as the most important factor almost to the exclusion of clarity, color and cut. The true master cutters place it last. In diagrams #3, #4, & #5 we can see some of the options available in cutting one single piece of rough.

In diagram #3 the cutter is contemplating cutting one large diamond from the single piece of rough. As a rule a weight cutter will retain 50% of the rough in a finished diamond while a quality cutter settles for one third. In diagram #4 the cutter is abandoning cutting one large stone with possibly major internal flaws (inclusions) for two medium sized possibly higher quality rocks. In the last diagram (#5) the cutter wastes nothing! He not only goes after a medium to large diamond but tries to slip in a little mini one as well.

In photograph #6 we see the final outcome of the cutter’s work. At first glance we are impressed with the precision with which he cut his final product. We wonder which cutting style he used. Was he cutting for weight, beauty or was he lucky enough to achieve both?

We get our answer in diagrams #7A and #7B. If the cutter had opted for two medium stones or even a large and smaller stone he could probably have avoided this death wound to the core of the diamond. (For those of you proficient in clarity grades this would be an Imperfect or I-1.)

What’s the lesson? All diamonds start off as rough and a select few make the cut to be cut (no pun intended) but it’s up to the cutter and his bottom line to decide if it’s true beauty will be unleashed. And it’s up to you the consumer to let the salesperson know you know how to tell the difference.