Bottom Line Recommendation: Buy the lowest diamond clarity you can that is still “naked eye-clean.” While this is impossible with most online vendors, James Allen has a fantastic tool they call a “virtual loupe” which allows you to view their diamonds at about 20x magnification. Likewise, Brian Gavin Diamonds has similarly magnified images at superb resolution. If you are unsure if the picture you’re looking at will translate to an “eye-clean” diamond, then please contact me and send me the link. I’ll be happy to take a look for you.
The greatest myth about diamonds is that they are a smart investment. Edward Jay Epstein, in his industry-shaking exposè on the “Diamond Invention” entitled “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” clearly and emphatically puts this idea to rest. I recommend any prospective diamond buyer first read this article from start to finish. It’s important to be in the right frame of mind when making such a major purchase and not be influenced by all the magic and emotion thrown at you from DeBeers advertising.
Diamonds are a retail product just like any other. The product goes through various stages of production and distribution (mining, polishing, distribution, retail, and finally customer). As the diamond changes hands, each participant takes their cut. By the time the finished product ends up in the customers’ hands, the price is sufficiently inflated that you could never sell it without losing money. If cars lose 15% when they leave the lot, then figure most diamonds probably lose at least 30-40% when they leave the store.
I began with this because the most common mistake people make when buying diamonds is they purchase a diamond with a diamond clarity grade that is simply too high to appreciate in order to buy a “good investment.”
Lets review the basics really quickly. The scale of diamond clarity (GIA scale – other labs have added some other interim grades) goes like this (from best to worst): Internally Flawless (IF), Very Very Small Inclusions 1 (VVS1), Very Very Small Inclusions 2 (VVS2), Very Small Inclusions 1 (VS1), Very Small Inclusions 2 (VS2), Small Inclusions 1 (SI1), Small Inclusions 2 (SI2), Inclusions 1 (I1), Inclusions 2 (I2).
I worked in the diamond business for 6+ years. If you gave me a diamond with a VVS2 diamond clarity grade, it might take me a few minutes with a 10x powered loupe to find the actual pinpoint of an imperfection that is the “Very Very Small Inclusion.” I could find a VS1 in less time, but it’s only marginally larger than a VVS2. VS2s and SI1 diamond clarity grades can be spotted right away with a 10x powered loupe, but almost always still completely invisible to the naked eye. And even most SI diamond clarity grade diamonds cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Now, if a diamond is simply a product that has features that you want to benefit from (i.e., its beauty), why pay a lot more for features from which you will never benefit?
Think of your total investment in a diamond ring as a pie. Each feature of the diamond has its own slice of the pie and the more you spend on a feature the larger its slice (and therefore, another slice or slices must become smaller). Wouldn’t it make sense to apportion the largest slices to the features you can actually derive benefit from? All you have to do for the other features is make sure the slice is sufficiently large that it doesn’t detract from the beauty of the diamond.
Unfortunately, though, things aren’t quite as simple as I’ve made them seem. An important thing to remember is that not all inclusions are created equal. Some inclusions are shiny and some are almost completely clear. Some inclusions, though, are dead white and some are even stark black. Some inclusions are dead center in the middle of the diamond, and some are pushed so far off to the side, they aren’t noticed. The diamond clarity grade mainly takes into account the size of the inclusion, and rarely considers the color and opaqueness of the inclusion nor its position.
Thankfully, JamesAllen.com has some truly fantastic cutting-edge photography that will allow us to review actual diamond clarity examples with a tool they call “Virtual Loupe” that they claim provides 18x magnification.
Diamond Clarity – Real World Test
The first diamond I want to review is a 1.00 carat I1.
This diamond is a perfect example of the great value you can find if you take advantage of technological breakthroughs like James Allen’s virtual loupe. In Figure 1, which is at 9x magnification, you can barely see anything. Had I not marked the inclusion in red, you probably would not have noticed it at all. The inclusion is only slightly opaque, but best of all it is completely on the perimeter of the diamond. A skilled jeweler could easily cover this with a prong to give your diamond the appearance of being completely clean.
In Figure 2, you can see the same diamond, but with 18x magnification. In this picture, I have focused on the inclusion so you can better see how its color allows it to blend in with the natural color of the diamond.
The next diamond I want to review is a 1.01 carat VS2. As you can see in Figure 3, there is a very small inclusion almost dead center in the table of the diamond.
Unfortunately, however, the inclusion is stark black.
Due to the combination of the inclusion’s position and its color, it is very possible it would be visible to the naked eye despite the fact that it has a diamond clarity grade of VS2.
In Figure 4, you see the same inclusion, but at 18x magnification.
Now take a look at the table below (Figure 5) of the two different diamonds’ features. They are virtually identical, save for three slight advantages the I1 has over the VS2 (No Fluorescence and Excellent polish, and slightly larger dimensions).
Now try to guess their prices.
The VS2? Listed on JamesAllen.com for $5,010.
The I1, which as I have shown isn’t simply a better value for your money spent, but is objectively speaking a better looking diamond? $3,290.
The VS2 costs over 50% more than the I1! And you know what you get in return for that $1720 extra you spent on the VS2? A little black dot to always remind you of what a bad decision you made.
To wrap things up, recall the pie analogy I mentioned earlier. Wouldn’t it make more sense to take keep the Diamond Clarity slice nice and small (like the I1 from Figures 1 and 2) and instead increase the size of the Weight slice? In our example here, you could easily upgrade to a 1.25ct diamond and you would still end up spending less than $5,010.
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below. I will usually respond within 24 hours.