Diamond color is all about what you can’t see. Diamonds are valued by how closely they approach colorlessness – the less color, the higher their value. (The exception to this is fancy-color diamonds, such as pinks and blues, which lie outside this color range.) Most diamonds found in jewelry stores run from colorless to near-colorless, with slight hints of yellow or brown.
GIA’s color-grading scale for diamonds is the industry standard. The scale begins with the letter D, representing colorless, and continues with increasing presence of color to the letter Z, or light yellow or brown. Each letter grade has a clearly defined range of color appearance. Diamonds are color-graded by comparing them to stones of known color under controlled lighting and precise viewing conditions.
Many of these color distinctions are so subtle as to be invisible to the untrained eye. But these slight differences make a very big difference in diamond quality and price.
Why does the GIA color grading system start at D?
Before GIA developed the D-Z Color Grading Scale, a variety of other systems were loosely applied. These included letters of the alphabet (A, B and C, with multiple A’s for the best stones), Arabic (0, 1, 2, 3) and Roman (I, II, III) numerals, and descriptions such as “gem blue” or “blue white.” The result of all these grading systems was inconsistency and inaccuracy. Because the creators of the GIA Color Scale wanted to start fresh, without any association with earlier systems, they chose to start with the letter D—a letter grade normally not associated with top quality.
Because diamonds formed deep within the earth, under extreme heat and pressure, they often contain unique birthmarks, either internal (inclusions) or external (blemishes).
Diamond clarity refers to the absence of these inclusions and blemishes. Diamonds without these birthmarks are rare, and rarity affects a diamond’s value. Using the GIA International Diamond Grading System™, diamonds are assigned a clarity grade that ranges from flawless (FL) to diamonds with obvious inclusions (I3).
Every diamond is unique. None is absolutely perfect under 10× magnification, though some come close. Known as Flawless diamonds, these are exceptionally rare. Most jewelers have never even seen one.
The GIA Clarity Scale contains 11 grades, with most diamonds falling into the VS (very slightly included) or SI (slightly included) categories. In determining a clarity grade, the GIA system considers the size, nature, position, color or relief, and quantity of clarity characteristics visible under 10× magnification.
- Flawless (FL) – No inclusions or blemishes are visible to a skilled grader using 10× magnification
- Internally Flawless (IF) – No inclusions and only blemishes are visible to a skilled grader using 10× magnification
- Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2) – Inclusions are difficult for a skilled grader to see under 10× magnification
- Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2) – Inclusions are minor and range from difficult to somewhat easy for a skilled grader to see under 10x magnification
- Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2) – Inclusions are noticeable to a skilled grader under 10x magnification
- Included (I1, I2, and I3) – Inclusions are obvious under 10× magnification and may affect transparency and brilliance
How did the GIA Clarity Scale come about?
Like the color scale, GIA’s clarity grading system developed because jewelers were using terms that were easily misinterpreted, such as “loupe clean,” or “piqué.” Today, even if you buy a diamond in another part of the world, the jeweler will likely use terms such as VVS1 or SI2, even if her language is French or Japanese instead of English.
What is a conflict diamond?
A blood diamond is a diamond mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, invading army’s war efforts, or warlord’s activity. The time period of the conflict was 1975-2001. Conflict Diamonds are un-cut or rough diamonds that have been used by rebel movements or their allies to finance “conflict” aimed at undermining legitimate governments. These diamonds are mined particularly in Africa, where two-thirds of the world’s diamonds are extracted. The proportion of conflict diamond has always been very small and has been shrinking dramatically in recent years because of a variety of factors —including cease-fires in the Sierra Leone and Angola regions as well as reforms and new practices adopted by the diamond industry. Other names for conflict diamonds: blood diamond, converted diamond, hot diamond, or war diamond.
Throughout the 1990s, most of the world’s diamonds came from Africa, particularly regions undergoing civil unrest. Rebel armies in parts of Africa were exploiting alluvial diamond fields to fund their wars against established governments, putting people and the environment in the middle of their conflicts. Alluvial diamonds are found just inches to a few feet below the surface, making them easier to mine, but having an adverse impact on the environment. The people working these fields were often very young and subject to exploitation, with some losing their lives or becoming permanently maimed as wars raged around them. Hence, the term blood diamonds came into being to describe these types of gems.
The Kimberley Process
Today, 80 governments have adopted a system to control the export and import of rough diamonds mined from 2003 onward. Known as the Kimberley Process, it requires that each shipment of rough diamonds –before cutting and polishing – be placed in a tamper-resistant container and accompanied by a government-validated certificate. Each certificate is uniquely numbered and contains data describing the shipment’s contents.
Participating countries have pledged to impound shipments of rough diamonds from any nation that fails to subscribe to the standard. Shipments lacking proper certification will be treated in a similar way. The U.S. Customs is responsible for enforcement at American ports of entry.