Clarity Enhanced Diamonds – Avoid or Buy?

Clarity enhanced diamonds present a bit of a conundrum for buyers. On one hand, they are often spoken of as a cost-effective choice to purchase a larger carat diamond. But on the other hand, how they are enhanced and what that means for their long term integrity and value is often left out of the discussion. So what exactly are clarity enhanced diamonds? And should you consider buying one, or avoid them entirely?

What Are Clarity Enhanced Diamonds?

Natural, mined diamonds are created through a high pressure, high temperature process deep in the earth. So just about every single diamond that is mined will have some presence of inclusions or blemishes. Clarity enhanced diamonds are diamonds that show blemishes or inclusions to the naked eye in their natural state, but they’ve undergone treatment to reduce their visibility.

Diamonds that receive treatments for enhanced clarity likely had a clarity grade of I1, I2, or I3. These are often heavily included diamonds, so when they undergo treatment, they come out looking several quality grades higher in their clarity. These treatments impact the diamond’s appearance, durability, and value. But since this is done with diamonds of such low quality to begin with, the perceived better clarity comes at a cost.

To achieve clarity enhanced diamonds, these low quality diamonds are subjected to two main types of treatments that are used on a commercial scale: laser drilling and fracture filling. Each one leaves behind noticeable traces of its process and neither is a permanent fix for clarity enhancement.

Methods of Clarity Enhancing Diamonds

Laser Drilling

This is the most commonly used way to enhance the clarity of diamonds that have severe internal inclusions, such as dark crystals, that don’t reach the surface of the diamond. These inclusions most often appear as black. To treat the diamond, a microscopic hole is burned with a laser beam from the surface of the diamond, straight to the black inclusion inside the diamond. The tunnel created by the drill is meant to reach the internal inclusions in the shortest route while also staying as unnoticeable as possible.

Once a passageway has been created by the drill, the diamond is then either deep boiled to remove the black material from the inclusion, or an acidic chemical is introduced to dissolve and bleach the inclusion. The most common chemicals used are hydrofluoric acid and sulfuric acid. Once it has been boiled or bleached, the tunnel left behind by the drill may or may not be filled with a glass-like crystal.

In general, laser drilling does not weaken the structural integrity of the diamond to a serious extent. When proper drilling techniques are used, the only observable sign is a microscopic tunnel from the now empty inclusion to the surface. However, there is the chance they can fill again with debris over time if they aren’t filled with another material.

Some special techniques of laser drilling have emerged that leave planes or worm-like tunnels instead of a straight tunnel. These types of treatments are more unscrupulous as the channels are purposely made to resemble more natural imperfections instead of man-made ones from a treatment process.

Fracture Filling

This process involves filling the inclusion cavity with a microscopic amount of glass or liquid glass-like filler material, like silicone, into surface-reaching scratches and cracks. These types of surface-reaching cavities or feather inclusions can be removed through polishing, but it often leads to significant carat weight loss.

This method works well for open cavities and feather-type inclusions as they are generally clean and empty. In this procedure, the filler possesses similar optical properties of refraction to that of a diamond, so the imperfections become less visible after the liquid has solidified. It’s often combined with drilling in order to open up the buried inclusion for surface access to allow the solution to reach it.

The issue with this process is that the resulting diamond is no longer made of a uniform material since the filling substance has vastly different properties compared to the host. Diamonds are chemically inert and incredibly stable due to their crystalline lattice structure. The filling material has no such stability. They can degrade or even fall out in more extreme cases.

For diamonds with any of these treatments, the GIA won’t provide assessments or certifications because the treatment is considered to be temporary, which means the grading would also be temporary. If a clarity enhanced diamond comes with a certification, it is likely to be from a lab with dubious standards.

Are Clarity Enhanced Diamonds Worth It?

Clarity enhanced diamonds are most often marketed to highlight their lower price points for pretty looking diamonds. The problem is that in doing this, very low quality diamonds that have been treated for clarity enhancements are being presented as on par or equal to natural gem quality diamonds. So for this reason, it seems like they’re an incredible deal. It’s a false and misleading comparison to make.

Clarity enhancement procedures are never performed on mid to upper level quality diamonds because there would be no benefit. The process would simply replace an average looking natural inclusion with an average looking artificial inclusion. And the mid to upper level quality diamonds have many other features of the 4Cs already working in their favor.

Clarity enhanced diamonds are overpriced for what they are and are the perfect example of a diamond with a compromised structure. The integrity of the diamond itself is weakened from the drilling and filling, so their durability will not even be close to what you would expect of a diamond. There will always be increased risk of possible damage from wearing the ring, having it cleaned, or even professionally maintained.

What To Buy Instead

If the lower cost per carat is still appealing, a much better option would be lab-grown diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds are exactly the same as natural, mined diamonds except for where they are formed. Lab-grown diamonds are both chemically and visually the same as mined diamonds with the same sparkle, fire, and brilliance – they’re simply grown in a lab instead of underground.

Lab-grown diamonds possess all the strength and durability as natural diamonds as well as the variety of types of color, clarity, and carat weight. They also typically cost about 50-70% less than natural, mined diamonds. This cost differential is due to the combination of a few factors, but none of the reasons have to do with being lower in quality, which cannot be said for clarity enhanced diamonds.

And if lab-grown diamonds are not your thing, focus on spending some extra time to find a diamond with a lower clarity grade that still looks good to you. Always examine the diamond in person whenever possible, and focus on a great looking VS or SI clarity grade. By doing this, you won’t be sacrificing the integrity and durability of the diamond, and you’re not setting yourself up for suddenly having a different looking diamond a few years down the road.

In short, clarity enhanced diamonds are not a good choice for your engagement ring, or any diamond jewelry for that matter. They’re often incredibly overpriced for what they are, won’t stand the test of time, and there are far more viable options for finding a larger carat weight diamond at a lower cost. Steer clear of clarity enhanced diamonds and you’ll be thanking yourself later.

Lab grown round diamond

1 carat oval diamond, SI1 clarity

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