Black and white engagement ring photo
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You have lots to consider when purchasing an engagement ring: what type of metal she'll like, what style goes with her other jewelry, and what your budget will be. The single most important decision you'll make in the process, however, has to do with the stone, the focal point of the entire process. If you're considering a diamond for the ring of your beloved's dreams, you'll need to educate yourself on diamond clarity before handing over your credit card to the jewelry store. Here are the basics.

Industry Standards

The GIA clarity scale is the industry standard. This scale, created by the Gemological Institute of America, has 11 grades; what grade a diamond is given depends on the number, placement, and type of inclusions that particular gem has.

Okay Inclusions

Not all inclusions are created equal. Even though the GIA scale makes no differentiation between the types of inclusions, some are better for the appearance of the final stone (and your wallet!). Inclusions range from a dark dot in the stone to whisper thin cracks and cloudy white points.

The Facts About Blemishes

A blemish and an inclusion are different. While inclusions are imperfections found within the stone, a blemish is an imperfection found on the exterior of a stone. Imperfections cannot be removed without recutting the stone, while blemishes often can be smoothed away.

Study the Scale

Spend some time with the scale before you start shopping. A Flawless diamond (FL on the scale) means that no inclusions or blemishes are visible under 10x magnification. Internally Flawless (IF) means that there are no inclusions visible at 10x magnification, but a skilled grader could see blemishes at the strength. Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2) means that there are inclusions, but they are very difficult to see at 10x magnification. Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2) means that a skilled grader can see some minor inclusions at 10x magnification. Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2) means that a skilled grader can easily see inclusions at 10x magnification, but they may not affect the diamond's brilliance. Included (I1, I2, and I3) means that inclusions are very obvious under 10x magnification and can affect the sparkle you're after.

Best Value

To get the best value for your money, go to the middle of the diamond clarity chart. Very few stones are rated Flawless, so don't aim for that category unless you have some serious cash to put towards a ring. VVS and VS rated stones are a much better buy since the inclusions put them in a more affordable price range. Don't let the idea that there are inclusions in the diamond put you off: these imperfections are so small that they can only be see with a powerful microscope.

Want more details to help you find the best engagement ring? Start with our guide to engagement ring cuts.