Enhanced Diamonds: Are They Truly Worth Your Investment?

Some couples may find the price tag of high quality, natural diamonds out of reach for their engagement ring or anniversary gift. This is where enhanced diamonds come into play.

Enhanced diamonds are natural diamonds that have undergone treatments to improve their appearance. Common enhancements include laser drilling, fracture filling, and high-pressure high-temperature treatment. These treatments can enhance the clarity or color of a diamond but may affect its value and durability. It is important to disclose any enhancements when buying or selling enhanced diamonds.

As a GIA certified gemologist with over 20 years of experience in the diamond industry, I often get asked about enhanced diamonds. Are they “real”? Do they look as beautiful? Should I consider an enhanced diamond for my upcoming proposal?

This article will provide an in-depth examination of enhanced diamonds so you can make an informed decision when ring shopping. I’ll share insights on the enhancement techniques, pros and cons to weigh, price differences to expect, and my professional advice for buying these treated diamonds.

What Are Enhanced Diamonds?

An enhanced diamond, also referred to as treated or improved diamond, is a natural diamonds that has undergone processes to permanently alter or conceal certain imperfections in clarity or color.

The most common enhancement techniques include:

  • Fracture filling: glass-like resin is injected into fractures to improve visibility of inclusions
  • Laser drilling: tiny holes are drilled into the diamond to reduce the prominence of dark inclusions
  • High pressure, high temperature (HPHT) treatment: applies intense heat and pressure to improve color
  • Irradiation: exposes diamond to radiation to induce a color change

Skilled gemologists use these techniques to improve a diamond’s clarity or color grade, potentially bumping it into a more desirable and valuable category. The effects are permanent and can offer consumers diamonds with the beauty and sparkle of higher grade diamonds, but at a lower price point.

How To Identify an Enhanced Diamond

Given the potential impact on value, it’s essential to determine whether a diamond has been enhanced. Here are some tips:

Examine under 10x magnification: Look for telltale signs of clarity enhancement like bubbles, etch marks, or resin in fractures. Modern treatments are designed to be invisible to the naked eye.

Request GIA or other lab certification: A credible grading report will denote if a diamond is “natural” or disclose any modifications. Check if the word “enhanced” appears on the certificate.

Ask the seller for documentation: A reputable jeweler will provide paperwork from the enhancement company detailing the process used and where it was performed.

Understand the grading report codes: According to GIA, a grade on the clarity report followed by three asterisks*** indicates a fracture-filled diamond. A grade followed by two asterisks** means the diamond has been laser drilled.

Enhancement Techniques: Fracture Filling and Laser Drilling

Now let’s explore the most prevalent methods of clarity enhancement: fracture filling and laser drilling.

What is Fracture filling?

Fracture filling is the process of injecting specially formulated glass-like resin into cavities, cracks, or “feathers” inside the diamond to make the imperfections less visible to the eye. The resin has a similar refractive index to diamond so that it essentially disappears under light.

This can transform glaring blemishes into far less noticeable inclusions. However, detectable air bubbles often remain, along with possible flash effect under light. And diamonds with large or clustered fractures near the culet are poor candidates for successful filling.

What is Laser Drilling?

With laser drilling, a laser burns tiny tunnels into the diamond extending to the inclusion. Then acid is applied to remove the inclusion itself. The tunnel is so narrow (think human hair) that depending on its placement, it can become nearly invisible. The drilling allows you to drop the diamond’s clarity grade and thus lower the cost per carat significantly.

However, this process causes irreversible damage to the stone. And over time, the tunnels may fill with debris and become more visible under magnification. The drilling weakens the gem and necessitates special care in repairs and cleaning.

What Enhancement Means for Price and Value

Let’s discuss the financial implications of buying enhanced diamonds. Clarity improved diamonds typically sell for 25% to 50% less than an untreated diamond with the same carat, color, cut and clarity specs! Since demand is lower, so is the resale price.

Why the discount? For one, there is permanent damage and weaknesses introduced into the stone. Secondly, the enhancements may need re-treatment after a number of years to remain invisible. Lastly, for buyers valuing the organic origins and rarity of the stone, an enhanced diamond lacks this appeal.

However, others see enhancement as an acceptable solution for improving gem quality and budget friendliness. If opting for an enhanced diamond, I recommend asking any jeweler to provide full disclosure of the treatment and GIA grading report. This protects the buyer against significant overpricing.

Color Enhancement: Radiation and Heat

Moving beyond clarity, color is the next prominent area where enhancement occurs. Diamonds come in every color but popular choices are colorless, near-colorless, and yellow/brown. Enhancement can turn unattractive browns or yellows into more desirable shades.

The most common techniques involve irradiation and HPHT. Irradiating a diamond through prolonged X-ray or gamma ray exposure adds electrons to the structure, inducing a color change. HPHT treatment uses over 2000°F temperatures under extreme pressure to alter the diamond’s optical properties.

One downside to color enhancement is that results may “relax” and fade over time after initial treatment. This means occasionally retreating the gemstone to maintain the desired hue. As always, insist on documentation with specifics on the process used and any disclosed coloring agents.

How Should Enhanced Diamonds Be Graded?

You may be wondering if enhanced diamonds are graded on the same GIA D-to-Z color scale and flawless-to-included clarity scale as natural diamonds. The answer lies in the fact that the treatment is now an inherent quality of the stone.

For clarity grade, most labs will insert “enhanced” or another descriptor word in front of the normal grade on the certificate. So you may see “Enhanced VVS2” as the clarity report. The identified enhancements are considered part of assessing the clarity.

For color grade, terminology will denote if the color change is natural or the result of enhancement. So you may see “Fancy Vivid Yellow, Irradiated and HPHT” as the color description. This reveals treatment was used.

Weighing the Pros and Cons as a Diamond Shopper

If debating enhanced diamonds either for savings or to score a larger stone, let’s examine some potential advantages and drawbacks through the eyes of a shopper.

Pros

A key pro is the chance to buy a diamond with better clarity or color than you could otherwise afford. If eye clean appearance matters most, fracture filling might give that flawless look for 30% less. If stuck with only pale diamonds in your budget, treatment opens up new color worlds.

Enhanced diamonds also work well for fashion jewelry meant for occasional, not everyday wear. If re-treatment is eventually needed, the lower original cost mitigates this inconvenience. Clarity enhancement also poses less risks for softer mountings like pendants or earrings where abrasion resistance is less crucial.

Cons

However, a con to weigh is that enhancement involves irreversible changes to the natural diamond. Resin injection and laser drilling permanently damage the integrity and composition of the stone. The treatments may also be visible under high magnification, just not the naked eye.

There are also durability concerns, especially for fracture filled diamonds. The resin bonds can dislodge during cleaning, ultrasonic treatment, or routine wear. Lasers drilling weakens the structural stability. And if enhancement is not disclosed, repairs can be problematic later on.

While an enhanced diamond can provide similar beauty as a costlier alternative, it does suffer from diminished value retention and a clouded sentimental legacy as an heirloom passed on. Enhanced diamonds pose risks – consider them wisely in your situation.

Guidance for Purchasing an Enhanced Diamond

My advice when venturing into enhanced diamonds is to partner with seasoned, credentialed jewelers who fully disclose treatments and provide supporting lab reports. Ask if the enhancement is permanent and whether re-treatment may eventually be advised.

Understand the gem’s special care requirements and repair policies. Enhancements like fracture filling can limit techniques for resizing or restyling later on. Confirm your jeweler will still work on enhanced diamonds. Also consider insurability – some may only cover the cost of a natural stone.

While enhanced diamonds don’t appeal to purists, they offer a compelling value proposition for many buyers. But always buy enhanced diamonds with eyes wide open, not through rose-colored glasses. Make choices aligned both to the head and heart. An educated diamond buyer is a happy one!

Key Takeaways

These treated gems can display improved clarity and color at more affordable price points. But as a savvy shopper, weigh the pros and cons and seek a seller committed to transparency. Enhanced diamonds are real, but also different – understanding what these differences mean empowers your quest for the perfect diamond.

Carl A. Jones, GIA GG

Carl A. Jones is a GIA Graduate Gemologist with over 20 years of experience in the diamond industry. He is an independent jewelry appraiser. He specializes in determining the value of diamonds and advising consumers on how to buy quality diamond jewelry.

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