How do you find a diamond with eye-clean clarity that fits your budget? This is where clarity enhanced diamonds come in.
Clarity enhanced diamonds are natural diamonds that have undergone treatments to improve their appearance and make flaws less noticeable.
Clarity enhancement is a divisive topic in the jewelry industry. Some view it as an acceptable technique to make diamonds more affordable. Others argue that it misrepresents the product and affects value.
In this article, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about enhanced diamonds. As a GIA certified jeweler with over 20 years of experience, I’ve helped many couples navigate this decision. I’ll share an expert perspective on what clarity enhancement means, the pros and cons, and whether it may be right for your needs. My goal is to give you full clarity on clarity enhancement!
What Are Clarity Enhanced Diamonds?
Enhanced diamonds are natural diamonds that have been altered to reduce the visibility of internal flaws and improve transparency. They undergo specialty treatments designed to fill in cracks or alter the appearance of inclusions inside the stone.
There are two main types of clarity enhancement:
Fracture Filling: This involves filling natural fractures and cracks with a clear resin or glass material to make them less noticeable. Diamonds with significant carbon spots on their surface may also have a coating applied. The resin has a similar refractive index to diamond, so it blends in.
Laser Drilling: With this technique, a laser is used to drill tiny holes into the diamond to reach dark or light-obstructing inclusions. The diamond is then soaked in acid which seeps into the laser holes and bleaches the discoloration. The result is whiter and brighter.
Both techniques make it possible to take lower clarity diamonds and transform them into eye-clean, vibrant gems. The treatments minimize visual distractions and enable light to pass cleanly through the diamond. Clarity improved diamonds can achieve the same dazzling appearance as naturally flawless diamonds that would cost far more.
From the naked eye perspective of the average person, they look identical to pristine untreated diamonds. Only under 10X magnification would the enhancement work potentially be noticed. That’s why they offer such an intriguing opportunity for budget-minded diamond buyers.
Despite their prevalence in the market today, clarity improved diamonds are controversial. Some jewelers refuse to carry them. Others only do so reluctantly and with ample disclaimers about their limitations. Where does this apprehension come from?
There are a few key concerns that contribute to the debate on clarity enhancement:
Are they “real” diamonds?
Some argue that the treatments mean the diamonds no longer represent the “real thing”. But others counter that they remain natural diamonds, with only minor modifications.
Impact on durability and longevity.
There are valid worries that artificial filling and drilling weaken the diamond and make it more prone to damage. The enhancements are not permanent.
Resale value concerns.
Diamonds with enhancements often have lower resale value compared to untreated diamonds of the same grade. Not all buyers will feel comfortable purchasing them.
Ethics of disclosure.
Clarity enhancement must be disclosed, but critics argue buyers are not always made adequately aware before purchase.
These are reasonable issues. Clarity improvement does alter the natural state of the diamond.
However, when purchased with eyes wide open to the pros and cons, clarity treatments arguably offer a legitimately more affordable option without sacrificing beauty.
The Enhancement Process Demystified
To better understand clarity enhancement, let’s look at the steps involved in the two main types of treatment:
1. The candidate diamond is carefully analyzed by gemologists to identify internal fracture planes and map out the optimal enhancement approach.
2. Next, the diamond undergoes a cleaning process to remove any oily residue or dirt from the surface and interior.
3. The diamond is attached to a conducting dop stick and heated to over 300 degrees Celsius. This causes the diamond lattice to expand and fractures to open up.
4. Under high pressure, an optically clear resin with similar light refracting properties to diamond is infused into the open fracture planes.
5. After cooling and curing of the resin, the dop stick is removed and excess resin on the surface polished away. What remains are fractures filled with resin.
6. The diamond’s new clarity grade is assessed by gemologists, now with its improved appearance. It receives a clarity grade of Fracture Filled or Clarity Enhanced.
1. Like with fracture filling, mapping of inclusions takes place to determine the drilling approach.
2. A laser tip is aimed at the inclusion from the surface of the diamond. The laser essentially burns a microscopic channel down to the inclusion.
3. The diamond is soaked in sulfuric acid, which bleaches the inclusion through the channel created by laser drilling.
4. Further cleaning removes discoloration from the surface where drilling took place. A boiling process expands the drilling channel to ensure access.
5. The clarity improved diamond receives a new clarity grade and the laser drilled passageways are mapped on an inclusion plotting diagram.
As you can see, the process involves precision work by experienced gemologists. Lasers and chemistry transform the diamond, but maintains its natural core.
The Pros of Buying Diamonds with Clarity Enhancement
Turning a diamond with noticeable imperfections into a more visually flawless stone offers some potential advantages:
More affordable diamonds with high clarity grade
Treated diamonds can achieve VS or even VVS clarity grades at a fraction of the normal cost. The savings compared to a flawless untreated diamond are typically 30-50%. This can mean a larger, better quality diamond is possible on a budget.
Minimized visual distractions
Laser drilling and fracture filling do effectively improve the transparent appearance of diamonds, removing dark spots and opaque flaws from view. The diamond faces up whiter and brighter.
Ideal cut and carat may be possible
With clarity enhancement, compromises on cut and size to get better clarity become unnecessary. It’s possible to have the best of all worlds.
Matching pairs and sets
Clarity enhancement makes it more feasible to obtain perfectly matched pairs like side stones or intricate sets like the eternity band. Untreated matching diamonds are extremely expensive.
Availability of virtually flawless diamonds
There is a limited supply of naturally flawless diamonds, but enhancement creates an abundant source of eye-clean gems. More people gain access to the highest clarity.
Beautiful, less expensive engagement rings
For couples on a budget, clarity treated diamonds allow for stunning engagement rings at discounted cost. Savings can be allocated to a larger center diamond carat weight.
Strong chemical bonds
Modern resin fillers form strong chemical attachments to the diamond surface and penetrate well for durable results. Laser holes are also reasonably stable.
Clarity enhancement is arguably an ingenious way to amplify a diamond’s natural sparkle and beauty in a scientific manner. A diamond remains a diamond.
The Cons of Buying Diamonds with Clarity Enhancment
However, clarity enhancement also comes with limitations and risks buyers should factor:
Lower resale value
Like most treatments, enhancement lowers the market value of a diamond somewhat. This should be accounted for in appraisals. Plan on a resale price of about 20-50% less than an equivalent untreated diamond.
No diamond is indestructible, but modified diamonds do require more care. The glass or resin in fracture fillings impact structural integrity. Lasers leave external entry points vulnerable to chipping.
Steam cleaning and ultrasonic cleaning can dislodge filler resin. Hydrofluoric acid used by some jewelers can dissolve filler. Even soapy water cleaning requires caution.
Laser drilling imperfections
Though tiny, the laser holes are permanent. Inclusions opened by drilling may generate new internal fractures.
Some older filling agents can deteriorate over time. For example, Opticon resin filler from the 1980s may discolor decades later. Improved durability is seen with newest fillers.
Although required, clarity enhancement disclosures are sometimes inadequate according to critics. Make sure any enhancement is clearly documented, preferably with a lab report.
No added value
Unlike treatments that permanently alter the diamond on a molecular level, like irradiation, clarity enhancement does not elevate market value. Extra care is required.
Some buyers still turn up their noses at treated diamonds, even though the treatments have become commonplace and advanced. If reselling, enhancement must be disclosed.
As you can see, there are valid reasons you might hesitate before purchasing an treated diamond. However, many of the cons come down to proper education and setting expectations. When you’re fully aware of its implications before purchase, most of these cons can be anticipated and accepted.
How Should I Shop for Enhanced Diamonds?
If you decide clarity enhancement makes sense for you, here are some tips for finding and vetting treated diamonds:
- Stick to reputable sellers with expertise in treated diamonds. They should provide transparent documentation and be willing to answer all questions. Ideally, the diamond should come with an enhancement certificate from the treatment company.
- Ask for an independent appraisal and documentation of the clarity grade after enhancement. You want to know the exact grade the diamond has been improved to.
- Look for diamonds graded after enhancement by respected labs like GIA or AGS. This provides extra assurance the diamond has been evaluated by impartial experts.
- Clearly understand the type of treatment used (laser drilling or fracture filling). Fracture filling cannot resolve black carbon crystal inclusions.
- Review seller policies on returns, warranties, repairs, and replacement of damaged enhanced diamonds. Enhanced diamonds are more vulnerable to chipping, so protection helps.
- Search for phrases like “buy clarity enhanced diamonds” or “ buy laser drilled diamonds.” Many retailers specially market these as a more budget-friendly alternative to flawless diamonds.
- Don’t assume all affordable, eye-clean diamonds are untreated! Ask whether clarity enhancement was performed and request documentation.
As an example, see the difference between these two GIA-graded round brilliant diamonds:
|Clarity Enhanced Diamond:
|Carat Weight: 1.50 carats
Clarity Grade: VS2
Color Grade: G
|Carat Weight: 1.50 carats
Clarity Grade: VVS2 (laser drilled)
Color Grade: G
The enhanced diamond achieved a higher clarity grade, has an equivalent cut and color grade, but costs 50% less!
For many buyers, this is a trade-off worth making. As long as they understand the clarity enhancement and take proper precautions, they secure tremendous value.
Caring for Your Treated Diamond
One of the top priorities with diamonds that have been enhanced is appropriate care and cleaning. So before you buy one, here are some of my top care tips, so you can decide if you want to take on the the extra responsibility and maintenance:
- Avoid heat exposure from sources like ovens and furnaces. The resin filler can expand and dislodge under high temperatures.
- Ultrasonic cleaners and steam cleaners should not be used. The vibrations and hot steam can loosen filler.
- Skip the jewelry cleaners and acids some jewelers use. These chemicals are often too strong.
- Clean your diamond only using a soft lint-free cloth and warm soapy water, or specialty diamond jewelry cleaner.
- Take care to avoid impacts that could chip the diamond. The external entry points of laser drilled diamonds are vulnerabilities.
- Remove your diamond before strenuous work like gardening, heavy cleaning, mechanical work, etc.
- Have your diamond professionally cleaned once a year by your jeweler to keep it looking its sparkling best.
Proper prudent care and these precautions will help safeguard your investment and allow you to enjoy your diamond with confidence.
In summary, clarity enhancement still remains somewhat controversial, but has gained wider acceptance in recent decades. It can provide an avenue to more beautiful and affordable diamond purchases.
It also means accepting their limitations in terms of longevity, resale value and special care requirements.
As an experienced jeweler, I recommend them to buyers on tighter budgets – who value size, sparkle and initial appearance, rather than value and investment.
My advice, if you want an untreated diamond, focus your budget on the best color, cut and clarity combination you can afford.
If you want size and visual appeal, enhancement merits consideration.