Certified Diamonds are now Commonplace in the Market
The marketing of certified diamonds is a fairly recent concept. In the past, diamonds were mostly bought and sold without grading reports. Historically the diamond trade used a range of grading terminology. We would describe a diamond using phrases such as “Top River,” “Fine White” and “Wesselton”, amongst others.
Today we have diamond grading laboratories. This is mainly due to the rise in demand for information. So certified diamonds have become the norm. Now the terminology used in grading is more standardised. Across the trade we use terms like “VS1” clarity and “D” colour. See the chart below for the grading terms now adopted globally.
Using the same terminology is a good starting point. Unfortunately it does not mean each lab applies the same quality levels. This has caused problems for both consumers and the jewellery industry.
What Options Are Available for Having a Diamond Certified?
As we see it there are five basic levels of diamond grading standards, but not all are possible options in every marketplace:
The American Gemological Society (AGS)
Considered by many to be highest possible laboratory standard of certification. This lab has limits to its capacity to certify a volume of diamonds, as it is quite small. The AGS issues very detailed reports. For this reason they can’t service the whole jewellery trade. Generally only the biggest and best diamonds are sent to the AGS. Cutters often also send large diamonds to the GIA for a second assessment. Having a second opinion would obviously be very important if you have a million dollar diamond in your sights.
We seldom see AGS reports on diamonds in Australia, simply because they certify far fewer diamonds than the GIA. We can supply diamonds with an AGS certificate, if that is your requirement. However, this will limit your choice of diamonds. This is not the greatest idea if you want the best outcome.
We are always happy to advise on available options with full AGS certification, if it is all you will consider.
The Gemological Institute Of America (GIA)
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA). This is a grading lab with offices around the world, although not in Australia. The GIA has the capacity to grade the largest numbers of diamonds each year. It is the most recognised grading lab in the jewellery trade for this reason. The trade considers the GIA’s system and standards to be the “industry standard” for certified diamonds. It is most likely that the diamonds sold with certification in Australia will be GIA. You must ask to be sure.
Labs With Similar Standards to the GIA:
Some labs are close to the GIA standard in their grading for colour and clarity. We consider the AGS, GIA, HRD and IGI, G-Cal (among a few others) to be “first tier” international laboratories. Differences do however exist between each. If in doubt stick to GIA and understand what and how they grade.
GIA certified diamonds are the diamonds that we deal with the most here at Ellissi. It is a basic assessment. We do not rely solely upon it to make a decision of true best quality.
The European Gemological Laboratory (EGL)
When we compare the GIA standards to the standards of other grading laboratories, some labs are known to be very different in the way they assess grades. The EGL (Europe) falls into this category. Often their assessments are out by two or three grades. For example, a diamond graded as D or E by the EGL could be F or G if sent to the GIA. It is not exactly a case of incorrect grading. It is just that the rules they apply differ, allowing more latitude.
Is This a Problem for Consumers?
Diamond merchants fully understand the way the grading system is. They can use it to obtain better looking grades for average diamonds. Or, if they have a good clean diamond, they will most likely get the GIA to certify it. If the diamond is borderline, some cutters may send it to two labs. Then use the paperwork that looks best.
The EGL have said that they are taking steps to redress this issue. They are re-organising their grading labs and are re-training their gemologists to improve grading standards. Certified diamonds from the EGL should be treated with caution.
Local laboratories may have diamond grading standards that vary. There are minimal laws regulating the industry. Virtually anyone can grade diamonds and sell their services to the public. The certification they produce may or may not be of a high standard. Few have international recognition. Some align themselves to the same principles as the GIA. However, it is hard to be sure of the standard of their certified diamonds, unless you are already an expert in diamonds.
Some Australian Labs are Aligned With the GIA Grading Standards:
In Australia labs like AUSCERT / DCLA and BAUER are examples of grading laboratories that are basically aligned with GIA standards.
The Australian labs are quite small in number and staffing levels, mainly because so many diamonds are imported with existing certification already. It would also be true to say that the demand for certification worldwide means then GIA has to a large extent cornered the market. There is little chance of Australian labs growing in scale unless consumers gain trust in them and or start demanding non GIA diamonds. An unlikely situation we would think.
Having no certification does not mean that a diamond is no good. It just means that it has not been sent to a laboratory for a grading report. The cost of certification can be factor in this. But also no GIA lab exists in Australia which makes certification by the GIA of diamonds already in Australia a problem. Loose diamonds imported as “parcel stock” are usually uncertified.
It must be remembered that certification is a relatively recent “must have.” Ten to fifteen years ago, few diamonds were certified. Demand to quantify diamonds for ring buyers has been a driving force in the rise of certification.
Understanding Diamond Grading
The basis on which a diamond has been graded should always be understood. You cannot make a judgement on value for money without looking at who is grading the diamond.
Sound advice is critical to avoid a costly mistake. Diamond grading is an opinion about the quality of a diamond. This is the case regardless of the laboratory concerned. We can accurately measure some aspects of the diamond such as the carat weight and mm diameter. But grading labs cannot measure many other quality elements precisely. Colour for example, is something that we all see differently. So too can interpretation of a diamond’s clarity differ.
For more information about issues with diamond certification, including grading inconsistencies, click on the following link: beware dodgy diamonds.
Diamond Grading Chart
D is the highest colour grade a diamond can achieve. In fact this means the diamond will have no body colour (tint you could say). Or at least almost zero compared to E, which is the next grade down.
A diamond that has a grade of D is colourless or white. This does not mean the diamond will have no visual colour. Refraction in white diamonds is potentially the full range of the visual spectrum. Think here of the rainbow spectrum of colours. This is assisted with improved cut.
Factors That Influence Colour:
Additional colour in diamonds can also be seen in reflection. Either from the ring mount or other external factors. Sunlight, blue or grey sky, possibly and quite likely even the shirt or dress the viewer is wearing. When you are looking closely at a diamond, either with the eye or with magnification, you will see the reflection of the tools you are using to view the diamond and your skin tone. It is for this reason you will never see a professional diamond grader in a yellow shirt unless on their day off!
The level of tint in a diamond increases as you progress through the alphabet. This is from no tint at all to very strong colour. Once you get to X-Y the “Fancy” grades begin, Fancy light yellow (FLY) for example.
No internal or external inclusions. This clarity grade is rarely seen in jewellery due to the fact that it is not available in all cut types and sizes. Added to that is the simple matter of price. This is a very, very costly level to be in for certified diamonds.
IF – Internally Flawless.
Pretty self explanatory really, nothing at all internally with regard to inclusion levels. It may have some slight external features present, however these will be really, really tiny.
VVS1 – Very Very Slight inclusions.
This is the first level with inclusions present within the diamond. The inclusions are very, very tiny. These inclusions are not visible to the eye. This grade is way above what we regard as necessary. You simply pay more for something that you cannot see and has no visual impact on the diamond at all.
VVS2 – Very Very Slight Inclusions.
As the number indicates this is the second level of VVS. This is a very, very high level for clarity. Certified diamonds of round brilliant cut are often very costly in this level and above. However other cut types often turn up in VVS2 at more reasonable costs. So depending on cut type it may not be out of price range.
VS1 – Very Slight Inclusions 1.
This grade is the highest level anyone really needs to go in general across all cut types. This is because VS1 inclusions are too small for the eye to see without magnification. Put it simply… Why pay more for something you cannot see a visual benefit in?
VS2 – Very Slight Inclusions 2.
One step down from VS1. Again in most cases completely clean to the eye, however in some diamonds and diamond cut types VS2 may not be so good. In this grade it is more likely that inclusions will be larger in the crown than the central table area. Although again I must stress that we do not take anything for granted in diamond grading.
SI1 – Slight Inclusions 1.
In this grade, some “Slight Inclusions” are present. If we select in the top end of the grade, these are not visible to the eye. A great SI1 is a great diamond. It will give the best balance for size, without the highest price tag. The bottom end of the SI1 grade can be not good at all. This is where great diamond selection by a professional is critical.
In most cases this grade is not so nice for a Emerald, Asscher, Baguette or Carre type cuts, because they have fewer facets. You will need a certified diamond at VS2 minimum in most cases for those less faceted diamonds if it is to be your main diamond.
SI2 – Slight Inclusions 2.
SI2 is a level that is not out of question. If you are willing to compromise on standards a little, this grade can be fruitful to look in. This can save some money or give rise to larger sizes. It is possible (with good contacts) for jewellers to find beautiful certified diamonds in this grade. It is more difficult to find great diamonds in this grade than higher grades, but worth it if you allow us to spend the time to really hunt down the best options.
You may also be able to have a higher colour grade as a result of dropping clarity levels. Once down in the clarity levels of SI (1 or 2) it is far more critical to select wisely. The further down then grade levels you go in certified diamonds, the more likely it is you will be putting a “train smash” on the finger.
I1 – Perceptible Inclusions 1.
The GIA call the lowest clarity in the certified diamond scale “I” 1,2 and 3. You may also hear P1,2 or 3 as a term commonly in use. Either way we are talking about the three bottom rungs in the grading of diamonds. P1 on occasion throws up a very nice example. A large inclusion visible to the eye, but maybe not so obvious at arm’s length. It may be possible to get a reasonable diamond in I1…just. However, when you view them under a jewellers loupe, most are not good.
I2 – Perceptible Inclusions 2.
Generally not good at all. These are often sold in lower end retail chain stores, simply to get the cost right down to a minimum and still keep the carat weight up. Basically this is selling simply on the weight (1.00ct. etc) and low price. These are not a bargain offering.
I3 – Perceptible Inclusions 3.
Not much we can say as a positive about I3 apart from “Why bother at all?” Generally really terrible and not worthy of the engagement ring concept in my view. A diamond cutter is unlikely to seek certification for a diamond of this type. Its not like the grading certificate is really adding any positives to the diamond. In this grade and in “I2” it is not likely to be a certified diamond. Because certification will just confirm what we already know…a terrible choice…Don’t go there!