Natural versus clarity enhanced diamonds
Naturally, diamonds are the ultimate in luxe. Unfortunately, however, not all of us are caught up on our gemological studies and may not be well equipped to select the perfect sparkler for our taste and price range. The quality of a diamond is dependent on many factors, but one particularly tricky aspect of diamond selection is the pros and cons of clarity enhancement. While clarity enhanced gems may achieve the same level of brilliance as untreated diamonds for a significantly lower price tag, they are sometimes perceived as an inferior product in the marketplace. Here is a brief, honest summary of clarity enhancement technique and the debate around it to help buyers select their perfect rock!
First, clarity refers to the number, color, size, and placement of inclusions – or imperfections – in the diamond. These inclusions are essentially cavities filled with unwanted substances. The goal, then, of the clarity enhancement process is to clean out the inclusions with one or more of the following three methods.
Photo courtesy of Yehuda Diamond Company
Deep boiling is the only process sanctioned by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). This type of enhancement works for black inclusions that reach the surface of the diamond. It involves boiling the diamonds in a unique acidic solution under deep pressure to eradicate all the black compound, but not actually filling in the cavity. Because this procedure is so cheap and widespread today, most diamond manufacturers just deep boil a whole batch of diamonds before sorting through them as part of the production process. This is the least invasive and most common of all the methods, and there is no stigma associated with it.
This procedure is appropriate for diamonds that have black inclusions that don’t reach the surface of the diamond. With the use of a laser beam, a microscopic hole is burned into the diamond to reach the black inclusion. After the drilling, the inclusion is then deep boiled to remove the black carbon inside. In its wake, however, is left a small but noticeable “tunnel” or a less noticeable thin plane.
Fracture filling refers to filling the inclusion cavity with a patented secret compound pioneered in 1982 by Israeli scientist Tzvi Yehuda. This procedure works best for “feather” inclusions, which are generally clean and become almost invisible when filled with the special solution. Because the drilling reaches the inclusion below the surface of the diamond and thus allows the solution to penetrate it, fracture filling is often done as the second step after laser drilling.
Photo courtesy of Chicago Diamond District
Clarity enhancement remains controversial in the diamond industry for a few reasons and there is a certain stigma attached to buying them. It is often only the most unscrupulous of diamond dealers who actually sell them (not counting Yehuda diamonds). And because the special solution used in fracture filling melts at a low temperature, the diamond’s enhancement can come undone or be shattered under the jeweler’s torch. Finally, most gem-certifying laboratories do not rate them, thus making it harder for the consumer to make a fair and balanced decision when comparing enhanced diamonds with natural diamonds.
However, clarity enhanced diamonds do hold the appeal of a smaller price tag while not compromising on sparkle. Being able to pay significantly less for such a big ticket item is enough to convince some people – especially if it’s nearly impossible to tell that the diamond has been enhanced in any way!
The bottom line is that consumers should be aware of their options in order to maximize their full purchasing power. Whether buying enhanced or natural diamonds, knowing what’s out there can make the whole shopping experience more enjoyable and successful.
Ira Weissman is a diamond industry veteran with a decade of experience at one of the world's largest diamond polishers. He has traveled the world buying and selling diamonds and now dedicates his time to helping consumers make the most of their diamond buying decisions. He has been featured on Anderson Cooper, CNBC, The Huffington Post, and has been quoted by MarketWatch, The Village Voice, and BankRate. Visit Truth About Diamonds to educate yourself about diamonds.