When is Clarity not Clarity?

Clarity’s a simply enough concept, right? A stone is clean or not and it’s clarity is described in neat categories. Well, no, not really. Diamonds are one thing, with the scale running from Flawless to Included, but the similarly categorised scale for coloured gems is a bit more complicated. And if you think about it for one second, this makes perfect sense. Because with diamonds, clarity is a huge value-factor. It has to be accurate, reliable and valid. It has to be able to be taught so that everyone grading the stones is doing roughly the same thing. But coloured stones are different, and one of the biggest ways they differ is in terms of their clarity types. This is a system of classification developed by the GIA to describe the way in which some stones, above and beyond the level of clarity of an individual stone, are basically more included than others. It divides stones into 3 types, and each clarity grade means something different for each type. It goes like this:

Type I Stones:

Stones that are usually eye-clean. For example, aquamarine, chrysoberyl, smoky quartz and blue zircon (there are others). These are stones that it’s not hard to find in clean quality, and for these, a VS stone means an eye-clean stone with inclusions that can be seen under 10x magnification.

Type II Stones:

These are stones that are usually included. For example, corundum, garnet, iolite, peridot, tourmaline, amethyst. These are stones that will usually have some degree of inclusion, and for these, and a VS stone will likely have noticeable inclusions under 10x magnification and these may well be eye-visible.

Type III Stones:

These stones are almost always included, and yes emerald, I’m talking about you. Because it’s hard to find clean crystals the standards for a VS stone are pretty low and so a VS type III stone will have obvious inclusions at 10x magnification which will be likely eye-visible. Such stones are, yes, emerald and the red and pink tourmalines. As well as red beryl, not that we are likely to come across a lot of that!

All of this ought to be obvious, but I am aware that when we talk about stones, we get hung up on things like clarity and grades, whilst forgetting that sometimes clean stones are just not realistic. Stones are natural, they come out of the ground. The marks and trauma within tell the story of their birth. All of this should be celebrated and there’s a place for every kind of stone, however included. As with everything, information and disclosure is the key.

Below you can see how beautiful included stones can be. On the left is a ring made from a tourmaline bought by a customer. This was made by Custom Jewelry Co in Australia. This is an included tourmaline but it’s just beautiful, like a map of the world.

Aqua and pink tourmaline ring by Custom Jewelry Company

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Glittering Black Beauty

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It’s only relatively recently that black diamonds have become prized as gemstones in their own right. Traditionally either thrown away or used solely for industrial purposes, it’s really only in the past thirty or so years that they have come into their own. Now called ‘fancy blacks’, they began their popularity streak when designers started using them to contrast with colourless stones in pave settings and have got bigger and better ever since, in fact you might say they finally ‘arrived’ when Mr Big gave Carrie a 5 carat black diamond ring at the end of Sex and the City 2! Since then, there have been more high-profile black diamond engagement rings and of course, prices have risen in line with their popularity. They are unique stones, having the adamantine brilliance you’d expect from a diamond, despite the fact that they are black and opaque. They glitter, like mirrors, with a silvery lustre. Still, there are relatively few famous black diamonds, one of which is the Black Orlov which comes laden with the usual kind of myths and legends of curse and disaster.

GIA Black Orloff
The 67.50 ct Black Orlov diamond, set in a circle of colourless diamonds (image courtesy of GIA education)

But what is a black diamond? Conversations with customers over the years have told me that this gemstone is not well-understood. Natural black diamond is, in fact, simply diamond that is so included with mineral inclusions, such as haematite, pyrite and graphite that it appears black. It is also often criss-crossed with minute cleavages and fractures that are either stained black or have become black due to graphitisation (the formation of graphite due to a process too arcane for me to wrap my feeble head around). And in fact, a great deal of black diamond on the market is irradiated, so that the inclusions turn black. I always state the black diamond I sell as irradiated, as I am generally not sure and better to be safe than sorry…

The upshot of this is that black diamond is rather brittle, and it is this that causes confusion. Yes, diamond is hard; very hard. But hardness is not the same as toughness. Glass is hard but will shatter if you drop it; putty is soft but you can drop it and it will remain in one piece. Black diamond, filled with inclusions and riven with tiny fractures is pretty brittle. Don’t drop it, don’t – as a friend of mine did – slam it in a car door and do set it with care. You can also expect it to be rather prone to pitting, certainly on the base and around the girdle and often on the facets edges and corners. But if you can live with all that, you’ve got a gemstone like none other. Below, I love the contrast of the black and white diamonds, accentuated by the use of silver and oxidised metals in this Coco & Chia stacking ring set.

Coco & Chia Black & White Diamond Stacking Ring Set
Coco and Chia Black & White Diamond Stacking Ring Set, $265

You can clearly see, top, the included nature of black diamonds in this beautiful rose cut black diamond ring from Lex Luxe – you can actually identify the blackened, frondlike clouds of inclusions. Another option from this jeweller is this black and white diamond cuff bracelet, with the contrasting colours offset by oxidised metal. And, right, just because it’s black, doesn’t have to go in white metal; this black diamond cluster ring (bottom) by Ferkos Fine Jewelry is set in 14k gold.

Lex Luxe rose cut black diamond engagement ring
Lex Luxe Rose Cut Black Diamond Cluster Ring, $1495

Lex Luxe black and white diamond bracelet
Lex Luxe Black and White Diamond Cuff Bracelet, $478

Ferkos Fine Jewelry engagement ring
Ferkos Fine Jewelry Black Diamond Cluster Ring, $238.50

At Joopy Gems we carry rose cut black diamonds in a range from 3mm-5mm. These are sized pretty precisely as small differences make a disproportionate difference in terms of price when the carat price is high. The 3mm and 4mm stones are of slightly higher quality than the other sizes but you can expect the odd pit and fracture as is normal with this stone. To browse the entire range, click here.

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Blowing my own trumpet

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Well, it’s a bit of blowing my own trumpet, but it’s in the name of giving you, my brilliant customers, some extra reassurance. Before the summer, I passed my GIA Gem Identification module, the last part of my Coloured Stones qualification. This was a completely practical, hands-on module, which involved the identification of 500 stones. These came in boxes of 20, posted from the GIA. I had to fill out a worksheet, scan and send back to my tutor in the US and pass each worksheet before moving on to the next one. As you might imagine, this took a little while. One year, to be precise, of late nights, early mornings, scrambled brains and inspiration. I learned so much over this time, not just how to separate different stones, but how to tell a synthetic from a natural, and even what kind of synthetic. This has been especially helpful in giving me confidence to offer precious stones; rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Finally I had to sit an exam, with a proctor approved by the GIA; identify 20 stones. You’ve got 6 hours, and by the way, you’ve got to get them all right to pass. Yes, that’s right; this exam has a 100% passing grade. And I did it! I passed! First time! I am still reeling with joy! So I now have my Coloured Stones qualification and I am starting the last few diamonds modules, after which I will be a fully fledged Graduate Gemologist. Loving my studies!

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