For as long as I can remember, my “go to diamond“ has always been a GIA graded “HI/SI” diamond. For those not overly familiar with the terminology of diamond grading, this refers to a GIA color grade of “H” to “I” color and a GIA clarity grade range of “SI1” to “SI2”. In my professional opinion, with a lifetime career of analyzing diamonds with respect to their beauty and brilliance, the diamonds that were within this GIA grade range “offered” the best balance of beauty and price.
I use the past tense because my opinion and recommendation has changed. This is the result of a change in GIA grading standards. When I was in school there was talk of “grade inflation” which referred to the fact that “A”s and “B”s had become more of the average as teachers pushed up their grading curve. Well, the same thing has happened over the past few years at the GIA. Whether the result of an intentional shift in standards or an occurrence resulting from multiple GIA laboratory locations where standards became more relaxed, today’s GIA reports are inflated when compared to the old GIA standard.
One reason for the change in GIA grading standards is the rise of diamond production in India and the fact that many diamonds are graded of the GIA laboratory in Mumbai, India. This is often discussed among diamond dealers with regard to whether there is corruption within the GIA system in India or just weak oversight of GIA standards. It should me noted that the majority of diamonds are now being produced (cut, polished and certified) in India even though many diamond sellers might misrepresent this fact.
it used to be true that a “SI” grade diamond was a “nice” diamond in the majority of cases. By definition, a “SI” clarity grade is defined as a diamond with “minor inclusions somewhat easily seen under 10x power magnification but not apparent to the naked eye”. Within the SI grade there is a distinction between “SI1” and “SI2” grades. This referred to the size and nature and location of the inclusions. A “SI1” clarity grade was almost always a nice diamond. The pricing differential between a “SI1” and “SI2” is significant. It was possible to locate a beautiful diamond was graded “SI2”. This latter category of beautiful “SI2”s were my mission.
The idea of a beautiful “SI2” has become a rarity. Many diamonds with black carbon center inclusions that previously fell within the “I1” (Imperfect) grade are now being certified by GIA as “SI” clarity. Additionally, many diamonds that contain multiple inclusions or “more than minor inclusions” that would have been classified as “I1” are also falling within the “SI” grades today. This is most definitely true of recently graded “SI2” graded diamonds and many “SI1” graded diamonds as well.
While it is still possible to find a pleasing and nice “SI2” graded diamond, this is a much more difficult task than it was just a few years ago. I would guess that it is the rare one or two percent of “SI2” graded diamonds that I could recommend.
So where does that leave us today?
Firstly, with regard to my opinion of color, it is still my opinion that a GIA color grade of “H” or “I” is sufficient. This is particularly true with regard to round diamonds. A fancy shape diamond may sometimes require stepping up the color. A round diamond that falls within the “H” or “I” color grade will almost always face up as a beautiful white diamond. Honestly, in a round diamond with a GIA “Excellent” cut grade, I have seen many GIA “J” and “K” color diamonds that I would recommend.
With regard to my current clarity recommendations, I now advise staying away from “SI2” graded diamonds. I advise purchasing a GIA “VS2” and “SI1″ clarity diamond. This recommendation is made with a cautionary note that even a ‘VS2” graded diamond, as true with any diamond, must be looked at on an individual basis as not all “VS2″s should be purchased simply based on the grading report.
With regard to current GIA grading standards, a diamond that is graded as “SI1” is usually a much nicer diamond than that which is graded “SI2”. Although one may think that the pricing differential is greater between a “VS” grade and a “SI” grade, the largest pricing differential between any two GIA clarity grades is actually that between “SI1” and “SI2”. As market pricing is based on the beauty of a diamond as well as market demand, it is fair to say that the “SI1” grade is significantly nicer and is more desirable than a “SI2” clarity diamond and this is the reason for the pricing differential.
This does not mean that I would advise against buying a better quality diamond. I certainly respect any one who has an appreciation of quality and is willing to purchase a very fine diamond. After all, there are reasons why a more expensive diamond is more expensive! Conversely, this does not mean that a “SI2” clarity diamond is never a beautiful diamond. However, one must be aware that such a “SI2” diamond is rare and understand that a “top SI2” diamond comes with a “premium price” as compared to the others.
My offered opinion and recommendation is made with regard to a proper balance of quality and price – in an effort to help the buyer get what I view as “the best bang for the buck” without making a “wrong” choice and ending up with a diamond that fails to achieve the scintillation and sparkle and brilliance for which a diamond is valued.
No matter the price range or the size range, the buyer must never lose sight of the fact that it is the beauty of a diamond that makes it cherished and precious.
In many of my previous blog posts, I have discussed the “price” vs. “quality” issues of purchasing a diamond. It is my strong opinion that any diamond buyer who purchases a diamond simply based on lowest price is cheating himself. There are reasons why there are significant price differentials in diamonds of the same GIA grade. This is true whether you are considering “SI” graded diamonds or “VS” graded diamonds.
Although I offer you my advice as to my recommended GIA diamond grades, I urge you to use your eyes to see what the diamond truly looks like – to the naked eye and under magnification. Every diamond is unique and should be examined and evaluated and should not be purchased just by referencing a diamond grading report.
And as I have stated many times before, I urge you to put your trust in a someone who understands diamonds more than you ever will and wants to help you to acquire a beautiful diamond.