Clarity Grades on Diamond Grading Reports Occasionally Misleading

By Antoinette Matlins, PG

I was recently reading a jewelry industry thread on a social media site when the subject of clarity enhancement came up. One of the conversations led to a discussion regarding laser enhancement, a technique whereby one can laser down to an inclusion—usually black or dark in color—and then introduce hydrochloric acid into the stone. In some cases, the inclusion can be completely removed by the process, but in all cases, the flaw’s visibility is reduced. What I read in the posts, however, suggested that there is a general confusion about this enhancement process in terms of grades on lab reports and on pricing of such stones.
     First, it is important to know that the Gemological Institute of America (GIA)  grades diamonds that have been lasered to improve their appearance. However, herein lies the issue where consumers are concerned—and where people who are not knowledgeable about clarity grading can make a costly mistake.
     The grades shown on the GIA report for diamonds that have been lasered to reduce—or in some cases, remove the inclusion altogether—are grades that reflect clarity as the lab grader sees it after the lasering. Since the grader does not see the diamond being graded before it was lasered, they don’t know what the clarity characteristics were originally; that is, how many, what color, how large, and so on. They have no alternative except to grade the clarity as they see it—after the treatment.
     If assuming that lasering is not done unless there is an inclusion that mars the attractiveness and salability (something that is eye-visible) of the stone, which is usually black in color, one should have known from the start that the stone was a “problem stone.” I’ve seen stones with a short laser drill path under the table, and another off to the side with other inclusions, suggesting to me that I would probably have graded this stone as an I1 had I seen it prior to lasering. I work on the assumption that if it had not been visible it wouldn’t have been lasered. The grade on the GIA report was SI1 because the grader couldn’t make “assumptions” and must assign a grade based on type, placement, number, color and so on, as he sees it. So, even though the laser paths are there, the overall picture may represent a rarer grade to the grader. Depending on the year in which a report was issued, the word “laser” or “laser path(s)” will appear on any GIA report for a lasered diamond, but it does not appear alongside the clarity grade. It appears in another place on the report, under “key to the symbols.”
     A knowledgeable buyer immediately looks at the key to the symbols in order to familiarize him/herself with what is in the stone and to look for these characteristics when they check the stone against the report. The moment they see the word “laser” they know that the grade shown is based on its appearance after lasering and differs from its original appearance; which would have been less desirable.
     For me, the final proof that lasering improves the clarity grade shown on reports is found in the cost at which lasered stones are sold in the wholesale trade. This is much less than another diamond with the same grade which does not have the comment indicating it has been lasered. A knowledgeable buyer expects to pay between 30–60 percent less, depending on how many laser paths are evident in the stone.
     There is nothing wrong with lasered diamonds—the improvement is permanent as long as you pay an appropriate price. The reality is that a lasered stone is less rare than one with the same grade that was created by nature. Lasering isn’t a bad thing and offers an attractive alternative for those with a limited budget. If the buyer pays the right price it may be a way to get a larger or whiter diamond within the same budget.
     While there is nothing wrong with someone buying a lasered diamond, there is a problem resulting from unscrupulous sellers who have discovered that selling lasered diamonds offers an unusually easy way to exploit the unknowing. These sellers can show customers stones with authentic GIA reports, point out the clarity grade, then show them a Rapaport price report (a wholesale diamond price report used by the trade) that indicates a significantly higher price for a diamond of the “same quality;” underscoring the bargain they are offering. Usually the buyer doesn’t bother to read the entire report, so even if they see the word “laser” they don’t necessarily know what it means.
     All too often, people buy on the internet, or in the wholesale market, and fall victim to such ploys. Even if the buyer pays an appropriate price for what they really get, it doesn’t change the fact that they were misled into thinking they got something better. And just as unfortunate, it hurts the reputable jeweler who is accurately representing and pricing what they are selling. In short, this gives the unscrupulous an unfair advantage over the honest jeweler. Let’s help spread the word about lasered diamonds, and other enhancements that are being improperly represented to unsuspecting buyers.