Update: This article was originally written in December 2009. In January 2011, I added another five vendors’ earrings to the review. This time I hired Depuhl Photography to take the necessary photographs. So you will definitely see a difference in photo quality between the first four vendors and the last five.
This article contains two main parts. In Part I, I will present the results of my research I to determine which online diamond vendor offers the highest quality diamond earrings (studs) for the best value. In Part II, I will present general guidelines to be followed when buying diamond earrings in terms of the desired qualities (specific for studs) of color, clarity, and cut.
Bottom Line Recommendation: Quality requirements for diamond stud earrings can be significantly relaxed when compared to diamonds to be set in engagement rings. This is due to the fact that the average distance at which they are viewed is notably farther than the distance at which engagement rings are viewed. Additionally, due to the added viewing distance, many stones for engagement rings that aren’t considered eye-clean can be considered eye-clean for diamond studs.
If you want to “build your own” pair of studs by choosing stones online, you’ll need some help making sure the two stones match, and making sure you’re not spending too much on features that will go to waste. Please don’t hesistate to contact me with any questions. I’ll gladly look through inventory online and send you recommendations of specific stones.
If you want to buy already matched and set diamond earrings at a fixed price, then see below where I compare the diamond stud offerings of the six largest (and in my opinion, best) online diamond vendors: James Allen, Blue Nile, Since1910, B2C Jewels, and DiamondWave.
For those who want the bottom line right away, here is a quick summary of my research presented in a table with my recommendations in bold:
|Overall||Customer Service||Diamond Quality||Packaging||Ease of Return|
Price Comparison of the Four Vendors – Recommendation per Size in Bold**
|1/4 Carat Total Weight||1/3 Carat Total Weight||1/2 Carat Total Weight||3/4 Carat Total Weight||1 Carat Total Weight|
**Vendors may change prices at will so these prices might not be up to date
Recently I happened to notice that most of the major online diamond vendors sell their studs blindly – without certification. The reason for this is that generally, studs are a cheaper gift product and adding the cost of two certificates often knocks the product out of affordability. While this benefits the consumer in that it keeps prices down, it also creates some major problems.
- How can the consumer trust what the vendor claims about the diamonds they are selling?
- How can the consumer reliably compare prices across different vendors if no objective 3rd party can attest to the fact that they are comparing an equivalent product?
- Customer reviews are great for giving the consumer confidence in a particular vendor, but how can the consumer compare customer service across different vendors?
That’s when I came up with the idea for the Complete Diamond Stud Earrings Review. This report seeks to address the three issues just mentioned. To accomplish this, a pair of studs from each of the five leading diamond vendors online (James Allen, Blue Nile, Since1910, B2C Jewels, and DiamondWave.) were purchased and inspected.
I collaborated on the evaluation with a former colleague of mine from Leo Schachter, Dan P. Dan has extensive experience in the diamond and jewelry industry having worked for some of the industry’s largest and best companies in New York for over 15 years. We worked closely together on a number of projects for Leo Schachter, and so I am familiar with his expertise and professionalism. I have the utmost respect for him and his opinions. (note: Dan reviewed the first three vendors, I reviewed B2C Jewels, and Michael reviewed Since1910)
For our evaluation, we ordered 1/2 carat total weight (1/4 carat diamond in each ear) round diamond stud earrings from each of the above mentioned vendors. Each vendor has at least two different quality levels. To keep things consistent across each vendor, we chose each vendor’s “SI” quality. While on the phone with each vendor, we made sure to ask numerous questions to test the customer service representatives’ knowledge. We evaluated each pair of studs, and then returned them to their respective vendor when finished. We documented every step of the process: customer service, packaging, diamond quality, and ease of return.
The results are presented below.
Customer Service – When it comes to customer service, DiamondWave really stood out head and shoulders above the competition. I was actually greeted on the phone by Pamela Scott, DiamondWave’s founder. It’s really nice when a company hasn’t yet grown out of its own shoes, and there is a real family feel to the business. Pamela didn’t know it was me on the phone, so she took her time and was very clear and knowledgable in her explanations.
Here is someone who has far more experience than I do in the diamond business. She was a buyer for one of the largest retail companies in America for many years. She was actually a long-time customer of my former employer. So needless to say, she knew exactly what she was talking about, and she knew it well. I practically swooned when she said that paying for VS clarity is a waste of money :) She really seems to run her business with a passion and enthusiasm that is very refreshing.
Packaging – DiamondWave’s packaging was also very average. This seems to be the standard procedure – just throw the jewelry box and an envelope into a fedex box. Inside the envelope was the invoice, the certificate for the pre-set engagement ring I also purchased, a laminated appraisal each for the studs and engagement ring, and return instructions. The laminated appraisals were definitely a nice touch that was nicer than what most sites provide.
Diamond Quality – The diamonds from DiamondWave were a very high quality as well. I would say that they leaned much more towards SI1 than SI2. One of them was very close to a VS2, even. The stones matched perfectly and have very fine cuts.
You can see in the picture that the stone on the left has a black inclusion in the center of the diamond. I tried looking for it for a few minutes, even after I had just louped the diamond and knew exactly where it was located, and I still could not see it. So I am very confident calling this pair completely eye clean.
It’s interesting to note that for their studs, Pamela said that DiamondWave uses approximately 90% Canadian mined diamonds. All of the diamonds they use are cut to a very high standard. That was definitely evident in these studs.
B) James Allen
Customer Service – We found that James Allen’s customer service reps were the friendliest, most helpful, and best educated of the four vendors reviewed. One innovation of James Allen’s that we noted was that they would send him numerous very personalized emails from the same service rep. This ensured that if we had any issue, we could address the same person who would always be familiar with our case.
Another positive about James Allen’s customer service is that they have extensive phone hours – they are open until 12 am EST – great for night owls, and great for customers on the West Coast.
Additionally, James Allen is the only vendor to offer moving 3D images of their studs so you can really get a feel for what they look like. They offer this unique 3D view of all their jewelry.
Packaging - James Allen’s packaging was really quite exquisite. Upon opening the Fedex package, you are faced with a very handsomely designed grey box with James Allen’s logo embossed on the cover (see below to the left). Inside this grey box is an elegant dark-wood polished jewelry box set squarely in the middle of a perfectly formed block of foam that matches the box perfectly (see below to the right). All in all, this was far and away the best packaging of the four vendors. If you want to impress your wife or girlfriend, giving them a wrapped James Allen box will certainly do the trick.
Diamond Quality - James Allen offers platinum mounted diamond studs in a G/H Color VS2 Clarity quality level and they offer 18K White Gold mounted diamond stud earrings in an H/I Color SI1/SI2 Clarity quality level. As mentioned earlier, for purposes of consistency, we ordered the SI quality from each vendor.
We found that James Allen’s claims of quality were right on target. The pair of diamond studs from James Allen were well-matched diamonds with a very high quality cut and a very good SI2 clarity grade. We estimated the color as being a high “I” color (I say “estimated” because it’s very hard to gauge the color of a diamond in its setting).
Also of note is that the quality and workmanship on the gold setting was very high.
Ease of Return – Unlike some of the other vendors, James Allen does not include a pre-prepared return mailing label in their package with their product. James Allen’s customer service was so helpful and the process so simple, however, that supplying a return label wasn’t really necessary. Their customer service rep expressed a polite regret when we returned the product, but he was not at all trying to make us feel guilty or trying to convince us to change our mind.
C) Blue Nile
Customer Service – Dan reported that the customer service representative (CSR) who took his order “was not very friendly and also not too helpful — he didn’t direct me to the premade stud section even though I told him what I wanted and at what cost. It was as if he was trying to upsell me, and I can’t stand that kind of pressure.” On the other hand, Dan did note that while unfriendly and pushy, the CSR who took his order was knowledgeable about diamonds and jewelry. He answered questions (correctly) about color, clarity, metals, rhodium plating, ideal cuts, etc.
One positive note about Blue Nile’s customer service is that they have the most extensive phone hours of any of the vendors reviewed – they are open until 2 am EST – great for night owls, and even more convenient for customers on the West Coast.
Packaging -Blue Nile’s packaging was very standard – nothing special at all. The blue jewelry box wasn’t nearly as elegant as James Allen’s darkwood box. Blue Nile’s package included more materials, such as information about Blue Nile and general jewelry care, jewelry insurance advertisements, along with the invoice.
Diamond Quality – Blue Nile offers platinum mounted diamond studs in what they claim is an H Color VS2 Clarity quality level and they offer 18K White Gold mounted diamond stud earrings in what they claim is an I Color SI2 Clarity quality level. As mentioned earlier, for purposes of consistency, we ordered the SI quality from each vendor.
Upon inspection, we found that Blue Nile’s stated quality level was relatively on target. The pair of diamond studs from Blue Nile were well-matched. The SI2 in the Blue Nile studs, however, contained inclusions that were notably stronger than the SI2 in the James Allen studs. Additionally, the cut on the Blue Nile studs was significantly worse than the cut quality on the James Allen studs. This makes sense, since the Blue Nile studs are only rated “Good” cut quality while the James Allen studs are rated “Ideal.” The huge difference in brilliance is readily evident in the pictures provided. The cheaper price for most sizes vs James Allen is definitely NOT worth the sizeable drop in brilliance.
Additionally, Dan noted that the culets on both stones from the Blue Nile pair were chipped.
Dan did note, however, that the workmanship and polish on the gold setting was very high.
Ease of Return – When we called to return the item, they were sorry for our need to return but were very helpful in instructing us on the very simple return process. The CSR who handled the return was very friendly. To make things even easier, Blue Nile includes an adhesive self-addressed return mailing label on the actual invoice (see copy above on the left). This shows a true concern for detail in making the customer’s experience as pleasant as possible.
D) Since 1910
Customer Service – As I break down in our full review, the customer service at Since1910 was outstanding. When I called, Christina answered the phone. She was very helpful picking out the right pair. I obviously didn’t tell them who I was, yet she steered me right towards the sweet spot in color/clarity that we recommend. She went through every aspect of the earrings step by step and seamlessly put through my somewhat difficult order (using my friends billing info and shipping it overseas).
The owner of Since1910, Brad Gross, is very hands on when dealing with customers. I have had great feedback from readers how they were put through directly to him when they had tricky questions. Brad is as experienced as they come in the field, being as that he is the fifth installment of the Gross family running their shop. I mentioned his name to my uncle, who has worked in the wholesale side of the business for almost thirty years. He made nothing but glowing remarks about Brad.
Packaging – As you’ll see (if you manage to get through this whole article) a recurring theme among the stud-review is lackluster packaging. This is perfectly understandable, as the margins are very slim on studs and they’d rather provide better quality diamonds than a nice box. Inside the Fedex box they wrapped the earring box in a Fedex plastic package (so it wouldn’t rattle around inside the box. Inside the box was an envelope for the invoice and the earring box. The box was pretty standard with one exception; it seemed that the earring box was wider than most I’ve come across. It looked a bit odd to me, but this is pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Diamond Quality – This is where Since1910 showed off their chops. I was very impressed with the quality. The diamonds were very white (a strong G color) and the quality was a solid, eye-clean, SI2. The cut seemed phenomenal to me. When I brought them to a photographer in the jewelry district (who specializes in jewelry) for these photos, she was smitten with the quality and actually wrote down the site to give to her husband.
You can see from the photos that the inclusions were dispersed black spots. I could not see them as hard as I tried. Inclusions like this are the best because they will have zero impact on the brilliance of the diamonds. Once they are eye-clean, you have yourself a winner.
E) B2C Jewels
Customer Service – Unfortunately, I found that the customer support at B2C Jewels left a bit to be desired. When I asked the CSR questions about color and clarity, the responses I got were very uninformed. I was told things like, “these studs will be very sparkly.” There wasn’t any discussed about the four Cs. The person on the phone was definitely friendly and personable, but I did feel that there was something lacking in the content of what he was saying.
I found their site very pleasant and easy to navigate. Their prices are also very very competitive – the only question remaining was what will the quality be like.
Their phone hours are very extensive. They are available to answer phones from 9:00am to 2:00am.
Packaging – Just as with Mazal Diamond, I ordered a pair of studs and a pre-set engagement ring from B2C Jewels. This is why there are two boxes in the picture on the right. Unfortunately, B2C Jewels’ packaging was the worst out of any of the vendors I reviewed. When you open the fedex package, the invoice was just floating around inside the box folded in half (on a regular piece of white printer paper) along with two very basic jewelry boxes in the classic red. It really looked thrown together without any thought put into the presentation at all.
Diamond Quality – B2C Jewels was one of the cheaper vendors I reviewed, so I was very anxious to receive their goods and have a look. If the quality was good enough, these would have been an extremely good deal. I was further enthused because the CSR I spoke with on the phone guaranteed that all their SI quality product would be completely clean to the naked eye. Unfortunately, once more I was very disappointed.
The diamonds were riddled with black inclusions as you can see in the picture to the right. The diamonds were not clean to the naked eye once I knew where to look for the inclusions. Keep in mind that these are two 1/4 carat diamonds that are only about 3.9mm in diameter, so an inclusion must be very strong to be visible to the naked eye. The cut of the stone’s was very average. Also, both stones in the pair had chipped culets.
Ease of Return – The process was seamless and easy
Diamond stud earrings are the perfect gift. Every woman needs them. Every woman wants a pair. They’re probably the most versatile piece of jewelry out there. She can wear them with anything, for any occasion. They’re great for casual evenings, great for work, and great for formal occasions.
If you haven’t yet given your girlfriend, wife, or fiance a pair, you can always count on this simple gift to make her very happy (and make you look like a king). If you have already given your girlfriend, wife, or fiance a pair of diamond studs, then you can always buy her a larger pair.
Here’s a general guideline of what to look for when buying studs online:
Color Quality – H-J is the right range for color. No need to go higher than this; you won’t be able to appreciate the very high color from the normal distance from which you look at studs on someone’s ears.
Clarity Grade – In theory, you should be able to buy a pair of studs that are graded I1 clarity without a problem. But unfortunately, since most online vendors sell their studs uncertified, it’s difficult to trust anyone selling something marked as I1. Most of the time, these studs are a very low I1 or even I2, and most likely will have eye-visible inclusions.
If you are looking to buy large studs (2 carat total weight or more – ie, at least 1 carat per ear), then feel free to contact me to inquire about having me broker you a pair that I will choose myself from the Israel Diamond Bourse. I guarantee what I choose will be clean to the naked eye and be a superior ideal cut. I also guarantee I can beat almost any price you find online.
Otherwise, I recommend you buy online from my recommended vendors (see Recommendations at the top of this article). Stick with their SI2 qualities. In my report, I discovered that James Allen, Blue Nile, DiamondWave, and Since 1910 sell eye-clean diamonds in their SI2 quality whereas B2C Jewels, and Abazias do not. Buying studs in VS2 quality is a waste of money. The SI2s are clean to the naked eye, so what’s the point in upgrading to a VS2 if you get nothing out of the upgrade?
One final option is to use James Allen’s build your own diamond studs option. With this option, you will only really benefit if you are buying a larger pair of studs. Since the cost of GIA and AGS certification is relatively high, paying for two certificates on a small pair of studs (1ct total weight and below) will add significantly to the price in percentage terms. If you would like help choosing two great looking stones for studs (and make sure they match each other), then please feel free to contact me.
Cut Grade – Since the average distance from which you view studs on someone’s ears is quite far, you can be more relaxed about the cut quality. Just stay away from extremes in terms of depth and table, and you will be fine. A Good GIA Cut grade will be fine as long as the stone isn’t too deep (and therefore you loose too much spread on the face of the diamonds).