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Ask a Diamond Pro: Skeptical About Buying a Diamond Online

By Mike Fried,

One of the most common questions we get from readers is whether or not it’s safe to purchase an engagement ring or other diamond jewelry online.

Diamonds are expensive, and as a result of this, it’s natural to have some misgivings about the prospect of buying one online, sight unseen. However, not only is buying a diamond online very safe — it’s also a far better option for getting optimal value for money as a customer.

Diamond shopping online

A few years ago, we received the following email from a reader:

“Ira- I feel so lucky to have come across your website, the wealth of information here is almost unbelievable. Thank you so much for providing it all. 

My question is relatively simple – in your experience and opinion, is it better to purchase online or from a local jeweler? 

I think there are some price advantages to purchasing online but you get to see the diamond in person when speaking to a jeweler. Additionally, when purchasing online, you don’t need to worry about jewelers pushing sub-par rings on you for higher prices. 

But, you also lose the expertise and familiarity with the diamond that so often comes with in-person jewelers. What are your thoughts on this? 

As for what I’m looking for: 

At least a very good cushion cut, ratio not greater than a 1.1 (more square-ish). High color grade (D or an E) with Clarity in the VS1 to SI1 range. Size of the ring around 1 – 1.1 carats. And, of course, I’m trying to do this for around 5,000 (mission impossible). 

I also wanted to add I’ve found your discussion on the clarity differences particularly enlightening; specifically that you need to see the stone to determine where and how noticeable a flaw is. This seems to be another advantage for shopping with an in-person jeweler. 

Thanks for your time.”

These are all excellent questions and very understandable concerns. Buying any type of jewelry is a major expense, and the idea that it’s best to do it online is something that naturally produces a certain skeptical reaction in many people.

However, the reality is that buying online not only provides better value due to a more efficient supply chain (a topic we’ve discussed in more detail below), but it actually provides you with a far greater ability to carefully inspect and compare diamonds for quality.

This is because online diamond vendors provide an incredible amount of information about the diamonds they offer, from GIA and AGS certificates to incredibly high-resolution images that let you view diamonds with a level of accuracy that isn’t available in the typical jewelry store.

All of this is provided without the pushy sales pitch that’s all too often part of the experience in a brick-and-mortar jewelry store.

This makes it far easier to find a diamond that matches your needs and budget — in this case, a beautiful cushion cut diamond in the 1.00 to 1.10 carat range for under $5,000.

Cushion Cut diamond rings

Why Buying a Diamond Online is Best

Before we help this reader find the right diamond, let’s briefly go over why we believe shopping for a diamond online is almost always the best option for you as a customer. 

As we’ve discussed in our detailed article on the evolution of the diamond market, the diamond jewelry market has been revolutionized by e-commerce in exactly the same way as many other retail sectors, from clothing to consumer technology. 

This revolution has occurred largely because online diamond vendors like Blue Nile and James Allen can operate far more efficiently than conventional brick-and-mortar jewelry stores.

Instead of purchasing diamonds outright (and paying interest to carry their inventory), renting a network of retail locations and paying for continual advertising, online vendors can operate from vaults and fulfillment centers. 

Buying diamonds online

This massively reduces the operating costs involved in selling diamonds, allowing online vendors to thrive while maintaining a significantly lower average profit margin than their offline competitors (approximately 18% compared to 100%).

This trend — of online jewelry businesses becoming more competitive and offline jewelers less so — is likely to continue as the costs of operating a brick-and-mortar business keep increasing. For example, commercial real estate firm CBRE has noted that retail rents are increasing in cities such as New York as space becomes less available.

This increase in operating costs has real implications for brick-and-mortar jewelry vendors, who need to adjust their pricing to compensate for the extra amount they pay simply to stay open.

For you, as a consumer interested in purchasing a diamond engagement ring or similar jewelry, this more efficient business model means far lower prices than what you’d pay for an equivalent diamond offline. 

Beyond better value for money, buying online also offers several other advantages. One of the biggest is that both James Allen and Blue Nile offer very high-quality images of their diamonds, often with the ability to view diamonds under up to 10x magnification from 360 degrees.

This allows you to compare diamonds for inclusions and other flaws with bright, consistent and neutral lighting. 

In many ways, you can actually get a better, more objective view of a diamond online than you can in a brightly-lit jewelry store display, largely because you’re able to take it slow and closely compare diamonds without any distractions. 

You also have access to a much larger inventory of diamonds. While the average jewelry store might carry a few hundred loose diamonds at any given time, Blue Nile has nearly half a million round brilliant cut diamonds alone, all of which are graded by reputable third-party entities.

This means that you’re not limited to what’s available in store, which is often a poor selection of diamonds that may not include the best options for your taste and budget. Instead, your options are effectively unlimited, with hundreds of thousands of diamonds to choose from.

This greater supply of diamonds allows you to carefully narrow down your search and select the diamond that’s best suited to your preferences. 

Finding a 1.00 to 1.10 Carat, D-E Color Cushion Cut Diamond for $5,000

The cushion cut is one of our favorite diamond shapes. Cushion cut diamonds combine a facet pattern similar to that of the round brilliant cut diamond with a more square design, creating an elegant diamond that can look outstanding in almost any setting. The GIA describes this shape as the “modern heir to the historic old mine cut diamond.”

One major advantage of the cushion cut is that it’s more affordable per carat than the round cut, allowing for a larger, more impressive diamond without any need to increase your budget.

1ct cushion cut diamond on a finger
1ct cushion cut diamond on a finger (Photo: James Allen)

This reader specifically requested a cushion cut diamond in the 1.00 to 1.10 carat range, with a color grade of D or E and a clarity grade of between VS1 and SI1. 

Typically, we’d recommend looking for a cushion cut diamond with a slightly lower cut grade (for example, any diamond with an H color grade or better will look colorless in its setting). However, it’s also totally fine to prioritize better color, provided you’re willing to pay a slight premium. 

With a budget of $5,000, you can find a gorgeous cushion cut diamond in the 1.00 to 1.10 carat range, all without needing to make significant compromises.

For example, this 1.00 carat, E color, VS2 clarity diamond from James Allen is available for just under $4,000. This 1.00 carat, E color, VS2 clarity cushion cut diamond is available for $4,010.

Both of these diamonds look stunning and cost significantly less than $5,000, allowing for some of this reader’s budget to be put towards their choice of setting.

Our Recommendation

Like other industries, the diamond market has been transformed by the internet. Shopping for a diamond online allows you to take advantage of a much more efficient supply chain, resulting in better value for money and a far larger selection of both diamonds and settings.

This gives you much more power as a customer, both to use your budget effectively and to find a diamond that truly offers what you’re looking for.

In the end, this reader purchased a beautiful 1.21 carat, D color, SI2 clarity cushion cut diamond from James Allen. They were very satisfied and noted that the diamond was more inspiring than any of the loose diamonds they had viewed in person at brick-and-mortar jewelry stores.

If you’re interested in purchasing an engagement ring or other diamond jewelry and want some help with the process, feel free to contact us. We’re happy to help you find an engagement ring or other jewelry that matches your tastes and budget. 

James Allen James Allen is the leader in online diamond sales. Their imaging technology is the same as inspecting a diamond with a jeweler's loupe. They have the largest exclusive loose diamond inventory online and fantastic prices. They also have the nicest collection of lab-created diamonds online.
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. James Allen will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free International Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisals
  • One free resizing within 60 days of purchase
  • Free ring inscriptions
  • Best-in-class high quality imagery of all diamonds in stock
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • Best-in-class packaging
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Blue Nile Blue Nile is the largest and most well-known internet jewelry seller. They have a very large exclusive online inventory. Their high-quality images are catching up to James Allens' and their prices are amazing. 
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. Blue Nile will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisal
  • One free resizing within the first year of purchase
  • High quality images of about half of their diamonds
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • 100% credit towards future upgrades (must be at least double in value)
  • Best in class fulfillment
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