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Ask A Diamond Pro: Certified vs. Non-certified Diamonds

By Mike Fried,

Choosing the perfect engagement ring is an important and often stressful decision, and the journey of one of our readers highlights several points that many buyers face. Their detailed email mentioned the questions about the advantages and disadvantages of buying diamonds and settings from different sources, the significance of diamond certification, and the choice between custom and pre-made settings. Let’s dive into these aspects to help clarify these common concerns.

Here’s the reader’s original email:

My fiance & I spent 2.5 hours at a local jeweler and while I thought he had nosebleed prices on loose stones I liked the idea of being able to see the setting in person and make sure it looks good on her finger. That said all of his settings were probably a few hundred higher than Blue Nile or James Allen. I’ve also found a custom jeweler who does great work but is of course a bit more expensive. I’m considering buying a 1.00ct, round, excellent cut.

Few questions:
1) Is this extra work worth the effort or are most James Allen / Brian Gavin settings “nice enough”?
2) He had a # of stones that were less exp but not certified; I was convinced I needed GIA – is this the case? Are the other certifications (EGL, etc) sufficient or is GIA a must?
3) Do you have a diamond rec from JA or Brian Gavin in the $4,500 – $5,500 range?

Thanks much, great work on the site!

Let’s get one thing out of the way — you should never buy a diamond that isn’t certified. If a diamond doesn’t have the proper paperwork, you can’t know what quality it is and what you’re spending your money on. GIA laboratory does the best job of grading diamonds.

Why Is Diamond Certification Important?

Diamond certification is crucial for several reasons, primarily because it provides an independent verification of the diamond’s quality and authenticity. Certification comes from authoritative bodies like the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), which evaluates diamonds based on the diamond four Cs: Carat, Cut, Color, and Clarity. This independent assessment assures buyers of the diamond’s true value and characteristics.

A certified diamond gives buyers peace of mind, knowing that the stone’s attributes have been accurately reported by experts who have no vested interest in the sale. This transparency is particularly important when making a significant investment, as it prevents overpaying for substandard diamonds. Certified diamonds are also easier to resell, as the certification acts as a guarantee of quality for future buyers.

GIA-Certified Diamonds Above All Else

The GIA is widely recommended as the gold standard in the diamond industry. A GIA certification is trusted globally due to the institute’s rigorous and consistent grading standards. This reputation ensures that a GIA-certified diamond will meet the high expectations set by its grading report.

While there are other certification bodies such as the European Gemological Laboratory (EGL), these often have less strict grading criteria. This can lead to discrepancies in quality and value perceptions. For example, an EGL-certified diamond might be graded as having better clarity or color than it would under GIA standards, potentially misleading buyers about the stone’s true quality.

Given this, it’s generally recommended to prioritize GIA-certified diamonds. The consistency and reliability of GIA certification help avoid unpleasant surprises and ensure that your investment is sound.

example of a GIA certificate
An Example of a GIA certificate

Custom Settings vs. Pre-Made Settings From Online Retailers

Another question our reader had was about whether it’s worth it to get a custom setting or buy one from online companies such as James Allen or Brian Gavin. What do you think the right answer is?

The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer. When it comes to settings, buyers face a choice between custom and pre-made options. Custom settings allow for personalized touches and unique designs tailored specifically to the wearer’s preferences. This can create a truly one-of-a-kind piece, but typically at a higher cost.

On the other hand, pre-made settings from reputable online retailers such as Blue Nile, James Allen, or Brian Gavin offer a wide range of beautiful, high-quality options that are often more affordable. These settings are crafted by skilled artisans and come in various styles to suit different tastes. While they may lack the personal touch of a custom piece, they still provide excellent quality and aesthetic appeal.

Our reader mentioned that they found pre-made settings from online retailers to be a few hundred dollars cheaper than those offered by their local jeweler. Depending on the budget, this price difference can be significant and could be better allocated toward a higher-quality diamond or other elements of the ring.

$4500 – $5500 Range Recommendations

During our conversation, our reader mentioned that their partner would love a pavé or a side-stone setting (ideally three stones on each side). This petite diamond accent engagement ring is a perfect example of such a setting. Combine it with this gorgeous 1 carat I color SI1 clarity diamond and you have yourself a beaut. Alternatively, you can go even bigger, for example with this 1.16 carat I color VS2 clarity round diamond and still be within the budget.

Pavé setting from James Allen
14K white old petite diamond accent engagement ring from James Allen

Final Thought

In conclusion, while the local jeweler experience offers the advantage of seeing settings in person, the cost savings and convenience of online retailers, combined with GIA-certified diamonds, often present a compelling option. Prioritize certification and quality, weigh the benefits of custom versus pre-made settings, and utilize the resources available to ensure you find the perfect ring for your special occasion.

And if you have any questions, we’re here to hear you out. Message us and one of our experts will help you with anything diamond-related.

Happy diamond shopping!

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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