IGI vs GIA

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Bottom Line Recommendation

If you will be buying an SI1 or SI2 clarity diamond (as we generally suggest), we recommend only buying a GIA or AGS certified diamond. Only purchase from reputable vendors that sell diamonds certified by these labs (such as James Allen & Brian Gavin Diamonds).

Even the largest jewelry insurance underwriter writes: “The most reliable diamond certificates (also called diamond reports) come from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Gem Society (AGS). These are the most respected labs, known for their accuracy and professionalism. These reports are not appraisals and do not carry valuations. Certificates from any other sources are often questionable and should not be relied upon by insurers.”

Likewise, Dateline raised serious questions about IGI’s integrity in 2005 as pertains to their appraisal values.

IGI Diamond Certification

The IGI started out as the blue color workhorse of the diamond business.

They were, and still are, the most popular gem lab for the major jewelry chains in the US and Canada (Kay, Zales, etc.)

They are like a factory. They work fast, and they work cheap.

IGI Competing Against Other Laboratories

Lately, though, they have been trying to position themselves as a legitimate contender against the other labs and not just as a certificate factory for the major chains.

IGI Abroad

While they haven’t succeeded so much in America, they have actually gained quite impressive market share in Europe and the Middle East.  I used to travel to sell diamonds in Dubai, and the two major certificates sold in that market are HRD and IGI.

IGI’s SI2 Sweet Spot 

The bottom line with IGI in comparison to GIA is that I believe they are, in my professional opinion informed by years of experience working for one of the largest diamond manufacturers in the world, consistently looser in the lower end of the color and clarity spectrum – exactly the grades we tell our readers to focus on.

On the other hand, Rapaport actually did an experiment pitting the major labs against one another. In this experiment, IGI only exhibited a very slightly looser grading than GIA. The problem with the experiment, though, was that it focused on either higher clarity grades. There wasn’t a single GIA SI2 in the bunch.

From my experience at Leo Schachter, I believe the problem is specifically in the “SI3” range, where they generally upgrade to an SI2.  Diamonds used for “SI2” programs at the major chains would almost never pass a GIA “SI2.”

Have a look at these IGI SI2s that would almost certainly receive an I1 grade from GIA:

1.03 H SI2, 1.12 H SI2, 1.09 H SI2, 1.31 I SI2, 1.00 H SI2, 1.25 H SI2

Furthermore, a quick glance at wholesale diamond listings on the trade-only website Rapnet, shows that there’s a built-in discount for IGI certified diamonds.  Presumably, the market agrees that there is a certain average upgrade of IGI certified stones over and above GIA certified stones.

On a search performed on October 22nd, 2015 for all well-cut 1 carat round diamonds with a color of I or J and a clarity of SI2, the average discount from the Rap Price for the IGI certified stones (20 stones) was -40.25% whereas the average discount for the GIA certified stones (57 stones) was -34.56%.

The corresponding average prices for the diamonds were almost 10% lower for IGI certified diamonds.

Reviewer’s First-Hand Experience

I know this particularly well, as throughout my professional career, I must have personally selected thousands of diamonds to be sold as IGI SI2s at the major jewelry store chains in the US and UK.

These programs (usually the middle-ground price point offering great value as it’s the cheapest of the eye-clean grades) all have a minimum of SI2 clarity.

For these programs, we would always strive to find diamonds that were in that “SI3” sweet spot — diamonds that would not receive an “SI2” from GIA, but were too nice to sell as an “I1.”


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381 Comments

  1. Yo     Reply

    Thank you for the clarification on the difference between the labs. I bought a fairly pricey ring from Jared last year. I was not given any certification by the maker or seller. I tried to sell it recently & discovered it may not be worth what I paid. The buyers were asking for certification & mentioned which lab they trusted – GIA was the only one mentioned. They said the rest were questionable. I called the maker & explained what I was trying to do & why. They are willing to send the ring to a lab, forgot which one & will call to clarify tomorrow, at their expense to have it certified. If it comes back as a lesser stone they will honor the difference on the price. It originally cost $8K I got it for $7K. If it’s not worth that then I want the difference back! One buyer said they don’t buy lab manufactured colored stones. The maker was insulted but I’m sorry I have to agree with the buyer. What’s their incentive to buy if they aren’t comfortable with the certification? I’m so upset at having learned this after I bought the ring. One buyer said never to buy anything from Sterling companies because they tend not to be of good quality. I like the maker I bought the ring from, they tend to make more unique rather than large gaudy pieces that you can’t wear every day. I’m not attached to the ring & was just looking to take in some cash flow by selling it. Now I can’t do that until I know what the true worth of the stones are. The authentication issued by the maker is nothing & vague at best. It just proved to help me get an education on a ring I likely paid too much for. I decided to look up the differences in the labs & your article came up. Now I can call the maker tomorrow to clarify exactly where they plan to send it. They said if I send it to GIA they won’t honor the cert & also suggested not allowing anyone to remove it from the setting because it voids my warranty. If they don’t intend to send it to GIA but instead to IGI like I thought I heard them say, then we’re going to have a major problem. I may have to do what one of the buyers suggested, sell it on Ebay or Amazon to recoup most of the loss & never buy from them again. I can’t afford Tiffany or the other pricey jewelers. There was a recent scandal that just erupted involving De Beers a coworker told me about last week. So there’s scandal every where. Very sad indeed.

  2. JL     Reply

    Hello: My husband purchased my engagement diamond from Blue Nile eleven years ago. It is a beautiful 2.60 pear shaped diamond VS1 clarity, G-color. When we received the stone we immediately brought it to our personal jeweler for an appraisal. The stone appraised for $65,000. I would like to know more about why you do not like Blue Nile Diamonds? I am very happy with my purchase and my diamond was graded accordingly. Thank You

    • Mike     Reply

      Blue Nile is not a bad company and many people get excellent value there. We even recommend them to many of our readers. We explain in our review why we think there are sites that offer better value (via better tools for selecting the perfect diamond) but that in no way implies that you should have an issue with your past purchase (in fact, no site offered pictures/videos 11 years ago):

      http://www.diamonds.pro/site-reviews/blue-nile/

  3. daniel     Reply

    Why aren’t you fans of blu enile?

  4. Justin     Reply

    Mike,
    I’ve been researching around for diamonds. I came across Zamir Diamonds having an IGL (International Gemological Laboratories). The prices are surprisingly low, which is why I’m on here. I’m checking the legitimacy of both. Have you heard of either of these and do you think I should trust them with my business?

    Thank you!

    • Mike     Reply

      Hi Justin,

      I don’t know anything about Zamir, but IGL is not an acceptable certificate. Stick with a legitimate certificate (GIA/AGS only).

  5. Nan     Reply

    Hi Mike:
    I always believe that Costco has best price and good quality. I got this ring with IGI cert paid $6400 plus tax from Costco:
    1.01 carat, I, VS2, excellent cut, very good pol/sym, 62.2% TD…
    Now I see the Blue Nile has so many selections with GIA cert. I may get the similar one with only around $5200 and its GIA cert!

    Is Costco the good place to buy a diamond ring? If not, in your opinion which one is good place to go, Blue Nile, Kay or Zales…?

    Thanks a lot!

    Nan

    • Mike     Reply

      Costco used to be ok, but they have dropped considerably in value the last year or so. They no longer certify rings (I believe under 1.20cts) and they rely far more on IGI than GIA (where they used to usually have GIA certificates over a carat). While we are not fans of Blue Nile, there are plenty of other options to getting better value. It depends what you are looking for.

      If you want specific advice on finding a diamond, feel free to contact us directly. We generally answer a lot faster and write far more detailed responses. We reserve the comments for general statements that can be helpful to everyone.

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