James Allen Reviews

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5 stars out of 5

The History

Jamesallen.com was founded in 1998 by James Allen Schultz and his wife Michele.  It’s easy to just throw out a year like that without paying attention to what that means, but if you think about it, 1998 truly is eons ago in Internet years.

As with Blue Nile, JA was created because its founder was very dissatisfied with his personal search for an engagement ring.  After their launch in 1998, the site grew rapidly and very quickly established itself as one of the premier online engagement ring stores.

Rebranding to JamesAllen.com

In 2005, they relaunched their site as JamesAllen.com.  The old name simply didn’t reflect the direction the site was moving in – higher quality GIA and AGS certified true ideal cut diamonds.

The Facts

Even though I now have a number of Site Review articles up on the site, I have decided to treat this James Allen review differently from the rest.  The reason is simple – I believe that James Allen and Blue Nile exist in their own category.

They are the titans of online diamond sales.  There are several very high quality niche sites that I recommend, but for the average American consumer looking for an engagement ring, the answer in 95% of cases is one of these two sites.

So in this review, you will read a lot of comparisons to Blue Nile.

Similarities Between James Allen and Blue Nile

JA’s business model is very similar to that of Blue Nile.  Like BN, JA works with a group of wholesale diamond vendors that virtually list their diamonds on JA for JA to sell as their own.

As with Blue Nile, this listing is seamless and fully integrated so that the consumer never really knows that the diamonds he’s browsing don’t actually belong to James Allen.

James Allen also attempts to secure exclusivity agreements with their vendors so that the same diamonds on James Allen will not be found on other diamond sites.

Differences Between James Allen and Blue Nile

The similarities in business models, however, end there.  There is one extremely crucial fundamental philosophical divergence between the two companies – and I believe this is what makes James Allen a superior company to Blue Nile:

While Blue Nile prides itself on the size of its massive “inventory” and is continuously striving to expand it, James Allen prides itself on its close physical proximity to most of its inventory.

Most of James Allen’s diamond vendors have an office and a real diamond inventory within walking distance to James Allen’s offices.  So while Blue Nile is proud that their vendors are all over the world, James Allen is proud that they can touch almost every diamond in their inventory.

Differences in Inventory

You’ll notice that when I use the word “inventory” in reference to Blue Nile, it’s always in quotes and when I use it in reference to James Allen it’s not in quotes.

I believe this usage is justified – while James Allen might not own all the diamonds they list, they most certainly have physical access to almost all the diamonds they list – and that’s really all that matters from the consumer’s perspective.

As of the writing of this article, James Allen had 30,465 diamonds listed in their inventory, while Blue Nile had 120,832 diamonds listed in their “inventory.”

Inventory Quality vs Quantity

That’s certainly an impressive number, but when you think about it, someone going online to buy a diamond for an engagement ring is really only looking for one diamond.

When the choices become that varied and numerous, the vast “inventory” becomes more cumbersome and counter-productive than helpful. I’ve had many email conversations with customers who simply feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of diamonds on Blue Nile.

And the greatest irony is that since it’s Blue Nile and not JA with the massive “inventory,” there is no real way to distinguish between all those thousands of diamonds.

James Allen’s Advantage Over Blue Nile

Blue Nile is missing the single greatest advantage James Allen holds over them: high quality magnified photographs of their diamond inventory.

As you can now plainly see, Blue Nile’s business model precludes even the possibility of them ever having photographs on their site.  They have simply spread their web too far and wide for them to have any meaningful control over their “inventory.”

Blue Nile’s “Advantage” Over James Allen

Ironically, the one area where BN seems to clearly have JA beat is in their “inventory” of the more off-the-beaten-path diamond shapes.

At this moment, for example, James Allen only has 664 Oval shaped diamonds in their inventory, whereas Blue Nile has 2,553 Oval shapes in their “inventory.”  Likewise in Marquise shapes, Blue Nile has James Allen beat 1,364 to 560.

Herein lies the irony.  It’s precisely with these shapes as opposed to the more popular shapes (like Round, Princess, Emerald, and Asscher) that the need for a photograph becomes an absolute necessity – even for a flawless diamond.

Photographic Evaluation

Figure 1 – The Invoice

With Rounds and the various rectangular shaped diamonds, once you know the diameter or LxW, you pretty much know how the diamond looks (of course, you still need the pictures to evaluate clarity and proportions).

But this is not so with these other shapes.  There are no measurements on a certificate that will tell you how flat the shoulders are of a Heart Shape, or how boxy an oval is, or the slope of the curve around a Marquise shaped diamond.

Fancy Shapes Require Photography

There are no numbers that will tell you whether or not the Oval you’re looking to buy has a bow-tie effect or not.  Similarly, without a picture, you’ll never know if that Cushion cut you’re considering has a “crushed-ice” look or not.

And the fact is regarding these fancy shapes that the vast majority of what’s out there is really and truly ugly.  When I get requests for help finding Ovals or Pears, I always have to sift through at least 20 diamonds before I find one that I like.

The Test

Figure 2 – Closed James Allen Box

For purposes of this James Allen review, I decided to see what it would be like myself to order an engagement ring from them.

As with my Blue Nile review, I ordered a J SI2 Excellent cut GIA certified diamond mounted in a basic white gold solitaire setting.  Also with JA, I ordered using a pseudonym.

Since I had already reviewed James Allen’s customer support in my diamond stud earrings article, I simply placed the order online.

The Package

Figure 3 - Box Contents

Figure 3 – Box Contents

Of all the vendors I have reviewed to date (both in my product reviews and in the site reviews), James Allen stands head and shoulders above all of the competition when it comes to packaging.

When you peel open the Fedex box that the James Allen product is shipped in, a full sized thick board box slides out embossed with the name “James Allen” and the red butterfly James Allen logo (see Figure 1).  This outer box is made to fit perfectly inside the Fedex box.

James Allen’s Packaging Compared to Others

Figure 4 - The Box Opened

Figure 4 – The Box Opened

(Every other vendor either used basic package filler to make sure their pieces didn’t bounce around during shipping, or, in the case of Mazal and Blue Nile, they used special cut outs inside the basic brown cardboard box to hold the jewelry box secure.)

When you slide off the lid off this box,  you’re faced with a full-sized foam insert with a space cut out of the very center for the polished hardwood jewelry box.

First Class Presentation

Underneath the foam lies a drawer containing the accompanying documentation – in my case, an appraisal, a GIA certificate, and an envelope containing the invoice and other documentation. Also included is a polishing cloth and a Hearts & Arrows scope (for those who order their True Hearts diamonds).

The box is meant to be kept as a handsome and functional jewelry box for this ring and other jewelry you may have.

Everything about this presentation is first class.  This kind of attention to detail shows the consumer that James Allen has a deep commitment to quality and desires the highest level of service in every facet of the experience.

And to top it all off, not only is James Allen’s packaging the classiest, it’s also by far the most secure.

The Product

Figure 5 – The Certificate

The purpose of this review was to perform a head to head comparison between James Allen and Blue Nile.  The reason is simply that these two companies exist in a class unto themselves.

While there are now probably well over 50 sites on the internet selling loose diamonds, none come close to James Allen and Blue Nile in terms of market share.

Furthermore, James Allen and Blue Nile both posses something completely unique – unlike every other online diamond vendor (none of which are completely unique in any way).

Unique Online Vendor Qualities 

James Allen is the only vendor to function on the “virtual listing” model that also offers magnified photos of their inventory (there are several online vendors that actually own a portion of their inventory that offer photographs, but they are significantly more expensive as a result).

Blue Nile, on the other hand, is the reigning champion when it comes to the size and exclusivity of their “inventory.”

Figure 6 – The Diamond

Fair Comparison

So for purposes of this head to head competition, I ordered what amounted to basically the same product (at least on paper) from both James Allen and Blue Nile.

Since with Blue Nile, I didn’t have the option of choosing the cleanest J SI2 I could find, I decided to go with the strategy of choosing the cheapest J SI2 I could find over one carat.

With James Allen, on the other hand, my strategy was to find the best eye-clean J SI2 one carat stone I could find.  With both sites, I limited my search to GIA certified diamonds with Excellent cut grades.

Accurate Portrayal

Figures 4 and 5 are of the diamond’s certificate and magnified picture, respectively.  As expected, the picture from James Allen accurately portrayed the diamond’s appearance in real life.

As you can see in figure 5, the diamond was exceptionally clean for an SI2.  The inclusions were all very faint and could only be seen when I examined the stone through a 10x jewelers loupe.

The cut was likewise exceptional. The diamond was brilliant and lively.

My Impressions

Since creating this site, I’ve been sending most of my readers to James Allen.

The reasons were simple – their prices are great, readers continue to report positive experiences with them, and (most of all) their pictures allow me to apply my experience to help my readers find eye clean SI clarity stones.

Reviewer’s Disclosure

(By the way, if you’re thinking that I must work for James Allen or have some other kind of affiliation with them, then please see the article entitled “Truth about The Diamond Pro.”)

Until this review, though, my only direct experience with them as a customer was through Dan’s investigative reporting while performing the Diamond Stud Earrings Review.

I felt it was important for me to experience first hand exactly what I have been recommending to my readers all along.

The Conclusion

Needless to say, my experiences with James Allen as a customer most definitely reinforced my long-standing position that James Allen is the best source online for engagement rings.

James Allen provided a superior experience and a much better diamond than Blue Nile – all at a better price.

Reviewed By: Michael Fried

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  1. Hannah     Reply

    Thank you for all your helpful advice! After reading your articles me and my fiancé decided to order from James Allen. We were on a budget and couldn’t find anywhere neer the quality for the price on the high street compared to what we found with James Allen.
    I website was easy to navigate through making and the customer service and assistants they give you is amazing! That and your reviews online gave us all the confident we needed to order online.
    We chose the platinum petite cross pronged band with 0.54 colour J stone. I did my reasearch on the specs I wanted and the bits I thought I could compromise on like the colour. I ended up getting A diamond with Excellent Cut, symmetry and polish and found a beautiful VVS2 eye clean stone with medium fluorescence, which I found out on diamond pro, can make a diamond of this sort of size 1 shade whiter. N
    Well I have not a single regret on any of the choices we made! (Ah, minus the ring size! Totally my fault. It can come on and off but not easily) I can’t tell it’s a J colour, it is so gorgeously sparkely and the setting shows the diamond beautifully. I couldn’t get my head round choosing a J colour stone at first but it meant I could get everything else up to a really good grade and you can’t tell at all it’s a J!! I love it! And in my opinion we got a £3000-£4000 ring for £1560 (+£355 VAT and shipping to FedEx for clearing though customs) £1910 all together, amazing value.
    Thanks so much diamond pro and James Allen. I have already recomended James allen to a friend.

  2. Rob     Reply

    My experience of James Allen.com. Buying an engagement ring online, I was very nervous, there was no doubt that the pricing was the best available, and after extensive research, James Allen was always coming out number 1 opposed to other on line alternatives. The whole process was very easy and there was lots of detailed information available about the diamonds, the ring, the cut etc. I also used the online chat support to ask questions about specific diamonds which helped. The check out and payment process was also very easy, the ring was delivered as expected. When I opened the package, it was very well presented and packed, the box it comes in is very well protected and included all the necessary paperwork. The ring itself was perfect, just as the website showed, I couldn’t be more happier, and would highly recommend James Allen to any person out there considering buying online.

  3. debbie naroff scott     Reply

    I’ve really appreciated your website, and the responses i’ve been getting from Katy. It’s really been a remarkable help – although I still have a way to go….thanks.

  4. Vincenzo     Reply

    Great review, I would say and it is also confirmed by many other opinions around. I would like 2 points to be added, the first is the security check that James Allen does after you purchase your item(s). They send you an email asking you to either reply from your work email or send a copy of your ID.
    The second is the extra cost for shipping outside US. This is not a James Allen fault, I would say, it is more linked to FedEx shipping policies. However, the price showed in the cart while you are on jamesallen.com isn’t the final one…. you should add up to 30% depending on your country.
    My opinion is that James Allen is the best within US, I am not sure globally.

    • Mike     Reply

      Hi Vincenzo,

      To the best of my knowledge, there is no extra cost in shipping the diamond. You have to pay whatever your country’s taxes are, but thats it. James Allen has a shipping calculator on the bottom right of their pages that tells you how much the diamond would be.

      I don’t know which country you are referring to, but I have yet to find a place in Europe that had prices even remotely competitive to the US.

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