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Brownlee Jewelers Reviews: Poor Quality, High Prices, Bad Service

By Mike Fried,
Overall Score:1.171 Rating1 Rating
Brownlee Jewelers
Price:1.51.5 Rating1.5 Rating Selection:11 Rating1 Rating Customer Service: 11 Rating1 Rating
  • Nothing

  • Poor Quality
  • Overpriced
  • Terrible In-Store Experience
Other Recommended Retailers

Bottom Line Recommendation

I was very unimpressed with Brownlee Jewelers. The in store experience was very disappointing, the rings were poor quality and the prices were way too high. You are far better off buying a ring from a reputable online retailer like Blue Nile or James Allen. Read below our in-store experience and contact us if you’re looking for a diamond at a better quality and price.

The History

Brownlee is one of the oldest jewelers in the United States. More than 80 years ago, back in 1936, Brownlee opened their first store in the Carolinas. They currently have eight stores scattered around North and South Carolina.

The Experience

Charlotte, North Carolina was our first stop as Annie and I made it to the East Coast on this trip. The first store we secret shopped was Brownlee Jewelers. It was a blistering hot summer day, with temperatures north of 100 degrees. That made the “Spring Sale! 40-60% Off!!!” sign when we first walked in seem like a cruel joke.

The store was nestled into a shopping center not far from the airport. We walked in and were underwhelmed by the ambiance of the store. Lots of signs and showcases, but it did not feel like a luxury store experience. When the average item you are looking at is in the thousands of dollars range, I would expect a better feel than a Payless Shoes.

The saleswoman was friendly, but cheer only takes you so far. There was very little information provided about the products and there was no helpful guidance there to narrow down our choices.

To help you with the diamond buying process we lean on our expertise and experience. The author of this article, our CEO, Mike Fried has over 20 years of experience in the diamond industry. Mike started from the bottom, sorting and evaluating hundreds of thousands of diamonds to learn every facet (pun intended) of diamond quality and value. Mike followed that up by spending years buying and selling diamonds on the wholesale market as well as selling tens of millions of dollars worth of diamonds to diamond retailers.

Brownlee Jewelers Diamonds

If the experience felt sub-par, the product was downright dreadful. The first diamond we looked at was a 1.30ct “EF I1” round diamond. I put those grades in quotation marks because they didn’t use one of the more reputable certifying labs, such as the GIA.

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Instead, they used EGL, which is not known for its strict grading. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, diamonds certified by EGL are often over-graded for color and clarity, making them seem more appealing and higher in quality than they really are. As National Jeweler has reported, some diamond trading networks, such as RapNet, have stopped listing EGL diamonds as a result of this inconsistent, unreliable grading.

Through the showcase glass, I could see a garish white inclusion running through the whole diamond. Back when I was working on the manufacturing side of the business, we would refer to diamonds like this as “frozen spit”.

The second diamond was slightly better. It was pretty bad, but at least it was within striking distance of what we would consider acceptable quality. It was a 0.90ct “EF SI2” round diamond for $4,488. Again the diamond had a very noticeable inclusion (I would say a typical quality for I1 clarity), and the color wasn’t too bad (I’d estimate a G color), but it was a far more pleasing diamond to look at.

The Ring Comparison

It’s not even possible for us to compare the first choice we looked at. The quality was too far below anything a reputable website would offer. So we’ll focus on the second diamond.

As we mentioned above, there is no way that diamond was actually an F SI2. It was more like a G color, I1 quality. Here is a 0.91ct G color, I1 clarity GIA certified diamond from James Allen for $2,760. If you look at the diamond, you’ll see it’s very bright, and the inclusion is pretty good for an I1. I personally wouldn’t recommend the diamond, but I think it is superior to the one we saw at Brownlee. Adding this elegant setting to the diamond from James Allen and you have a similar (if not superior) ring for a total of $3,260. So the Brownlee Jewelers ring is almost 40% more expensive.

You can take another tack in comparing value. Even if you choose to ignore the major issues with their certification, here is a 0.90ct E color, SI2 clarity GIA certified excellent cut diamond from Blue Nile for $3,327. This diamond is superior in every way to the diamond offered by Brownlee. You can add this solitaire setting and the total cost would be $3,687 for the ring. You would be getting a far superior product and it would be almost 20% less out of your pocket.

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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About the author

Mike Fried Mike Fried Mike Fried has over 25 years experience in the diamond industry working with Leo Schachter Diamonds, Moshe Namdar Diamonds, and joining The Diamond Pro in 2007. He is recognized as an industry expert and has been quoted in publications such as Us, People, Page Six, The Next Web and more.

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