In our newest book, Buying A Diamond Online Is Easy: Everything you need to know in 35 minutes or less (Amazon.com, 2015) we go into great detail about the “Group of Three,” online diamond store titans that essentially monopolize the online diamond trade. We estimate that these three online diamond stores account for over 50% of all “pure play” online diamond sales. Not surprisingly, these three are also the focus of our online diamond store reviews.
History of Online Diamond Stores
20 years ago, buying a diamond online would have been both unsafe and unheard of. Online diamond store players were untested. “Buyer beware,” was the term used by brick and mortar jewelers across the land. At the time it was good advice because most of those stores turned out to be undercapitalized fly-by-night establishments; however, by the early to mid 2000s, after nearly ten years of customer education, jeweler rating services such as the Better Business Bureau and Jewelers.NYC (:)), buying a diamond online became almost as normal as buying a best seller from Amazon.com. More books were still sold at Borders (now defunct), Crown Books (now defunct) and B. Dalton (now defunct), but the landscape was changing fast. Yes, the online diamond business was big, and getting bigger!
Why do People Buy Diamonds Online?
Why do people buy diamonds online? Price. With about 30 minutes of education and a one page diamond certificate, (something all reputable diamond stores, online or brick and mortar, provide to customers before they buy a diamond), a customer can pick up a great diamond at a big discount.
How big is the discount? Our research shows about 40% off legitimate retail jewelry store prices.
We say legitimate because stores sometimes mark up a price just to mark it back down again to create urgency. The legitimate price is the price that customers actually pay including the mark down.
How Can Online Diamond Stores Offer Such a Big Discount?
Overhead. No large jeweler staff costs, no expensive brick and mortar store rent, no big diamond display costs at each store and educated consumers who arrive to buy, not window shop.
Group of Three in our Online Diamond Store Reviews
Who are our three online diamond store titans? They are (in alphabetical order): Brian Gavin, James Allen, and Zoara. Each is described in a separate tab above.
We “test drove” the price of a: round, GIA graded, 1 carat, VS2 clarity, G color, Very Good cut diamond at each of the online diamond stores and compared the lowest price result against each other and against retail titan Zales’ online diamond page using the same lowest price methodology.
Why did we choose these criteria?
- First the round shape – approximately 2/3rds of all diamonds sold are round, so this was a no-brainer. Round diamonds are used in everything from engagement rings to earrings.
- GIA diamond grading (i.e. a GIA diamond certificate). All three online diamond stores and Zales have GIA graded diamonds. GIA has been grading diamonds since 1955 and they are considered the best in terms of consistency and conservatism of all of the diamond grading labs.
Special thanks to the Gemological Institute of America for providing this video to Jewelers.NYC
- 1 carat – The average center stone is just a hair over 1 carat.
- VS2 clarity, G color, and Very Good cut -these are very, very respectable attributes, and were also the most common at the three online stores and Zales.
Price – Let’s face it, you’re buying a diamond online because you want to save a ton of money! This is where the online diamond stores shine. If they can’t get that right well, they should not be selling diamonds online. Here are the price results for our test diamond at the different sites, as well as the Zales online page.
Better Business Bureau Rating – To begin with, if the online diamond stores under consideration didn’t have either an A or A+ rating, we wouldn’t feature them, and more importantly, they probably would not be around to sell diamonds online. That said, all of our stores had one or the other, with Zoara rated A and the rest A+. We think a BBB rating is important for many reasons: If something is horribly wrong, a company will either not have a rating or have a low rating. As silly as it seems, most people don’t check the BBB before buying anything (quick, what is Amazon.com’s BBB rating???). This is fine if you’re buying a book online, but not a diamond. Next, a diamond store that has achieved A+ or even A has to work hard for customer satisfaction. Too many complaints and the rating will drop. Finally, opting in to BBB says something about the store. Most businesses do not volunteer to get rated because most people do not check BBB ratings, so there is only downside if it does not work out.
Diamond Selection – The test diamond result returned 100+ at Zoara, 17 times at James Allen and 2 times at Brian Gavin. You probably don’t need to (or want to) sort through 100+ diamonds, but it’s nice to know that you could. In reality, anything over 10 is fine (Brian Gavin had some very specific reasons for the lower number, so you’ll want to read the content on that tab above).
Return policy – An online diamond store’s return policy is important if for no other reason than when you order online, you take a risk that when you see it in front of you, you won’t like it. The reality is that almost everyone likes the diamond more, not less, when it arrives, but if you don’t, you want to be able to return it within a reasonable amount of time for a full refund. More likely reasons are that the recipient does not like it, or for engagement ring givers, (heaven forbid) she says no. Whatever the reason, you want to know how much time you have on the clock for your own peace of mind.
Zoara – 45 Days
James Allen – 30 Days
Brian Gavin – 15 Days
Attractiveness of the Gift Box – This should not matter, because they go in the drawer right after the diamond is presented, but trust us, it matters a lot for the 60 seconds of crunch time. You want a good-looking box. Yes you can buy your own, but let’s make it easy!
HD Image of the Actual Diamond Being Purchased – Clearly we’re in the minority about its importance, because only one of the three had a image of the actual diamond (James Allen) while another had a sort of x-ray picture (Brian Gavin), still we want to see our diamond.
Gemologist’s Final Inspection – Brian Gavin, James Allen and Zoara all have a gemologist inspect the diamond before it goes out (in fact Brian Gavin himself inspects all diamonds). We like this feature, but also note that the diamond certificate serves a similar purpose.
Chat Room Help – Everyone has a few questions, and in this day an age you can sit on hold for 20 minutes waiting for a live person, or you can open a chat.
Customer Education – Online diamond purchasers are not diamond experts, but on average they do complete a little research before they buy. A good customer education program at the different stores is a win-win for everyone. James Allen tops this one.
Brand Recognition – This is the last criteria, because once it goes on the finger most people won’t be able to tell where it came from. Still, a good brand feels great on the soul.
Brian GavinBrian Gavin7.4 Our ScoreProsWhat we like about Brian Gavin: HD display of the diamond, gemologist's final inspection, the best gift box of the group of five.ConsWhat we don’t like about Brian Gavin: Price, 15-day return policy, and selectionBest Price6Better Business Bureau Rating10Return Policy5Gift Box10Diamond Selection5HD Image of Actual Diamond7Gemologist Final Inspection10Brand Recognition8.5Customer Education7Chat Room Help5.5
Brian Gavin is the most boutique-y of the group. Their website is largely focused on their Hearts on Fire uber-special cut stones – the best of the best cut. This is their shtick. These are the most precisely cut, “above ideal cut” (if that’s actually possible) diamonds available. We are in agreement with them about how special their stones are, but don’t know if the average online buyer would want this, primarily because the average brick and mortar buyer does not. Most people want very good, even excellent stones, but not the best of the best. These are reserved for the Kardashians, Trumps, and Blake Lively. For us mere mortals, a diamond that she will love that does not cost the same as the down payment on a house is perfectly fine. As an aside both Brian Gavin and James Allen have a super-stone line as well. These are called Brian Gavin Heart on Fire and James Allen True Hearts Diamonds respectively, so if this is what you really want, compare all three designer lines.
Still, we respect this as a distinguishing factor for Brian Gavin and if you’re that buyer (ultra high end diamonds online), go for it. You’ll get a nice discount. What we’re uncomfortable with, nay, what we really don’t like, is their return policy, it’s 15 days. This means you’d better sprint to the venue and pop the question ASAP.
What we like about Brian Gavin: HD display of the diamond, gemologist’s final inspection, the best gift box of the group of three.
HD Display of the diamond
Brain Gavin displays a sort of x-ray photo of the diamond. We believe this is to illustrate their hyper-intense focus on quality. We have to admit the images are impressive and you should visit their website if for no other reason than to examine their technology.
Brian Gavin himself’s final inspection
Brian Gavin himself inspects every diamond before it goes out the door. We like it when top professionals step into a process that is largely mass customization.
When you present the diamond, it will sit in a fantastic gift box. Brian Gavin has the best gift box of the group of three.
What we don’t like about Brian Gavin: Price, 15-day return policy, and selection
15 day return policy
Brian Gavin’s return policy is 15 days, all the others are 30 days except Zoara, which has as 45 day return policy.
Brian Gavin has two diamonds returned when queried with the test diamond criteria. We can hypothesize on this but suspect this is because BG focuses most of its attention on the near perfect end of the diamond game.
Of the group of three, Brian Gavin was the most expensive.
The test diamond, a GIA certified, 1 carat round VS2 cut, VG clarity, G color diamond was $7603 at Brian Gavin. At Zales’ online portal, a diamond with the same 4Cs was $9393. Brian Gavin was 19% less than Zales. The same 4Cs diamond at Zoara was $5349.
To Go to Brian Gavin Click the Button Below
- James Allen
James Allen8.8 Our ScoreProsWhat we like about James Allen: Price, gemologist's final inspection, A+ Better Business Bureau rating, gift boxConsWhat we don’t like about James Allen: Nothing. Although they were very good, but not excellent in a few areas, they were the most consistent across all 10 criteria.Best Price9.5Better Business Bureau Rating10Return Policy8Gift Box8Diamond Selection6HD Image of Actual Diamond10Gemologist Final Inspection9Brand Recognition9Customer Education8Chat Room Help10
A little know fact about James Allen is that they used to be called DirtCheapDiamonds.com. We find that hard to believe, not because their prices aren’t competitive, (they are very competitive) but because they do a wonderful job with branding a product that most people would call first class.
James Allen is a New York based online diamond store that started its life in 1998. It was at this time that James Allen Schultz opened DirtCheapDiamonds.com. In 2005 Dirt Cheap Diamonds rebranded itself as James Allen. While we aren’t privy to the inner workings of the original website, what we see today is arguably one of the best online diamond stores in the world. Their site is clean and intuitive, their online chat feature is top notch and their selection is very good.
We don’t know the exact revenue number for James Allen because they are privately held, but what we do know is that, at the time of this review was published they were A+ rated by the Better Business Bureau and they had one feature that we absolutely love…
…they display the actual diamond you are considering up close, in rotating 360 degree HD.
What is James Allen Really Good At?
360 Degree Diamond Display Technology – As mentioned above we love the fact that you can inspect your diamond virtually before it’s shipped. You can spin it around 360 degrees in either direction which means you can see the top, sides and bottom.
Price – James Allen was basically tied for first in price, together with Zoara, with Zoara edging out a few more times that James Allen, but not by a significant dollar margin. This means that unless none of the other features offered at James Allen are important, price should not necessarily be the deciding factor.
Gift Box and Packaging – We love James Allen’s gift packaging. It was second only to Brian Gavin, who absolutely nailed it.
What Could James Allen Improve Upon?
One thing that James Allen could do a little better on is selection. They did well enough (the Test Diamond returned 12 matches). Don’t misunderstand, in a brick and mortar store 12 diamonds that possess the identical 4 C’s would be unheard of, but we didn’t have any other negative comments so we had to think of something!
Overall we loved James Allen. Their pricing was excellent, actual display of the diamond unique, and gift packaging beautiful.
To Go To James Allen Click the Button Below
Zoara7.8 Our ScoreProsPrice, Diamond Selection, GIA Graded, 45 Day Return Policy,ConsA rating (vs A+ rating) from the Better Business Bureau, No HD display of actual diamondSummaryWe could actually be convinced that Zoara was #1 except for the A rating from the BBB. Is this horrible, no, but math is math (as a reference Amazon.com is B rated).Best Price10Better Business Bureau Rating8Return Policy10Gift Box7.5Diamond Selection10HD Image of Actual Diamond5Gemologist Final Inspection5Brand Recognition8Customer Education8Chat Room Help6.5
Zoara’s heritage is different that the other online diamond stores. James Allen was started because the founder could not find a good online diamond store, so out of inspiration (or desperation) he saw a niche and jumped on it. Zoara’s founders came from the retail market. For decades they offered diamonds and other fine jewelry to their customers throughout the United States. In 2008, Zoara’s online platform was formed as an extension of an already big business. We are not privy to the store’s financial metrics, but our assumption (given Zoara’s popularity) is that Zoara’s online operations outsell Zoara’s brick and mortar operations by a country mile.
Speaking of country mile, Zoara’s HQ is in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. This means overhead is cheap, which also means the savings are passed on to you. Further, as of the date of the publication of this review, Zoara offers something that none of our other two online stores offer…
… a 45 day return period.
One is 30 days and one is 15 days! Now you might not think that is important, but sometimes life gets in the way of delivering the diamond to your loved one. Or they just don’t like it, or it the case of an engagement ring, they need time to think it over! Whatever the reason 45 days is very, very useful.
What is Zoara Really Good At?
As mentioned above they have a terrific return policy. If they had an A+ Better Business Bureau rating (Zoara is A rated – still very good), the way James Allen did, we could be convinced to rate Zoara the highest of the three overall!
Price – Zoara was basically tied for first in price, together with James Allen. This means that unless none of the other features offered at Zoara are important, price should not necessarily be the deciding factor.
Selection – Zoara had the highest number of matches on the Test Diamond search among the three online diamond stores (110 exact matches).
Online Diamond Selector – All online stores allowed you to select the 4 C’s. Normally, you have to read the description of each to ascertain Polish, Symmetry and Florescence. Zoara allows you to choose those factors as search criteria as well. This, combined with their ridiculously large inventory, means that your odds of quickly zeroing in on the right diamond go way up. We say quickly because the other stores will offer great diamonds that are also at the top of the scale in terms of Polish, Symmetry and Florescence as well, you just need to read a little more.
What Could Zoara Improve Upon?
We know it’s petty, but Zoara’s A rating from the Better Business Bureau (vs. an A+ rating) is a focus point for us. An A rating is very good, and most businesses would be thrilled to have an A rating. The fact that the others are A+ may mean that those stores are more willing to defend the rating (and more importantly do the right thing by the customer) if the customer approaches the BBB with a complaint. Still we realize we might put too much weighting on this and acknowledge it accordingly.
Overall we think Zoara is fantastic. Their pricing was excellent, return policy exceptional and their selection (and online diamond pricer) is the best of the three in our view.
To Go to Zoara Click the Button Below
Related reading: Should you Get a Zoara for Your Señora?
These three online diamond stores are the best (in Jewelers.NYC’s humble opinion) pure play online diamond dealers in the market. There are many others that also sell online, Both Kay and Zales have online diamond stores, but these hybrids fail to master the principals of online jewelry: Price, selection and order processing. The reason we believe is that they are simply taking online orders at a brick and mortar operation. The now defunct Borders Bookstore did the same thing, but they could not compete with Amazon. With hundreds of physical locations, an online leg to the operations does not reduce overhead, it does not open the inventory up to hundreds of potential suppliers vying for business, and importantly, the internal processes have not been built for decades to streamline the assembly of the perfect diamond, hundreds of times a day – there is no process for mass customization.
All of our online diamond stores recommendations sell diamonds whose four C’s are certified by well respected diamond labs such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), so distinguishing between them based on quality of diamonds would not be possible. Instead buyers typically choose their diamond based on one of 10 attributes, with the top five of Price, Better Business Bureau Rating, Return Policy, Gift Box and Best Overall being the most common. Because of this, we have given you our considered recommendations below. To see each store in action, simply click on the corresponding button below the text.