The trick to getting the best deal on diamond jewelry is knowing where to shop. If you had to pick the “Walmart” of jewelry stores, what would it be? Most likely you would be thinking along the lines of such brands as Zales, Kay Jewelers and the Jewelry Exchange, and guess what? You would be wrong! While these large chains position themselves as having rock bottom prices on diamond jewelry, and create massive awareness via advertising, their prices are actually quite expensive especially given the mediocre to low quality of their diamonds.
If you have a budget and are looking for the best possible deal, skip out on these chain jewelry stores or department stores such as Macy’s and JCPenney, and go to small privately owned jewelry stores. There, you will find unbeatable deals, and get every penny worth in the superior quality of the diamonds they sell.
When it comes down to the bottom line, you can save about 10-15% on diamond jewelry in a small jewelry store. Now, this is not a hard rule and not all small privately owned jewelers are the same, but if you shop around, you can realize savings that would not be possible in a large chain such as Zales. An important thing to keep in mind is that in small jewelry stores you will be getting an overall much higher quality stone.
This means that even if you find something of equal prices in a small shop and say at Zales, make sure to carefully compare the quality of the diamond, because chances are Zales will be selling you a mediocre-quality stone, which means you will actually be overpaying ( if you ever try to sell this stone to a smaller jeweler that deals in higher quality diamonds, you will get a lot less money for it than you paid at a store like Zales).
In chains like Kay Jewelers, there is no room for bargaining and in fact there is no one to bargain with. Prices are set in the corporate offices and the best you can get are predetermined sales deals that are advertised in the stores. Sales representatives and store managers are not authorized to modify prices to make a sale, so any attempt at bargaining is doomed from the start. On the contrary, in privately owned jewelry stores, where you are dealing either directly with the owner, or the representative who can contact the owner, you have a green light to bargain. Its important to remember that because both the price of diamonds and gold is set, and the jeweler has to make a profit, you should only shoot for about a 10-15% discount. Obviously the more you are willing to spend, the more flexible they will be with pricing.
Selection and quality of Diamonds
Most low-end (chains) jewelry stores have a rather limited inventory of loose stones to choose from (if any at all). Moreover, most diamonds there are typically not of the highest quality, as these stores cater to customers who are not very knowledgeable about diamonds and will not be asking too many questions. I have watched time and again, couples who walk into one of these stores, pick out a ring that has a large enough diamond in it, and purchase it without inspecting the stone or giving it any second thought. When I asked to examine a few diamonds with a loop at both the Jewelry Exchange and Zales, I was very unimpressed with the quality: I looked at numerous SI1 and I1 clarity diamonds, and all of them had visible, dark inclusions and rather poor cut, which made the stone far for perfect.
If you actually care about the quality of a diamond you are purchasing, you cannot go wrong with small jewelry stores. They typically hand pick the best quality diamonds even in the lower – end categories of clarity and cut. At Joseph Gann Jewelers in Boston, I looked at I1 (a fairly low clarity) Diamonds GIA Certified that had such small inclusions, that I could only see them with a loop, and they were completely invisible to the naked eye. As the store owner explained to me, it is just not worth it for them to carry poor quality stones, because they do not sell well. Moreover, private jewelers offer a wider selection in a particular prices range, and may offer you 5-7 different loose stones to choose from, as compared to large chains, which typically only offer 2-3 diamonds to choose from.
Diamond Quality and Certifications “Scams”
Besides selling low quality diamond rings, mall chains use No-Name diamond certifications laboratories (GSI / GEMEX, JEGG, etc.) – these laboratories artificially inflate the quality of the diamond, compared to de-facto standard GIA certifications.
Here is how it works: GIA (Gemological Institute of America) is considered to be the most accurate certification you can get. GIA does not inflate the diamond’s value – therefore GIA certified diamonds are the most expensive diamonds you can buy. Next in line is EGL certified diamonds which are considered by most jewelers in US to just slightly off, and are usually about 3-5% less expensive than GIA.
Other no name certifications, will overestimate the the real quality of the stone, and since diamonds are priced based on their specs (Color, Clarity, Cut and Carat Weight or the 4 C’s) according to GIA, this overestimating, balloons the nominal cost of the stone.
Most no name certifications typically go 1 step up on COLOR, CLARITY, and sometimes the Cut / Polish of the stone.
Example with real numbers:
Lets say we have two stones, 1 Carat each, with F color (D being the best, and M being the worst), and SI1 Clarity (Slight Inclusions 1). See Clarity and Color charts above above to better understand how color and clarity works.
If it was a GIA certified diamond, it would cost $7500.
Since Mall Chains never sell GIA stones, they should be rated at least 1 step lower on BOTH clarity and color.
Thus, our stone becomes G color and SI2 clarity. Now the cost for such stone drops to $6300 – this is $1200 or almost 20% difference, just playing the no name certification game.
In this “Don’t Buy Diamonds from KAY Jewelers” article on Diamond-Calculator.com, you will see a comparison of KAY’s top of the line 3/4 Carat stone in a solitaire setting priced at $4999 after discount.
(On that site you can also estimate a true retail value of a diamond based on GIA certification and Rapaport Diamonds Price list).
The stone is certified as 0.71 CT, I Color, SI2 Clarity, Very Good cut. by GSI / GEMEX ( what is GSI / GEMEX anyway??? 🙂 ).
Stone 2 – 3/4 CT Tolkowsky line (Best diamonds from KAY)
Specs: 0.71 CT, I Color, SI2 Clarity, Very Good cut.
KAY Price: $4999
RAP Price for GIA Diamond with same specs: $2201 + $500 (setting) = $2701
Conclusion: KAY loses by $2298. This is an 85% premium over what this ring should cost, IF Kay’s diamond was GIA certified.
Not only this is a one overpriced stone, it also should be rated on step lower on both Color and Clarity (if it was rated by GIA), which would change the cost of such stone to $1562.
Bottom line – the mall chains will try to sell you a much lower quality diamond then they claim it to be! The problem with the No Name certifications is that they are completely legal, as evaluating a diamond is purely subjective, and Mall Jewelry Chains play this game, and do so very well – in terms of screwing the customers that is!
One of the biggest downsides to shopping in large chain stores is complete lack of transparency. Typically, their staff is not trained to answer any in-depth questions about diamond clarity, color and cut, and they are looking to make a fast sale rather than answer customer questions. Moreover, they typically do not know where their diamonds come from. While all of these stores will say that they have a policy to only work with suppliers that offer conflict-free diamonds, because these are such large corporations, they have no way of tracing the exact origin of their stones, or so they say… Most importantly, most of these stores have a policy of only showing you one loose diamond at a time, and will not let you compare them side by side, therefore making it a lot more difficult to make an educated decision.
Small jewelers are all about transparency. Their sales reps will happily answer your questions and will take their time to educate you about diamonds, how they are made, where the price comes from, etc… If you care about knowing exactly where your diamond was mined, small jewelers generally know the origin and will be able to tell you the country from which you are getting your diamond. Obviously, they also do their best to only work with suppliers who sell conflict-free diamonds, and because they are smaller businesses they have greater control over tracking each diamond, than big jewelry corporations do.
One of the biggest benefits I find in smaller jewelry stores is that they let you take a look at 3-4 diamonds at the same time. In fact, they encourage you to examine the stones carefully and compare them to each other, to pick out a diamond that you like best. This is the smartest way to choose a diamond, because when you see stones next to each other, it is much easier to sport the imperfections in color and clarity that they may have.