Avoid buying Diamond Jewelry from Mall Chains (Zales, Kay, etc.)

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.

Diamond Pricing

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.

Damond with Inclusions

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.

Diamond Color Chart

Diamond Clarity Chart

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.

Another example:

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.

7 Replies to “Avoid buying Diamond Jewelry from Mall Chains (Zales, Kay, etc.)”

  1. brandon nichols says:

    Zales sold me a believed to be real diamond ring on a white gold band. We later found out over 3 minus later that it was a fake diamond in a silver band. Now zales is being uncooperative and I am unsure of what to do. M wife is embarrassed and I feel like I got ripped off. Thy completely lied to me and the ring was advertised as a genuine diamond on a white gold band.

    1. Ctown says:

      Call the store (don’t waste your time going up there yet) and ask to speak to the GM of the store. Not an assistant mgr or supervisor, make sure it’s the store decision maker. Explain calmly at first the situation, and nicely ask for their help in getting a refund. If they don’t help you or get pushy, then pull out the I contacted local counsel for representation card and again state all you want is a full refund, wait ‘and see how they respond. Most likely at that point they will call corporate or a territory mgr and request approval or direction. This will force them to take a final stance, not knowing if you really contacted a lawyer or not. If they still say no, contact a local attorney and have him draft a letter demanding a full refund. It will cost you around $100 a $150, but I’m guessing the ring cost you much more than that. They will take you much more seriously and the lawyer will direct you further. If it’s seriously fake, get a licensed appraisal done on it stating such, and show the GM this along with your receipt. This will be proof your story is legit. Again the appraisal will cost you $75 but it’s still worth it. Good luck!! Please post back to let me know how it goes.

    2. Levchik B says:

      The problem is – you cannot prove anything to anyone, whether it’s true or not. Diamons / jewelry (unless super expensive and known) are untracable. Therefore you can’t prove you bought a particular piece at a particular store, for x-dollars.

      BTW … a friend of mine worked a t a Jewelry store in Arizona. And there was common this scam – one guy walks into the store to “look” at something. Then another person walks in, while 1st guy is looking.

      Second person distracts salesman, and during this 1st one replaces real piece with a fake, and gives it back to salesman.
      Most sales people won’t check if the piece is real, and so they put face right back on the shelf. Obviously face piece is prepared to look the same as the real one base on pictures taken by a 3rd scammer few days before … and has labels and all.

      This is a very common scam, so you could be the victim of one of them.

      I really don’t know what it is.

      BUT – Zales is a scam shop – an nobody should waste their money there.

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  3. Linda T says:

    My ex bought me a diamond tennis bracelet from Macy’s for $6900.00 in 2005. Last year it was appraised at a reputable jewelry store for $896.00.
    I agree that mall jewelry chains have poor quality jewelry.

  4. Beverly Serrao says:

    I beg to differ with a lot of what is being said here.
    Independance buy their diamonds from the same dealer that chain stores do, so they are in no better position to indicate origin, the process in place to verify origen is very falty at best, no matter where the diamond comes from.
    Large chain stores have more buying power than independance so they pay less for the same stones.
    What I do agree with is independance will me more pickey on what they buy, they can because they are buying very small quantaties at a time, wherebe, larger chains have to buy for 100’s of stores at a tiem so they have more of a challange in order to acquire the quantity they need to supply their stores.
    On cert houses, most if now all the people working at cert house are GIA trained, GIA gives the grade of a diamond but not the value, there can be a 10% differance in grading a stones, that accounts for what you are refeering to.
    Rapaport is a whole sale price list not retail, if everyone sold at Rapaport prices there woudl be no diamomd business, and their pricing is only good on larger stones.
    I am sure you realize chain stores work under a much tighter controll than independants, however, to be fair you can get very good deals from both.

  5. JESSICA says:

    certified diamonds are laser enscibed and you can get the diamonds gem certification that has the enscibed number on it too. That way if someone you trust steals it and you or the police can take it from them take it and it’s certificate to the jeweler they can prove it’s the same and if the diamond isn’t enscribed you can have it enscribed. Then the person can be arrested your insurance company offers theft coverage too. The enscribed number prevents pawn shops from buying stolen merchandise.

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