Deal experts say that the best time to buy jewelry is after Valentine’s Day, when prices drop as demand wanes. But your sweetheart might not be too impressed with an IOU on February 14, especially if you pop the question without a ring. So how does a money-savvy shopper get a good price on a diamond before Valentine’s Day? By looking online.
You might be thinking it’s too risky to buy a diamond without actually seeing it. But reputable online jewelers offer images (sometimes videos), detailed descriptions and certification of their diamonds and provide personalized customer service and money-back guarantees. Because major online retailers buy stones in higher volumes than local brick-and-mortar jewelry stores, they are able to negotiate more aggressively on the pricing, says Michael Bisceglia, president of Stauer, a catalog and online jewelry retailer. Plus, their prices can be lower because they don’t have to factor in the overhead costs of retail locations and commission for sales people, he says.
By shopping online, you can get a great stone for your budget and choose your setting rather than being limited to what the jewelry store has in stock, says Alastair Smith, author of How to Buy an Engagement Ring. And if you’re strategic about how you select carat, clarity, cut and color, you can get a bargain on a diamond that will impress, he says.
Here’s what you need to know about buying diamonds online and how to get the best price:
Stick with a reputable retailer. Blue Nile is the largest online retailer of diamonds and jewelry. But there are plenty of other reputable retailers, including B2C Jewels, James Allen and Whiteflash (see Smith’s list of recommended online jewelers for more). Before buying from any online retailer, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) recommends that consumers check to see how long it’s been in business, examine its return and shipping policies, read Web reviews about it and find out if it belongs to any jewelry trade associations (which have strict requirements for quality and service). Reputable retailers will provide certification for their stones. Although independent labs provide gem grading and analysis, GIA certification is preferred, Smith says.
Consider shapes other than round. There are nine other common shapes of diamonds – all of which offer big price savings over round, Smith says. For example, oval diamonds usually cost about 25% to 30% less than round ones, and Asscher cut diamonds are 35% to 40% less, Smith says. So opting for a shape other than round is a great way to save money without sacrificing size.
Watch the weight. Diamond weight is measured in carats. Most people want at least 1 carat for an engagement ring, Smith says, but you could save by going slightly smaller. For example, the untrained eye can’t tell the difference between a 1 carat diamond and a 0.97 carat diamond, but the slightly smaller one will cost about 10% less, he says. So when you’re shopping online, compare a range of weights.
Forgo perfection. Clarity is a measure of how many inclusions – or natural flaws – a diamond has. You’ll pay the most for internally flawless (IF) diamonds. By opting for a slightly lower clarity grade, such as slightly included (SI1), you’ll still get a diamond without any obvious flaws but it will be 30% cheaper than a so-called flawless diamond, Smith says.
Compromise on color. Color refers to a diamond’s tone and saturation. The more clear, or white, a diamond is, the more expensive it is. The color scale ranges from D for colorless to Z for a yellowish or brownish stone. You’ll pay the most for diamonds graded D through F. If you opt for a diamond graded G through I, you’ll save money but won’t be able to notice much difference in color, Smith says.
Don’t skimp on cut. You can save money by opting for a slightly lower weight, clarity grade and color grade. But opt for the best cut you can afford, Smith says. Cut refers to a diamond’s proportions and is what determines how well it reflects light. The cut scale ranges from poor to excellent. It’s common for people to sacrifice cut to afford a bigger size, Smith says, but a diamond with a poor cut will look dull. After all, the whole point of a diamond is the sparkle, he says.
Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.
Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.