There’s an old English saying which goes “If you want to know the time, ask a policeman”. It basically means if you want to know something, ask someone who will know. Nowadays, with the internet being universally accessible, many “facts” come from self-appointed experts. Buying diamonds and diamond jewelry is no exception. There are lots of experts out there with very differing opinions on what you should by and, more importantly, how much you should pay for it.
In amongst all this is one the country’s most respected buyer and seller of diamonds, Blue Nile.
About Blue Nile
Amongst the first online seller of diamonds, the company has been doing so since 1999. They claim to have over 150,000 diamonds available on their site, and each can be bought loose or set into any type of jewelry. As with a few other dealers, the success of Blue Nile has all been about online retail.
Because diamonds which reach the market are all given a grading, if you know what to buy, you don’t necessarily need to see it first. Any 1 carat round brilliant cut diamond of G color and vs2 clarity, for example, should be identical to another with the same grading. It’s like knowing the spec of a car. If you like the look of the new Ford Pickup, there’s nothing to stop you buying it online at a cheaper price. Assuming the dealer is honest, it will be identical to the one in your nearest dealer showroom, but for much less money.
And so it is with Blue Nile. They describe their business model as “disruptive”. Disruptive, that is, to the rest of the industry, with cost savings and other benefits passed to the customer.
But, 20 years on, is it still the winning combination it once was?
Buying From Blue Nile
All Blue Nile diamonds come with a GIA certificate. GIA (Gemological Institute of America) is the most respected of the handful of recognized diamond grading companies. This means you can trust the certificate which accompanies each diamond implicitly.
Each diamond on their website has every bit of information that is included on the certificate. From the cut to the clarity and color, down to the specific length: width ratio and the percentage figures for the depth and the table. These are all crucial when grading diamonds, as just one parameter being outside the accepted norm can affect the price significantly. This level of information being readily provided is not the norm. Many dealers will provide their own summary, rather than the specific certificate details.
Blue Nile also has a custom ring designer on their website. This is in keeping with many of the bigger players in the industry, and Blue Nile was amongst the first to offer such a facility. The feature works well and allows you to put your desired diamond in the setting you choose. It also allows a 360-degree view which can rotate automatically or with the mouse. Of all the ones we’ve used, it is certainly among the best. All in all, buying a loose diamond or a custom ring was quick and easy.
All Blue Nile diamonds are certified conflict-free. This means there is a full chain of ownership available from the mine to the dealer. They also claim they will attempt to price match any comparable diamond available elsewhere. Often, this is a hollow promise, although they do offer an automated process for entering the details of the other diamond, and comparing it to their own stock. This provides a little more faith in their promise that might otherwise be felt.
After Sales Service
One of the highlights of buying from Blue Nile is that they offer a 30 day, no questions asked returns policy. They apply a few conditions, but nothing that is unreasonable or difficult to achieve on your part.
Periodical free cleaning is increasingly included with any purchase from the larger dealers, and Blue Nile is no exception. In fact, where most dealers offer annual cleaning, Blue Nile offer a 6 monthly service. You need to pay the postage back to Blue Nile, but after that, they will clean your ring and send it back free of charge.
One aspect of after sales service which is increasingly common is the 100% trade-in deal. Trade in your diamond for one costing at least twice as much as your original purchase price, and you will get that purchase price as a discount on your new diamond. Again, terms and conditions do apply, but they are not unreasonable. If you are having your ring cleaned every 6 months, none of it should be an issue.
We should, of course, also talk about pricing. We’d be surprised if you ever did need to use Blue Nile’s price matching service, such as the value they offer. Walk into Tiffany’s, if you like, but you’ll pay 60% more for an identical ring. No, it won’t have the Tiffany box with it, but is that worth thousands of dollars? We don’t think so.
If we’re honest, it’s always better to buy in person. That’s not a critique of online sellers, it’s just a fact. Nothing beats holding something in your hand before laying your money down. As easy and quick as Blue Nile make things, it’s still a bit of a soulless transaction. That’s fine if you’re buying computer cables off Amazon, but buying a diamond ring should be different. However, for all that, nobody makes it as straightforward as Blue Nile, and they do have real people on hand should you need help. To be honest, the prices they charge make the lack of human contact pretty easy to deal with.
One of the problems for any retailer is, the bigger you are, the more examples of problems you will find. Look online and you will see a lot of poor reviews from dissatisfied customers. What you need to do, of course, is balance it against the vast number of great reviews out there. The fact is, things go wrong. If you sell 100 items a year and get 90 good reviews and 10 bad ones, chances are the bad ones will hardly ever be seen. But see 100,000 and the number of bad reviews will be greater too.
If you want something engraving, Blue Nile charge $25. This may sound nominal, and it is, but when you’re spending $10,000 on a ring, surely they could throw the engraving in for free?
Blue Nile did have something of a customer service crisis about 10 years ago when it seemed there were more unhappy than happy customers. This does seem to have improved significantly, but those reviews are all still floating about. We recommend you read as many as possible before making your mind up.
After Sales Service
We mentioned the price matching that Blue Nile offer and, whilst a good offer if you follow the rules, following them can be tricky. Because Blue Nile sign exclusivity deals with many wholesalers worldwide, actually finding an identical diamond for comparison on their site can be difficult.
Although the self-design process is good, you don’t actually see the diamond you are buying. Take from that what you will. Other dealers, like James Allen use the actual diamond on their site but Blue Nile choose not to, it seems.
You do pay for all return shipping with Blue Nile, where other dealers cover that cost for you. Frankly, that’s a little disappointing for a company as big as they are. If their products are of the standard they claim, returns should be minimal anyway.
Look, Blue Nile is a big company, and one of the leaders in their field. You don’t get to be either of those without being pretty good at what you do. The downside is that profits become as important as customer service. We see it all the time with large businesses, where shareholders demand dividends, and corners get cut to satisfy them.
We’re not suggesting for a second that Blue Nile deliberately neglect their customers but, you do see more bad reviews pro rata, than for their competitors. It could be down to quality control or just that they aren’t as good as they think they are.
For all that, we would certainly recommend adding Blue Nile to your buying research list. They mostly do a great job, and the odds are in your favor.