James Allen is a just a little bit different from many New York jewelers. It’s rare that any company has had the impact that they have had on their chosen market. Founded only in 2006, and so pointedly without the history of many jewelry houses, James Allen has become one of the biggest diamond names in the USA. In fact, the company claims to be the largest e-commerce retailer of diamonds in the US. With over 150,000 diamonds available at any one time, it’s hard to argue.
Oh, and they don’t actually run a single retail outlet. Everything they do is online, or almost everything. They do operate a red carpet appointment service, but not everyone gets through their doors so easily.
The James Allen Business Model
Not running bricks and mortar stores can have a massive impact on the profitability of any business. When you factor in NYC rents and costs, the difference can be staggering. Instead of risking vital capital funds on supporting walk-in stores, the company made the decision to be an e-commerce platform only. They brought in experts in both diamonds and sales and set about building a business that would have an impact far greater than anybody expected.
The lack of retail stores meant the company had to find new ways of getting their products in front of customers. To do this, they devised a virtual showroom. This allows customers to design or view any ring or diamond in the collection. A full 360-degree viewing is possible with the virtual system.
So, given that you can’t actually try a range of rings on before deciding which you want to buy, is it a good way to buy?
Pros of James Allen
Buying From James Allen
It would probably be wide of the mark to suggest that the only way to buy jewelry is in person. More and more, these days, online is seen as the preferred way to buy almost anything. Jewelry is no exception to this, of course. It is better to buy in person, as there’s nothing better than seeing any type of goods in person. But online buying is perfectly acceptable. To this end, James Allen offers a wide range of services that are covered by a 30-day money back guarantee. Free ring-sizing is also available for up to 60 days after purchase. You do need to return the ring at your own expense, but delivery back to you is free.
The 360-degree viewing system actually works very well and is available for all product images on all pages. The range of rings and gemstones of all types is vast. There are more diamonds than anything else, as might be expected, but rubies sapphires and emeralds all feature.
When custom designing a ring, it is done in managed stages. You choose your gemstone type, and then a particular stone from those offered. Next step is to choose a setting. The settings that appear are suitable for your chosen stone, so you may not always see the same choices. One huge advantage over many similar systems is the guarantee. Often, when buying custom-designed items, it’s all at your own risk. James Allen actually offers the same 30 Day returns guarantee on every single item they sell, custom or “off the shelf”.
Such is the size of the James Allen operation, that customer services are available 24/7. That is just about unique in the jewelry industry, and the company deserves a lot of credit for investing in such a level of service.
One final (and quite remarkable) point to mention is the James Allen upgrade policy. If you buy a diamond at, for example, $2,000, they will give you 100% of that value against a new diamond. There are conditions, of course. The diamond must be in the original condition, with no chips or other damage. It must also be accompanied by the original grading document provided at purchase. Finally, the offer is only good against diamonds with 2x or more of the original stone. This may sound like a lot, but is actually a very generous offer by industry standards.
Cons of James Allen
As great as the buying process can be, it does have limitations. One or two of these are actually quite significant, in our opinion.
When buying any gemstone, whether a diamond or anything else, the quality of the images seems really sketchy. This is especially noticeable in colored gemstones such as rubies. The site will show several stones, all around the same weight, and with what looks like the same cut. The problem is that the displayed colors of the rubies are very different. They range from light pink to a very deep red and yet are all priced the same. Now, of course, there is more to any gemstone than color, but it is a big part of a ruby. Despite this, there are few details of the stones themselves available.
The images are at 20x magnification, in an effort to simulate a jeweler’s loupe. This is okay up to a point, but we found a lot of images to be ever-so-slightly out of focus. It might not be obvious to an untrained eye, but it still seems an odd flaw in the system.
Also, if custom designing a ring, you can’t actually see a simulation of your chosen stone in your chosen setting. Instead, you will see them alongside each other. Yes, the system is innovative and works from a technical point of view, but is that enough? Probably not. Compete rings don’t have this issue, of course, and the 360-degree viewing is very good.
Another downside (on a very subjective angle) is the lack of vintage jewelry. We love vintage jewelry and so do most of our readers. We always send our fans to Estate Diamond Jewelry, Catherine Angeil or Grey and Davis when they are looking for an engagement ring.
Despite their promise of 24/7 customer service, there are many reports of it failing when needed. Lack of contact seems to be the biggest complaint. Bearing in mind that we’re talking several hundred dollars, if not several thousand, people naturally like to have as much information as possible before buying.
They also want to know where their order is up to after they have paid. Each order does have an audit trail for setting, sizing, despatching etc., but these seem very inconsistent in the information they provide.
There is also a lot of concern over James Allen’s reluctance to address poor reviews directly on their website. In reality, though, no company is going to show anything but good testimonials, it’s just a fact. Instead, that’s why we have the murky world of Yelp and TrustPilot.
The general consensus, once you take out the best and worst reviews, is that James Allen is an exceptional diamond supplier, but perhaps not so exceptional a jeweler. Their finished rings seemingly aren’t always appreciated by the buyer although, to be fair to James Allen, they sell a LOT of rings, so there will always be the odd poor example that creeps through. They are also very public in responding to complaints online, which is to their credit.
James Allen is big business in a very competitive marketplace. They have a range of products, particularly gemstones, which is hard to compete with. There are suspicions that the size of the company may also occasionally work against them. Customer service isn’t always great, and the quality of their products is sometimes viewed unfavorably by the purchaser. These are all indicators of a company who need to watch that expansion doesn’t destroy goodwill that has been built up.
However, credit where it’s due. To build a business of this scale from nothing, in a little over 10 years is a remarkable achievement.Is it perfect? No, but few businesses are. Perhaps, as buyers of jewelry and what it means, we are a little less forgiving than if we were buying, say, a dishwasher. Either way, James Allen is here and is a force to be reckoned with.
A final “but”, though, is that you still can’t beat seeing any piece of jewelry in person. It has its price, yes, but personal is always better than impersonal.