Blue Nile is the biggest online diamond retailer. Based in Seattle, the company has been around since 1999, and over time, it has earned a reputation as the go-to place for buying engagement rings and other jewelry online.
Our aim in this review is to provide an objective assessment of Blue Nile’s offerings, service, and retail policies, focusing on what is most important and relevant to you as a customer.
We have evaluated Blue Nile on the following criteria:
- Third-party diamond certification
- Information provided on individual diamonds
- Customization options
- Product return policy and refunds
- Shipping policies
- Financing options
Below we have summarized what we found out when evaluating each of these criteria.
We found that Blue Nile offers some of the most competitive retail prices for loose diamonds. People sometimes think of high-end jewelry as overpriced and imagine that jewelers make outrageous profits on diamond rings, but in the case of Blue Nile, this couldn’t be further from the truth, as we established.
Since Blue Nile is a public company, which discloses its financial results, we can easily see how much money it makes and if it is really ripping you off.
For the entire 2013, the company made a profit of slightly less than $11 million on $450 million in revenues (source). In other words, out of every dollar customers paid for jewelry, only about 2.4 cents were retained by the company as profits.
But there’s more – while researching Blue Nile’s offerings, we found out that it provides an additional guarantee that you won’t overpay for diamonds:
The Diamond Price Match Guarantee
According to Blue Nile’s Diamond Price Match Guarantee, if you find a diamond that is cheaper than one offered by Blue Nile and which has the same quality characteristics, Blue Nile will match the competitor’s price.
Blue Nile offers arguably the most extensive selection of loose diamonds on the retail market. For example, for round diamonds, the store carries more than 100,000 stones. You’ll have a hard time finding an online retailer that can beat that number.
Selecting a good diamond means finding a stone that meets certain minimum criteria for cut, color, clarity, symmetry, polish, fluorescence, girdle thickness, proportions, light return, etc. Not all diamonds are going to perform well on all these metrics, so having lots of stones to choose from means that you have a better chance of finding at least one that looks great, fits your budget, and is also a great value.
Third-Party Diamond Certification
When shopping for diamonds, it is very important to have a guarantee that whatever the seller tells you about the quality of their diamonds can be verified by an independent expert. As you may know, in the diamond industry, this is achieved by having stones certified by a third-party gemological lab, which issues a diamond certificate (diamond grading report) for individual diamonds.
If you look at the diamonds sold by Blue Nile, you will notice that all of them are certified by the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) or AGS (American Gem Society). These labs are two of the most reputable places where you can have a diamond graded.
It is important that a grading laboratory is not only independent of the retailer whose diamonds it evaluates, and thus free of potential bias, but also one that has stringent and consistent criteria for grading diamonds. GIA and AGS both fit these criteria, and that’s why we recommend that you look for a certificate issued by either of these organizations when shopping for a diamond.
Diamond Information and Details
When deciding whether to buy a particular diamond, it is important how much information you have about it in order to make a sound purchase decision. In general, the more details you have about a stone, the better.
We found that Blue Nile’s diamonds are accompanied by information that is detailed enough to make sure you know what you are buying. Each stone comes with details about its color, clarity, cut, and carat weight, as well as its table, depth, polish, symmetry, girdle, culet, fluorescence, and stone measurements. All these data points are verified by the information included in the diamond’s certificate.
One of the trickiest characteristics to judge in a diamond is clarity, and this is where details are of utmost importance. What you want for your stone is to be eye clean – i.e. not have flaws visible with the naked eye. Gleaning this information from the clarity grade of the stone is not always possible, as one stone of a particular grade can be eye clean while another of the same grade can have an inclusion whose color and location make it visible to the naked eye.
Looking at the diamond diagram in the grading report is also not always helpful because flaws there are represented by standard symbols that show you the location and type of the inclusion but not how visible it is.
For most diamonds in Blue Nile’s inventory, there is no way to see a real picture or video of the stone of your choice, with one exception – the Signature Ideal Cut Collection (a selection of diamonds that come with an additional diamond report), which contains enlarged photos for each stone. These diamonds are also cut to great precision to ensure maximum light performance and brilliance – the cream of the crop of Ideal-cut stones at Blue Nile.
So what should you do to make sure your diamond is eye clean?
In most cases, buying a diamond with a clarity grade of VS1 or higher will be enough to ensure that the stone is unlikely to have visible inclusions.
We recommend that you also contact Blue Nile’s customer service prior to purchasing a diamond to make sure that the particular stone you are about to buy is eye clean.
If you select a diamond from the Signature Ideal Cut Collection, you will also be able to see photos of the stone before you decide whether to buy it.
Ring Customization Options
If you are looking to buy a piece of jewelry that is like no other, Blue Nile is one of the few retailers that offer a an option to fully customize your ring.
When most other jewelers tell you that they let you customize your ring, what they actually mean is that they let you select from a set of pre-made settings and they then mount the loose diamond you’ve chosen into a setting of your choice.
With Blue Nile’s customization engine, however, you can build your ring from scratch in 3D and preview a realistic wax model of it before you decide to go ahead and have it crafted.
Return Policy and Refunds
When you’re buying and expensive item such as a diamond ring and you haven’t seen it in person, it is very important to shop at a retailer that minimizes the risk that you would be stuck with a pricy item if you didn’t like it.
Blue Nile offers a 30-day money back guarantee and thus ensures that if you are not satisfied with your piece of jewelry for any reason, you will get your money back.
We strongly suggest that you read Blue Nile’s return policy before placing any orders.
One of the great things about buying jewelry from Blue Nile is that you get free shipping to all locations in the U.S. and Europe.
If you reside in another location, we suggest that you read the international shipping policies.
Compared to most other online retailers, Blue Nile stands out when it comes to financing. An item such as a diamond ring can be too expensive to pay for in full right away, but the company offers the Blue Nile Credit Card, which has terms that are quite flexible.
You can choose a financing period that is 6, 12, 24, 36, or 48 months long. And the great thing is that Blue Nile doesn’t charge interest for its 6- and 12-month plans, provided that you are not late on your payments.
When we consider all factors we listed above – prices, selection, certification, money back guarantee, free shipping, etc. – we can conclude that Blue Nile is one of the best places to shop for diamond jewelry.
As we pointed out throughout our evaluation, on most of the abovementioned criteria, Blue Nile is either better than its competitors or at least not surpassed by other online diamond retailers.