Updated July 24, 2016

Blue Nile Review: Really Good Place to Buy a Ring?

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Blue Nile offers diamonds up to 40% lower, but are they good? Our review tells you what you need to know about this large online jewelry retailer.

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Overall Score

4.3

Price

5.0

Selection

5.0

Data

3.5

Customer Service

3.5
5-point scale (the higher, the better)

Pros and Cons

  • Largest selection of diamonds online
  • Low price guarantee
  • Limited data for most diamonds
  • Limited setting choices

Bottom Line

Good online diamond retailer with large selection and low prices

Thinking of an Engagement Ring?

Buying an engagement ring can be daunting. It can be especially daunting if you have no clue about women's jewelry, you don't have deep pockets, and you're worried you'll be judged the minute you walk in the jewelry store.

Going online to buy the ring gives you a chance to design one for your beloved. In peace, from the comfort of your home. And you can also save big bucks.

If you've considered this, you've probably heard of Blue Nile.

Blue Nile is the largest online diamond retailer, offering pricing of up to 40% lower than traditional stores. Is it good enough for your future spouse and your hard earned money?

CreditDonkey set out to find the answer in this in-depth review.

Overview: What Is Blue Nile?

There's no denying it that Blue Nile is a mega online diamond giant. Back in 2004, Forbes reported that Blue Nile sold as many engagement rings in the U.S. as Tiffany and Co., and it's only continued to grow since then.

  • Blue Nile has the largest online diamond inventory, with almost 190,000 loose diamonds listed. Prices range from just a couple hundred bucks for a tiny, 1/4 carat stone to over $2.8 million for a rock that's almost 23 carats.

    Blue Nile gets this large inventory from signing exclusive contracts with diamond wholesalers all over the world. Each loose diamond comes with a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) or AGSL (American Gem Society Laboratories) grading report, so you know the diamond you're purchasing has been certified by a jewelry industry authority.

    The good news for customers is that you're sure to find something to your liking from such a huge selection. But the downside is that this means the diamonds are not in-house and you won't receive detailed information, not even a real picture (we'll go into detail on this later).

  • Blue Nile also guarantees to have the lowest diamond prices. In fact, if you see another comparable certified diamond at a lower price, Blue Nile will match the price.

  • If you're worried about accidentally purchasing conflict diamonds, don't worry. Each Blue Nile diamond is ethically sourced, and it says it only works with the world's most respected suppliers. The company subscribes to the "Kimberley Process," an international method for tracking diamonds from the mine to the market, to ensure the authenticity of the diamond.

PRODUCTS OFFERED

  • Diamond Engagement Rings: Of course, Blue Nile is most known for its diamond engagement rings. Blue Nile gives you the opportunity to design a custom ring with its easy-to-follow process. You'll choose the ring setting and then the diamond (based on price, shape, the 4Cs, and any other characteristic that you'd like).

    The website is easy to use - just slide the bars to what you're searching for. You can get as specific as you want to narrow down your search result. You may want to do that as their inventory is so large that the results are almost too overwhelming.

    Search for Diamonds.
    Search for Diamonds. Screenshot from Blue Nile Website

    In a nutshell, a diamond is characterized by the 4Cs - cut, clarity, color, and carat weight, with the cut of the diamond deemed most important. Blue Nile offers 10 styles of diamonds: round, princess, cushion, emerald, radiant (vintage), marquise, pear, heart, Asscher and oval.

    The downside is that, even though each diamond is listed with all required details, including the 4Cs, dimensions, polish and symmetry, Blue Nile does not provide a photograph of the actual diamond, so you're really purchasing it sight unseen. Many people will purchase based on certification, but if you or your intended is super picky about the look of a diamond, this might not work for you.

    As one of the leading diamond and fine jewelry online retailers, Blue Nile offers a relatively seamless buying experience, even for the jewelry-challenged. You may want to begin with the site's comprehensive educational page that clarifies what to look for when buying diamonds, including an explanation about settings and how to decide on the right diamond.

    Related: Best Time to Buy Engagement Ring

  • Wedding bands: You can kill two birds with one stone - pun intended - if you also want to purchase your wedding bands at the same time you buy an engagement ring. Blue Nile has a large selection of men's and women's wedding bands in gold, platinum, palladium, tungsten carbide and cobalt.

  • Fancy color diamonds: That's the actual name for these rare, naturally colored gems. All of Blue Niles' fancy color diamonds are natural, with no artificial dye to give them their hue. Yellow is the most prominent color on the Blue Nile website, but you'll also find variations of pink and green. Blue Nile has a detailed page on what sets these gems apart, which are first measured based on color and intensity and don't subscribe to the standard 4Cs rating system.

    Of course, cut and shape play into their value, but that's not what a true fancy-color diamond aficionado looks for first. Because of their rarity, you'll pay more for these diamonds - at least two to three times that of a comparable white diamond. Most online diamond sites don't offer these, so it's pretty special that Blue Nile has them in their inventory.

  • Pearls: If you're in the market for pearls, Blue Nile provides a large selection of four different varieties: Akoya, Freshwater, Tahitian and South Sea - and an in-depth analysis of the characteristics of each variety and what sets them apart. They can be purchased as earrings, bracelets, or necklaces, in different colors and sizes.

  • Other jewelry items: If you're looking for fine jewelry for other special occasions, Blue Nile offers a wide selection of rings, pendants, bracelets and earrings, either with gemstones, diamonds, pearl, or just plain metal. You can also design your own diamond necklaces and earrings, or choose from pre-made products.

  • Designer diamonds: If branding means something to you, Blue Nile offers jewelry created by specific designers, including popular bridal designer Monique Lhuillier. Other designers who created a line exclusively for Blue Nile include: Robert Leser, who's created a unique color collection of earrings, rings and pendants; Bree Richey, who specializes in affordable art deco silver fine jewelry; and Anne Sportun, who's designed a small collection of gold earrings and pendants.

BLUE NILE SIGNATURE COLLECTION: IS IT GOOD?

Blue Nile has a special Signature Diamond Collection that only includes those diamonds with super ideal cuts - the finest cut diamonds in their inventory.

Tip: Many diamond experts will say that cut is the most important of the 4C's. A good cut can make a diamond shinier and appear larger. The perfect cut means that the diamond has the most ideal proportions for maximum brilliance, symmetry, and light performance. To understand why cut is the most important, read our detailed article here.

So is Blue Nile's Signature Collection good, and is it cheaper than comparable diamonds elsewhere?

Unfortunately, we cannot give a definitive answer for how good the diamonds are. Some of the Signature Collection diamonds do feature an actual photo and 360 degree video, but it is very random as to which ones will have one. Take this random diamond from a search. You get actual photos of the top and bottom views, as well as the grading report and the 4C's. It certainly looks good in the picture, but without additional data like light performance imagery, it is difficult to truly know how the diamond actually performs.

Now, what about pricing? We've compared Blue Nile's Signature Collection pricing to Whiteflash's A CUT ABOVE® line, as both are touted to be super ideal cut diamonds. Super ideal cut diamonds are pricier due to the level of perfection and the fact that more raw material is used.

Let's look at the same random diamond. This one here is a 1.01 carat round diamond, with color E (completely colorless), clarity VVS1 (very small inclusions you can't see with the naked eye), and costs $13,416. Whiteflash has a diamond with similar specifications for $14,332.

We've also found instances where Blue Nile's pricing is slightly higher than a diamond with the similar specs on Whiteflash. See Blue Nile ($9,175) vs. Whiteflash ($8,837). Both diamonds have a color of E and clarity of VS1, though to be fair, this Blue Nile diamond is 0.013 carat bigger.

In most cases, we find the pricing on Blue Nile to be very competitive, but you'll have to do some digging around on your own. The upside of Blue Nile is that your selection is far, far larger, so you are sure to find something in line with your budget and the characteristics/size you want. You also have more choices for shapes. But Whiteflash gives you detailed light imagery, which provides more confidence (in the above diamond, you can see that the images represent a nearly perfect stone).

WHY YOU MAY LOOK ELSEWHERE

There are a couple downsides of Blue Nile, and one of them is a pretty major one.

  • Limited data
    This is a significant downside in our opinion. Buying an engagement ring is a major purchase. And yet, Blue Nile doesn't give you the actual photo of the diamond, or information beyond the 4c's and the GIA Grading Report. Of course, you can get an idea of the quality, but there is still always the chance that you'll end up getting something different.

    Their Signature Collection does offer an actual photo and 360 degree video for some diamonds, but still, there are other online diamond sites that offer way more information. For example: James Allen offers a 360-degree HD video of every single diamond, and WhiteFlash provides light performance imagery for every diamond. With those sites, there's less guesswork involved and you can be more confident in your purchase.

    Because Blue Nile's inventory is from dealers all over the world, they don't have this information. To us, the data they provide is pretty bare. Would you leave such a huge purchase to chance?

  • Limited setting choices
    We also think Blue Niles comes up a bit short in terms of setting options. You basically get solitaire, halo, pave, 3-stone, rings with gemstones, or some vintage designs. If you want other specific settings like tension or bar, you're out of luck. Blue Nile has a little under 300 setting options, while James Allen has over 500.

    It also doesn't have a lot of setting options for yellow gold or rose gold bands. So if you're looking for any of those metals, you are very limited on choices.

FINANCING

Kim and Dan's Engagement
Kim and Dan's Engagement © ChrisGampat (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

We usually recommend purchasing a ring with cash you have saved, but we understand. You have other loans and bills, and it may not be reasonable to wait until you're debt-free to pop the question.

In this case, you have a few diamond financing options:

  • Blue Nile credit card, no interest plan: The exclusive Blue Nile credit card provides special financing on your purchase, no annual fee, exclusive offers, and online account management. This can be a good option if you think you'll buy from the site fairly frequently. If not, you'll be better off using a card that has a broader use instead.

    The finance plans include 0% interest for 6 months for purchases ranging from $500 to $1,499, or 0% interest for 12 months for purchases of $1,500 and over. You'll want to pay your balance within that timeframe, as the APR is a steep 27.24% after the promotional period (interest rate information as of July 19, 2016).

  • Blue Nile credit card, equal payment plan:This financing option is a bit more complicated: you get a 9.9% APR and you'll make equal payments over a pre-set period of time - but you'll have to charge at least $2,000 to be eligible. For balances of $2,000-$2,999, you'll have 24 months to pay; $3,000-$3,999, you'll get 36 months, and anything $4,000 and over gives you 48 months to pay off your balance. If you still carry a balance at the end of your term, your APR will be increased to 27.24% (interest rate information as of July 19, 2016).

  • CreditDonkey tip: get a low interest credit card: Many cards on the market today have 0% APR introductory offers that last longer than Blue Nile's, and the APR after the intro period ends is generally lower. This is one of our top recommended tips if you're making a large purchase soon and will need breathing room to pay.

Returns, Warranty, and Everything Else You Need to Know

  • Discount on purchase: You can pay via PayPal and most major credit cards, or by wire transfer, with which you'll receive a 1.5% discount on your purchase of $750 or more. The $11.25 savings might seem paltry if you spend $750, but if you spent $5,000 for a ring (approx. the average price), that's a savings of $75. Not too bad.

  • Price match: Blue Nile has a lowest price guarantee. If you see another, practically identical, GIA-certified loose diamond at a lower price, Blue Nile will match the price. But that has to be done before you make your purchase. The diamonds need to match on the 4C's (cut, color, clarity, and carat), and even other criteria like polish, symmetry, and light performance.

  • Returns: Blue Nile has a 30-day full-refund return policy, which should be a decent amount of time for you to get the ring and pop the question. You will have to pay for shipping and insurance fees. Purchases that fall below $500 can be returned fairly easily, but anything over that amount will require a phone call to the company and an explanation about how to proceed.

  • Warranty: Blue Nile offers a lifetime warranty. At any point, Blue Nile will repair or replace the item if the damage is determined to be due to manufacturing defect. There is also lifetime complimentary cleaning and inspection (you'll have to pay for shipping).

  • Diamond upgrade: If years down the road, you and your sweetie want to trade up the diamond for a larger one, you can return the diamond (as long as it's in its original condition with the original grading report) for a 100% credit toward a new diamond. The condition, though, is that the new diamond must be twice the price of the original.

  • Insurance: No matter how much your diamond cost, it's a good idea to insure your jewelry the way you would any other precious item for peace of mind. Blue Nile is partnered with Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co., the nation's leading jewelry insurer. You can receive a free quote and purchase insurance immediately as part of your total purchase price.

  • Refer a friend: If you've inspired your buddy and he also makes a purchase from Blue Nile, both of you will get a little gift. You'll both save $20 on an order of $100 or more; $50 on an order of $500 or more; and $100 on an order of $1,000 or more. This is a nice little perk if you want to buy more jewelry for your sweetheart down the road.

BOTTOM LINE: DO WE RECOMMEND BLUE NILE?

If you don't want to shop for a ring at a physical jewelry store, Blue Nile is a good place to start your online diamond shopping comparisons. With no pressure to buy, you can learn about the diamonds and gems, compare prices to other online retailers, and do various types of searches to get the price and item you want.

It is a good site if you are on a budget and want a lot of options. Because of their large selection of rings, you're sure to find something that matches what you want. But you'd have to have the time and patience to look for that one perfect diamond out of the hundreds and hundreds they have. And remember, there is no actual photo, so you'll almost be buying blind.

If you're more discerning, you may want to spend more to choose a higher clarity or color to compensate for the lack of a photo. Or you can splurge for a signature diamond (if you have the budget), which does come with an actual photo for some of them. But like we said, sites like James Allen and Whiteflash both provide much more information, taking out most of the guesswork. The main problem with those online retailers is that your options are limited because their selections aren't as large.

In our opinion, Blue Nile is a great starting point for your online diamond search and it does offer an unbeatable selection with attractive prices.

(Updated Writing by Anna)

Cynthia Cohen is a retail analyst at CreditDonkey, a diamond jeweler comparison and financial education website. Write to Cynthia Cohen at cynthia@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped young adults make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the author's alone. Please support CreditDonkey on our mission to help you make savvy financial decisions. Our free online service is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content.

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