Study: Best Place to Buy Engagement Ring
Blue Nile vs Costco vs Tiffany
Buying an engagement ring is one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make. It comes attached with deep emotions, major nerves, and perhaps even uncertainty about the future. For those who get married young, it might also be one of your first major purchases at a time when income isn’t exactly waltzing through the door.
Here at CreditDonkey, our goal is to provide useful resources to help you make an informed decision. In this article, we’re taking a look at three of the biggest engagement ring retailers on the market: Blue Nile, Costco, and Tiffany & Co. All three have built major brands, but each has taken a vastly different approach for how they market and sell these life-changing rings.
Who will prevail as the ideal spot for your unique selection? Let’s take a look.
For simplicity’s sake, we evaluated each retailer using three core criteria:
- Pricing Value
- Customer Experience
The first thing prospective buyers should know is that diamonds are universally measured using a system call the “4 Cs.” These stand for cut, clarity, color, and carat weight, and are the factors used by the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) or AGS (American Gem Society) for rating each diamond. With this rating system, buyers can compare diamonds from any retailer on an apples-to-apples basis. Click here for an in-depth guide to the 4 Cs.
If a diamond does not come with a GIA or AGS certificate, you have no way of knowing the exact quality of the diamond unless you’re knowledgeable enough to know what to look for. This does not mean the diamond is inferior. A common trick used by many retailers is to provide the clarity, color, and carat weight but leave out the cut. The cut (good, excellent, ideal) is the measurement for identifying the diamond’s reflective brilliance.
Despite this standard rating system, the retail jewelry market is notable for possessing some of the world’s most subjective pricing. The same ring can cost wildly different amounts depending on where you go to buy it. As a consumer, you want to know that you’re getting the best value for your money, so we used pricing value as one of our core criteria for measuring the retailers.
Hopeful romantics come from all walks of life, and not everyone is looking for something simple. Perhaps you’ve spent years saving for this moment, and you want only the best for your future spouse. Available selection, for both diamond and setting, is another major influence in your decision and in our rankings.
Finally, the customer experience can play a big role in selecting a retailer. What if you need the ring resized? What if it arrives defective? What if she declines your proposal? From return policies to repair speeds to time spent on hold, we’ll look deep into the heart of each retailer’s customer service.
Best Engagement Ring Selection: Blue Nile
- Pricing Value: Well priced against our list’s competitors - 5/5
- Selection: Extensive choices from suppliers across the world - 5/5
- Customer Experience: Reps knowledgeable but lack polish, no servicing, but easy return process – 3.5/5
- CreditDonkey Score - 4.5/5
Blue Nile, the largest Internet diamond retailer on the market, is known for historically low prices and a vast selection of products. The company is built on the idea that loose diamonds are a commodity and should require nothing more than specs, price, and few photos to be purchased.
What We Liked
Due to its tremendous size, Blue Nile has the ability to offer a vast selection of diamonds and engagement rings, all at very competitive prices. It has by far the biggest selection and best pricing on loose diamonds among our list’s competitors.
Additionally, Blue Nile’s customer service representatives are known to be highly knowledgeable, if perhaps a bit unpolished, and they will help you in your selection. Most notably, Blue Nile consistently upholds its return policy with a simple, hassle-free process that helps mitigate the disappointment of a returned product. The retailer will even include a self-addressed mailing label on your invoice copy in case you change your mind (or get a “no!”) and need to send the ring back (Blue Nile allows returns up to 30 days after a product has been shipped).
The theoretical benefit of a solely online retailer is that limited overheard allows for significantly cheaper prices. Unfortunately, Blue Nile’s significant growth has brought with it increased overhead, and the exceptional value it once offered can now be beaten by smaller, nimbler online retailers.
If you want an engagement ring, as opposed to just a loose diamond, Blue Nile’s setting selection is relatively subpar compared to designer offerings at national retailers, and the lack of high-quality pictures or physical outlets mean customers don’t get to see the diamonds until they’ve been purchased and shipped. For high-end diamonds, this isn’t a problem, but for clarity grades below VS2, the actual look varies wildly across individual diamonds, so ordering sight unseen can be quite a gamble.
Who Should Buy from Blue Nile
If you are looking to spend the majority of your budget on the diamond itself, Blue Nile is hands-down the way to go. You won’t find designer settings or pretty packaging here, but you will get a better quality diamond for the same price.
Blue Nile: Search for Diamonds
Read: Blue Nile Review
Best Engagement Ring Value: Costco
- Pricing Value: Competitively priced, comparable to online retailers - 4.5/5
- Selection: Limited in-store selection, larger online offering - 3.5/5
- Customer Experience: Great policy, no servicing, lacks knowledgeable staff – 3/5
- CreditDonkey Score – 3.7/5
Costco is the definitive wholesale retailer. With 635 locations in nine countries, the retail giant has formed a reputation over the years for exceptional pricing, a generous return policy, and exemplary customer service.
What We Liked
Costco combines the pricing of an Internet retailer with the benefits of in-store purchasing. Customers are offered deep discounts while actually being able to view the diamond in person.
How good is the value? In a test performed by Good Morning America, the list price of a Costco diamond was deemed undervalued by 17%, while the list price of a Tiffany diamond was found to be overpriced by 58%.
In other positive news, Costco has one of the best return policies around. 30 days - refund for any reason - cash in hand, while Blue Nile’s is a little more restrictive as you have to mail the unwanted jewelry back.
Costco’s downsides are relatively minor compared to Blue Nile and Tiffany & Co. The primary deficiency is a comparatively limited selection compared to dedicated jewelry retailers.
For the higher-end buyer, Costco offers neither the presentation nor long-term servicing of a Tiffany engagement ring. It doesn’t even offer a resizing option, which given the already smaller selection, can make finding the right ring difficult.
On the customer service end of the spectrum, the view is generally positive. However, since Costco isn’t a dedicated jewelry retailer, store staff members lack the specialized knowledge many jewelry shoppers depend on.
Who Should Buy From Costco
If you want a fantastic looking engagement ring for a great value, it’s hard to beat Costco. Unless you’re going the do-it-yourself route or require the prestige of a famous diamond brand, Costco will give you the best ready-to-propose engagement ring for your money. Just hope you can find the right ring in her size.
Best Engagement Ring Customer Experience: Tiffany & Co.
- Pricing Value: High quality, but high prices - 2/5
- Selection: Large selection, both in stores and online - 4.5/5
- Customer Experience: Excellent presentation, ring service, and customer care - 5/5
- CreditDonkey Score - 3.8/5
Tiffany & Co. is the de facto American diamond company. Since creating the “Tiffany engagement ring” in 1886, the company has become a household name, known for old-school combination of top quality, top price, and top service.
What We Liked
Tiffany & Co. is the Lamborghini of engagement ring retailers. Presenting your ring in a little blue box carries a level of prestige and history that other jewelry stores can’t match. Every aspect of the Tiffany experience is intentionally top of the line, from the carpets in the stores to the ribbon on the box. You never have to worry about getting an inferior product with Tiffany, and if you do, their legendary customer service makes up for any temporary issue.
Just like with a luxury car, consumers pay a tremendous premium simply for the brand name. With a bit of digging, you can find similar diamonds for much less. There aren’t really any other downsides to the Tiffany experience, and that’s another reason you’ll pay significantly more here for an engagement ring.
Who Should Buy From Tiffany & Co.
If you and your fiancé-to-be place a high value on premium products, Tiffany & Co. is for you. If you need to own the branded best, and can afford it, Tiffany engagement rings are hard to beat. For everyone else, there are options for similar diamond quality at significantly lower prices.
Best Online Diamond Sites
While Blue Nile, Costco and Tiffany are some of the more popular diamond retailers, there are a number of other online jewelers you should also consider. For 360 HD images, look at James Allen. For brilliant diamonds, then add Whiteflash to your list of candidates.
Best Online Diamond Retailer Experience: James Allen
- Pricing Value: Very competitively priced - 4.5/5
- Selection: Large selection of all diamond shapes, settings, and metals - 4/5
- Customer Experience: Able to see the actual diamond in HD video - 5/5
- CreditDonkey Score - 4.5/5
James Allen has revolutionized the way we shop for diamonds online by providing HD 360-degrees videos for every single diamond in its inventory. Its knowledgeable staff is available to chat 24/7 and even provide a Real Time Diamond Consultation service.
What We Liked
James Allen’s Diamond Display Technology can’t be beat. For every diamond (and gemstone!) in their inventory, they have an HD video where you can spin the diamond around and zoom in & out. You can’t compare diamonds solely based on a description of the 4C’s, so this feature is crucial to see if there are any visible flaws, cloudiness, or dark spots. This is practically as good as (or perhaps even better than!) seeing a diamond in person.
In our opinion, there is little downside to shopping at James Allen. The selection isn’t as big as Blue Nile, but it’s not lacking either. The biggest downside is probably if you’re very specifically looking for a super ideal cut diamond (or True Heart diamond), you’re limited on choices. In that case, you’ll probably be interested in the next retailer.
Who Should Buy From James Allen
James Allen has truly made themselves a brand for the everyman, with affordable pricing, a good selection to suit every taste, and great customer service. Most importantly, you can feel confident in your purchase with James Allen as you can see the actual stone you're buying.
James Allen: Search for Diamonds
Best Online Retailer for Ideal Cut Diamonds: Whiteflash
- Pricing Value: High quality, so pricier than other online retailers - 3.5/5
- Selection: Smaller in-house selection; larger virtual selection - 3.5/5
- Customer Experience: Provides exceptional data for each diamond - 5/5
- CreditDonkey Score - 4/5
Whiteflash is known for their A CUT ABOVE® diamonds, and they have one of the largest selection of in-house super ideal cut diamonds of any retailer in the world. Their grading standard is extremely stringent, and to qualify for their special A CUT ABOVE® line, the diamond must pass all requirements. These diamonds truly represent the best of the best in the world.
What We Liked
Whiteflash provides an exceptional amount of data for all their in-house diamonds. Along with an actual photo, you also get a Idealsope image and ASET image (both of which show light performance) and hearts & arrows patterning (which shows symmetry). You can also view an HD video showing the fire & scintillation (i.e. how sparky it is). All this data takes the guesswork out of your purchase and you can shop with confidence.
Whiteflash also offers an Expert selection of diamonds that didn’t quite make it into the A CUT ABOVE® line. Because of their strict requirements, these diamonds often just have tiny flaws that the human eye usually can’t even see. This is where you can find a great balance of quality and price.
Whiteflash’s in-house inventory only consists of round and princess cut diamonds. They have a virtual inventory with the other shapes, but you don’t see the actual photos or detailed data upfront. If you do purchase a diamond from the virtual inventory, it will be brought in for evaluation and the results presented to you.
Another downside is that Whiteflash only offers a 90-day 0% APR financing option for online purchases (6 months for in-store). So make sure you have the budget to pay in full or another (feasible) plan to finance it.
Who Should Buy from Whiteflash
Whiteflash is for those who value quality and understand the importance of cut. If you want a diamond that sparkles the brightest and have the budget for it, you’ll be hard pressed to find a rock more perfect than Whiteflash’s A CUT ABOVE® diamonds.
Whiteflash: Search for Diamonds
Where you buy your (hopefully) soon-to-be betrothed’s ring depends on your budget and your comfort level with certain types of retailers. Do you live fairly close to a Costco and have tighter budget? Then give it a go as you may be surprised by the value that can be found at the store known for bulk items and great deals. If you’re a shy type who doesn’t want to feel pressured by a jeweler on the other side of the counter and you’re willing to risk buying a valuable item sight unseen, Blue Nile offers convenience and a lack of pressure. Tiffany, on the other hand, offers a level of prestige that can go a long way to winning over your loved one – but that will come with a price.
Related: James Allen vs Blue Nile: Read this comparison to see which online diamond retailer is better.
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.