Buying a Diamond: Online, Retail, or Wholesale?

Almost anything can be bought through “clicks, bricks, or bulk,” meaning online, in brick-and-mortar retail stores, or through wholesalers. Diamonds are no exception.

Some buyers prefer one method of shopping. Others are willing to tap into the benefits of shopping around to see where they will eventually find the best deal.

Below is a summary of how these three shopping channels compare for loose diamonds, followed by points in favor of each one. There is not one correct answer—each individual shopper will have to decide which channel fits best. And, if you aren’t certain, start by researching your diamond options with all three channels in mind. As your research progresses, it should help you develop comfort and confidence in buying diamonds from one shopping channel more than others. And for each shopping channel you use, we’ve added some helpful tips. Happy diamond shopping!

Summary

Online Brick-n-Mortar Retail Wholesale
Location / access points Internet access. Most shopping malls. Look in larger cities. Some require personal reference.
Number of Diamonds in One Location Largest selection. In fact, several websites are listing the same diamonds. Limited to in-store stock, but most stores will bring in requested merchandise with advance notice. Limited to on-site merchandise, which fluctuates as the wholesaler does business.
Average Price (e.g. GIA certified, round, 1.0-carat, VS1-clarity, G-color, “very good” cut diamond, as of Oct. 23, 2008) $5,850 to $9,200 (DiamondPriceGuru.com) $7,399.99 Costco; $10,900 Zales (no cut indicated) $7,722 (Rapaport does not include cut, just clarity and color.)
Return Policy Most online retailers have specific, written return policies (typically 10-30 days return guarantee). Read carefully so you are aware of any limitations. Look for online community feedback on a seller’s honoring of return policy. Most brick-and-mortar retailers have specific, written return policy. Some include it on receipt. Ask about limitations before purchase. If wholesaler does little to no business with individuals, might not have a written return policy. Discuss with wholesaler.
Assistance with Setting Design/Purchase Most sites show standard settings available and some allow further customization, but not as much as a one-on-one design consultation. Many standard settings available. Most retailers offer option of designing your own, for additional fee. Some wholesalers are strictly about moving loose diamonds, but many are jewelers themselves and do provide design and diamond mounting services. Alternatively, they can connect you with a jeweler to help with your setting.

Buying a Diamond Online

Since most diamond purchasers accomplish most of their diamond research online, it’s no surprise shoppers are increasingly buying their diamonds online as well. Online shopping was once seen as only suitable either for low-price items, like books or for quickly finding specific product information (Kelley Blue Book – kbb.com – for cars, Realty.com for real estate, imdb.com for movies, etc.). Nowadays online customers are familiar with and pretty comfortable buying big-ticket items online, such as diamonds and even cars, and designing their own products, truly made-to-order (customized bank loans, Levi’s custom-designed jeans; custom-designed engagement rings).

Typically, online shoppers tend to stick to big-name sites. Experienced shoppers visit comparison shopping sites (such as DiamondPriceGuru.com) and sites aggregating consumer product reviews.

Key trends in online shopping—more clicks before purchasing, more visits to comparison shopping sites, more exploration of little-known stores—show more and more online shoppers are searching for deals, and finding them.

Tips for Buying a Diamond Online

  • Save time and money by using comparison shopping. Nowadays, internet retailing is as mature as brick-and-mortar – there are numerous online retailers offering the same products at significantly varying prices (variation in price of 10-30% is not uncommon). To save time and money by quickly sifting through available options in terms of diamond sizes, quality, and prices use online comparison shopping services (such as www.DiamondPriceGuru.com).
  • Compare return policies. As with any purchase, there is always the possibility you will want to return the diamond, so make certain you are comfortable with the seller’s return policy. Look for a reasonable period of time and any limitations that may prevent the diamond’s return. If possible, look for community guidance—online ratings or even blogs and chat room banter—to help you gain confidence in a particular seller’s return policy as well as the overall reputation.
  • Retrace your path. Seller sites use cookies to track how you reached their sites. Depending on their particular system, they might display lower prices, honor a specific coupon, or provide freebies of another sort, depending on the series of clicks that led you to them. Also, the sites that direct you to the seller are usually compensated—per click or on commission—for the referral. So, if you appreciated the help you received from certain articles, a price calculation site, or an online comparison shopping service, thank them by clicking through their link to reach the seller when you are ready to make the purchase.
  • Don’t be obvious. If the diamond is a surprise for someone, don’t have it delivered to her address and don’t let it arrive where she might see it before you have a chance to hide it. In addition, don’t ask it to be delivered somewhere anyone could snatch it. Pick a reliable friend, clear the idea with the friend in advance, and have the diamond delivered there. Also, make sure the box is delivered with “signature required” service rather than let FedEx drop it off near your door: even if the box doesn’t have the diamond seller’s brand name or logo on the box, thieves recognize that “good things come in small packages.” Don’t leave anything to chance.
  • Consider cash. A few sellers offer a discounted price for “cash” (electronic transfer from your bank account) transactions, rather than other methods of payment. With credit cards charging processing fees, it makes sense. The prices for “cash” and “credit” (or “price” and “wire price”) are plainly visible; you won’t need to hunt for this discount if it’s available from your seller.

Buying a Diamond from a Brick-and-Mortar Retailer

If you want to personally touch and inspect several diamonds, a trip to the nearest diamond retailer is all you need. Be prepared that you will typically pay 30-50% more than on the Internet or if buying from a wholesaler, but you do get to walk away from the store with your purchase in hand—no waiting for the package to arrive, so long as you are buying regular inventory. If you are in a hurry, satisfied with your diamond to be fairly standard (no fancy colors, sizes, shapes, etc.), and do not care about price, your best method is a brick-and-mortar retail store.

Tips for Buying a Diamond Retail

  • Head to a shopping mall. Most have more than one jewelry store, and most major department stores also carry a limited selection of diamond jewelry. This allows you to see and pick from more diamond options in a short period of time. Don’t expect to have one mall retailer match another mall retailer’s price, though. They’ve coexisted in the same mall for years without slashing prices—they have no incentive to give you a better deal.
  • Preprint a price list. Find diamonds comparable to what you want using a diamond price calculator, such as www.DiamondPriceGuru.com. Print a page of comparable diamonds so you can show the retailer you know you can buy the diamond cheaper online. Even if you really need to buy the diamond that day, if you give the impression that you are comparison shopping and are comfortable with online shopping, some retailers might cut you a discount to get your business.
  • Reach for the certificate. If you know what you want, the certificate will tell you if a particular diamond matches your criteria. Most retail customers want to pull out the diamonds and look at them up close. Unless you are a trained gemologist, you are not likely to appraise the diamonds as well as the certificate can. So, start by comparing certificates with their diamonds’ prices, and when you find a diamond you like, then ask to see the actual diamond.

Buying a Diamond Wholesale

If you live in or frequently travel to Antwerp, New York, or Chicago, and you know someone in the diamond business, you should at least try to find a good deal through a diamond wholesaler. If you don’t live in these big cities, you just need to locate a diamond wholesaler convenient to you.

The concept of “wholesale” can seem blurry to people used to shopping in “wholesale stores” or “discount stores.” These mega-stores are not true wholesalers; they are deeply-discounting retailers. They may offer better prices than other retail outlets—and that’s why customers love them—but they are not actually wholesalers.

Wholesalers sell in bulk to retailers, including traditional brick-and-mortar retail locations and online retailers. Their prices are lower than what the average individual will pay for a single loose diamond because they make their profits by selling in large quantities. Most true wholesalers focus solely on selling to their multi-diamond customers and will only entertain a one-time, one-diamond shopper as a favor to a friend. In fact, if you see that your intended “wholesaler” is selling “to the public,” then your wholesaler is really a retailer. Some wholesalers can still give you a great “retail” price on a single-diamond – price that would equal to or even lower than that online and for sure substantially lower than any price you can get in a brick-and-mortar storefront. The reason some wholesalers can cut a decent retail price is that despite the fact you do not plan to buy a thousand diamond stones at once, you still do not pay for any fancy premium-space storefront full of expensive-looking sales assistants. Do not get too excited by coming across someone who says he or she is a “wholesaler”. Ask for a price, and compare “wholesaler” prices with those you can obtain online anyway. Trust, but double-check!

All diamond wholesalers have access to the so called Rapaport Diamond Report, an industry standard weekly pricing guide for all shapes, grades, colors, and sizes of diamonds up to six carats. Access to these weekly reports is available online for subscribers. (A little creative online searching can yield access to some slightly outdated Rapaport information and even sites that claim to show recent Rapaport information.) alternatively you can ask your wholesaler to share with you the original of the latest “Rap” report. Typically, you can expect to pay a slight markup over Rapaport prices (for example “Rap plus 5” would mean 5% over the Rapaport quoted wholesale price). Rapaport, however, quotes the “average” prices, therefore by definition some wholesalers manage to buy diamonds above the Rap prices, and some – below. Therefore, negotiate the final price and do not be surprised if your wholesaler offers “Rap minus 5” – of course only for a special customer like yourself.

Some wholesalers have Internet sites where anyone—retailers and individuals—can purchase diamonds. It’s important to pay attention to the actual price you, as an individual, are charged. Honest sites state it clearly, such as, “Diamonds sold at wholesale to trade members and to the public at discounts.” This means an individual will not get the low-low wholesale price, but you will be shown a price that could be lower than in a traditional retail outlet. The same is true of the price you will be offered by a wholesaler you meet in person. And it is up to you to know whether it’s a good price.

The wisest thing you can do is know what you want—and the price you hope to get—before meeting with the wholesaler. After all, if a wholesaler is meeting with you as a special favor to a friend, you wouldn’t want to waste anyone’s time with indecision. Know what you want. And if you don’t see it—or it doesn’t have the price you can get elsewhere—thank the wholesaler for his time and leave.

Tips for Buying a Diamond Wholesale

  • Check references. Anyone can falsely claim to be a diamond wholesaler. You won’t be meeting in a mall; it is likely to be a less public location (some wholesalers have small offices in non-descript buildings on the 47th Street in New York, on or around the Wabash Street in Chicago, or near the World Diamond Center in Antwerp, Holland), which typically house not one but multiple wholesalers’ offices. Also remember everyone around you will know why you’re there, so be on your guard. You will have more confidence in the wholesaler if you know someone who has personally done business with the wholesaler.
  • Buy in bulk. Maybe you don’t need hundreds of diamonds, but some jewelers will consider giving you a small discount if you purchase several diamonds: perhaps you are designing a multi-diamond ring, or you may want earrings and a necklace to match an engagement ring.
  • Do your research. Wholesalers are not in the business of one-on-one shopping meetings with customers unfamiliar with the jewelry trade. At the very least, learn about the 4Cs, settle on a shape, and calculate the price you should expect to pay elsewhere for the type of diamond you plan to eventually purchase.
  • Don’t fall in love with your wholesaler. Your friends have raved about the wholesaler. You’re meeting in person, at his place. He is interested in you, asks questions, listen. But this is not a date! Remember purchasing a diamond is a business transaction, and don’t let your personal feelings of gratitude to the wholesaler (or the feeling of indebtedness to your friend for making the introduction) overwhelm your business sense. There is one exception: if you feel uncomfortable, as if something “isn’t quite right,” trust your gut and go.