Should I Buy My Engagement Ring from Blue Nile? A Review of the Largest Online Diamond Retailer

Blue Nile complete review on buying engagement ring

In brief:

Blue Nile gives you almost unlimited options with their massive selection and have something for every budget. Blue Nile will almost definitely have what you are looking for, but you will need time to sift through their massive inventory in search of your ideal stone.

Pros

  1. Lots of options: over 180,000 loose diamonds to choose from
  2. Suits all budgets: price match guarantee for loose diamonds
  3. 360 degree videos for all Signature diamonds
  4. Conflict free 
  5. Wide range of colored diamonds, pearls, gemstone jewelry and designer jewelry
  6. Easy-to-navigate website
  7. Diamond education: exhaustive supply of diamond related information
  8. Installment plans and financial options for all

Cons

  1. Lack of quality photographs: difficult to assess the clarity and cut of the diamond
  2. Nondescript and cheap-looking packaging
  3. Returns: customer pays for insurance/shipping; returning items over $500 can be a lengthy process
  4. Charges $25 for engraving whereas James Allen offers this service for free

If you are shopping for an engagement ring, you are bound to come across the name Blue Nile. The largest online diamond retailer, Blue Nile is the Tiffany and Co. of cyberspace. In fact, in 2004, according to Forbes, the company had sales equivalent to that of Tiffany. Today, it stands apart from every other diamond vendor online, in a league of its own. 

The History of Blue Nile

The company was founded by Mark Vadon back in 1999. Vadon had been trying to find an engagement ring for his girlfriend, and had been sick and tired of the lack of options available. He ended up buying his ring online, and went on to strike a deal with the retailer which led to him founding his own online diamond-selling business.

Unlike other diamond retailers, Vadon viewed diamonds as just another commodity and his company believed in selling diamonds at the lowest prices, having transparency and providing exceptional customer experiences.

 In May 2004, the company began trading publicly, which puts to rest any worries a shopper may have over whether or not Blue Nile is a legitimate company.

The company has prioritized international expansion and now do business in many countries around the globe. In addition, Blue Nile has also begun opening showrooms, which they call Web-rooms, across the US, giving shoppers the opportunity to view and interact with hundreds of ring styles.

The ‘Blue Nile Experience’

Blue Nile wants to ensure that they have the reputation of providing the best customer experience when it comes to looking for a diamond. The diamonds they sell are graded by AGSL (American Gem Society Laboratories) or GIA (Gemological Institute of America), two leading labs in the country.

This gives you the peace of mind that your diamond has been accredited by a genuine and reputable source. They have price match, diamond upgrade and buy-back programs. They also give shoppers a choice of payment options (more on this later) and guides to assist in choosing the ideal ring.

The world’s largest diamond inventory

Without doubt, Blue Nile has the largest online inventory of diamonds with close to 200,000 stones on their list. That is impressive!

So how does Blue Nile have such a huge inventory?

This is due to the company’s business model. While they don't house all these diamonds in one place, they have exclusive contracts with diamond wholesalers worldwide. This exclusivity agreement means that the diamonds listed on Blue Nile cannot be found anywhere else and will only appear on the Blue Nile website. These diamonds are all graded and certified.

The benefit of having such a large inventory is that Blue Nile gives you endless options when searching for a gemstone so you can find exactly what you are after. However, most of the diamonds do not have photos which means that the shopper will not be able to see the exact diamond they have selected. We will discuss this in detail later on.

Also, you can have too much of a good thing! With so many options, you could succumb to decision fatigue and not make any choice at all. 

Guaranteed lowest diamond prices

Diamonds don't come cheap, but Blue Nile guarantees that they have the lowest diamond prices. In fact, they can be up to 40% lower than other stores. If you find another GIA certified diamond with similar specifications that is cheaper elsewhere, Blue Nile will match their price. However, this must be done before you make your purchase. 

Starting from a few hundred dollars, there are diamonds to suit every budget. There are diamonds that you can find from as low as $270 and jewelry that begin at $35 while the most expensive diamond currently listed (a 22 carat white round diamond) is close to 3 million dollars! Blue Nile is so confident about their prices and quality that they state that there is no comparison.

Interestingly, the company has had a lot of backlash, especially from their competitors, for ‘killing the romance’ of diamonds. How have they done this? According to their critics, the company overlooks the mystery and romance of each stone and treats diamonds as a commodity. 

For consumers, this is good news, meaning that you pay for what the stone is worth and not for all the extra hogwash that retailers add to it.

Conflict free diamonds

Each diamond listed on the Blue Nile site is guaranteed conflict free. The company states that the diamonds are ethically sourced and that you are not purchasing a blood diamond.

The ‘Kimberly Process’ is the internationally accepted method of tracking a diamond from its source of origin to the store it ends up at. Blue Nile has subscribed to this process and can vouch that each of their diamonds are conflict free.

However, if ethically sourced and sustainable jewelry is your thing, you might want to check out Brilliant Earth as this is what they specialize in.

What you can find at Blue Nile

Blue Nile has a wide range of products on their e-commerce store. Of course, the number one product is loose diamonds. As we mentioned before, there are over 180,000 loose diamonds to choose from. The diamonds can be chosen based on certain specifications.

They offer the following 10 shapes: round, princess, cushion, emerald, radiant, marquise, pear, heart, aascher and oval.

For engagement rings, there is an impressive range of settings and styles to choose from and there is bound to be a style that suits your preferences. You can design your own engagement ring using their ‘Build a Ring’ feature, which enables you to choose your price, shape, 4Cs and other aspects of a ring that you prefer.

Blue Nile’s Signature diamond collection contains stones that have an extremely high cut quality, a factor that is critical for white diamonds. In fact, these fall into the top 1% of all diamonds and are highly coveted. The Signature collection comes with double certification. They are also screened for Gemprint and must be registered with Gemprint, a company that uses modern technology for diamond identification.

They offer five types of metals that you can choose for your jewelry: platinum, silver, yellow gold, white gold and rose gold, with the choice of either 14k or 18k for the gold. You can decide to build your own ring, bracelet or pendant or buy already-made products as well.

Due to the company’s fame for diamonds and engagement rings, it is easy to overlook the other products that they offer. However, Blue Nile has a vast array of high quality colorful gemstone jewelry, with at least 20 varieties of gemstones.

Here are some other products that Blue Nile offers:

Wedding bands – Blue Nile boasts an impressive range of men’s and women’s wedding bands, with about 10 different metals to choose from. These include, gold, palladium, tungsten, carbide, cobalt, tantalum and platinum.  The styles range from simple to elaborate.

  1. Pearls – If you are into pearls, there is a whole section devoted to them. The site features freshwater, classic Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea pearl varieties. There are also well-researched analysis distinguishing these varieties of pearls. These can be bought in necklaces, earrings, pendants and bracelets. Their pearl jewelry collection starts from the price range of $45. In fact, the entire range is very reasonably priced and the designs and settings are elegant and classy. To shop for pearl with confidence read our guide on buying pearl jewelry.
  2. Colored diamonds - The site offers a range of colored diamonds, with 9 specific colors listed on their site! These stones are not in any way artificially dyed and come with a GIA report to vouch for their authenticity. The company has well over 4000 yellow stones making it the dominating color on their listing (yellow diamonds are among the most affordable of colored diamonds).
    There is an education page that distinguishes colored diamonds from white and details how these diamonds are evaluated differently. For example, with white diamonds, the cut is the most important factor whereas with colored diamonds the intensity and distribution of the color is what matters the most. The most expensive colored diamond currently listed on the site is worth over $ 1.5 million and is a giant 21 carat radiant cut yellow diamond.

  3. Designer jewelry – Blue Nile has a stunning range of designer jewelry offered on their site. These branded items are created by specific designers, each with their own style and specialisation, exclusively for the company. Colin Cowrie, Monique Lhuillier and Zac Posen are big names in the engagement and wedding industry. Being chosen to display the works of such designers is indeed a huge boost for Blue Nile’s reputation. To see their collections showcased in one place is a treat for the brand-conscious shopper!

The ‘build your own ring’ tool

As with other jewelry sites, Blue Nile gives you the option to design your own ring. You begin by selecting your diamond, choosing your setting, metal, clarity and other specifications and finish off with final touches such as engravings.

However, unlike James Allen, which offers free engraving services, Blue Nile charges $25 to have text inscribed on the ring. Read our review on James Allen for  a comparison.

This build-your-own-ring tool allows you to create a ring that suits your budget and preferences without the pressure of a salesperson trying to influence your choices. However, as we mentioned before, Blue Nile does not have the actual image of the diamond (except for Signature diamonds), instead offering a generic sample photo and drawings of the diamond.

This does not make it easy for the shopper to make a decision as you do not see the stone you are purchasing. However, Blue Nile makes up for this by providing shoppers with a section where they can view recently purchased diamond rings with actual photos. This helps to gain an idea of what the ring will look like prior to purchase.

An easy-to-navigate website

The website is user-friendly and is easily navigated even by the technologically challenged user. Whether you are searching for a loose diamond, pearls or other types of jewelry, you can get specific with what you require and narrow your search. This makes it easy to navigate their exhaustive catalog.

There are basic and more advanced search filters, which you can set to your liking by sliding the bars. The website is not flashy or  fancy, and perhaps not as user-friendly as that of James Allen, but it does its job in a no-frills common-sense way.

Blue Nile understands that most of the shoppers who go on their website are not diamond experts. They have a huge supply of information that consumers can utilize to research when searching for a diamond ring. These articles are highly informative. For quick information, you can always browse their FAQs, which contain detailed answers to questions commonly asked by shoppers.

Seeing the actual diamond

A main downside of Blue Nile is the lack of photographs of most of their diamonds (they do provide high quality images for Signature diamonds). Although all the details are clearly listed, Blue Nile only shows a ‘sample photo’. This is a huge let-down considering that a diamond needs to be viewed prior to purchase.You cannot go by the certificate alone as this can sometimes be misleading.

For example, if purchasing a pear cut diamond, the shopper must view it to ensure there is perfect symmetry and that there is no bow-tie. These factors will not be detailed in the certificate. You could buy a diamond that looks great on paper, but when it arrives in the mail, you might not like what you see!

To prove our point, take a look at the following image of 12 pear cut diamonds of similar specifications and price on the James Allen website. As can be seen, each stone is slightly different in appearance, with the 3rd and 5th showing the most bow-tie. If the shopper went by the certificate alone, all 8 diamonds would be deemed roughly the same.James Allen diamond pear cut listing

Now look at Blue Nile’s listing of pear cut diamonds. It lacks the clear high quality images of James Allen’s website, making the selection somewhat of a guessing game.

Blue Nile diamond pear cut listing

This is not to say that the Blue Nile diamonds are not authentic – they do come with their grading reports. However, not being able to see the actual stone is a major drawback of Blue Nile’s shopping experience. While some consumers are happy to purchase based on the grading report, blind buying can cause endless trouble.

True, you can request further information about a stone from Blue Nile. The issue with this however, is that Blue Nile will contact the wholesaler who holds that particular diamond and inquire about the stone to find out about it. The diamond seller will try to sell his stone and may not give an objective account of the diamond. So, although you may be receiving more information, it might not be unbiased.

The good news is that Blue Nile began to implement their diamond visualization project in August 2016. This is state of the art technology that gives a high quality 360 degree view of the actual diamond allowing you to see any inclusions or visible imperfections. The company began unveiling the feature with their Signature diamonds, all of which have 360 degree diamond visualization video. Blue Nile aims to eventually offer 360 degree HD videos for every diamond listed on their site, as James Allen currently does.

Another area for improvement for Blue Nile would be to offer performance imagery for their diamonds. WhiteFlash has this for every diamond listed and this gives the consumer an exact indication of how the diamond will perform.

Buying from Blue Nile – financing options

As we said before, Blue Nile caters for all shoppers and this is reflected in their payment options as well. The company has their own credit program to assist shoppers to pay in installments rather than paying in full up-front. The Blue Nile Credit Card has two main options.

  1. No Interest Plan – this option allows you to make your purchase with 0% interest up to the first 6 months for purchases between $500 - $1499 or for 12 months for purchases over $1500. However, the annual percentage rate climbs to 27.24% after this period so it’s best to complete the payment within the given time-frame.
  2. Equal Payment Plan – this option is for purchases over $2000. It allows you to make equal payments over a set period (24 months for $2000 - $2999, 36 months for $3000 - $3999, 48 months for $4000 - $4999 and 60 months for $6000+ balances). The annual percentage rate is 9.99% within the stipulated timeframe.

While these are good options, it may be a good idea to do some research to see if there are low interest credit cards on the market that may have better offers than Blue Nile’s credit card options.

Don’t like your ring? Returning your purchase

Like most other jewelry stores, Blue Nile has a 30-day no-questions-asked money-back return policy. The 30 days begins from the day it was shipped.

For items under $500, the process is less complicated and fairly easy. Anything over $500 is more tedious, requiring phoning the company for instructions on how to proceed.

However, the response is usually timely and the company always honors the refund. The customer will have to bear shipping and insurance costs and the process takes about 1-2 weeks.

The Blue Nile Warranty

With Blue Nile, you receive a lifetime warranty. This means that at any point in time, the company will repair or replace an item if the fault or damage is due to a manufacturing defect. You will also receive free lifetime cleaning and inspection of your item (this excludes the cost of shipping).

The Upgrade and Buyback programs

Blue Nile’s diamond upgrade program is similar to James Allen’s. It gives you the choice of upgrading your loose diamond on condition that the new diamond is worth at least twice as much. The diamond must be in its original condition and must be accompanied by its original lab report.

The Buyback program is a new venture by Blue Nile, unveiled in 2016. The company has partnered with Mondiamo which evaluates the diamonds. Customers enter details of their diamond on the Mondiamo site. The diamond is given points using an algorithm that is based on the Blue Nile price of the diamond. An offer is then made to the customer, which is generally 60% to 65% of the retail price of the diamond according to Blue Nile.

A final evaluation is made on inspection of the diamond, and a new offer given which is generally higher than the initial offer. The buyback program is very popular and follows Blue Nile’s principle of transparency. The consumer does not feel conned into selling their diamond for a worthless price.

Judging a book by its cover – Blue Nile packaging

When you order your engagement ring, Blue Nile sends it in a standard blue box. Blue Nile’s box is fairly nondescript and does not stand out in any way.

Like the company itself, it is a sensible package with no unnecessary frills. It is well presented and you have the option to include a free gift card with a printed personal message. Your package comes with the box, the grading report, basic tips on taking care of your jewelry and other documents.

However, for a purchase that may cost thousands of dollars, you would expect a classier, more expensive looking package.

Summary

So, having considered all these factors what is the verdict?

We can safely say that Blue Nile is a very good place to begin your engagement ring and diamond search.  However, check if it is possible to receive images of the actual stone before you buy.

Check the competition as well, as you may be able to find an equally good deal on other smaller sites.