The diamond retail industry is one of the many industries that adapted to technology’s advancements. From the typical brick-and-mortar shopping, you can now buy diamonds and other jewelry items online. You can even customize them to your preference.
Two leading online companies top the list of the best online diamond retailers. James Allen and Blue Nile may ring a bell to you because of a friend or a Facebook ad. Most reviewers will also suggest for these brands to be on your top list.
When two companies claim they are the best, how would you know which is the right choice? Both sell premium quality diamonds, reasonable prices, and a convenient shopping experience. However, their entirety cannot be bottled in those statements alone.
If you want to know more, we shall investigate the details that make James Allen and Blue Nile similar and different. They are still competitors, after all.
Table of Contents
The History of James Allen
James Allen has grown far from its origin. It is today’s leading diamond retailer because of its consistent quality and customer approach. Like other companies, it has a beginning to tell that became its stepping stone towards success.
James Allen Schultz began the company’s journey after getting disappointed in finding an engagement ring for his wife. After hours of scouring in brick-and-mortar shops, he went home with nothing.
He found the right piece from an online auction sale and discovered that he got a high-quality diamond for half the price if bought from a physical store. His experience made him realize that it is possible to buy a diamond at a less expensive price online. He and his wife, Michele Sigler, established DirtCheapFinds in 1998, which was the company’s original name.
With the help of Oded Edelman and Dean Lederman, DirtCheapFinds was rebranded in 2006 as JamesAllen.com. The company has emphasized its loose diamond collection, engagement ring line, and other jewelry accessories. It was also the beginning of their modern and more stunning ring setting that became popular globally.
Today, it is home to over 300,000 diamonds with great qualities. They have different shapes and sizes with qualities certified by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Thus, if you go over their website, you will never run out of your taste and budget choices.
Its main office and exclusive Fifth Avenue Showroom are in New York City.
The History of Blue Nile
Like James Allen, Blue Nile has a distinct history carved out from the frustration of a man who cannot find a diamond in a brick-and-mortar shop. In 1995, Doug Williams of Williams & Son Incorporated established an online website that sells diamonds.
Mark Vadon bought 85% of the website’s stocks after he felt satisfied with the engagement ring he bought. He rebranded the name to Blue Nile in 1999 and gained around $44 million the following year. It had its share of ups and downs, especially when its advertising expenses exceeded its revenue in 2000.
The company began at a time when the internet is not yet as advanced as it is today. Thus, it banked on educating its customers by adding educational blogs to the website. While its selection is not as large as James Allen’s, the company ensures they were all ethically acquired and conflict-free.
Its main headquarters is located in Seattle, Washington, and it also has an office in Dublin, Ireland, and Shanghai, China.
Knowing what you will like and dislike about James Allen and Blue Nile is the best way to distinguish the two. These benefits and drawbacks are based on five classifications: website, inventory and product quality, pricing and charges, packaging, and customer service.
The Pros and Cons of James Allen
James Allen has a classic and clean-looking website. It has straightforward menus that automatically drops down as you go over them. You will immediately notice how vast James Allen’s collection is as it has a lot to offer in each section.
Engagement rings are the company’s top-selling pieces. As you can see above, you can begin your search with the setting of the diamond. They also treat lab-grown diamonds separately from earth-grown stones. Moreover, the company has several options for the ring setting, metal band, and even designer collection.
If you are looking for fine jewelry, the website also has a wide array of selections in their catalog. You can choose among their earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and rings collection, and all of them have deluxe qualities that you will never regret buying. They also offer gift sets that can fall into your budget.
The filtering feature is one of the website’s greatest assets. All available diamond shapes are accessible on the page, and you can specify which cut, color, clarity, and carat weight qualities you prefer. If you are on a planned and fixed budget, limiting the price range will help you save more time choosing the right piece.
Another thing to adore about James Allen is its 360-degree angle view with an HD image quality. The diamond spins around if you put your cursor key over an image. It helps you picture the diamond from every angle at the results page without the need to open separate tabs for each stone. You can also choose to set it on a list view, gallery view, or side view.
As soon as you reach the end part of the page, you will also gain access to its other features and blogs. They list every detail that would interest you to know more about James Allen, such as its other offerings, freebies, history, and policies.
It is indeed a highly intuitive and informative website. It has a straightforward design that makes people feel more comfortable when shopping online.
Inventory and Product Quality
James Allen is a god when it comes to colorless loose diamonds and engagement rings. As we stated earlier, the company has more than 300,000 diamonds in its inventory as of today. That is a lot compared to Blue Nile’s with around 200,000 items only.
Moreover, it ensures conflict-free diamonds, and they also partner with designer brands known for their top tier and intricate qualities. They include Veraggio, Jeff Cooper, Danhov, and Martin Flyer. Below is a Veraggio ring with a set price of almost $3,500.
Customization is another benefit that you will experience in James Allen. You can choose whichever diamond and settings you like as it has more than 600 ring designs available. Plus, it has a sample viewing of your chosen pieces when worn on a finger.
James Allen also follows stricter protocols in their cut quality. If you have not known yet, an excellent cut leads to a diamond with maximum brilliance. That is why part of their quality assessment and control ensures that most, if not all, diamonds have better qualities than other brands.
You may also view the diamonds in a real-life setting online. The brand allows you to zoom images up to 40x so that you can closely examine their color and inclusions. Jewelers in brick-and-mortar shops will only allow you to magnify the diamond 10x using a loup.
Here is an example of a James Allen diamond magnified to its real-life size and maximum capacity.
However, if colored diamonds and gemstones are your cups of tea, James Allen has a more limited available option.
Pricing and Charges
James Allen and Blue Nile both offer 25% to 40% drop to their price offerings. With this similar approach to pricing, how does James Allen stand apart from the other company?
Below are two round-shaped diamonds from Blue Nile and James Allen. They have the same 1.00-carat weight, color H grade, SI1 clarity, and excellent cut. However, the one on the right (James Allen) costs around $4,700 while the one on the left (Blue Nile) is only $4,300.
These diamonds are the primary examples of the reviewer’s claims that James Allen is more expensive than Blue Nile. However, it does not mean that all James Allen products are more valuable than its close competitor.
The price of service charges is another department where James Allen differs from the rest. It offers free prong tightening, re-polishing, rhodium plating, and cleaning services.
It also offers free return shipping for buyers residing in the USA, but international shoppers would dislike the additional return fees they will shoulder.
James Allen has the poshest packaging among all diamond retailers today. Its silver and white combination, embossed with their signature heart-shaped butterfly and company name, will send you to cloud nine.
The red box inside with your ordered ring has a classic and velvety appearance that ensures the item’s safety. Your partner’s chance of saying no to your marriage proposal is lesser because the ring and its box will leave a beautiful impression on her.
Getting your one knee down as you utter the ‘will you marry me’ question may sound silly as you imagine it happening, but James Allen’s packaging will make it a magical experience.
James Allen offers dependable customer service because their helpline is available 24/7. If you are a first-time buyer, you might have some questions in mind that only an expert can address. Thanks to James Allen’s chat support, you can send them a message any time and wherever you are in the world.
Their help team responds within 30 seconds, and they can also offer you up to three Ideal/Idealscope analyses for free. There is no wonder why this retailer takes the front row in the competition. It does not only check the diamond quality, but its services are also god-tier.
The Pros and Cons of Blue Nile
It is apparent that Blue Nile’s signature color is blue. Like James Allen, it has an elegant web design with straightforward menus. While both have dropdown features, Blue Nile requires you to click each button before your options appear. Below is the home page design of Blue Nile’s website.
You can easily shop diamonds by shape or access their stellar Astor collection. It also allows you to customize your ring and other accessories by giving you the freedom to choose a diamond, setting, metal band, and jewelry type. The brand also offers designer rings from Monique Lhuillier, ZAC Zaz Posen, Bella Vaughan, Blue Nile Studio, and The Gallery Collection.
When you search for a specific shape in the website’s search engine, it will lead you to their best-selling pieces in that category. Thus, you have more time to spare since the best deals will appear right in front of you in no time. You can also access those jewelry pieces that were recently bought by other customers.
What keeps Blue Nile different from James Allen here is the absence of a 360-degree angle video that plays automatically as you go over each photo. You can still move them from side to side, but it is not as clear and in-depth as the latter. Plus, some diamonds still have stock images than a video, which is not too helpful during the customer’s assessment.
If you are uncertain on where to begin, you can always go to the site’s filtering options. It has the same categories as James Allen’s from shape, cut, color, clarity, carat weight, and price. You can also choose if you want a listed or visual result. All of them showcase the diamond’s 4Cs.
Once you click on a stone, you will know all the information you need about it. You can also view the diamond’s GIA report to check its authenticity. Your shopping experience in Blue Nile gets even better because it has an upgrade or downgrade option. It will show you other diamonds with lower or higher qualities and prices close to your chosen piece.
Unfortunately, Blue Nile lacks the magnification feature found in James Allen. It also has a more cluttered appearance than the other company. Nevertheless, it still looks premium with its deluxe items.
Inventory and Product Quality
Blue Nile may be a reliable diamond retailer, but its diamond inventory is not as wide as James Allen’s. However, you can rely on it if you are looking for other gemstones and colored diamonds. Despite this, its pieces get excellent feedback from its first-time and loyal patrons, so you are still on the right track with this brand.
Below are examples of the company’s popular colorless and colored diamonds.
Since Blue Nile does not have the magnification feature, you can only view their diamonds as is. However, they still ensure the customers that their photos are magnified enough to showcase the color and flaws of a diamond. The brand understands that people are meticulous on this department because they go after blemish-free items.
Pricing and Charges
The greatest Blue Nile’s marketing pitch is its pricing. On average, it has the least expensive diamond cost, but it does not have cheap-looking pieces. We showed you earlier how a Blue Nile round-shaped diamond costs lower than James Allen’s with the same qualities.
It also has a service called Diamond Price Match Guarantee. If you find a diamond with the same qualities as your Blue Nile item and has a lower price, the company shall refund you the excess amount. However, that is still subject to their terms and conditions.
You can also avail of their complimentary cleaning and inspection, but these services are not as extensive as that of James Allen. Moreover, the return fee charges shall be shouldered by the customers and not the company.
If you cannot pay the price on a one-time basis, you can check on their installment programs. Blue Nile is a reliable and known brand, which is advantageous if you wish to pay with your credit card.
Blue Nile’s packaging may not be the best in the market, but it still has that classic design in a silver box. It comes with a gift card that you can personalize. However, their color combinations might be a little bit neutral compared to James Allen.
If you buy a necklace, bracelet, or earrings, they have a soft and velvety blue pouch for these accessories. You will love how they add elegance to your gift, which will make your recipient flattered and happy.
Similar to James Allen, Blue Nile’s customer service is available 24/7. You can reach their chat support group at any time of the day, and they try to be responsive as possible. It also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee for purchases that dissatisfies you. However, you must pay the return fee.
If your return does not qualify for Blue Nile’s lifetime warranty program, they offer a buyback option through Mondiamo. It is a platform where you can safely sell your diamonds, watches, and other jewelry items.
James Allen and Blue Nile’s Signature Product Lines
Apart from their general diamonds, James Allen and Blue Nile curates the best pieces to add to their signature lines True Hearts and Astor, respectively. Stones falling to these categories are handpicked by experts for a tedious light performance test. Thus, they are the cream of the crop.
Below are items from the two brands. Most jewelers would say that True Hearts is a better signature line than Astor since James Allen has a reputation of stricter protocols when it comes to cut quality.
Which of the two has a better brilliance?
We do agree that the Tue Hearts cut appears whiter and more brilliant than Astor Ideal. We find the latter’s facets less synchronized than the latter. Thus, its level of precision is not as impressive as the other piece. However, we cannot generalize these diamonds to represent all signature pieces from each brand.
Another thing that you may notice is that the James Allen piece is less expensive than Blue Nile’s. You may qualify for the price match guarantee if you buy the Blue Nile diamond over James Allen as long as you can prove that they have exact qualities.
Nevertheless, the collections in these lines are the best pieces that the companies can offer. No matter which you choose, you will all love them for how they shine and sparkle.
The Distinction of Their Digital Display Infographics
Since the two brands run close to each other in the diamond retail industry, it is not surprising if they offer almost the same viewing experience to customers. However, their digital display also has some differences.
All James Allen products have corresponding 360-degree angle video that helps customers evaluate a diamond’s appearance. You can also zoom the images up to 40x, especially those with the least color and inclusions. Moreover, you can differentiate color quality and carat size using their virtual sizer.
Here is an example of James Allen’s digital display features that we mentioned above.
On the other hand, Blue Nile have more limited viewing options as some diamonds do not have a video. Instead, they only upload a stock image representing the diamond like this one.
It also lacks the super zoom option, which makes diamond evaluation more difficult.
Thus, it is safe to conclude that Blue Nile needs more improvement in their digital display technology. It has come this far, but they have to adapt better in the competition since people wants a shopping experience that reflects real-life encounter.
We posed a question at the beginning of this article asking which between Blue Nile and James Allen is the best. You may have your personal favorite by this time, but preference is subjective. Our takeaway in their comparison is that the two have similarities and difference, which make each brand unique.
James Allen focuses on quality while Blue Nile is more popular with its pricing. The former has a wider collection of loose and colorless diamonds and engagement rings while the latter has more gemstones and colored diamonds.
Despite these differences, they share the same goal and that is to put their customer’s interests first. The two began from a story of frustration, and now they are the leading brands that provide premium quality diamonds without the skyrocket prices.