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Buying a diamond ring or any other piece of jewelry used to involve visiting a brick and mortar retail store and browsing the options available.
No matter which brand you chose, there was limited inventory, and you might not find the cut or setting that’s right for you.
Online jewelry stores like James Allen and Blue Nile have exploded in popularity, and many buyers are more comfortable with having their diamond shipped to their house without ever seeing it in person.
Both Blue Nile and James Allen earn my full recommendation for their low prices, intuitive online buying experience, and wide selection. In fact, I bought my wife’s engagement ring from James Allen, which was a round-cut diamond in this setting.
But let’s compare James Allen versus Blue Nile, so you can decide which of these retailers is right for you.
James Allen Overview
James Allen was founded in 2006 as an online retailer, though they’ve since opened physical locations in Washington, DC and New York.
They pioneered technology that gives consumers a high-quality image and video of the diamond online. All of their inventory can be viewed in 360° and at 20x to 40x magnification.
Primarily known for diamonds and engagement rings, they also offer:
If you’re new to the jewelry-buying process, the company offers education on its product categories, so you can learn all you need to know before purchasing.
They also offer 24/7 customer service, so you can call, chat, or email the team at any time.
For those interested in a particular diamond, their team also provides real-time diamond inspections where you can connect with an expert to walk through its attributes and learn if it’s right for you.
Another important criteria for many buyers is conflict-free diamonds. James Allen certifies their diamonds are in compliance with these standards.
Blue Nile Overview
Blue Nile is another online jewelry retailer that has opened physical locations in several states.
It prides itself as the world’s largest online diamond retailer but also sells wedding rings and fine jewelry such as pendants, necklaces, and earrings.
Founded in 1999, it was one of the first to popularize the online model of selling diamonds directly to consumers without them having to visit the store.
But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of assistance from Blue Nile in helping you select the right diamond.
They provide educational content on their website, and their team is available 24/7 to help you compare diamonds, choose the right setting, and even match it to your wedding band,
They offer only conflict-free diamonds by supporting the Kimberley Process, an international set of standards that track and certify diamonds.
How are James Allen and Blue Nile Different?
If you’re considering a diamond or piece of jewelry from James Allen or Blue Nile, you should understand how they’re different across the areas that most impact the overall buying experience.
We’ll explore their selection, quality, price, shopping experience and more.
You no longer have to worry about visiting a diamond store and discovering they don’t have the cut or setting you were planning to buy.
James Allen offers more than 200,000 loose diamonds in all the popular cuts, including:
Their inventory includes natural and lab-grown diamonds.
Whether you want a diamond that’s a half carat, three carats, or anywhere in between, you can find options with a variety of colors, clarity grades, and cut quality.
Most buyers aren’t searching for just a diamond. They want to pair it with the right setting. James Allen’s selection of settings includes solitaire, pave, channel set, and more.
They also offer custom designs, so no matter how you want your ring set, they likely can find a fit.
Blue Nile’s selection includes more than 600,000 diamonds in every cut, clarity, color, and carat combination you can imagine.
Whether you’re eyeing a two-carat princess cut, a one-carat emerald cut, or a five-carat pear cut, Blue Nile features it in their inventory of diamonds.
The company doesn’t offer lab-created diamonds but recently partnered with Lightbox to offer lab-grown diamond jewelry.
You can place their natural diamonds in many types of settings from cathedral and non-cathedral settings to vintage or solitaire designs.
On the subject of wedding rings, they come in a range of metals such as:
- Rose, yellow, and white gold
Blue Nile’s inventory is large enough to meet all your jewelry needs, whether for an engagement, wedding, or other special occasion.
James Allen and Blue Nile each offer quality diamonds, but you don’t have to take their word for it.
Instead, they provide diamond certifications from reputable organizations such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and American Gem Society (AGS).
The GIA and AGS are considered the most prestigious institutions for asserting the quality of a diamond.
Blue Nile only lists GIA diamonds.
This means you can have confidence in the degree of quality stated by Blue Nile.
On the other hand, James Allen diamonds are graded by either the GIA, AGS, or the International Gemological Institute (IGI).
While the IGI can provide trusted analysis of diamonds, they aren’t considered the industry standard like the GIA or AGS. Instead, many in the industry recommend the IGI for lab-created diamond certifications.
We recommend buying a natural diamond certified by the GIA or AGS.
James Allen allows you to filter diamonds by which lab certified them, so can decide which lab is right for you.
Price isn’t the only factor you should consider when buying a diamond or other jewelry, but it’s well known many retailers have high markups. That leaves room for other retailers, especially those operating primarily online, to reduce the final price.
To compare the price of diamonds from James Allen and Blue Nile, we identified diamonds with the same qualities across the four Cs: carat, cut, clarity, and color.
Let’s examine the prices from each retailer for a round cut with the following qualities:
- Carat: 1.00
- Cut: Very good
- Color: H
- Clarity: VS1
At James Allen, the price ranges from $4,770-$6,870.
Blue Nile’s price range for these diamonds is $5,118-$7,757.
These results play out across many comparisons of diamonds and settings.
James Allen generally offers a lower price than Blue Nile.
Within each diamond or setting category, you’ll find exceptions to this rule, where Blue Nile could have a low-priced offering that beats James Allen.
James Allen is one of the largest online jewelry retailers, so it’s no surprise they’ve mastered the online buying experience.
Its expertise spans each phase of the process, from selecting a diamond and setting on its website to contacting customer support and learning about the traits that make up a quality diamond.
If you’re searching for an engagement ring, I recommend starting in the main navigation and selecting either “start with a setting” or “start with a diamond.” From there, you can find the right combination for you.
Another area of the online experience where James Allen excels is its high-resolution images and videos of diamonds and settings. When you’ve chosen your diamond and setting, you can view the piece online before you buy.
Blue Nile’s experience is comparable to James Allen, where you can start with a diamond or setting and view how the piece looks when placed together.
When you’re choosing a diamond or setting, there are dozens of filters. You can narrow your selection to the exact type of diamond that fits your budget, whether it’s a carat weight, cut or clarity grade, or degree of fluorescence.
For settings, the filters include the type of metal and the ring style such as eternity, halo, or solitaire.
If you need quick shipping for your online order, Blue Nile has you covered.
For some of its diamonds and engagement rings, it offers free three-day shipping.
Return Policy and Warranty
The obvious issue with buying jewelry online is that you don’t view it in person before purchasing.
It’s often too expensive to leave it up to chance on whether it ends up being the right pick for you.
That’s why James Allen and Blue Nile offer free returns for 30 days, no questions asked. They’ll even pay for shipping and send you a return label.
The online diamond stores also offer a lifetime warranty on their jewelry to account for any manufacturing defects. If the damage wasn’t caused by a manufacturing defect, it likely won’t be covered under the warranty.
This is also true of slight irregularities in a diamond, such as clarity characteristics. These flaws are present in most diamonds and should be accounted for in the grading report.
It’s important to not only base your decision on what the retailer says about themselves.
You should also weigh online reviews and accrediting organizations to know what level of service and quality you can expect from a diamond seller.
James Allen and Blue Nile boast A+ ratings from the Better Business Bureau.
This indicates the BBB has deemed each to operate in a trustworthy manner and takes any customer complaints seriously in an attempt to resolve them.
James Allen also allows real customers to provide their feedback on their Facebook page. The company holds a 4.5 star rating.
Blue Nile has a 4.0-star rating from about 200 reviews on Trustpilot.
The strong reviews for each means they’ve earned the reputation for providing quality service and products.
In instances where they fall short, they have a track record of resolving those issues.
Is James Allen or Blue Nile Right For You?
You can be confident in your decision to purchase a diamond ring from any of these retailers because they’ve proven over many years to offer exceptional customer service and jewelry.
They offer a huge selection of diamonds and jewelry with the certifications to back up their quality. These traits are what make them two of the best online diamond stores.
Here are some guidelines to help you decide.
You should opt for James Allen if:
- You’re looking for diamond jewelry at some of the lowest prices on the market
- You’re searching for a diamond graded by a lab other than the GIA
- You want to buy a lab-created diamond
You should consider Blue Nile if:
- You’re interested in exploring one of the widest selection of diamonds offered by any retailer
- The designs of their settings and fine jewelry are more preferable to you than ones from James Allen
- You’re located near one of their many showrooms, and want to view their jewelry in person
But if you’ve narrowed your choice to James Allen and Blue Nile, both are an exceptional choice.