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Buying diamonds or other jewelry online is now a popular option in any industry that used to be dominated by traditional brick and mortar retailers.
Some vendors focus exclusively online while others have a hybrid model that allows shoppers a choice.
James Allen and Zales are two diamond retailers in the latter category, though as we’ll learn, Zales has a much more extensive physical presence than James Allen.
My bottom line recommendation is to choose James Allen over Zales for their lower prices, wider selection of diamonds, and easy online process.
In fact, I bought my wife’s engagement ring from James Allen (a round-cut diamond in this setting), and it was an exceptional experience from start to finish.
But let’s compare James Allen versus Zales in the areas most important to buyers when considering a jewelry purchase, including their selection, prices, buying experience, customer service, and financing options.
Overview of James Allen
James Allen is an online retailer known for loose diamonds, engagement and wedding rings, and fine jewelry such as bracelets and necklaces.
It was founded in 2006, and its unique selling point was the photo and video technology that allowed buyers to view the diamond in high-resolution at multiple angles.
This addressed the primary reason traditional jewelry stores excelled compared to the online model.
Buyers didn’t want to spend the high price associated with jewelry without seeing the piece with their own eyes.
Since its founding, James Allen has opened a few physical stores in Washington, DC and New York, but it’s known as an online retailer.
It boasts that more than 150,000 couples have bought its jewelry as part of their engagement or wedding.
James Allen abides by the Kimberley Process, meaning its diamonds are conflict-free.
Overview of Zales
Zales was founded in 1924 when Morris Zale, William Zale and Ben Lipshy opened their first jewelry store in Wichita Falls, Texas.
It pioneered a financing model that was unique at the time, where buyers could pay “a penny down and a dollar a week” on its high-priced items.
Zales now has more than 700 stores selling engagement rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and more. It’s known for its in-store experience but also has an extensive online presence where buyers can create their own jewelry and have it delivered.
Zales diamonds are also conflict-free. Its parent company, Signet Jewelers, documents its standards in its Signet Responsible Sourcing Protocol.
What are the Differences Between James Allen and Zales?
One of the advantages of an online diamond store is the ability to offer a wide selection.
James Allen is an example of how eliminating brick-and-mortar stores means you can expand your inventory.
It offers more than 200,000 loose diamonds, in addition to eight styles of settings such as:
- Halos and double halos
The options don’t stop there. Within many of its settings, you can choose between white, yellow, or rose gold or a sleek platinum, like this 14K white gold cathedral setting that’s simply stunning.
If you aren’t searching for an engagement or wedding ring, James Allen may still have the jewelry you need.
Its selection includes gemstone bracelets, eternity rings with diamonds wrapped around it, and pearl earrings.
All of these items are available to browse online and have shipped to your door.
Zales doesn’t promote the exact number of diamonds and other jewelry it has in its inventory, but it features a wide selection across each category.
For example, there are more than 16,000 diamond rings available on its website.
These diamond rings feature all the most popular types of diamonds cuts such as:
While James Allen is known for its selection of diamonds and engagement rings, Zales has a large selection of other jewelry.
It carries watches from a variety of brands, pearl earrings, and stainless steel necklaces.
Zales has also expanded its selection with featured collections such as Enchanted Disney and Vera Wang.
If you’re looking for the widest overall selection of jewelry, Zales may be the right choice for you over James Allen.
It’s difficult to make direct price comparisons between James Allen and Zales because they package their products differently.
While James Allen offers diamonds and settings separately like its online competitors Blue Nile and Ritani, Zales puts them together and sells it as an engagement ring.
But we can create an engagement ring on James Allen that mimics the quality of one from Zales and compare the price.
For example, Zales sells this one-carat engagement ring in 14k rose gold, with an I color grade and I2 clarity grade.
It’s original price is $3,999.99, but Zales is offering it at $2,799.99.
Zales often marks up its inventory at a high price and then offers a significant discount.
On James Allen’s website, I created a similar ring: a one-carat diamond in 14k rose gold with an I color grade and I1 clarity.
It’s a higher quality diamond because it has fewer inclusions. It also sells for a slightly lower price at $2,870.
In general, Zales is more expensive than James Allen because it has a more prestigious brand.
While James Allen minimizes the markup by selling primarily online and targeting budget-conscious consumers, Zales has spent almost 100 years building a strong brand that commands a premium price.
You may find exceptions, where a piece of jewelry from Zales is less expensive than a similar piece from James Allen, but if you’re focused on value, you should opt for James Allen.
The other reason it’s difficult to make direct comparisons between James Allen and Zales diamonds is because James Allen’s are certified by the American Gem Society (AGS), the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), or the International Gemological Institute (IGI).
The GIA and AGS are the most reputable institutions for grading the quality of a diamond.
They’re third-party organizations that are known to apply strict standards and provide objective results.
This reliability results in more confidence for the buyer but also a higher price tag on the diamond.
Zales diamonds are often certified by the IGI, which is less reputable. They partner with large jewelry retailers and offer them quick turnarounds and low costs.
So even if two diamonds from James Allen have the same color, clarity, and cut grades, the James Allen diamond is likely higher quality because the grading standards were more rigorous.
The difference in buying experience between James Allen and Zales is significant, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have a poor experience working with one over the other.
Zales has made its mark in the jewelry industry by offering an in-person experience that guides the buyer through the purchasing process.
You can walk in without any knowledge of diamonds and work with a consultant each step of the way.
You’ll have the chance to view diamonds, rings, and more and test how they look under various lights and if it’s the right fit for you.
While its in-person experience is optimized from start to finish, its online presence isn’t nearly as robust.
The website draws attention to its sales and specials, but many buyers know that quality jewelry doesn’t often sell at a discount.
Instead of selecting the perfect diamond and pairing it with a custom setting, it promotes engagement rings that already combine the two.
Its custom design section, where you can select a unique stone and setting, doesn’t provide as many options as competitors.
This is where James Allen’s buying experience excels. The website is intuitive and allows users to easily find pieces of jewelry already put together or begin building the perfect ring for them.
One of its most popular features is the ability to start with a setting or loose diamond and then pair the two to create an engagement ring.
Once you’ve chosen the diamond and setting, James Allen provides a high-quality image of the ring, so you know what it looks like before you buy.
If you’re comparing the Zales versus James Allen buying experience, you should decide the importance of a personalized buying experience and branding.
If those qualities are a priority, you should consider Zales, but if you’re comfortable buying online and aren’t concerned with a well-known brand name on the box, we recommend James Allen.
Zales and James Allen offer quality customer service.
As an in-store retailer, Zales is able to offer personalized customer service for buyers before and after their purchase.
If you’re interested in a piece of jewelry, their consultants can showcase the piece and answer any questions you have about it.
They also have customer service representatives available for calls and online chats.
You can learn more about their customer service here, including how to call, email, or chat with a member of the Zales team.
But just because James Allen is primarily an online retailer doesn’t mean they don’t have a similar level of personalized service.
They’re team is available 24/7, and you can call, chat, or email James Allen with questions about a past or future purchase.
In fact, their Real-Time Diamond Inspection service allows you to connect with a diamond expert to walk through the attributes of a particular diamond and view it at a high degree of magnification.
They’ll even talk you through its grading certificate.
Jewelry is often an expensive purchase, so James Allen and Zales offer financing.
James Allen has two financing offers.
The first option defers interest if it’s paid in full within six months.
If it’s not, the interest will be charged to your account from the purchase date. The minimum purchase requirement for this financing option is $1,000.
The second option is 9.9% APR with 24 month payments, with a minimum purchase of $2,000. This offer is subject to credit approval.
They also offer a revolving line of credit for future purchases with its credit card.
Zales has multiple financing plans, including its Diamond Credit Card. There are several options when you pay with their credit card.
For example, they offer 18-month financing on purchases of $3,000 or more, with 0% interest if paid in full within that time period.
The same interest rate promotion applies for six- and 12-month financing.
Zales also participates in the buy now, pay later system, where the payment is completed between six weeks and six months, depending on the purchase.
Returns and Warranty
Because many pieces of jewelry are an expensive purchase, James Allen and Zales offer free 30-day returns for full refunds.
If you aren’t completely satisfied, you won’t have to commit to the high price tag.
At Zales, they also offer exchanges within 60 days.
In regard to warranties, James Allen offers a lifetime warranty against any manufacturing defects.
It’s important to note here that it’s not referring to inclusions throughout the diamond, which appear in most diamonds and are part of its clarity grade.
This warranty would likely apply if the diamond arrives chipped.
Zales doesn’t explicitly offer a warranty on its website.
Instead, it promotes its Lifetime Diamond Commitment, which applies to diamond rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.
You can read the details here on their website, but in general, if it’s chipped or broken, or falls out during normal use, they’ll replace it with one of similar value.
Reviews From Customers
You shouldn’t only consider what James Allen and Zales state on their website when it comes to the full jewelry-buying experience.
You should also assess what real customers have to say about their experience.
James Allen earns consistently solid reviews from its customers.
For example, they’ve received 4.5 stars on Facebook from more than 4,000 reviews.
One customer writes:
“Great experience. The process of finding the stone that I liked was simple and easy to understand.
I really like the 360 photo feature because it made me feel confident that I was buying what I wanted. The ring is simple but very elegant.”
They’ve also earned an A+ from the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
This doesn’t mean every customer has reviewed them favorably but that they seek to resolve any complaints that do arise.
Zales has also earned an A+ from the BBB, but on ConsumerAffairs.com, it’s earned 3.7/5 stars from more than 200 ratings.
Some complaints involve slow shipping, difficulty receiving a refund, and questioning the accuracy of the diamond’s grading.
While the online reviews of James Allen always skew in the positive direction, the results for Zales are often mixed.
Should You Buy Jewelry From James Allen or Zales?
In this head to head comparison of James Allen versus Zales, we recommend James Allen. It’s where I bought my wife’s engagement ring, and it was an exceptional experience every step of the way.
I assessed several diamonds of various colors, cuts, clarity grades, and a carat weights, and landed on the right choice. It shipped fast, and the presentation was outstanding. It’s what makes them one of the best online diamond stores.
But if you’re looking for a more well-known brand, there are quality products at Zales as well. Perform due diligence on the diamonds and ensure you aren’t overpaying for one with several noticeable inclusions or a poor cut.
Explore diamonds and jewelry from James Allen, Zales, and other retailers, and you’ll discover the right piece for you.