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The Basics

For a better diamond deal, do it online

Start clicking before you start spending on color, clarity, cut and carats. Not only can you get a sparkling education online, you can shop worldwide.

 By Jennifer Mulrean

Diamonds. Gold. Rubies. Emeralds. Name your fancy and take your pick from seemingly hundreds of e-tailers eager to sate your every acquisitive desire. The big names include Tiffany's, Mondera, Ashford and Blue Nile, but there's also a horde of lesser-known sites vying for your business.

The wealth of choices can be daunting, but some jewelry is especially well-suited to online shopping: Diamonds and, to a lesser extent, precious metals such as gold and platinum are generally priced according to widely accepted industry guidelines for determining value, making it easier to compare prices and shop with assurance. With this column, we'll search for the best deals on diamonds.

Four C's add up to your cost
Diamonds a girl's best friend? I'm not so sure, but the boy buying the baubles might have a best friend in the Net. Here, novice jewelry shoppers can learn all they care to about the Four 4 C's -- color, cut, clarity and carats -- and a crucial fifth C: cost.

The nonprofit Gemological Institute of America (GIA), which devised the "Four C" grading system, offers a free online course on how to buy a diamond. It walks you through a mock purchase, explaining the grading system as you go. Here are some of the basics:

  • Color. Diamonds are generally graded on their lack of color and rated from D to Z+, with D being colorless and Z+ being "fancy yellow."
  • Cut. Practically the Holy Grail in the jewelry world, the "ideal cut" is said to produce maximum brilliance, though the exact dimensions are widely debated. In general, cut refers not only to shape -- such as "marquise," or "round brilliant" -- but also to the diamond's proportions, symmetry and "finish," which refers to the precision of its cut and its polish.
  • Clarity. The GIA scale ranges from F ("flawless") to I3 ("included," which means the diamond has internal flaws that are obvious when magnified 10 times.) The stones in the middle range -- from VVS1 to VS2 (diamonds whose internal blemishes are hard to spot at 10 times magnification) -- make up the bulk of the retail market, according to the GIA.
  • Carat. This is probably the most well-known measure of a diamond's worth. Carats measure weight. Because larger diamonds are more rare, buying two half-carat stones costs less than a single one-carat diamond, all other ratings being equal.

A diamond's cost depends on the combination of its Four C ratings. So a 1-carat diamond can cost less than a .75-carat diamond with higher color, cut and clarity ratings.

Finding the goods
When I first ran a quick shopping bot search for diamonds on MySimon, it turned up a number of offers from Mondera, The Diamond Co. and Ashford, though search results will change over time. The most striking find -- for pure sticker shock -- was a 6-carat diamond ring listed by Ashford for $129,000. Those with more limited funds can narrow the search to specific price ranges or carat weight. This still leaves a fair amount of mousework, since you'll have to click through on each offer to compare all the specifics of cut, clarity, etc.

When searching for a maximum 1.5-carat brilliant round diamond on MySimon, I found the best price from Ashford, which had a 1.06-carat, color K (a distinctly yellowish tinge), VS2, "ideal" cut diamond for $3,070 -- on sale from $4,060. Their most basic platinum setting cost an additional $295, though even cheaper yellow and white gold settings are available for $99 (Indeed, a yellow gold band might be preferable if you were to go with a K-colored stone). Similar searches on other shopping bots failed to better this deal, though they're by no means comprehensive. I did find a coupon code at iMegaDeals and FatWallet that could be used to offset the cost of Ashford's settings by 15%.

As I've mentioned in previous DollarWise columns, shopping bots are great for surfacing deals you may not find otherwise. In this case, I noticed that Ashford's site has an "outlet" section with special deals, which is where the above diamond was listed.

Getting closer to the source
Another tactic is to simply type "wholesale diamonds" into a major search engine. You can search by cut, price range and carat weights at sites such as Diamonds on the Web, American Diamond Wholesalers and Wholesale Diamonds, though these last two are both divisions of American Diamond Group and seem to offer the same inventory. McGivern Diamonds, based in Ohio , says it will beat competitors' prices on similar stones, so it's worth checking here before making your final purchase.

Diamonds USA is the U.S. sales arm of David Braverman diamond cutters in Israel and offers "below wholesale" prices. Though I couldn't find a diamond with the same combination of ratings as the one at Ashford, a 1.03-carat VS2, with a more expensive H color (a very slight tint) was selling for $4,120. Also, all prices include shipping and handling and a complimentary 14K gold setting.

The Diamond Source USA is another cutter that sells diamonds on the Net. Pricing is very straightforward. All diamonds with the same 4C ratings have the same price per carat. Also, should you later decide you'd like to upgrade to a bigger or better diamond, they will credit you 90% of the purchase price of your diamond toward the cost of your new one. (The original diamond must have also been purchased through them). The online price list may not exactly match the available inventory, so you'll still need to contact a sales rep to find out what's in stock.

Other facets to consider
As with all purchases, going with a retailer you already know may soothe your nerves, but you'll likely be paying for the brand as well as the diamond. Going with a lesser-known retailer or wholesaler, on the other hand, means it's important to research the return policies.

MSN eShop's buyer's guide to diamonds recommends buying only from sites where you have at least 30 days to return the jewelry for full refund. McGivern Diamonds, for example, gives you only seven days to make your return for a full refund.

As an added safety net, you may want to investigate your credit-card company's policy on disputing purchases, should the jewelry never arrive or prove to be of lesser quality than expected.

And wherever you discover the elusive perfect stone, it's a good idea to get an independent appraisal before the return period expires.

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