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Blue Nile

3 Stars (3 / 5)

Everyone is familiar with Blue Nile. They are the powerhouse of loose diamonds online and have been operating their online diamond business since 1999. Based in Seattle, Washington, their advantage in the online diamond market is shear size. At the time of this writing (December 2014), they have more than 230,000 diamonds available for search online at any given time.

The company continues to stay competitive and is still the largest online retailer for loose diamonds and engagement rings. In fact, it is estimated that Blue Nile is nearly three times larger than their nearest competitor! Diamond rings still make up about 70% of Blue Nile’s sales as they cater to the first time diamond buyer. Because most men don’t have a clue about how to go about purchasing a diamond, they rely upon Blue Nile to help educate and steer them in the right direction.

The future growth of Blue Nile looks promising as well with Blue Nile putting more focus on the non-engagement jewelry market for repeat customers throughout the year. Blue Nile’s long time specialty has been their very popular “design-your-own-engagement” ring tool. It is probably a well known fact by now that Blue Nile doesn’t own or house the 230,000 diamonds that are in their “inventory”. They instead utilize the drop-shipping business practice of showcasing diamonds on their website that are really owned and housed by various diamond vendors located anywhere in the world. Some consumers don’t seem to mind this, as many businesses use this practice to save on inventory and overhead costs. However, with the diamond business this can lead to serious quality and customer service issues.

There Are Easier Diamond Buying Options For Round and Princess Cut Diamonds Online

As the age of information continues to grow, more and more people are turning to the internet for reviews, pricing information, customer service, and product consistency. Although Blue Nile is still the reigning champion when it comes to purchasing diamonds online, there are other diamond vendors that specialize in diamonds that make the process much easier and very transparent (see my five star recommended diamond vendors to see what I mean).

Although Blue Nile only sells GIA or AGS certified stones with access to the actual diamond certificate online, they do not provide any other features that would make a true assessment of a given diamond possible. For example, technological advancements have allowed such tools as Sarin machines, Ideal-Scope, ASET, and high resolution digital photographic technology to be available to the consumer so they can offer the novice buyer some help in choosing a quality stone without the need to see it in person beforehand. The vast majority of Blue Nile’s loose diamonds have a GIA certificate which makes it extremely difficult to evaluate a diamond’s cut proportions and light return because there is no ASET image accompanying the diamond. With the growing online diamond market, these tools are becoming a necessity and that is why other diamond retailers like: Brian Gavin Diamonds, Zoara, Leibish&CoEnchanted Diamonds, and Ritani and  are quickly gaining traction and notoriety within the industry. If any diamond vendor wants to stay afloat in this market, they will eventually need to step up their game and add this technology to their arsenal of selling tools.

Blue Nile ‘Signature Ideal’ Are Not Necessarily Hearts & Arrow Diamonds

Another issue that I’ve have seen over and over again is the story behind Blue Nile’s ‘Signature-Ideal’ collection of diamonds. People want to know what this distinction means, how are these diamonds different? Well, to answer these questions one needs to do a little investigative work. First of all, Blue Nile has stated that their signature ideal diamonds have the following standards:

Depth % – 60.1 – 61.9%
Table % – 55.0 – 57.0%
Polish – Ideal
Symmetry – Ideal
However, this can be misleading because though a diamond may fit these proportion ranges, a diamond isn’t a perfect ideal cut diamond just because it has these proportions. A diamond has to strike a balance with ALL proportions and this includes table %, depth %, crown angle and pavilion angle. Its just not as simple as this.

Most of Blue Nile’s Signature Ideal Diamonds are GIA certified. And if you read my article on GIA vs. AGS, GIA has larger parameters for what they consider an “excellent” cut grade. In other words, what may be “excellent” to GIA may fall into a lower cut grade according to AGS standards. I’m not saying that all Blue Nile Signature Diamonds are bad, but I do stress that it is simply Blue Nile’s “opinion” that these set of diamonds are up to par with IDEAL standard diamonds. Blue Nile’s Signature Ideal’s come with a 3rd party Gem Certification and Assurance Lab (GCAL) certificate. See below…

example of Blue Nile GCAL report

This GCAL Report is Blue Nile’s branded version of GCAL’s Diamond Audit Guaranteed Certificate. GCAL is a 3rd party lab that simply verifies the accuracy of the original AGS or GIA report/certificate.

GCAL is an independent diamond research and identification laboratory located in New York, New York. It appears that Blue Nile has branded GCAL’s Diamond Audit Guaranteed Certificate. This report bascially verifies the accuracy of another lab’s grading report. The report information says, “If the diamond meets GCAL’s grading standards, then it qualifies for certification and GCAL’s “Zero Tolerance” 4C’s Consumer Guarantee”. The inexperienced diamond buyer is paying a premium for Blue Nile’s Signature Diamonds just to be independently certified by a 3rd party lab and to have it laser inscribed with the Blue Nile logo and cert number. That is the only difference between Blue Nile Signature diamonds and their other available diamonds. This is NOT the same as hearts and arrows certification, nor does this necessarily mean that the given diamond is eye-clean.

1) If they were hearts and arrows certified, then Blue Nile would have used GCAL’s Heart and Arrows Guaranteed Certificate (GCAL’s Heart and Arrows Guaranteed Certificate)

2) Pulling a random diamond out of their “inventory” like: 1.1ct Signature Ideal, I-SI1 we can see that this diamond doesn’t score well on the HCA tool. This diamond’s score was 3.0, with Light Return -Very Good, Fire -Very Good, Scintillation- Very Good, Spread or Diameter for Weight – Very Good. Conclusion: Very good worth buying if the price was right $7106.00 (which it is not).

Blue Nile Signature Ideal

Randomly pulled Blue Nile Signature Ideal Diamond. This is a blown up picture of the actual diamond as indicated by the GCAL report.

HCA analysis for Blue Nile Diamond

HCA analysis for Blue Nile “Signature Ideal” Diamond. This tool is meant to reject known poor performers and narrow down your selection. In this case, it is better to look for another diamond.

Now that we know that Blue Nile’s branded Signature Ideals can vary widely in cut quality, the onus is on the consumer to search through the more than 230,000 diamonds to find a well cut stone.

Step 1 – Go to Blue Nile’s Search for Diamonds page and enter in the following:

– Enter round brilliant for your desired diamond shape, carat weight, and diamond color
– Leave the Price parameter untouched
– Choose “very good”, “ideal”, “signature ideal” for cut
– Choose your desired clarity grade (recommend VS2 – VS-1) (SI1’s may not be eye-clean and therefore without pictures it is safer to choose a VS2 or better in clarity)

Step 2 – Advanced Criteria (Very Important!)
– Choose ‘excellent/ideal’ polish and symmetry
– Choose 53% to 58% Table (55%-57% is optimal but will show less results)
– Choose 59.5 to 62.5% Depth (60% to 61.7% is optimal but will show less results)
– Leave everything else blank
*It’s important to note that we cannot search by crown or pavilion angle and so, we are limited in this capacity as well.

Step 3 – Results The results that show up according to the above parameters is a very refined list of available diamonds that are of top cut qualities. Go through the list and see if there are any AGS graded diamonds. These diamonds are your preferred diamonds as AGS has stricter cutting standards than GIA (click here for more on the differences between GIA vs AGS). Additionally, AGS issues ‘The Platinum Light Performance Diamond Quality Document‘ to elite diamonds that meet their strict cut guidelines. After finding diamonds with an AGS grading report pay special attention to it’s ASET image located on the grading report itself (some AGS reports will not have an ASET image, only Platinum Performance Diamond Quality Documents will have this). For example, I found this 0.508ct, H-color, VS-2 clarity, AGS Ideal cut for $1533.00 at Blue Nile. This diamond shows ideal light performance, ideal polish and ideal symmetry. It shows virtually no inclusions and the ASET image is bright red with blue contrast. ASET images help to show how well a diamond is cut. This diamond may not be a perfectly cut hearts and arrows diamond, but it shows excellent symmetry and contrast. This is an example of a beautiful looking stone that will shine bright and show off a beautiful sparkle.

Step 4 – Enter Your Diamond Into The HCA Tool Since this diamond is graded an AGS ideal cut, we can expect this diamond to be brilliant. However, for the purposes of further understanding a diamond’s expected “performance” we can easily plug in this diamond’s available proportions into Gary Halloway’s HCA Tool (click diamond cut for more info on this). This tool only works for round brilliant diamonds, but helps to predict light performance (brilliance, fire, scintillation and diamond spread). As expected, this diamond resulted in an “Excellent” score. For the record, nearly all AGS “0” ideal cut diamonds should score well in the HCA Tool; so it isn’t really necessary to use HCA in order to confirm what we already know. Remember, this isn’t one of Blue Nile’s coveted Signature Ideal diamonds which goes to show that you really must do your homework in order to find an excellent cut diamond. 0.508ct HCA Analysis

Step 5 – Buy The Darn Thing! I did purchase this diamond and had it set in a classic four prong 18k white gold solitaire setting. I ordered the ring on a Thursday and it was shipped free to my home by the following Wednesday. I have to say that I wasn’t at all surprized when I saw the diamond in person. It was exceptional. This little beauty is definitely “eye-clean”. Take a look at its accompanying AGSL report which you can see both in the original version and electronic versions below:


electronic version of an AGSL grading report

The electronic version shows the same details as the original grading report document.

original AGSL grading report for 0.508ct diamond

This is the original AGSL grading report that shows this 0.508ct round brilliants proportions, ASET image, and grading qualities.



H-color, VS-2 clarity AGSL Ideal cut 0.508ct diamond

Here is a close-up picture of the 0.508ct, H-color, VS-2 clarity, AGSL Ideal cut diamond. it is perfectly “eye-clean” and shows no visible inclusions from any distance or angle. This is an example of an exceptionally clean VS-2 clarity grade diamond!

Blue Nile Offers:

– Free delivery for both domestic and international orders

– 30 day return policy

– Conflict-free diamonds

Specific Canadian diamond selection (for those that are very concerned about where their diamonds are sourced)

New fancy diamond collection online

Some Disadvantages:

– No real pictures of diamonds online for easy shopping assessment (except with the Blue Nile Signature Diamonds, in which case you can see the picture as part of the GCAL report. This picture is not magnified and shows no real clarity assessment value).

– Blue Nile drop ships most of their diamonds

– No longer the cheapest and most competitively priced for loose diamonds online

– Use caution when looking to buy Blue Nile’s ‘Signature-Ideal’ diamonds

Although you can find excellent diamonds in this category,  I’ve found that Blue Nile has a very large range of what they consider an acceptable “ideal” diamond as well as higher prices.

Final Thoughts

Although I technically will help individuals find a suitable ideal cut round brilliant diamond from Blue Nile, the honest truth is that I can’t give Blue Nile five stars because in my experience their customer service is lacking in advanced cut education and more importantly their diamond search tool is still populating diamonds without any magnified images, HD videos, light performance information etc.

You might think this is just picky of me, but honestly you are limited to purchasing only round brilliant diamonds based on cut proportions alone and even this is essentially risking it. There is no way that you can purchase anything other than a round diamond from their search tool because a fancy shaped diamond just has too many variables to leave to proportions alone. Additionally, their prices are not the lowest. They do not visually inspect their diamonds for quality control before shipment and the jury is out on who actually sets their jewelry for them. Given all this, I wouldn’t personally purchase from Blue Nile unless they had an extremely good offer.

Blue Nile has the advantage of all other online diamond vendors in that they are a public company with shareholders that push forward to dominate the market and keep the sales up. However, if you are a savvy consumer, you are better off investing in a quality diamond from a vendor that has earned your business with the necessary tools you need to make a sound decision.

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