For some time, my wife had been asking for an “upgrade” to her original engagement ring. The years had been good to us, and after a decade together, I decided that it was time to take the plunge. We were looking for something special – at least five carats in size, colorless, and most importantly, an ideal cut. We had purchased her original engagement ring in New York’s Diamond District some years before at a small boutique on 47th Street. Given that it was likely to be a sizeable purchase, I realized that I had some homework to do, so I began to read as much as I could about diamonds on the internet. In the meantime, I booked a trip for both of us to New York right around Labor Day weekend, thinking that we would be able to find something nice during our trip. While I was aware of one or two internet based retailers , I had never heard of Whiteflash until I decided to check out reviews of diamond sites, and hadn’t really thought about buying a diamond online. I am still a little bit old-fashioned, as I prefer to see things in person before making a purchase, and I thought this would be especially important for something like a diamond.
I got in touch with the owner of the boutique who sold us the original ring as well as a “friend of a friend” who was in the business. I also figured we would stop by one of the big name retailers to see what they could offer. In the meantime, I began reading about the 4Cs, watching videos, taking notes on diamond prices, and learning as much as I could about diamonds. I discovered that there are quite a few online retailers, but that some merely drop-ship the diamonds to your home. There are a few others, like Whiteflash, that provide much more information about the diamonds they sell – including Idealscope and ASET imaging, high definition photographs and videos, Sarin reports, as well as expert opinions. I also found that “cut”, in addition to being the most important of the 4Cs, was also probably the most difficult for the layman to understand. Going beyond what GIA refers to as an “Excellent” cut, you would also want to consider a diamond’s HCA score, optical symmetry, and hearts and arrows patterning, among other features. Fortunately, there is a lot more information available today than when I bought my wife’s original engagement ring – even the GIA reports have been improved.
So the big weekend finally came, and my wife and I flew to New York. We had made a couple of appointments prior to our trip and reviewed the GIA reports of the diamonds we would be seeing. Our first visit was with the boutique owner, and was helpful as we got to see a range of diamonds in person. In the spot lighting of the jewelry store, I have to admit they all looked great, and it was a little difficult to find much differentiation among them. While we did see a range of cuts, the retailer played down HCA scores and pointed out that the diamond with the best HCA score (it was below “2.0”), had a much higher price per carat. After reviewing the options, my wife was a little more inclined to go with a slightly larger size (closer to 6 carats) while feeling a little less insistent on the color of the diamond (we were leaning more towards “F” rather than “E”). All the diamonds we saw were “VS1” and “VS2” clarity, and unless you inspected them closely with a loupe, it was difficult to see much of a difference.
At the end of our visit, the retailer provided us with the prices of the diamonds we were shown. I had done quite a bit of research prior to our trip, looking at diamond reviews online and as well as diamond information, so I felt I had a pretty good sense of the range of prices given the specifications that we had discussed. We had also discussed our approximate budget with the retailer prior to making our trip, so I was a little surprised when she gave us the prices at the end of our visit – they all seemed to be about 20% higher than what I would have expected when compared to comparable diamonds that were available on the internet. We left the store feeling excited about the selection, but perhaps a little disappointed with the pricing for the diamonds.
Our next visit turned out to be an even bigger disappointment as we went to visit the “friend of a friend”. We had spoken before our meeting about what we were looking for, and they had even sent us some GIA reports for the specific diamonds that we had indicated met our search criteria. When we got there, they showed us a completely different set of diamonds that were not really what we were looking for at all. The owner explained that there was a big convention taking place in Hong Kong and that there was really nothing available at the current time. Given that we had been in correspondence for over a month prior to our visit, I thought this was ridiculous, so it was a fairly short meeting.
Our last visit was to Tiffany and Co on Fifth Avenue. The shop was beautiful, the lighting was impeccable and the experience was completely upscale. Once again, we saw a range of diamonds including some different shapes (cushion cut and emerald), but my wife wanted to stick with the traditional round brilliant. While the salesperson was very helpful, and the diamonds once again looked great in the store lighting, I would say a few things about their offerings. First, they tended to offer much higher clarity diamonds, while cut did not seem to be as important. In fact, the one diamond we saw that best met our search criteria had an HCA score of around “5.0”. Second, they provide their own lab certificate, rather than a GIA certificate, so it may be a little difficult for the layman to get an apple-to-apples comparison with diamonds from other retailers. Finally, their prices were around 50% higher than the prices you would find on the internet for comparable diamonds. You are clearly paying for the rent and the brand name, which to us, was not particularly important.
We wanted to make a purchase prior to leaving New York, and had seen at least one diamond from the boutique seller that seemed to meet all of our criteria. But the pricing seemed fairly high versus alternatives, so I went to check on the internet to see if perhaps I was missing something. To my surprise, I found one of the diamonds that had been shown to us (I knew it was the exact diamond as I was able to match GIA identification numbers) for around 20% less on the internet. My wife and I discussed our options, and since the retailer had taken the time to show us a fairly decent range of stones, we decided to make an offer on our favorite diamond – albeit at a price about 20% lower, and much closer to where we thought it would sell on the internet. We passed along our thoughts, and they said they would get back to us within a few days.
Feeling a little disappointed to leave New York empty handed, I decided to put a call into Whiteflash from the airport. I had seen a lot of positive reviews from customers on Pricescope.com, which seemed to be a great source of information on diamonds, and given our experience in New York’s diamond district, I was coming around a little more to the concept of an online purchase. I got in touch with my diamond consultant and gave her a summary of what we were looking for. She said she would get back to me within a day or two with some options. To my surprise, by the time we got home from New York, she had already sent us a few diamonds along with the GIA certificates and their corresponding prices. Over the course of the next day or two, we narrowed down our search and were able to find a diamond that met all of our search criteria. I did notice that Whiteflash placed a much higher emphasis on “cut”, and would pre-screen the diamonds for lower HCA scores so that I could be more comfortable that the selection of diamonds would all have excellent light performance as well as being GIA 3X.
When we finally narrowed down the search to one diamond, I wired Whiteflash a deposit so they could bring it in house for insepection. Within a day, Whiteflash was able to prepare all of the imaging that I would like to see for a diamond – an Idealscope image, an ASET image, a Sarin report and a Hearts and Arrows patterning image. In addition, they put together several high definition photographs as well as photos of the diamond in a temporary setting so that my wife and I could see what it would actually look like on someone’s hand. I put together a list of questions, and walked through them with my consultant. I was very pleased with her direct approach in explaining the different aspects of the diamond and highlighting its strengths and weaknesses. I didn’t feel like she was trying to gloss over anything or push me into making the purchase. I also asked if Whiteflash could put together some additional images of the diamond in different lighting conditions, as I hadn’t been able to get as good a feel for the light performance as I would have liked. They were able to prepare an additional video of the diamond that met our requests by the next day.
I spoke with my wife, and she decided that the diamond was exactly what she was looking for – “F” color, “VS2” clarity, a little over 6 carats, and most importantly, an ideal cut (the HCA score was just under 2.0). We briefly considered visiting Houston to see the diamond in person prior to making the purchase, but decided that we had a good enough idea from all of the pictures and images that Whiteflash had sent us. Finally, there was the choice of setting. My wife was looking for something fairly simple – a traditional Tiffany setting – and Whiteflash gave us a few options. We opted to go with the Whiteflash in-house setting rather than Vatche, as the two were very similar, and the production time was much quicker (only about two weeks instead of five). Whiteflash also made some recommendations with regard to insurance, and helped to arrange an appraisal so that I could get it to my insurer in time for delivery. The two weeks went by far too slowly. We must have watched those videos a hundred times in anticipation of the delivery. So how did it look? In a word, fabulous. . .
In normal / diffused lighting conditions, the diamond appears to be very reflective with minimal light leakage, so it is very bright over the entire surface of the diamond. There also seems to be some nice contrast in the stone. Whiteflash had provided some images of the “hearts and arrows” patterning, and while not perfect, the diamond does have excellent optical symmetry. In direct sunlight, the diamond is very bright with broad flashes of color as well as some smaller pin flashes. I’ve seen some other diamonds that seem to be a little less bright in these conditions, and in some cases almost dull / dark. That is not an issue here. But the diamond really opens up in spot lighting!!! We have overhead lighting in our kitchen, and you can see a nice sparkle. But when we took it out to some restaurants and other venues with lots of overhead/spot lighting, the diamond was overwhelming -- a real “ball of fire” that definitely got noticed by anyone sitting or standing nearby. Needless to say, my wife has received plenty of compliments on her ring in the short time since we purchased it.
In summary, I was extremely pleased with our purchase experience. I felt that we got the perfect diamond for us after going through a large selection of potential candidates. The ring looks beautiful and is exactly what we expected after seeing all of the photos and videos. It is extremely bright – I think I now have a better appreciation for the importance of an absolutely ideal cut after seeing one in person. While I was a little hesitant about making the purchase over the internet, I think the pictures and images that Whiteflash sent were sufficient to get us comfortable with the ring, and I can say there were no surprises when we finally got the delivery. Since Whiteflash does have a showroom in Houston, there is always the option of visiting them in person if that is absolutely important to you. Finally, I think we did get the diamond at a great price. Their business model does appear to allow Whiteflash and other internet based retailers to provide the diamonds at a much better price than their bricks and mortar competitors. So if you do your homework, and work with one of the more “information based” internet retailers like Whiteflash, I think you will not be disappointed. Interestingly, as we were just about to conclude our purchase with Whiteflash, the boutique owner came back us and offered to sell us the diamond we had seen in New York a price about 16% lower than the original offer. The price still seemed a little high, and we were pretty far along in the process with Whiteflash, so we declined, but it gave me a lot more comfort that I was getting a great deal with our actual purchase.
My advice to others looking to purchase a diamond is the following. First – do your homework. There is a lot of great information on the internet these days. Study the 4Cs and beyond. Watch plenty of videos. Visit Pricecope.com for some great tutorials and customer reviews and a fantastic range of diamonds. Narrow down your search and make a list of diamonds that fit your criteria. Figure out the tradeoffs between that 4Cs that will allow you to stay inside your budget. Second – visit a bricks and mortar jeweler. If you are lucky enough to live close to Houston, visit Whiteflash’s showroom. See the diamonds in person. Get a sense of how the 4Cs actually affect the appearance of the diamond in real life. Ask the retailer about HCA scores, Idealscope and ASET images and see what they say. See how their prices match up to comparable diamonds that are available on the internet. If you find a retailer that uses these tools to identify the highest quality diamonds and offer them at the best possible price, than take the plunge. Third – if you find that your local jeweler isn’t providing you with the service you like, or offering your dream diamond at a competitive price, then work with a reputable online retailer like Whiteflash. I am sure that you will not be disappointed.