Best for Classic Diamond Rings
Blue Nile is one of the oldest online jewelry stores (a first iteration emerged in 1995), which makes it a standout in the category if only because it’s survived this long. It boasts a huge selection and some of the best prices you will find. Some of the bells and whistles are genuinely helpful — especially the compare-alternate-diamonds tool. If you visit only a handful of diamond-ring sites in your search, this should be one of them.
In This Article
Blue Nile Pros & Cons
Pros: Large selection, competitive prices, conflict-free policy, 3-D and zoom views, 24/7 support, free shipping, 30-day money-back guarantee, lifetime warranty.
Cons: Not many brick-and-mortar stores (five showrooms in the US), not a good source for antique/vintage rings.
Blue Nile started as the online storefront for a small Seattle jeweler called Williams & Son in 1995, and in 1998, a guy named Mark Vadon stumbled onto the site and bought a ring. He liked the experience so much—remember, this was 1998, and almost no one was selling diamonds online then—that he raised a ton of cash to beef up the website. By 1999, the website rebranded itself as Blue Nile, eventually went public, and then got privatized again when it was purchased in 2017 by Bain Capital Private Equity (side note: Vadon worked at Bain & Company in 1998), Bow Street and Adama Partners.
If all that sounds kind of conventional, then you’ve got a pretty good sense of what Blue Nile is: a very basic website with a big, rather bland selection and something for just about every price range. Also note that there are only five US showrooms (not actual stores) where you can see some of the merchandise in the following states: New York, New Hampshire, Oregon, Virginia and Washington.
Diamond Selection: 150K Strong
Blue Nile’s selection is vast, and for a newbie, that can feel almost unwieldy. You have the choice of starting with the diamond or the ring setting. And the site has over 150,000 diamonds available, because it lets manufacturers and wholesalers showcase their goods without Blue Nile having to actually buy anything upfront. When you make a purchase, Blue Nile pays for the merchandise. It’s kind of like consignment, or what’s known as “memo” in the jewelry industry.
This arrangement gives you access to a massive amount of diamonds without having to pay for Blue Nile to keep all these things in stock, which means your cost is lower than at a place where they buy and own all their merchandise. So, in terms of price, you’re sure to get a deal. The problem, and it’s potentially a big one for online stores in general, is that you’re not going to be able to see the stone in person before you buy it (though there is a 30-day return policy), and you’re kind of left to your own devices when it comes to shopping. But more on that later.
There’s a limit to how small or how large a stone you can find at any given time, based on what’s available in the market. You probably won’t be able to find a diamond much smaller than ¼ carat (also known as a .25 pointer), and at the time of this review, loose stones topped out at about 12 carats.
There are ten standard shapes available, so if you’re looking for something really odd, such as a trillion shape (here’s one at 1stdibs), you’re out of luck. Blue Nile also offers its own proprietary Hearts and Arrows shape, called the Astor Ideal, but it’s not any better or worse than a Hearts and Arrow cut anywhere else.
Ring Setting Selection: Big & Traditional
Once you pick a stone, you’re able to look at settings, generally available in gold, rose gold, silver, and platinum, and with as much or as little additional embellishment as you’d like. By default the site offers the most common styles: solitaire, vintage, halo, three-stone and pavé settings.
Be aware, though, that if you’re looking for something truly unusual, like an invisible set East-West cocked pear in a blue titanium band, this is not the place for that.
Since the inventory is based on what’s available in the market, there’s no guarantee they’ll have exactly what you’re looking for at any given time, assuming you know what you’re looking for. If you don’t know a lot about loose diamonds, then this won’t be a problem.
If you really have no clue where to start, you can always browse recent purchases.
Designer Rings (If You Care)
If buying loose diamonds and a build-a-bear style of ring shopping seems overwhelming, you can also shop a selection of designer rings. At the time of this review, there were 139 available, from designers such as Monique Lhuillier, Bella Vaughan and Zac Posen, as well as Blue Nile’s own Studio and Gallery Collection rings. Everything is budget-friendly, which means you’re not getting high-style here. It’s a lot of your standard halos and some solitaires. But for the price, it’s not bad.
Are They Ethical? Industry Standard
Ethically speaking, Blue Nile is no better or worse than industry standards. They abide by the Kimberley Process (which unites administrations, civil societies, and industry in reducing the flow of conflict diamonds — rough diamonds used to finance wars against governments — around the world). And while that’s a pretty low bar, it’s at least something. They also state they won’t source diamonds from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond district due to human rights violations associated with the area, and that they’re committed to responsible gold sourcing. There’s no mention of platinum mining on the site, however, despite the site’s multiple platinum offers. Again, this is all on par with the industry at large, so not particularly notable, unless ethical concerns are your main benchmark.
Prices: As Wide as It Gets
Loose diamond prices start at about $200, depending on the market and what’s available. For a 1-carat round D color VS1 GIA-certified Ideal cut stone, you will pay (at the time of this review) between $5,951 and $12,396 (here’s one, for example, for $7,300). Additional winnowing can be done by adding preferences about fluorescence, girdle, culet, table, etc.
Real big spenders can find flawless 10+ carat stones for just under a million bucks, too (see photo below), but if you’re looking to spend that kind of money, it’s unlikely you’re shopping at Blue Nile. Note that the site also boasts a diamond price matching guarantee, summed up here.
Originality/Special Features: A Mixed Bag
The main screen combines various ways to browse and sort in a somewhat busy interface. So you can adjust the price, grades, size, and ring shape and see the results in real-time. Plus, you can filter to show only rings that have 360-degree view or what they call “Quick-Ship Diamonds” (for those of you who like to wait for the absolute last minute).
There are a few designs here you can’t find elsewhere, including Blue Nile’s proprietary brands, the low-end Zac Posen collection, the Lhuillier styles, and the Vaughan styles. But these are all mass-market looking, so it’s not enough to sell the site as having special styles.
If you want to see a stone up close, the site has a 360-degree viewer and a zoom feature that will let you zoom in and look at most, but not all of the stones. It’s cool to do, but unless you know what you’re looking at, it’s not really anything more than a neat tech trick.
The sorting and comparing feature works very well, and lets you sort by over a dozen different criteria, including those you’ve added to a “wish list.”
Then you can compare stones side by side, and Blue Nile will offer ideas if you want, say, something with more brilliance, or a lower price. Below are examples of round brilliant diamonds with varying grades of color and carat size—but consistent cut and clarity:
Service/Customer Support: 24/7 Chat & Phone
The chat bot and general customer service team is available 24/7, which is handy if you’re looking for something at 3am. And most of the stones come with a GIA certificate, which is the industry standard for diamond grading, and means you’re getting what you think you’re getting.
That said, there’s nothing here that you can’t find elsewhere. Other sites (like James Allen) have 360-degree views of stones; other sites have bland designer offerings and thousands of loose diamonds to choose from; other sites have chat bots to talk to. Calling any of these features special seems like a stretch.
The site’s chat bot doesn’t want to interact with you unless you give out your email address, but if you are insistent, it will let you talk to a real person eventually.
The general customer service team had a hard time answering simple questions, such as “what sort of training do you have and where were you trained?” If you need more than the most basic customer service help, you need to call their specialists, who claim to have GIA training and certification. Even so, they’re going to want you to help them help you, so it’s best to show up with some idea of what you’re looking for, either in terms of budget or size or style or something.
By the way, asking the chat bot for help prompts an automated response that eventually offers you a discount code for the site. Like the rest of Blue Nile, this is all more price-driven than experience-driven.
How to Pay: Financing Options/Rates
Blue Nile offers a no-fee credit card issued by Comenity Capital Bank—subject to credit approval, of course—to help buyers pay for their purchase. All cardholders receive cardmember-only offers and promotions, and have the ability to manage their Blue Nile credit card accounts online. All credit arrangements are subject to late payment and returned payment fees of up to $40.
There are three payment options available. The first offers no interest via a sliding scale of balances and timeframes. For a purchase between $500.00 and $1,499.99, the balance must be paid off within 6 months. For purchases of $1,500.00 and up, balances must be paid off within 12 months. And for purchases of Astor by Blue Nile products priced at $2,000.00 and up, the purchase must be paid off within 18 months. Interest will be charged from the purchase date if the promotional plan balance is not paid in full within the promotional period. According the the website:
“Option 1: Interest will be charged to your Account from the purchase date if the promotional plan balance is not paid in full within the promotional period. Minimum payments are required for each Credit Plan. The sum of the required payments each billing period won’t be less than $35.00 (or Account balance if less). Minimum payments are NOT guaranteed to pay the promotional plan balance within the promotional period. You may have to pay more than the minimum payment to avoid accrued interest charges. Some balances may be paid off before the promotional period ends. Your minimum payment may be higher than if you did not select promotional financing. Valid for single transaction only. Subject to credit approval. As of January 2020, terms provided for New Accounts: Variable Purchase APR of 29.99%. Minimum interest charge of $2.00 per Credit Plan in any billing period in which interest is due. Existing Cardholders: see your credit card agreement for Account terms.”
The second financing option available offers a 9.99% APR for 24, 36, 48, or 60 months, after which an APR of 29.99% applies. To take advantage of this option, purchase must be $2,000 or above, with longer term payment options applying to higher initial balances. Again, from the website:
“Option 2: Interest will be charged to your Account from the purchase date at the reduced APR. Minimum payments are required for each Credit Plan. The Minimum payment for this Credit Plan will be an amount equal to a percentage of the promotional purchase amount, which percentage will be based on the reduced APR and the length of the promotional period, rounded up to the nearest $1.00 (minimum $5.00). The sum of the required payments each billing period won’t be less than $35.00 (or Account balance if less). Minimum payments are NOT guaranteed to pay the promotional plan balance within the promotional period. You may have to pay more than the minimum payment to avoid paying interest at the purchase APR. Some balances may be paid off before the promotional period ends. Your minimum payment may be higher than if you did not select promotional financing. Valid for single transaction only. Subject to credit approval. As of January 2020, terms provided for New Accounts: Minimum interest charge of $2.00 per Credit Plan in any billing period in which interest is due. Existing Cardholders: see your credit card agreement for Account terms.”
Finally, a third payment option with no special terms offers new purchasers a 25-day grace period if balances are paid in full each month.
The Fine Print: Shipping & Return Policy
Note: We did not buy a ring from Blue nile, but we reviewed their policies, and this is what we found.
Shipping fees are non-refundable. Blue Nile’s FAQ section explains how they use Fedex shipping nationally (overnight, 2-day, Saturday delivery, etc.) and how long it takes to send packages. Blue Nile also insures all shipments.
The free Blue Nile box is dark blue and attractive in a plain way.
All Blue Nile returns are by mail only, and for items under $2,000, the process is online, and fairly straightforward. For anything over $2,000, you’ll need to contact the company.
Online returns do not apply to the following items:
- International returns
- Non-USD currencies
- Item(s) shipped over 30 days ago
- Individual purchases over $2,000
- Exchanges, repairs, or resizing
- Items that became damaged or defective after delivery
- Engraved items (rings excluded)
Returns are accepted for a refund or exchange within 30 days of shipment (not delivery), and the company sends its own insured shipping label once you request a return. Only two free returns are allowed per customer per year.
In order to return anything, you’ll have to send in all product documentation, and make sure the item hasn’t been damaged. If you’re past the point of return, Blue Nile has a diamond buyback program.
All returns can be tracked via the Blue Nile website.
Blue Nile is one of the oldest online diamond retailers, which means it’s got some enviable staying power in the field of digitally native jewelry retailers. And it’s trusted. The selection is almost too big, so unless you know what you’re looking for, this might be an uphill battle. Even with help, there’s something a little mercenary about the way their customer service team approached me, which made it feel like they were more interested in selling me something than in helping me find the perfect stone. Again, if you know what you’re looking for, this won’t be a problem.
The upside is that the prices are very good, and there’s something for just about every range. Despite a somewhat clunky interface, the website works just fine, giving you a decent ring at a decent price, and if that’s what you’re aiming for, you could do worse.