Blue Nile Review

All you need to know about the most popular shape of engagement rings


Blue Nile Review

They’re the biggest, but are they the best?


blue nile logoIn this Blue Nile review, we’ll be looking at the good, the bad and the ugly. We’ll lay out all of the reasons why you should or shouldn’t choose Blue Nile for your diamond or engagement ring.

Blue Nile is the juggernaut of internet engagement ring retailers. If it was a search engine it’d be Google, if it was a social network it’d be Facebook and if it was a film star it’d be Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. In short they’re the biggest quality engagement ring seller online and the retailer that all others are compared to.

This size comes with some advantages and some disadvantages for customers, as we’ll see. But first, a little history.

Blue Nile was established way back in 1999, which in Internet years means that it rose out of the primordial soup that was the dot-com era and managed to survive the bursting of that first bubble. The founder had purchased his engagement ring from a small online retailer and realized that there was the potential for a much larger business. He raised some capital and took a large stake in the business and then proceeded to begin building it into the organisation it is today. In 2004 the company was floated on the NASDAQ stock exchange and although it is still much smaller than publicly traded jewelry companies like Tiffany’s or Signet (which owns Zales, Kays etc), Blue Nile is much larger than all of its direct competitors.

So what are the unique advantages that Blue Nile offers and why would you choose them, over their rivals?

In this review, we’ll look at

  • Diamond Selection
  • Ring Setting Selection
  • Website Design and ease of use
  • Customer Service

Buying from outside the US

One of the biggest differentiators and advantages that Blue Nile has over its rivals is that it has a European distribution center, located in Ireland.

If you’re based in the US then this doesn’t mean much for you, so feel free to skip to the next section. But, if you’re based in Europe then it’s key to getting a high quality engagement ring at a great price.

All of Ringspo’s other recommended retailers are based in the US, which means that importing a ring into Europe will incur an import tax. How much this is is dependant on the country, but for the UK, it’s 20% of the cost of the engagement ring.

Blue Nile’s distribution center in Ireland means that the rings are created and shipped within the EU, which means that there’s no import tax. This is a huge advantage and it means that European buyers can benefit from the huge choice and economies of scale that Blue Nile offers while not being punished for being located outside the US.

Visit the Blue Nile European website here

This doesn’t mean that Blue Nile isn’t a great option if you are located in the US, however. It definitely can be.

It simply means that Blue Nile is an especially good choice if you’re located outside the US because it has great reach than any of its competitors.

Diamond Selection

Huge Choice

Blue Nile has the biggest range of any online diamond retailer out there – at any one time they have around 200,000 diamonds available to choose using their online ‘Build your own ring’ tool.

But Blue Nile doesn’t have 200,000 diamonds sitting in a room gathering dust. Instead they have a network of diamond production partners all over the world who hold the diamonds for them. Unlike some other retailers, Blue Nile looks to secure exclusive rights to the diamonds that it offers. This is a big positive because it means that you are much less likely to find your perfect diamond, click the ‘buy’ button and then be told that the diamond has already been sold through another website.

Limited of images

One criticism that has been levelled at Blue Nile in the past is that users of the site can’t view high quality images for each of the diamonds that they offer on their site. This is particularly important for shapes other than round, or for diamonds which are borderline clarity, where it is essential to look at each diamond to be able to judge whether it is ‘eye clean’ or not.

This is partly because Blue Nile is so big. As Blue Nile’s inventory is spread out all over the world means in the past they have struggled to physically inspect every diamond and take a picture of it, which most other retailers are able to do.

For some stones this isn’t the biggest deal. If you’re looking for a round brilliant diamond which is VS2 and above then you can trust the diamond grading report and look at the proportions of the stone to ensure that you’re going to get a stone that has been well cut and is going to sparkle brilliantly.

However, this is something that Blue Nile are now actively addressing, and they are aiming to have a high quality 360° image of each and every one of  the stones in their inventory very shortly. 

Fancy Shapes

If you’re looking for a fancy shape like a pear or an oval, you need to make sure that you can see an image of the actual stone that you are considering to ensure that it is a well cut and beautiful stone.

The stats on a diamond grading report don’t show you what a stone actually looks like. So, while you might want a beautiful pear shaped diamond like the one on the left, buying blind without seeing a picture of the stone may mean that you’re left with an ugly shape, like the one on the right.

Pear diamond with excellent shapePear diamond with good shape
pear shaped diamond with square shouldersPear diamond with poor shape: rounded shoulders and too much weight in tip

 


By checking the “360° view available” box on Blue Nile’s filter, you can now ensure that you are only shown diamonds which have an image, allowing you to judge whether the diamond is well cut or not.

If you are looking for a fancy cut diamond, then make sure to read the relevant diamond shape page on Ringspo so that you know what you should be looking for.

Borderline clarity

The other occasion when images are necessary is if you want to go for a lower clarity than VS2.

Some ‘Slightly Included’ diamonds have flaws which are very difficult or impossible to see with the naked eye, while others are much more noticeable. The two diamonds below are both graded SI1:

S11 diamond with no visible inclusions

Eye clean SI1 diamond

SI1 diamond with visible inclusions

SI1 diamond with visible inclusions

If you are looking for a ‘borderline’ clarity diamond, then again I would recommend checking the “360° view available” and only considering those stones that have images.

However, if you’re looking for a round brilliant or Princess cut diamond with VS2 clarity or above then images are a ‘nice to have’, rather than an absolute necessity. For these more popular diamonds, Blue Nile offers the widest selection and some of the most competitive prices out there.

Blue Nile Signature Ideal Cut

If you’re looking for the highest quality cut with your diamond (and you should be – it’s the factor that most determines how brilliantly your stone is going to sparkle) then Blue Nile’s brand of highest cut grade stones is called ‘Signature Ideal’.

This section gets a little bit technical, but if you want to find the diamond that sparkles the most brilliantly then it’s definitely worth reading. If you’re confused by any of the terms used then please see the page on diamond cut, or drop me an email and I’m always happy to answer any questions.

Blue Nile GCAL Signature Cut certificate

Blue Nile’s Signature Ideal cuts are available for round, Asscher, Princess cut and Emerald cut diamonds and are cut to Blue Nile gemologist’s exacting cut standards of proportions and symmetry. As well as the standard GIA or AGS grading report, each Signature Ideal is also accompanied by a second grading report from GCAL, another independent laboratory.

This certificate includes more detail about the stone than a regular grading report, including an actual size image of the diamond, a 10x magnification image, a hearts and arrows image and a couple of different technical images to show the level of light leakage.

On the Blue Nile site, these certificates are very small and hard to see, but you can go to the GCAL website and enter the certificate number to see a much larger version to allow you to actually read the report and use it to aid your decision making.

 

Signature Ideal diamonds are significantly more expensive than the regular ideal cut brethren – a 1 carat, color G, clarity VS2 ideal cut round diamond starts from around $5,800 on the Blue Nile site, while a stone with the same color, clarity and carat weight with a super ideal cut is closer to $7,000.

This increase in price is because of the increase in rarity, increase in difficulty of production and the amount of rough diamond that was lost in the cutting process, as well as the likelihood that the diamond is going to perform well optically ie. reflect as much light as possible back to your eyes and sparkle brilliantly.Signature Ideal diamonds are significantly more expensive than the regular ideal cut brethren – a 1 carat, color G, clarity VS2 ideal cut round diamond starts from around $5,800 on the Blue Nile site, while a stone with the same color, clarity and carat weight with a super ideal cut is closer to $7,000.

This increase in price is because of the increase in rarity, increase in difficulty of production and the amount of rough diamond that was lost in the cutting process, as well as the likelihood that the diamond is going to perform well optically ie. reflect as much light as possible back to your eyes and sparkle brilliantly.

Testing the Blue Nile signature cut

To test just how well a Signature Ideal diamond sparkles I used the Holloway Cut Adviser, which is a tool developed by a diamond industry veteran which takes into account all of the angles of a diamond and uses an algorithm to determine:

  • the level of light return (the proportion of light which is returned to your eye)
  • the fire (the mixed colours that a diamond produces)
  • the scintillation (the level of sparkle) and
  • how big the diamond looks compared to other diamonds with the same carat weight.

The Holloway cut adviser is a good tool to weed out diamonds which are graded highly for cut but which actually perform poorly. It takes into account how all the angles of a diamond work together to reflect light, rather than just judging on the quite broad proportion criteria of the standard ‘ideal’ or ‘excellent’ grade.

I tested the first three super ideal cut diamonds and recorded their results and then did the same for some regular average Joe ideal cut stones.

 

Signature Stone 1

Price: $7,712

BN1

Signature Stone 2

Price: $7,801

BN2

Signature Stone 3

Price: $7,814

BN3

As you can see, each of the Blue Nile Signature Ideal cut diamonds returned ‘Excellent’ scores on the Holloway Cut Adviser.

But how do they compare to regular GIA Ideal cut diamonds, and are they worth the extra money?

Comparison to regular ‘Ideal cut’

To compare the signature cut diamonds to regular GIA Ideal cut diamonds, we chose the top three least expensive GIA Ideal cut diamonds on Blue Nile, with the same specifications:

  • Cut: Ideal
  • Carat: 1
  • Colour: G
  • Symmetry: Excellent

As these are all classified as ‘ideal’ cut by GIA, you might expect them all to perform as well on the Holloway Cut Adviser as the Blue Nile Signature stones.

Here’s how they actually performed:

Regular Ideal Stone 1

Price: $6,037

BN4

Regular Ideal Stone 2

Price: $6,094

BN5

Regular Ideal Stone 3

Price: $6,121

BN6

As you can see, the regular ideal cut diamonds performed much worse on the Holoway Cut Adviser than the Blue Nile Signature Ideal cut.

While all three Signature cuts were classified as ‘Excellent’, indicating that they would return bounce the majority of light back to the viewers eye in the form of brilliant sparkle, just one of the regular ‘Ideal cut’ stones was classifed as ‘Very Good’ and the other two were classified as ‘Fair’. This means that they won’t return as much light and they won’t be as brilliant or as beautiful. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing any of these stones.

One thing to note though it that the three regular ‘ideal’ cut stones are much less expensive.

The Blue Nile signature Ideal diamonds are all around $1,800 more expensive at the same carat weight and color. That’s not a small difference.

Before we draw any final conclusions, there are a couple of things to think about.

  1. Some regular ideal cut diamonds will perform just as well as the Signature Ideal cuts on the Holloway Cut Adviser and get similarly excellent results, if you know what you’re looking for. However, you will often need to search through 10-20 stones to find one that performs this well. With the Signature Ideal cut, the top 3 cheapest examples all performed excellently.
  2. The second caveat is that the Holloway Cut Adviser is only meant to be used to get rid of poor performing diamonds – basically anything that scores higher than a 2 should be ignored. Looking at the three Signature Ideal results above, a score of 1.4 is not necessarily better than a score of 1.6 and it doesn’t mean that it will sparkle more. However, the results do show that the three Signature Ideal diamonds are all excellent stones.

To choose between the 3 Super Ideal stones, the extra information from the GCAL certificate should be used, with the hearts and arrows and ‘optical brilliance’ compared to determine which stone should be purchased.

 

Finding a diamond to perform as well as a Signature Cut

blue nile advancedIf you want a diamond that is going to perform as well as a Signature Cut stone then all it takes is a little bit of work.

Blue Nile publishes the proportions if its signature cut here, and we can use these to narrow our selection of diamonds using the Blue Nile search tool.

Select your chosen carat weight, color and clarity, then select ‘ideal’ cut and click the ‘advanced filters’ button on the bottom right of the search tool.

 

Get the proportions right

blue-nile-advanced

On the advanced filters tab, select the following options

  • Symmetry:EX/ID
  • Polish: EX/ID
  • Fluorescence:
  • Table %: 55.0% – 57.0%
  • Depth %: 60.1% – 61.9%

 

Find the crown and pavilion angle

blue nile advanced

You have now selected diamonds which have table (the width across the top part of the diamond) and depth stats which match Blue Nile’s signature ideal cut diamonds.

The last stage is to narrow the selection further by finding a diamond that has the correct crown and pavilion angles. These are the angles of the slanting side of the diamond and it’s important to get these right to ensure that as much light is reflected back as possible in the form of sparkle.

To find these angles, we need to look on the GIA grading report for each diamond, which you can find by scrolling down the detail of the diamond, as shown on the right.

 

blue nile pavilion and crown angle

Click through the diamonds, on the list, starting with the least expensive at the top. For each diamond, locate the GIA report and open it up, then look for the two angles highlight in the picture on the right.

The angles that we are looking for are:

  • Crown (red): between 34° – 35°
  • Pavilion (green): between 40.6° – 40.9°

If the diamond that you are looking at has either of these angles outside the range above then discard it and move to the next one.

Once you have found a diamond that has crown and pavilion angles within the range above, you have successfully selected a diamond that has the same proportions as a Blue Nile Signature Diamond. Well done you!

To ensure that it isn’t a dud, you could then test with the Holloway Cut Adviser to ensure that it scores under 2.0 and performs well. Just enter the angles as requested and click ‘Go’ to get your result. If it’s above 2.0 (which it shouldn’t be), then discard that diamond and try the next one on the list.

Unfortunately, with Blue Nile’s regular diamonds it’s not possible to check for hearts and arrows as this information isn’t available on a regular GIA grading report and Blue Nile isn’t able to supply it.

But, by finding a stone with the same proportions as a Signature Cut you would undoubtedly get a stone is more brilliant than almost every other ‘ideal cut’ round brilliant diamond and certainly more impressive than most diamonds.

Hopefully that was all clear, but if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line..

Are Signature cuts worth the extra?

To answer the question of whether Signature Ideal diamonds are worth the cost increase over the regular ideal cuts I would say that if you are looking for Blue Nile’s best of the best and want to ensure that your stone performs incredibly well optically and has perfect hearts and arrow then the extra information provided on the GCAL certificate would be worth the peace of mind.

However, the fact that you can use the specified proportions from the Blue Nile Signature Ideal cut and, with a little bit of digging, find a diamond that performs just as well for light return, fire and scintillation but save yourself a considerable sum of money, means that that is the option that I would go for.

Ring Settings

Ring Setting Selection

Blue Nile solitaire ringBlue Nile has a good selection of rings in the classic styles of ring ie. solitaire, sidestone, three stone and halo. For each of these there are several variations of ring band width and variation. For example, there are 75 variations of just the classic solitaire setting, depending on what metal you choose and how ornate the setting is.

Although most of the rings are shown  in the Blue Nile site with round diamonds, if you click into any of the detail pages then you can select all of the other shapes of diamond that can be used for that setting.

While there are no images for most of Blue Nile’s diamonds, its presentation of ring settings is excellent. When clicking into the detail page you can spin the ring 360 which allows you to check out the detail from any angle – particularly useful for the more ornate vintage-inspired rings.

Designer ring settings

Blue Nile monique lhuiller engagement ringBlue Nile’s premium range of ring designs are produced in partnership with a range of fanshion designers and grand fromages from the wedding scene: names like Zac Posen (fashion designer), Monique Lhullier (wedding dress designer) and Colin Cowie (event planner).

Unless you’re involved in the wedding industry, these names probably don’t mean too much to you. But the rings that are produced under these designer names are all noticeably more ‘designed’ than the standard range. They have more details, could be seen as more interesting and are worth checking out if you are looking for something a little more unique.

Website

Website

The Blue Nile website was one of the first to offer customers the ability to choose their own diamond and setting and build their own ring. This was revolutionary at the time and it is such a good model that almost all online jewelers have copied it.

While the Blue Nile site may not have been updated for a couple of years and doesn’t look quite as modern as James Allen’s or Ritani’s, it is intuitively laid out and guides you through the process of choosing your diamond and ring setting combination.

Build your own three stone ring

If you’re looking for a three stone ring, then Blue Nile has its competitors beaten hands down. Most other websites allow you to pick the center diamond for your ring but you’re then stuck with whatever side stones the jeweler chooses to give you.

Blue Nile’s ‘Build Your Own Three Stone Ring’ tool allows you to choose not only the center stone but also a matched pair of diamonds for the side stones, so you can decide on the size and quality of all of the stones in your ring.

This gives you much more control over the build of your ‘past, present and future’ ring (as they are sometimes) which means you can tailor the quality of the stones to meet your budget.

Round Diamond Classic Three-Stone Engagement Ring (Platinum)

Ring mock-ups

One thing that the Blue Nile site does better than most is give an accurate representation of how your chosen diamond will look with your chosen setting.

If you have chosen a 0.5 carat diamond then the image of the stone that is shown when you are choosing your ring setting will be sized at 0.5 carat. Equally, if you’ve selected a 3kt monster then the diamond shown will be 3kts. This is a detail that most other manufacturers ignore but it can really help to visualize what the final ring will look like.

Preview-0.5

0.5 carat diamond preview

Preview-1.5

1.5 carat diamond preview

Service

Pre-Purchase

As with many e-commerce stores, Blue Nile provides live chat with customer service agents, which is available 9AM – Midnight ET and 11AM – Midnight ET on Weekends.

Tollfree phone support is also available and open 24/7, but for pre-purchase enquiries I prefer livechat because you can send through links to diamonds that you have queries about. If you don’t feel that you are getting the answers that you need from the livechat, Blue Nile also has a dedicated diamond expert email address which goes straight to their gemologists if you have any technical questions. This is a great resource to have access to, but does make me think that Blue Nile doesn’t totally trust their Livechat agents to answer detailed diamond related questions. advice

Purchase

blue_nile_engagement_ring_in_box
When you’re ready to buy, Blue Nile makes it as easy as possible, accepting credit cards, Paypal and bank wire transfer. Paying by bank transfer earns you a 1.5% discount on the purchase price. This discount is definitely a nice bonus, but  if you are planning on paying by bank wire then you should also check whether there are any fees liable from your bank and factor this into your calculations.

Another great policy that Blue Nile have is their price match promise. If you find an advertised diamond of comparable size, shape, and quality at a competitor, they will work to match the price.

Blue Nile rings are supplied in a premium blue ring box, shown left. The branding isn’t too loud, but you may want to swap it out if you don’t want your partner to know where you purchased the ring from

Blue Nile Credit Card

Blue Nile offer a credit card to residents of the US which can be used to finance your purchase. It’s advertised as being 0% for the first 6 or 12 months, depending on a couple of factors, and after that the interest rate is (at the time of writing) 26.99%.

While how you pay for your ring is definitely your prerogative, I would advise not stretching yourself financially for the ring. After you have proposed you will need to start saving for a wedding and those things are definitely expensive!

Post purchase

In case you change your mind about your ring, Blue Nile offers a no-questions-asked return policy, which is standard across all of my recommended retailers.

If you haven’t quite got the size right, they offer a complimentary resize for most rings within the first year. Some rings, such as those with a pave band all the way around the bottom of the ring can’t be resized. However, Blue Nile will swap these for the correct size within the first 30 days after purchase.

They also offer a lifetime warranty against manufacturer defects, although it doesn’t include in normal wear and tear or damages incurred through negligence or lack of regular maintenance. To help with maintenance, Blue Nile offer a complimentary cleaning and product check-up as a preemptive measure against the possibility of stone loss or damage that occurs when prongs are bent, pulled, caught, or broken during normal wear. If you cover the shipping and insurance to their facility, they’ll cover it back to you.

Blue Nile service is definitely among the best of any online jeweler and almost certainly better than most bricks and mortar stores, where returns are often subject to stringent conditions.

Blue Nile Rating

Blue Nile’s size mean that it is able to offer a huge range of diamonds and high quality engagement ring settings at extremely competitive prices.

Another strength is its international reach. If you’re buying from Europe, then it’s my strong recommendation from my recomended retailers and over any other online options that area out there.

Where Blue Nile falls down compared to some of my other recommended retailers though is the current limited images of its diamond selection. This currently reduces the number of fancy shapes (ie. any other than round or Princess cut) that buyers can choose from considerably. However, as Blue Nile get more 360° images of their stones  up, this will no longer be a negative and they will have some of the highest quality images on the web.

If you are looking for one of the more standard diamond cuts e.g. a round brilliant or Princess cut, then Blue Nile is an excellent choice, with fair prices, a great range of classic ring setting styles and unparalleled service and support.

Diamond Selection

Setting Selection

Website

Service

Overall rating

botch

CHECK OUT BLUE NILE NOW

Need a helping hand?

If you have any questions at all about this review, how to find a top quality diamond on Blue Nile or anything else around how to find your perfect ring, I’d love to help you out directly.

Click the button below or email me at alastair@ringspo.com and I’ll get back to you with an answer licketysplit.

DROP ME A LINE