One of the biggest, but are they one of the best?
In the fast moving world of the web, James Allen has been established for longer than most. While the business was renamed James Allen in 2006, it was actually established way back in the dark days of dial up – 1998 – when the founder found himself dissatisfied with the process of buying his engagement ring and saw a business opportunity.
Today James Allen is in the top two online engagement ring sites and has got a great reputation as a leader in technology to give buyers the best experience possible.
James Allen provides by far the best images and videos of their diamonds on the entire web, which means that buyers can choose their stones with more confidence. Being able to see each diamond in 360 is a feature that James Allen have had for years and other retailers are just now starting to catch up. To ensure that they stay ahead, James Allen now allow potential purchasers to zoom in up to 40x on each diamond to check out the clarity and ensure that it looks great.
As with all of my review, I’m going to look at James Allen under the following categories:
- Diamond Selection
- Ring Setting Selection
- Website Design and ease of use
- Customer Service
At any one time, James Allen has around 40,000 diamonds available for purchase on their site. They’re not technically in their ‘inventory’ as, like most other retailers, James Allen don’t hold all of the diamonds offered in stock – that would be way too expensive for any company to do. Instead, they’re held by a network of suppliers that are close to James Allen’s New York HQ.
However, James Allen doesn’t just have a random list of diamonds that it doesn’t know anything about – it ensures that it have inspected each and every one of the diamonds that appears on their site. Each diamond is assessed by a gemologist and a detailed picture and video is taken of each stone.
Of the 40,000 diamonds that are available, around half are ‘round brilliant’ stones, while the rest are fancy shapes. For more popular fancy shapes like the Princess cut or cushion there are around 4,000 stones to choose from, while for the more niche shapes like the Asscher there may only be around 500.
Although James Allen may have fewer diamonds on its website than some of its competitors (Blue Nile usually has around 200,000 available to buy at any one time), James Allen’s photography and videos mean that is actually the best place to buy shapes other than round.
Images and fancy shapes
Shapes other than round diamonds are known as ‘fancy shapes’, and this is where James Allen is head and shoulders above all of its competitors.
For diamond shapes like ovals, pears, marquise or hearts it’s extremely important that you see what the individual stone looks like, so that you can judge whether you like the cut and how much of a ‘bow tie’ is present.
In the examples below, the pear on the left has a good shape, with evenly rounded lobes which look good and will reflect light and sparkle.
The pear on the right has a dumpy squared off shape at the base which doesn’t look as elegant and won’t reflect light as well. Without actually looking at the images and if you were only judging them based on the values on their grading report, you wouldn’t have been able to tell which was a better diamond.
Pear diamond with good shape
Pear diamond with rounded shoulders and too much weight in tip
Another reason that James Allen is so good for buying non-round shape diamond is that it allows you to see the ‘bow tie effect’. The ‘bow tie’ is a dark area in the middle of the stone and, while it can’t be eradicated completely, you do want to try and minimise it as much as possible.
It’s hard to see how much of a bow tie effect a diamond will have from a still photo, but James Allen’s 360 images allow you to see the stones from all angles and judge how much of a bow tie effect is present.
If you spin a few of these oval diamonds then you should be able to see a clear difference between some of them. Some have ridiculously large Kanye-style bow ties, while others are more of a smaller, more debonaire, Roger Moore-style bow tie. (Best Bond ever, btw)
^^ Look for a small, 70’s era Bond bow tie in your elongated diamond.
Avoid a massive honking great big bow tie
The ability to judge the shape AND the bow tie means that James Allen is the best store to buy pear, ovals, marquise or heart shaped diamonds.
For more regular shapes like the Princess or Emerald cut, where you can look at the grading report and see stats which indicate how well a diamond has been cut, like the ratio between the length and the width or the depth %, images are less important, but still very useful.
Images and Clarity
Having access to magnified images also means that you can examine each diamond for clarity, and check whether any inclusions, or ‘flaws’ in the diamond are likely to be visible.
With retailers that don’t have magnified images of each stone, I recommend that buyers don’t go any lower than VS2 on the clarity scale if they are looking for an ‘eye clean’ diamond ie. one that doesn’t show any inclusions when examined with the naked eye. At VS2 and above a gemologist has verified that a diamond is definitely eye clean, so you don’t need to worry about any inclusions being visible. SI1 and SI2 diamonds may be eye clean, but also very well may not be, so need to be assessed on an individual basis to check.
James Allen’s ultra-mega-high zoom images (if you register and log-in, you can zoom up to 40x actual size) mean that you can look at SI1, and even SI2, stones and filter out those that are obviously not eye clean and then ask the James Allen in-house gemologist to examine the stones and verify whether they are eye clean or not. For James Allen, eye clean is defined as ‘if the diamond appears to be free of inclusions when viewed face up in daylight (or fluorescent lighting) by the naked eye (with 20/20 vision) from a relatively short distance (6-12 inches).”
GIA and AGS grading reports
The vast majority of diamonds in James Allen’s database have been graded by the GIA, which means that you can trust the grading reports and the stats that are shown on the website. The diamonds have been graded by an independent and reputable lab and the assessment is as accurate as it can be. You can access each diamond’s grading report from the detail page of the diamond.
A selection of diamonds have also been graded by AGS which, while equally as reliable as GIA, is less common and uses a different grading scale. Almost all of the True Hearts diamonds carry an AGS grading report. The good thing about the AGS grading reports on the James Allen site are that most of them include a computer-generated ASET image of the diamond, which can be used to judge the light performance of the stone. The general rule for judging these is that the more red and less green and grey, the better.
A very small selection of diamonds have an IGI grading report and I would recommend that you disregard those stones. You can deselect IGI under the ‘Lab’ tab in the Advanced Options on the search page
ASET and Idealscope images
ASET and Idealscope images are used to assess the light return and light leakage from diamonds. They’re a useful tool to compare two stones which have a similar cut grade to see which is going to return the most light and therefore be the most brilliant center stone for your engagement ring.
James Allen offer Idealscope images of all of their top tier ‘True Hearts’ diamonds. Using the Idealscope image you can check the amount of light that leaks from the stone and also check the level its symmetry: to see whether it is a true ‘Hearts and Arrows’ diamond.
For the other diamonds on James Allen’s site, ASET and Idealscope images for diamonds are available if the diamond is located in NYC, where James Allen HQ is based.
To see the ASET or Idealscope images, users can contact James Allen with a shortlist of up to 3 diamonds and they will then investigate whether the stone is located in the Big Apple and therefore whether an ASET or Idealscope image is available. If it is – great! If it isn’t and you are basing your buying decision on ASET or Idealscope images, then you can choose another diamond for your shortlist.
Although there is a process in place which is designed to stop the production and distribution of ‘conflict diamonds’ from Africa, and all James Allen diamonds adhere to this process, some buyers want to make doubly sure that their diamond has been as ethically sourced as possible by buying a stone mined in a country that has a reputation for being among the politest in the world and avoiding conflicts wherever possible. Yes, that’s right, America’s hat: Canadia.
Diamonds that carry the ‘CanadaMark’ are certified to have been mined in Canada and cut by manufacturers that have processes in place to keep track of the CanadaMark diamonds all the way through the process. CanadaMark diamonds also have a laser inscription on the girdle (the rim) of the diamond with a verification number. The image on the right shows a magnified view of the inscription – in reality you need a microscope to see it.
James Allen allows you to search by just CanadaMark diamond using their search tool, which brings back only CanadaMark diamonds. The selection is much smaller than non-CanadaMark stones – probably only around 500 round brilliant diamonds at any one time and no fancy shapes.
However, if you’re looking for a round brilliant then this should still hopefully be enough to find a diamond that works for you. During the course of a normal search, CanadaMark diamonds are indicated by a maple leaf in the top left of the image. If you can’t decide between two different stones then the CanadaMark could be one of the factors that you use to choose between them.
True Hearts Diamonds
Many jewelers have a signature cut which is above the ‘excellent’ or ‘ideal’ cut grade, and James Allen’s is known as ‘True Hearts’ in reference to the ‘hearts and arrows’ formation that can be seen when the diamond is examined through a tool called the ASET viewer.
‘Hearts and arrows’ is a broad term that is used by several other retailers, but it’s one that doesn’t have a fixed definition. It refers to the shapes seen below and is a result of extreme symmetry and an indication that great care was taken in the cutting of the diamond.
This image is taken looking at the bottom of the diamond (known as the ‘pavilion’). You can see that there’s excellent symmetry throughout: the hearts are the same size as each other and the gap between each heart and the V-shape underneath them is distinct (they shouldn’t touch) and identical.
This image is taken looking at the top of the diamond. Each arrow head and the shaft should be perfectly aligned and the size of the arrow shafts and pointed tips should be uniform.
Achieving perfect hearts and arrows is extremely difficult and as a result a premium is charged for the extra care that is needed to create it and for the rarity.
Hearts and arrows doesn’t necessarily mean that a diamond is going to me more brilliant than a stone without it though. It’s also something that can only be seen when the diamond is examined through specialist viewers.
Slightly confusingly, James Allen also has a range of ‘True Hearts’ Princess cut diamonds, which don’t display the hearts and arrows, because this is a phenomenon only found in round brilliant diamonds. According to James Allen, True Hearts Princess cut diamonds are the top 1% of Ideal cut Princess Cut diamonds, but I think that calling them ‘True Hearts’ is pretty confusing for the customer and actually waters down confidence in the fact that True Heart diamonds are indeed true ‘hearts and arrows’ stones.
If you want to ensure that your diamond is the highest quality possible then True Hearts could definitely be seen as a step up from a regular excellent or ideal cut. However, it’s also possible that a excellent or ideal cut without hearts and arrows could be more brilliant than a hearts and arrows cut diamond because it has better proportions which reflect more light, causing it to sparkle more.
To test the James Allen True Hearts, I chose to examine the least expensive stone that fit my standard test criteria for 4Cs:
- Carat: 1
- Clarity: VS2
- Colour: H
- Cut: James Allen True Hearts
Holloway Cut Adviser
The first test I conducted on the diamond was using the Holloway Cut Adviser tool (HCA). The HCA takes into account the key angles and proportions of a diamond and how they will work together to reflect light to give a prediction of how brilliantly a diamond will sparkle.
The proportions that it looks at are:
- Table %
- Depth %
- Crown Angle
- Pavilion Angle
Each diamond is scored on the following scale: 0 – 2: Excellent, 2 – 4: Very Good, 4 – 6: Good, 6 – 8: Fair and 8 – 10: Poor. As a general rule, you should never consider a diamond that scores more than 2 on the HCA.
This is a good result and confirms that the diamond isn’t a dud.. Phew! But it’s also to be expected from a stone that has been graded as ‘ideal’ by the strictest diamond grading lab, the AGS.
If it had scored over 2.0 on the HCA (which would have been a big surprise) then I would have recommended that this diamond was not worthy of consideration.
To really ascertain the quality of the diamond, we need to look at the other images that Brian Gavin supplies.
Test diamond’s HCA results:
Our James Allen Diamond’s Hearts:
Looking at our James diamond, we can see that eight hearts are all very equal, with squared off shoulders, which is what we are looking for.
The V shapes in front of the arrow are pretty similar in size and distance away from the hearts, but not completely symmetrical.
One area that that this diamond does fall down in a little is the clefts between the two lobes of the hearts e.g. in the heart at 2 o’clock.
The small clefts does stop this diamond from being a 100% perfect ‘Hearts and Arrows’ diamond. However, it is so close to being perfect that only close examination at magnification through an Idealscope viewer by someone who knows what they are looking for would show this.
Our James Allen Diamond’s Arrows:
There’s no doubt that James Allens True Hearts Diamonds are a premium product – they are among the very highest quality diamonds available anywhere in the world and as a result carry a premium price tag over other regular diamonds at the same carat weight and color.
The aim of this section was to answer the question of whether James Allen’s ‘True Hearts’ are worthy of being classed as ‘hearts and arrows’ and if they are worth the price premium over other diamonds which have been graded as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Ideal’.
I chose the least expensive diamond that met our standard carat, color and clarity reviewing criteria to see whether the ‘worst’ diamond in the True Hearts range would perform well.
On the two tests performed – the Holloway Cut Adviser and reviewing the Hearts and Arrows through the Idealscope image, the diamond performed extremely well. It was not quite 100% perfect on hearts and arrows, but it was very, very close.
To answer the question as to whether James Allen True Hearts diamonds are worth the premium I would say that yes, they are. James Allen starts with the highest cut grade – Ideal – from the most discerning Diamond grading laboratory – AGS – and then applies their own criteria meaning that they are among the most carefully crafted and rarest diamonds in the world.
James Allen has a wide range of engagement ring settings, across each of the classic settings styles: solitaire, pave, channel set, side stone, three stone etc.
As well as these, James Allen has a good selection of more unique and individual ring setting styles with categories such as Vintage, Tension and the cunningly named ‘unique’.
These categories give much more choice with the style of ring and if you are looking for something less common then James Allen definitely provides more of a choice than most other retailers.
One thing to note when viewing engagement ring settings is that if you have selected a diamond shape first, you will only be shown setting styles that can be used with that setting style.
This is great if you know that you want an oval diamond, for example, so you don’t get shown setting that you love but can’t use with your diamond.
Almost all ring setting styles are available in
- 14K White Gold
- 18K White Gold
- 14K Yellow Gold
- 18K Yellow Gold
- Rose gold
When you’re looking at a ring, it’s easy to switch between the different metals using a drop down menu, which also allows you to see the difference in price between the different options.
James Allen doesn’t offer palladium, which can be a less expensive alternative to platinum and is increasingly popular. However, some jewelers are also shying away from it as it is difficult to work with and very difficult to resize, so James Allen not offering it is not a huge loss.
James Allen relaunched their website at the beginning of 2015 and have continually improved it since then, adding new features like the ‘inspiration gallery’ of recently purchased rings, an instagram feed and a comprehensive education section.
It’s now pretty much the best looking website out there, which is all well and, but when you’re looking for an engagement ring it’s really the functionality that you are more worried about – whether it can help you find your perfect diamond and setting combo in the least confusing way possible.
We’ll start with diamond selection, as getting the perfect stone is key to getting a beautiful engagement ring. As with most online retailers, and all of my recommended retailers, James Allen offers a diamond search tool which allows you to enter your search criteria and narrow down your search. At the top level you can narrow by shape, the 4Cs and price. If you want to whittle it down further then you can click the ‘advanced options’ tab and specify symmetry, polish etc.
While the search tool looks great, a minor frustration is that it reloads and updates the search results every time a new search criteria is entered, which can make for a slow experience as you input your requirements.
When viewing a diamond in detail and then clicking back to the search page, the search criteria often reset themselves to the default setting, which mean that you have to input your requirements and then wait for it to load one by one all over again.
The diamonds have nice big images that you can make a quick decision on and you can roll over the symbol with three dots to see more information about each stone without needing to click into it. You can also compare diamonds easily by adding them to a shortlist, and then if there are any that really tickle your pickle you add them to a wishlist, which is saved for later review. This doesn’t mean though that the diamonds are reserved for you. As with many online jewelers, the inventory of diamonds is turned over very quickly, so if you don’t act quickly then the perfect stone that you added to your wishlist may have been snapped up by the next time you log on.
Engagement Ring Setting Images
Like with diamonds, each engagement ring setting can be spun around 360 to allow you to see if from any angle. This is a great feature to allow you to see more of the detail, especially for rings like the vintage rings, which have a lot of detail. Again, this is something that most other online sites can’t match at the moment.
With the ring settings, one thing to note is that the default images all feature round brilliant diamonds, even if you have chosen another shape of diamond. If you want to see another shape in the setting then you can click through to the detail page for that setting and then click on the drop down menu on the bottom left of the image
Tax and shipping calculator
One feature that James Allen has that no other online retailer currently does is a widget to help people from outside the USA calculate the tax and shipping costs that they will incur. It’s tucked away in the bottom right of every page of the James Allen site and is extremely useful for working out whether you can fit a particular ring into your budget.
Overall, the James Allen site has had a lot of thought put into making the experience as easy as possible. They present all of the information in an upfront and honest way and the site intuitive to use and makes choosing a combination of diamond and engagement ring setting as stress free as possible.
Something that many websites are including now is a live chat, where customers can ask questions directly to customer service representatives and get an immediate answer, rather than flinging an email into the abyss and hoping to get something back in a couple of days.
The link to James Allen’s live chat is featured prominently on the left of their site and is available 24/7. Customer service reps are available almost immediately and on the several occasions I have asked them questions regarding the choice between two stones, or for a detail further detail the response has been instant and honest. Country-specific phone numbers are also provided, which are all routed through to customer service assistants in the US.
If you have a question that requires a more detailed answer, then the assistant may need to refer your question to a gemologist who will get back to you over email at a later date.
As mentioned earlier, a nice feature is that James Allen will provide ASET images of up to three diamonds free of charge if they are available. The reason that they only provide three is because taking an ASET image involves collecting the diamond from a storage facility and then setting up the diamond for the pic, which can be a painstaking process. They certainly don’t want to have to do this 20 times for each casual enquiry, so three is a fair number to supply.
Overall, James Allen do a great job of providing information and assistance to help you find the best diamond from within their inventory.
James Allen offers free shipping both within the US and to all other countries that it ships to. Something to note if you’re not in the US is that you will need to check the import charges for your country and factor that into your budget.
As well as credit cards, James Allen also accepts direct money transfers and offers a 1.5% discount on the purchase price for doing so. You’re probably not going to be able to retire on that, but it’s not to be sniffed at either – on a $5,000 ring that’s $75 that you could put towards your proposal meal at Olive Garden!
After you have clicked the ‘buy’ button you are sent an email asking you to verify your ID and then you’ll be able to track your ring through the James Allen system as it is built, from ‘preproduction’ to ‘production’, ‘quality assurance’ and finally – ‘shipped’ James Allen doesn’t provide photos prior to shipment, but most customers receive a personalized page (with video) about two weeks after shipment.
When you buy, your ring will be sent out in a high quality ring box inside a larger box, with all documentation for the ring and diamond safely stashed in a drawer at the base. The larger box can be used as a jewelry box in the future, which is a nice touch. Overall, the feeling of all of the packaging is extremely premium and the ring box is definitely nice enough to use for your actual proposal.
If, for any reason you change your mind about your ring then James Allen offer a 100%, no questions asked refund policy within 30 days, even paying the return shipping if you’re in the US. 30 days isn’t a huge amount of time if you are trying to find the right time to ask the question (I held onto my ring for 6 months before the time was right), but it is plenty of time to make sure that you like the ring.
If you love the ring but it’s not quite the right size then James Allen will resize it within 60 days. This only really makes sense to do if you’re in the US – if you’re in another country then shipping it back and then getting it back through customs to you is likely to cause significant headaches.
If in the future you change your mind about the ring or want to trade up to a bigger rock then James Allen offer a couple of schemes that can help you out.
Their ‘Two Year Buy Back’ policy means that they will buy back your diamond at 70% of the original purchase price, providing that it’s in good condition and you have the grading report. Diamonds are like cars and lose a huge chunk of their value as soon as you drive them off the forecourt, so this is a very fair deal. If you tried to sell a diamond to any other jeweler, you’d be lucky to get 50% of the purchase price back.
The second policy that can help you out is the ‘Lifetime Upgrade Policy’, where James Allen will credit 100% of the purchase price of your ring to a new ring, providing that it is at least 2x greater value than the original. This is a pretty generous scheme, although the fact that you need to double the value of the original purchase means that taking advantage of it may be beyond many peoples’ means.
Not many jewellers look after their customers quite so well for so long after their purchase though, but James Allen is looking to lock in the loyalty of their customers and these policies are sure to help
James Allen Rating
They are pretty much the only choice to go for if you are looking for a fancy shape engagement ring and their prices for round brilliants are also extremely competitive.
I’ve docked them half a star on ‘Diamond selection’ because the True Hearts diamond that I tested wasn’t quite perfect hearts and arrows. Technically if you average out the score on the right, you’d get 4.875, but as I don’t have a graphic for 0.875 of a star, I’m going to round them up to five! They’re my only recommended retailer that I have awarded the full five stars to.
|Diamond Selection|| |
|Setting Selection|| |
Need a helping hand?
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