Should you buy your engagement ring or diamond ring from Zales?
Zales was founded in 1924, which means it’s coming up on its centenary year, and in that time has grown to over 700 stores across the US.
For any retailer to have been established that long and to have grown to that many stores, they must be doing something right.
In this Zales review, we will primarily examine Zales from the point of view of buying a diamond engagement ring. However, the findings are equally relevant for any other type of jewelry.
Zales ring selection
At the time of writing this review, Zales offers a total of 9,386 styles of engagement rings, with 7,748 of those being diamond engagement rings:
This is a pretty mind-blowing number, but the benefit of this is that there will almost certainly be a style to suit the taste of almost any ring buyer.
Zales offers its diamond engagement rings in a variety of different metals (gold, silver and platinum), and offer one of the widest range of diamond shapes we’ve seen anywhere, including some of the less common shapes like heart diamonds or marquise:
As well as ‘off the shelf’ style of engagement ring, Zales also have a good custom ring builder where you can choose the setting, metal and diamond shape to tailor your ring to exactly what you’re looking for:
The ring builder allows you to choose the diamond shape:
After picking the diamond shape, you can then choose the metal for your ring setting:
While this level of customization is great, it’s still limited compared to my recommended retailers, such as James Allen. For example, with the Zales ring builder you can only choose 4 diamond shapes (round, princess, cushion, oval) whereas the James Allen website has 10 shape options and many more setting styles.
Overall, there’s an impressive range of engagement ring settings, styles and diamond shapes available at Zales, which means you should be able to find something that fits your taste.
Zales diamond quality
Engagement rings are all about the diamond, and being able to choose a diamond that will sparkle brilliantly will make the difference between a truly stunning engagement ring and one that looks dull and unimpressive.
In this section of our Zales review, we’ll examine the quality of diamonds they offer, as well as how transparent they are about the quality of the diamonds themselves.
Looking at the education section of the Zales website, they explain the importance of 4c’s of the diamond which are cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. According to Zales – cut, color, clarity and carat weight “are a way to compare diamond quality and value.” And “Combined, the 4Cs help diamond sellers set prices and compare diamonds”.
This is all true, and being able to filter by the 4Cs is a really effective way of narrowing down your search on most jewelers’ websites. Unfortunately, Zales don’t allow you to choose or see the clarity and color in their product filter, although they do show this information in the product detail pages for their rings.
As we discussed above, Zales has a good custom ring builder called “Create Your Own” where you can choose clarity and color grade. You are guided through the process of choosing the quality of the diamond, although we would dispute some of the terminology used.
Diamond clarity is a measure of the number of inclusions, or flaws, that a diamond has. At the top is ‘flawless’, while at the bottom is ‘included’, where flaws are easy to see.
In the Zales ring builder, they allow you to choose only three options: ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘best’:
The ‘best’ option here is I color and VS2 clarity. While these are OK grades, they are certainly not the best specs available.
VS2 clarity diamonds are actually a great choice (but nowhere near the ‘best’ clarity), while I colour is a little yellower than I would usually recommend. H color is the lowest I would normally recommend to ensure your diamond looks white in all lighting conditions.
For the ‘good’ option they have in the ring builder, Zales are using an I1 clarity diamond. I1 clarity diamonds are very low on the clarity scale and most will have inclusions that are easy to see with the naked eye, like the diamond below, with the obvious mark across the middle:
We therefore wouldn’t recommend an I1 clarity diamond, but would recommend that you seek out an eye clean SI1 clarity diamond like the one below.
As we’ll see later, a diamond like this can actually be found for the same price, or even lower, than a diamond with obvious flaws if you visit my recommended retailer and buy smart.
The biggest determinant of the cost of a diamond ring is usually the diamond itself, and Zales offers a range of carats in their product filter – from under 0.25 carat all the way to above 1 carat. The most used carat weight that Zales offers is from 0.5 carat to 1 carat which is good range of carat weight.
While it is a diamond’s carat weight that is the biggest determinant of price, the factor that determines how much a diamond sparkles is diamond ‘cut’. Diamond cut is a measure of how well the diamond has been formed and it is essential that a diamond has good proportions to reflect light, otherwise it will be dull, lifeless and unimpressive.
If a diamond is too tall or too shallow, it won’t reflect much light:
Diamond is too shallow:
Light passes through the diamond and is lost, meaning the diamond looks dull and sparkles less than it should.
Diamond is too deep:
Light is bounced off the bottom facets at the wrong angle and is lost out of the side of the diamond, reducing sparkle.
Excellent / Ideal cut:
Light is reflected off the bottom facets and back through the table to your eye, meaning the diamond sparkles beautifully.
Understanding the cut quality of a diamond is absolutely essential to be able to understand whether it will sparkle. If you don’t know the cut quality then you may very well be wasting your money.
Zales acknowledge the importance of cut on their website and GIA grading standards:
Despite what they say about the importance of cut in their education section – Zales unfortunately don’t show any diamond cut information on their product filter or product details. When I asked Zales on live chat why this information is not available, they said; “I cannot provide an answer as to why something is not here”.
The lack of information on cut quality is a huge red flag for Zales. Many other jewelers do include diamond cut quality on their websites – some have it as one of the filters on their search tool to allow you to choose diamonds that are more likely to sparkle.
Zales diamond grading labs
Diamonds are graded on four key factors – carat, color, clarity and cut – and a host of smaller factors too. Diamonds which score higher are generally more expensive – an F color diamond will be pricier than an H color, if everything is the same.
It’s important therefore that diamond grading levels can be trusted – you don’t want to pay more for an F color diamond if it is actually an H. This is why independent diamond testing labs are important. An independent testing lab doesn’t have any incentive to say that a diamond is higher quality than it is, as they don’t make any more money if they do. In fact, if they bump up diamond quality grades, it may mean people trust them less, which might mean they make less money.
Retailers do have an incentive to increase diamond quality scores, as it will mean that they can sell a diamond for a higher price. For this reason, I recommend that you always look for a diamond which has been graded by an independent authority – my usually recommendation is the GIA, although there are other good diamonds ‘labs’ too.
Some engagement rings from Zales are GIA certified, which is great. However, it’s a relatively small percentage – 501 out of 9,386 engagement rings in total, at the time of this review.
Zales don’t you allow to view filter their available engagement rings by certification, but they can be found if you search “GIA certified engagement rings” in the search function of the Zales website.
While it’s great that some diamonds do have GIA certification, unfortunately Zales don’t make the actual details of the report visible online. Many retailers link through to the actual report on the GIA website (which looks like this), which allows a potential buyer to see where the inclusions in the diamond are and gain some reassurance.
However, under the certification details, Zales just say ‘Yes’, which means that you won’t see the actual grading report itself until after you have bought the ring, which is far from ideal:
For diamonds that aren’t certified, this section is just completely missing from the product details page, which means you are relying on the Zales staff to accurately gauge the quality of the diamond.
So, while it’s good that Zales offers GIA certifications on some of their diamonds, we’d like to see independent grading available for more of their rings and be able to see the grading report online before making any purchasing decision, otherwise you are still buying a little bit blind.
Buying an engagement ring is a special purchase, and you want to have confidence that the retailer will not only treat you well while buying your ring, but also that they will stand behind their product after the purchase too.
Zales has over 700 stores nationwide, which makes it very easy to visit a store to see a ring in person or to ask questions. This ease of access is great, although you may find that Zales staff in-store have limited technical knowledge about diamonds and are more focused on making sales than answering detailed question about diamonds.
Service-wise, Zales has a free cleaning and inspection service every six months, which is a good service. Return-wise – if you feel the ring isn’t right for you they will give you a full refund or an exchange within 30 days, which is better than a lot of jewelers.
Looking at reviews Google, each individual store is given its own profile. A typical score appears to be from 3.5 – 3.9 on the reviews e.g. this store in Queens, NY scores 3.6 from 66 reviews:
Online reviews do need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but it indicates that people are broadly satisfied, but not necessarily ecstatic with the service they’ve received at this Zales branch.
Zales value for money
Buying a diamond ring is a big commitment – both financially and emotionally. So it’s important that you ensure sure that you are getting good value for money and aren’t spending more than you need to.
After all, if you’re buying an engagement ring, it’s likely that you will have a wedding to pay for soon.
To see how Zales value for money compares, we’ll compare it to one of my recommended retailers – James Allen. James Allen is an online bridal jewellery retailer who I have helped hundreds of people buy from over the last 10 years.
When comparing, we’ll keep the ring style, diamond clarity, colour, carat as similar as possible. A good way to compare is looking at Solitaire diamond rings as they are simple and timeless, without an ornate setting to make the comparison more complicated Looking at Zales, they offer a solitaire ‘Diamond Bridal Ring’ with a 1 carat center stone and 18k white gold setting for $9,434.58:
This diamond has been graded I color and VS2 clarity, although we aren’t told the cut grade unfortunately, which means we can’t judge whether it will sparkle beautifully, or look dull and disappointing.
If we look at this price compared to my recommended retailer, a 1 carat diamond with I color and VS2 clarity, the same as Zales, the cost is just $5,220:
The James Allen ring also has an ‘Excellent’ cut diamond, so we know it will sparkle beautifully, and has been graded by the GIA – an independent grading lab which has no incentive to bump up the grading score.
This is a huge difference in price – the Zales engagement ring with unknown cut quality is 80% more expensive as an excellent cut diamond from James Allen:
While you may not be looking for a diamond of this size or price, it is indicative of the high prices Zales are charging – over $4,000 more for what may an equivalent quality diamond, but may actually be lower quality (we don’t know because we don’t know the cut quality).
Of course, this is just an example, and the ring you are looking for may be very different to this. However, it’s worth noting that with the money you would save by buying from James Allen instead of Zales, you could:
- Increase the carat weight of the diamond
- Increase the quality of the diamond
- Spend it on a really special proposal
- Put it towards your wedding cost
Or possibly all of this!
The prices at James Allen may be different on the day you look – maybe higher, maybe lower – it’s worth clicking through to see today’s prices for exactly what you’re looking for.
Value for money
Do we recommend Zales?
Zales offer a huge range of diamond ring styles and settings – the ability to visit them in one of their 700 plus stores is a big benefit. While it may be tempting to go to a Zales because of the convenience, on reviewing their online store, we can see that the expensive real estate in shopping malls has resulted in high prices.
Despite the number of setting styles available, the actual diamond quality choice is limited. Zales offers limited choices for color and clarity, while also offering I1/12/13 diamonds which will have very obvious flaws and which I would not recommend you choose.
The lack of transparency over the cut grading of their diamonds (which is the biggest factor that determines a diamond’s sparkle) and the lack of independent grading for many of their diamonds are other red flags.
But it’s the lack of value that really seals the deal – you can save significant amounts of money when buying your ring from my recommended retailer. It just makes sense.
- Over 700 stores in America
- Huge number of ring styles
- Good returns policy
- Limited choices for clarity and color
- No cut grading information
- Offers low quality clarity
- No independent grading
- Very expensive