For a decade after decade, diamond engagement rings have been an investment.
Until about fifteen to twenty years ago, most engagement rings were bought at traditional jewelry stores in small boutiques or sprawling malls. The assumption was that a diamond ring should cost about three months’ salary, making it an important, expensive, and time-consuming endeavor.
All of that is slowly changing or, for anyone who bought an engagement ring in the decade prior, rapidly evolving.
Millenials, as the leading consumers of engagement rings, are rejecting traditional wisdom. A survey of 1,000 millennials revealed that over 30 percent thought it was proper to spend only a months’ salary, or less, on an engagement ring. And that ties into the other trend: buying engagement rings from online retailers like Blue Nile.
Blue Nile Competitors: Full Ranking of the Top Alternatives to Blue Nile
I go into depth later on on some of the top sites like Blue Nile, but here’s an overall list (updated Quarterly) with our top online jeweler recommendations.
Blue Nile’s competitors include the following:
- James Allen
- Brian Gavin
- Charles & Colvard
- Kay Jewelers
- Gabriel and Co
- Helzberg Diamonds
- Brilliant Earth
- Diamond Nexus
- Shane Co
Why Blue Nile and Sites Like Blue Nile Are So Popular?
Blue Nile is one of the most popular and well-known online jewelry retailers. Started in 1999, it’s also one of the older and more established ones, boasting an inventory of over 100,000 diamonds, 200 different settings, and had sold over 1 million engagement rings as of 2016.
What makes Blue Nile and sites like it so popular? Namely, four things:
- Quick Shipping/ Delivery
- Lower Prices
It’s not so surprising, even for purchase as significant as an engagement ring. Online shopping is becoming increasingly popular, an inverse relationship with shopping at traditional stores.
But Blue Nile isn’t solely an online retailer. Perhaps recognizing the need to offer not only the convenience and discounts of online shopping, but it also offers physical showrooms across the country so you can view their merchandise in person.
And with non-commissioned expert consultants available 24 hours a day, customers get at very least a taste of the best of both worlds.
Is Blue Nile the best site for online engagement ring shopping?
Even customers who are sold on the idea of shopping, or at least browsing online for an engagement ring might be hesitant when it comes to settling on a company.
While it’s true that Blue Nile offers a lot of perks and an extensive inventory, it’s also true that shopping for an engagement ring, online or traditional, shouldn’t be taken lightly.
In other words, almost everyone wants to feel assured they are selecting the best company possible for their purchase.
Google “online engagement rings” and Blue Nile will be a top result. And because of that, and also because of its enormous sales history, many customers might opt to go with Blue Nile.
But your search will also bring you a list of competing companies, like James Allen, Ritani, and Brilliant Earth, among a slew of others.
So how to sort out what the best sites are?
For this review, we’ll be considering many factors by different categories. The objective is not to tell you what “the best” option is, but instead see how each competitor lines up, and what fits best depending on what you’re looking (or not looking) for.
Blue Nile Competitors: Diamond Sourcing
Diamond sourcing is a concern because diamonds sometimes come from questionable origins: diamonds have been known to be associated with financing civil wars, harsh or illegal labor practices, and a slew of human rights violations.
The good news is the four best sites we’re taking a look at all:
- Follow the Kimberley Process
- Assert their commitment to conflict-free diamonds
The Kimberley Process sets the basic standards that sourced diamonds are verified not to be involved in financing civil wars. The non-profit organization was founded 17 years ago and is considered a basic, but essential standard for diamond sourcing globally.
But there are some clear winners in this category. While James Allen, Ritani, Brilliant Earth and Blue Nile only sell diamonds certified by the Kimberley Process, some go above and beyond. Here are our rankings:
Blue Nile: In this category, Blue Nile comes in behind its competitors. To be sure, there are online retailers or traditional jewelers that do not directly state their compliance with the Kimberley Process. And their commitment to Responsible Mining is a big plus. It just doesn’t go above and beyond as some of its competitors.
Blue Nile understands online jewelry shopping. They have the deepest inventory of diamonds and settings for ALL BUDGETS. They offer 360 degree REAL diamond images online, so you know exactly what you are getting. Best of all, they've mastered the art of securely shipping jewelry and handling returns or issues with ease.
James Allen: James Allen follows both the Kimberley Process and claims itself as the “sole online retailer of Canadamark diamonds.” Canadamark diamonds mean that diamonds mined in Northwest Territories (Canada) are tracked from their sourcing for adherence to respecting the socioeconomic and environmental needs of Aboriginal communities. That’s a big step, and it appears, a unique one, that could have, in theory, a significant impact. The way James Allen words it, though, this is a collection and not the whole of their diamonds.
Ritani: Ritani really should tie with James Allen, for its commitment not only to the Kimberley Process but also for supporting local communities in both Africa and the United States. But where it gets an edge is more transparency, more information, its membership as a Responsible Jeweler, and its partnership in Namibia.
Whiteflash: Whiteflash follows BOTH the Kimberley Process and is a member of the United Nations Global Compact supporting the Kimberley Process. Whiteflash is also part of the Diamond Development Initiative (DD), working to protect communities involved in artisanal and smaller scale diamond mining. They also feature a specific curated collection Dreams of Africa from which ALL the profits are donated to Jewelers for Children (JFC).
Brilliant Earth: Brilliant Earth takes our top spot in this category. Conflict-free diamonds are front and center for this company, with plenty of details about the company’s sourcing standards. In addition to the Kimberley Process, all Brilliant Earth diamonds are “beyond conflict free”:
- Protection against human rights abuses
- Minimizes environmental biodegradation
- Safe labor practices
- Supports local communities
Customized engagement rings are a way to design unique rings with your style and budget in mind. There’s something truly special about being able to custom design something, and all four of these sites are among the best for doing so, at all price ranges.
For this category, we take into consideration not only the degree of customization offered but also the services and additional perks provided. Price is not a factor because it can vary greatly, mostly depending on the diamond carat, cut and clarity (more on costs later).
Winners (Tie): Brilliant Earth & James Allen: In this category, it’s honestly pretty hard to distinguish from each retailer, and in some ways, that’s a good thing.
In general, all companies use a three or four step process when creating a ring.
Filters include metal type, setting, diamond shape/cut/color/clarity, etc. You can also filter by price, though almost all only calculate the price once you’ve finished creating a ring.
What makes Brilliant Earth and James Allen stand apart? Brilliant Earth offers real views of actual (not model) diamonds, while James Allen offers a more advanced 360-degree view of diamonds, plus special collections for more unique settings. If we had to pick a winner, James Allen’s easy navigation pushes just past Brilliant Earth.
Company Awards and Customer Reviews
You can have the best option possible on paper (or in this case, online) and still not pick the company with the best reputation. While all four companies were selected as some of the best sites, there are some distinguishing factors from company to company.
All four are Better Business Bureau Accredited and hold an A+ rating. When you take a look at customer reviews, the issue is there are so reported on this site: there was a tendency to report complaints more than positive reviews so to be fair to companies that had very few reviews on BBB (like Ritani), we took a look at WeddingWire user reviews instead).
- Ritani: With only 35 reviews on WeddingWire for Ritani, perhaps it’s not one hundred percent fair to place it last amongst its competitors. But keep in mind we’re comparing some of the top sites, and Ritani may just not have as much traffic amongst WeddingWire users. It is the only one without any WeddingWire “awards” and has the lowest average rating, at 4.4 /5, which is still solid. While many were happy with their purchase, customer complaints raised concerns about the quality: some cited chipped diamonds or cracks in bands. Further Detail: Ritani Review
- Brilliant Earth: Again, the problem with this method is companies with fewer reviews may get a nudge to the side. Nonetheless, Brilliant Earth comes ahead of Ritani, with 340 reviews and an average rating of 4.7/5. It also scored a WeddingWire Couple’s Choice Award for 2015 and 2016. Customers were generally happy with their purchase, but complaints included weakly made set designs as well as issues of orders or request becoming unavailable upon selection.
- Blue Nile: With 1,103 reviews, Blue Nile comes in a solid second place. It won a spot for the Couple’s Awards of 2015 and 2016, and a 4.7/ 5 average rating. Customers were mostly unhappy with customer service complaints and a few questions about quality (with many positive reviews). If you do look on their website, however, you’ll see numerous awards and reviews that might also need to be taken into consideration.
- Whiteflash: With 9 reviews, Whiteflash holds 5 stars and an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. While they don’t see the volume of customers or reviews as Blue Nile, they do have excellent ratings overall.
- James Allen: James Allen could easily swap places with Brilliant Earth or Blue Nile. It has the same average rating of 4.7/5, only with significantly more (1,365) reviews. It also scored more awards: The Couple’s Choice for 2017 and 2016, as well as the Bride’s Choice for 2012. There were, of course, more complaints, but many of that revolved around customer service and a few less about the quality of the rings. But users did note that customer service was not overly personal, professional, or polite which can happen with a larger company handling large volumes of sales.
About Pricing & Policies
You may wonder why there’s not a ranked category for prices. That’s mainly because not only is it difficult to make a direct product comparison, since there are so many factors involved, especially when it comes to custom diamond engagement rings, but the four sites are among the best for a large variety of both pricing and financing options.
And since customers might be looking for something very different, instead we’ll take a brief look at pricing highlights from each:
- James Allen: Orders include packaging, diamond certification, free inscription and FedEx Shipping. 30 day free returns, but in the U.S. only. They also offer financing options plus an upgrade policy towards diamonds for purchasing twice the value of the original.
- Ritani: Ritani offers a free store preview, a big plus for anyone wary of online shopping. Free shipping, 30-day returns, but returns exclude customized or engraved purchases.
- Brilliant Earth: Brilliant Earth offers physical showrooms, 30-day returns, diamond upgrades for a purchase 50 percent higher value, plus free shipping.
- Blue Nile: Diamond Price Matching ostensibly guarantees the lowest price, which makes Blue Nile stand out. Other policies include free shipping with gift wrap, upgrades for up to 100% the original value, and a credit card service.
If we did declare a winner in term of pricing and general policies, we’d go with Blue Nile for price matching, and with James Allen for its extensive offers with a purchase.
Finding the Best Fit: Alternatives to Blue Nile
Countless factors go into deciding who to purchase a diamond ring from. Company reputation, customization, pricing, policies, and diamond sourcing policies are only a few. You’ll need to look into also style and overall collections each company offers.
If you want a classic diamond engagement ring there’s no reason you can’t, however, find one with any of these companies. Ultimately, you’ll have to weigh in the pluses and negatives to see which is the best fit for you.
Bottom Line: Overall, personally James Allen offers me the most in terns of usability, quality inventory, customer experience and diamond sourcing. As a second choice, I’d recommend checking out Blue Nile for more competitive pricing.
Further Reading and Direct Comparisons