The Best Online Diamond Retailer: Blue Nile vs. James Allen

When it comes to purchasing a diamond online, shoppers are faced with the dilemma of finding the best online diamond retailer to purchase from.  In this Blue Nile vs. James Allen review, we share in-depth knowledge about two leading players in the online diamond industry to help you make the best choice.

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Explore James Allen Diamonds


Explore Blue Nile Diamonds

TL;DR Blue Nile is catching up but James Allen is still our preferred online retailer. Cleaner selection of stones and better diamond images. Most of our readers buy from James Allen. Search our pre-filtered set of James Allen stones for the best stones.

Both Blue Nile and James Allen are large established companies with a strong online presence and an inventory of diamonds in the thousands to select from.  The decision as to whether to buy from Blue Nile or James Allen is made more complex by the sheer number of equally positive Blue Nile reviews and James Allen reviews scattered across the web.


Here at The Diamond Advisor, we like when things are simple.  To ensure you have an uncomplicated and effortless learning and shopping experience, we’ve put together a head-to-head comparison of Blue Nile versus James Allen and given you the reasons why we picked our favourite online diamond retailer: JAMES ALLEN

Best Online Diamond Retailer Award - James AllenBest Online Diamond Retailer - James Allen

You’re in Control from Start to Finish

We send our readers to James Allen primarily for two reasons: Exceptional Customer Service and Total Purchase Satisfaction.  Because buying a diamond ring can be a bit nerve racking, we like knowing we’ve got all our bases covered.  After all, you may be spending thousands on something the size of a (very shiny) pebble and so nothing should be left to chance.  James Allen does an unparalleled job at offering diamond buyers with an exceptionally high level of customer service from pre- to post-sales and combines that with an outstanding satisfaction guarantee, bar none.  Both these things gives you control in your diamond purchasing experience and in turn offers the best shopping experience possible and likely to turn you into a repeat customer.

Side Note on Other Vendors:

Though not the only two online diamond vendors offering exceptional cut gemstones at amazing prices (see our list of recommended diamond vendors), Blue Nile and James Allen are the two big players and the first names that come to mind.  Other vendors such as Brian Gavin Diamonds and Whiteflash (amongst many others) provide similar pricing to Blue Nile but provide other valuable resources (ASET, IdealScope, etc) that really help you as the buyer know exactly what they are getting and hopefully help you get a fair value for that diamond.

Blue Nile and James Allen head to head comparison:

With over 100 different criteria to think about when looking at an online diamond retailer, we’ve taken the time to pinpoint and highlight only the criteria that really impact your diamond ring buying experience.  Rest assured that anything not mentioned below was reviewed in our analysis and omitted intentionally as there was no discernable difference or both Blue Nile and James Allen had comparable offering.  In this head to head comparison, the differences between Blue Nile and James Allen are more important than the commonalities, which include:

  • Large inventory of available diamonds for purchase
  • Secure checkout
  • Advanced Diamond Search
  • Search by price
  • Search by type
  • Diamond Education Material


Everybody starts off by thinking about the diamond ring.  From there, you need to figure out what her ring size is.  Thankfully, both Blue Nile and James Allen provide free sizing tools – Blue Nile in the form of a plastic sheet ring sizer and James Allen in the form of a plastic zip tie plastic zip tie.  Both are available via online request are and delivered free by mail.  For those looking for a little more haste, a downloadable version is also available from both websites.

Now, if your engagement proposal is intended to be a surprise, then discretion is the key.  Nothing ruins a surprise like your browser search history.  Enter your mobile phone to the rescue.  Looking for the perfect ring on your mobile phone is both subtle and clever.  Blue Nile and James Allen understands this which is why both offer a mobile phone app, though only Blue Nile supports both iPhones and Android phones (James Allen is limited to iPhone).  Blue Nile’s support for both phone platforms puts it ahead of James Allen when it comes to pre-sales service, though just marginally.

Sales Support

Here’s where James Allen starts to pull ahead of the competition.  It’s inevitable that during your shopping experience you’ll have questions.  James Allen offers more ways to get those questions answered than does Blue Nile.  Both offer the usual channels of communication – email, phone and online chat.  One caveat is that Blue Nile’s online chat is only available from 11Am to midnight which may prove inconvenient to those shoppers who can only diamond shop after their fiancé-to-be is asleep.  Conversely, the James Allen online chat is available 24/7.  James Allen takes customer service a step above and offers two additional means of communication – a call back service (where a James Allen representative will call you… handy if you are charged for long distance) and response via letter mail.  Although writing letters is a dying art (save to Santa), we especially liked having that final option and took note that any company still willing to offer this service is going to great lengths to look after ALL their customers – even the ones who still write.

Product Customization:

When you pop the question and pull out that sparkling piece of hardware, presentation will count for a lot and could earn you some serious brownie points (remember that guys)!  This is why both Blue Nile and James Allen, in keeping with tradition, offer elegant wooden presentation boxes AND ring engraving.  For the extra touch of engraving, rings can be etched with 3 styles of engraving as offered by Blue Nile at a cost of $25.  Although James Allen only offers 2 styles of engraving, the engraving service is provided at no cost.

Blue Nile James Allen
Engraving 25 USD Dollars (3 styles) FREE (2 styles)

Payment Options:

When we shop, we like options.  For payment of your new diamond engagement ring, both vendors offer several options with only a few differences.  Both take Visa, MasterCard, AMEX and Discover.  If you have a JCB or Carte Blanche card, consider going with Blue Nile as only they accept it.  Though perhaps not as relevant, unless you have very generous friends, Blue Nile accepts gift cards for the payment of diamond rings.

Blue Nile and James Allen both accept Paypal, Google Checkout, payment using multiple credit cards (by phone only) and money wire (which will net you a bonus 1.5% discount on your purchase) but only James Allen offers payment by cheque/money order.  For obvious security reasons, cheques are held for 10 days.

Buying now and paying later is always a great choice for anyone thinking big without the green to back it up. Financing is offered by both retailers with James Allen offering a 6 or 24 month term and Blue Nile offering a few more longer term options.

Blue Nile James Allen
Credit Cards Visa, MasterCard, AMEX, Discover, JCB, Carte Blanche Visa, MasterCard, AMEX, Discover
Gift Card Y N
PayPal Y Y
Google Checkout Y Y
Multiple Card Payment By phone only By phone only
Financing (months) 6, 12, 24, 36, 48 6, 24
Check / Money Order N Y (10 day hold)
Money Wire Y (with 1.5% discount) Y (with 1.5% discount)

The Big Difference Between Blue Nile and James Allen: Diamond Images

A great online diamond shopping experience mimics a great offline experience.  Nothing trumps walking into a jewellery store, being shown a series of loose diamonds under loupe (and other grading tools), observing the inclusions and light performance and selecting the best diamond from the lot.

Buying a diamond online traditionally required a leap of faith as you couldn’t see or examine the diamonds itself.  Similarly, not all SI1 diamonds are created equal and so buying one without seeing it is a considerable gamble.  This is where James Allen really stands out and why The Diamond Advisor recommends them to our followers.


In an innovative step that bridges the online shopping experience with the experience you would receive in a jeweller, James Allen offers its “Virtual Loupe” – a 360° diamond viewer that allows you to see what a jeweler would see under magnification.  Diamonds available online at the James Allen website include a REAL photo of the diamond whereas Blue Nile only offers a “sample” image.

blue nile diamond_image

Image of diamond from Blue Nile – notice the image is actually a “sample image” (click to enlarge)

Real diamond image rotating

Image of diamond from James Allen – Having the ability to drag and view the (real) diamond from different angles helps pinpoint inclusions otherwise not able to be seen with a static image (click to see it in action)

Having a real diamond photo allows you to see the internal characteristics (symmetry, inclusions, etc) of each loose diamond.  This is a huge advance in letting you select the best “eye-clean” diamond – something that simply wasn’t possible using a diamond’s paper description alone.  With this feature, you the shopper can select several similarly priced diamonds and visual inspect each one for symmetry, presence, type and position of inclusions and make a decision online as to which diamond best suits your need.

Need the advice of a trained gemologist to help make a decision?  That’s not a problem either (read on).

One crucial aspect to understanding Blue Nile vs. James Allen is that James Allen does not drop ship their diamonds, as is the practice with Blue Nile.  With the exception of their “Signature Ideal” diamonds (which are in-house stones), Blue Nile carries a “virtual” inventory which is simply a large list of diamonds available at third-party diamond providers.  When a diamond is ordered, it is packaged according to Blue Nile standards and sent directly to you from where it resided.  From a business point of view, this is a great practice as Blue Nile is able to access a larger inventory without the associated overhead of storing loose diamonds (cost savings are theoretically passed on to the customer).   The downside to this practice (from a customer point of view), is that diamonds are not available in-house and thus not able to be compared by a trained gemologist.

All the diamonds within James Allen’s inventory are exclusively for sale by James Allen.  What this means is that an on-site gemologist can physically select the diamonds you are interested in, personally examine them, and provide you a recommendation on which diamond to select.  This is simply something that is not possible at Blue Nile.  In addition to this, and though not publicised on the site, ASET images (up to 3) and IdealScope images are available on requested from James Allen to provide you better insight into how a diamond performs and which is best.  When dealing with very similar diamonds, these additional images can help you know exactly what you are buying and how it will perform, in turn helping you get a fair value for that diamond.

Angular Spectrum Evaluation Technology (ASET)
An ASET image shows how a diamond handles and returns light (to our eyes) and is a valuable tool in helping differentiate two similar diamonds.  An ASET image is a combination of red, green and blue areas with red indicating bright areas of the diamond, green indicating indirect light return and blue indicating dark reflections.
Blue Nile James Allen
Photos / Product Images N Virtual Loupe
ASET Image Availability N On Request
IdealScope Image Availability N On Request
Canadian Diamonds Y N
Loose Diamonds Y Y
Online Certificates Y (GIA, AGSL, GCAL) Y (GIA, AGS, IGI
Warranty N/A Lifetime

Seeing truly is believing and at The Diamond Advisor, we ALWAYS recommend seeing what you are purchasing whenever possible.  It is for this compelling reason that we endorse James Allen as the best online diamond retailer.

After Sales Service and Support:

After-sales service speaks volumes about a company.  A great first time experience will often entice buyers to become return buyers.  This is what James Allen is counting on with its exceptional after-sales service which is again one notch above Blue Nile.

Blue Nile offers a 30 day return policy but you should note that the return policy comes with several limitations, namely shipping.  Customers must ship their ring back (at their own expense) to Blue Nile for a full refund less any engraving cost which is non-refundable.  On the other hand, James Allen offers a longer return policy at 60 day with absolutely no restocking cost.  Better yet, return shipping is paid for by James Allen and returns are offered in full at 100%, no questions asked.

When purchasing with Blue Nile or James Allen, a high level of satisfaction is the norm.  Although it’s very unlikely that you’ll be disappointed with your diamond ring and return your purchase, having the option of a full refund  (return shipping included) is just another compelling reason why James Allen stands out over Blue Nile as the best online diamond retailer.

General Note to Our Readers
As chances are you’re new to the world of online diamonds, we thought we’d share some information that readers have found helpful in the past. As with most reputable online retailers (James Allen, Blue Nile, Whiteflash, Brian Gavin) two key facts remain true:

  1. Online retailers aim to go above and beyond to give you the best shopping experience possible
  2. Online retailers go to great lengths to protect your information.

An Exceptional Shopping Experience and Customer Service

First off, privacy. Being no stranger to ecommerce systems and information technology, I always chuckle when people question the safety of shopping online. Knowing that your data is often de-identified, encrypted and processed by some of the largest names in online security as part of the shopping transaction, I can say with authority that online shopping being safe is an understatement. While online retailers have done their part to protect you data, make sure you’re doing your part too. When buying online, make sure your computer system is up-to-date and that you’re buying from a secure location (i.e. not a free wifi and not a public computer). Taking common sense safeguards helps you ensure a worry free online experience.

Now to the shopping experience, it should go without saying but online shops go to great lengths to ensure an EXCEPTIONAL customer experience. Nothing less. It all starts from the pre-purchase experience and the impressive ability to see diamonds in 360, in different lighting conditions, and the ability to magnify your stone to inspect the smallest of details. From there, online retails provide you with an wide selection of settings to match your personal tastes and style. As in industries like real estate and financial advisors, reputation is everything. Happy customers refer other customers and so online retailer aim to provide exception customer service pre- and post purchase. Readers who have made a purchase often write back to us thanking us but also to share how impressed they were by the whole experience. In short, as a reader, you can be assured that an exception shopping experience and customer service is part of the journey.