Is it safe to buy diamonds online?

Lots of people are looking online for jewellery or diamonds.

Shoppers looking for bargains believe they’ve found a shortcut that enables them to compare prices and quality by comparing photos online. Online “gurus” who chat on gem forums claim to be able to advise newbies on making a purchase simply by comparing pictures posted by sellers.

These forums are very useful for education and exchange of ideas, but they do buyers a great disservice by coming with recommendations and guidance that aren’t always true. 

Marilyn Monroe

Small differences in quality do not make a big difference in the evaluation of commercial gems. But as quality approaches perfection, minor differences in hue, color – saturation, clarity and crystal become much more important.

Is it a perfect stone or a perfect photograph? Some “gems” like the late Marilyn Monroe are simply more photogenic than others.

In the gemstone world, quality, tiny nuances in color, levels of clarity, cut dimensions and degrees of transparency make for very large price differences. Online images rarely capture these small nuances, making image comparisons problematic at best and misleading at worst.

Online buyers compare images: but rarely compare actual gems. When buying online, buyers order the stone that is the most photogenic or gets the best review in forums without ever seeing the ones they didn’t want to buy and therefore never knowing what they might have missed. I personally know of a number of cases where buyers have bought inferior gems at higher prices just because they liked the picture. Since these forums encourage anonymity and treat genuine credentials as spam, the buyer rarely, if ever, knows who these “experts” are or what qualifications they may have.

Let’s take an example that everyone knows; diamond color D, clarity plumbing flawless, it’s the creme de la creme of colorless diamonds.

I have chosen this example because diamonds are very precisely graded. The current selling price for a 1 carat D-IF stone is 31% higher than the next color grade E/IF. Compared to degrees of clarity, let’s compare D-IF to D-VVS1, then the  spread is slightly smaller, around 29%. A similar comparison between diamonds with a color grade of L and O shows only a few hundred euros separating the two grades. There are so subtle differences in quality that you can’t see them online.

When considering colored gemstones, a similar price difference applies and the grading equation becomes much more complex. Since the color is divided into two components, hue and color saturation, which must also take into account the color tone. Some of these tones will be invisible in the online image and you may see a completely different color.

A picture can tell a thousand lies. Apparent color can also be easily changed with editing software, just think photoshop. With five minutes of practice, the most unsophisticated photoshop user can learn to turn a ruby into an amethyst or make it as green as an emerald.

Fake Ruby
Photoshopped ‘ruby.’
Original Ruby
The original stone.

But the hardest thing about buying diamonds and gemstones online is that you cannot physically compare different stones of the same quality. Some diamonds are just more beautiful because the rough diamond had more structure and a slightly different quality. You can’t see that either, neither in pictures nor on the certificate.

Therefore, my advice is that you buy diamonds through a diamond dealer you trust, who has seen the stones and knows exactly what to look for. Too many people get scammed when buying diamonds or gemstones online.

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