Launched in 2006, online jewelry retailer James Allen is considered a disrupter in the diamond market, along with Blue Nile, With Clarity and other online jewelry companies that seek to educate buyers on diamond buying and provide customizable engagement rings, rather than pre-made options only.
As with other ecommerce jewelry stores, many question the quality of the diamonds (or whether they are real diamonds at all). But rest assured, the diamonds on James Allen are very real and run the gamut of cut, color, carat, clarity, and shape to fit everyone’s budget.
In this review, we’ll discuss the diamond-buying process on James Allen, how to build an engagement ring through their site, and tips to get the best stone for the best price.
Diamond Selection: Are James Allen Diamonds Quality?
When people come to the James Allen site and take a look at the prices, they may think they’re getting a less-than-quality diamond, but that’s just not true. This is all part of the online retail model, where there are fewer overhead costs to affect the price of the merchandise.
Currently, James Allen has over 200,000 diamonds to choose from, the vast majority of which are earth-created. They are all GIA-, IGI-, or AGS-certified diamonds, so you know you’re getting a diamond that has been assessed quality.
How quality is up to you and your budget. Because they have so many diamonds in stock, you have room to experiment with cut, color, clarity, and carat to find the best diamond for your budget.
Not everyone has the budget for the most colorless stone with the highest clarity and most perfect cut. But fear not. James Allen offers diamonds in a variety of cut, color, and clarity grades.
When you begin your search, you can choose your budget or your grade preferences when you search for a diamond. Color and clarity run the full range of GIA assessments, but you can’t choose less than a good for cut.
If you’re looking to save some serious money, however, they have over 5,500 lab-created diamonds (the largest of all the major online retailers), which cost about 30 percent less. Structurally and visually, these diamonds are exactly the same as earth-created diamonds. They just didn’t come from the ground.
Take a look at the diamonds below. Can you tell which one is a natural diamond and which one is lab-created? Is it the 1-carat, E-VVSI excellent cut on the left, or the 1.01 carat E-VVS1 Ideal cut on the right? (Answer: It’s the one on the left!)
Diamond Shapes and Cuts
The diamond shapes on James Allen are pretty standard. They have about 90,000 traditional rounds, the majority of which are earth-created. They also offer your standard fancy cuts: heart, asscher, radiant, oval, pear, marquise, emerald, princess, and cushion. But keep in mind that their stock does change over time.
And if you’re looking for something more unique, like a trillion-cut diamond, you’ll have to look elsewhere. High-end jeweler Leibish & Co. sometimes carries a few very unique options such as taper, octagon, kite and shield, but they cost much more. Meanwhile, Taylor & Hart also have some pretty unique shapes and cuts such as hexagonal and Old European Cuts.
Fancy Color Diamonds
James Allen has over 6,000 fancy color diamonds with buttons in the search tool for black, gray, orange, pink, red, blue, yellow, brown, purple, and green. You can also choose color intensity. So, whether you prefer a hint of color or a vivid stone, you can find what you’re looking for.
But not all colors are available all the time. When we wrote this review, there were no purple diamonds and only one blue, for example. And of all the diamonds, only three yellows were lab-created.
Finally, it’s worth noting that all of their diamonds are certified conflict-free, though it’s not clear if their metals are responsibly sourced.
Are James Allen True Hearts Worth the Price?
The True Hearts Collection is just another name for Hearts and Arrows diamonds, which you may have heard of. These are diamonds that are precision cut for perfect symmetry. When they are laid face down, a hearts pattern emerges. While, if you view them face up, the arrows are visible.
This particular cut is considered excellent by grading organizations like GIA because it gives the diamond superior performance under light. That doesn’t mean, however, that other diamonds that don’t have the same precision cut won’t perform as well.
Bottom line, if you want a True Hearts diamond for its symbolism or its symmetry, then the extra money may be worth it. But there are other diamonds that perform just as well for less money.
Ring Metals and Settings
If you’re looking for an exotic metal such as tungsten carbide for your engagement ring, this isn’t the place to go. James Allen’s metal offerings are pretty standard. You can choose from 14k or 18k white or yellow gold, rose gold, or platinum, which, again, is typical for online retailers.
(If you’re looking at men’s wedding bands, though, they do offer alternative metals such as tungsten.)
You can start with the metal you want first, or choose the setting and then select the metal. For setting, you can choose from solitaire, pavé , channel–set, side–stone, three-stone, halo, vintage, or what they call special collections from designers such as Verragio, Danhov, Jeff Cooper, and Martin Flyer.
It’s important to keep in mind that not all settings will hold all diamond shapes and sizes. But if your heart is set on a certain look, the setting is probably a good place to start looking.
The Buying Experience
James Allen gives you a ton of options for buying a diamond and designing an engagement ring. Before you even begin looking at diamonds, head over to their education page to learn about the four Cs: cut, clarity, color, and carat.
Once you have a good grasp on the lingo, you can start designing your ring. Here’s where it gets a bit confusing, because you can literally start anywhere. You can begin by choosing the setting, the metal, or the stone and then move back and forth to create the perfect ring.
The site remembers your search parameters and previous choices, so just keep track of the diamonds, metals, and settings you chose before, especially since metals and diamonds can look similar. This is actually pretty typical across online diamond retailers, so keep that in mind if you’re searching multiple sites.
James Allen lists choosing a setting as step one, but starting with a diamond is usually a better place to start. Some settings, as we mentioned, only hold certain diamond shapes and sizes, so it’s better to choose the most important part, the stone, first, and then select a setting that complements it.
Their search bar, based on GIA certification grades, makes it easy to choose and compare different types of diamonds. You can choose your price range and toggle between earth-created and lab-created diamonds, as well.
Once you have a range of diamonds to look at, click on the picture to view the entire diamond as it rotates, so you can see it from every angle. This is really unique to James Allen. Some online stores have 360-degree videos, but only for their in-house diamonds, some have only pictures, while others have pictures and line drawings. At James Allen, every diamond has a video, images, and zoom options.
Zoom in and out up to 20 times magnification as the diamond moves, or click on a picture of the top of the diamond at 40x magnification. They call that Super Zoom, something only they have.
Click on the picture and drag your cursor to manipulate the angle. You can also look at a diagram of the cut and view a picture of the diamond’s actual size on a finger in a solitaire setting. Then, scroll down for more product details.
If you’re satisfied with your choice, you can move on to choose metals and settings.
If all of this seems overwhelming, James Allen gives you a few options to make it easier. First, the Diamond Inspection button will connect you with an expert who will walk you through the features of your diamond in real time. There is always a chat option, as well.
And if it’s still too much, you can simply choose one of their pre-designed rings and call it a day.
How to Save Money at James Allen
Because James Allen has such a wide selection of diamonds, it’s very easy to save money on a diamond engagement ring. As we mentioned earlier, a lab-created diamond is probably the first place to look to save some money.
But if you really want a natural diamond, there are plenty of options to bring the cost down. Use the search tool to play with cut, clarity, and color. You’ll probably notice there’s very little difference between an F and a G diamond when it comes to color. In fact, you may even discover you like a hint of yellow in your diamond, in which case you can venture even further down the color scale.
You can compromise on clarity pretty easily, as well. The images you see on the James Allen site (and on every other diamond seller’s site) are magnified to show detail. But flaws down SI1 are difficult to see with the naked eye and impossible to detect at the VVS level. These are called eye-clean diamonds, and you can save a significant amount of money by choosing an eye-clean over a flawless diamond.
Finally, you can play with shape. Some shapes, such as hearts, will cost more money. But most other fancy shapes cost less than rounds. And if you choose an oval, marquise, or pear, you can get a diamond that looks larger than a round of the same carat weight.
Does James Allen Sell Lab-Made Diamonds?
James Allen has thousands of lab-created diamonds and in fact has the largest lab-made selection of all the major online retailers. Chemically, physically, and optically, lab-grown diamonds are identical to natural ones. They have same crystal structure and beautiful sparkle, but just cost less than earth-mined diamonds.
Does James Allen Sell Moissanite?
James Allen does not (at this time of this review) sell moissanite which is a lab-made diamond alternative made of crystalline silicon carbide. Note that while moissanite is lab-made, it is different than lab-made diamonds.
Customizing Your Ring
From everything we’ve talked about, it’s pretty apparent you can get a unique ring just by using James Allen’s standard search settings.
But you can take it a step further and work with their expert staff to design a ring completely from scratch. You can either consult with their experts to create a one-of-a-kind ring or submit a design you already have.
And, of course, you can engrave your ring with a special message. That comes free of charge.
James Allen guides you through every step of the diamond and engagement ring-buying process.
Once you’ve chosen your ring, they help you choose the ring size by either measuring an existing ring or helping you measure the finger itself. You can also send away for a free sizing tool or use their calculator to convert from other units.
And if you still don’t get it right, you can resize the ring for free for up to a year.
Once you’ve placed your order (with free shipping, mind you), you can return the ring free for up to 30 days.
And if down the road, you decide to upgrade, you can do that, too. Any loose diamond purchased at James Allen can be upgraded to one of at least two times greater value. You just have to return the original diamond in the original condition with the accompanying certifications.
They also offer comprehensive insurance on all their pieces.
And if, somehow, you found a question they don’t answer on their site, you can call them 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world, chat with them online, or email them.