Tiffany Diamonds: My Secret Shopping Experience

Secret Shopping Tiffany Diamonds:

Tiffany Diamonds, Tiffany and Co., Stanford Shopping Center, CaliforniaToday is a momentousness day, I secret shopped Tiffany & Co., and quite literally walked out of the store feeling less knowledgeable about diamonds than when I walked in… that’s right, I think I actually got dumber while shopping for Tiffany Diamonds. And it’s not because I stopped at the pillars located by the front door to bang my head on the marble to numb the pain. Fortunately, I was actually too dazed and confused to stop staggering long enough to do so, or my headache might be worse.

I wish that I could say that the experience and I do mean “experience” which I, uh, experienced while secret shopping Tiffany & Co., was unique. However this is the second time which I’ve visited Tiffany & Co., to shop for diamonds. This second visit left me just a bit more dumbfounded than the first. The apparent lack of diamond knowledge on the part of the sales professionals staffing the sales counters at Tiffany & Co., seems to be truly second to none!  At this point in the article I’d like to offer Tiffany & Co., the opportunity to hire me as a consultant to travel around and train their sales staff about diamonds… Here are some reasons why:

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Round Brilliant Tiffany Diamonds:

Contrary to the opinion of the sales woman who helped me this morning, the round brilliant cut diamond was not invented by Tiffany in the early 1980’s (!) It was in fact redesigned by Diamond Cutter and Mathematician Marcel Tolkowsky back in 1919 when he  published his paper titled Diamond Design. This gave birth to the modern round brilliant ideal cut diamond. Diamond cutting technology has since been improved dramatically by the introduction of state-of-the-art computerized analysis which helps to plan the production process and produce diamonds with greater visual performance.

This comment by the way was provided to me in response to my pointing at a seven carat round brilliant cut diamond which was prominently displayed at the front of the display case. Unlike most of the Tiffany diamonds in the case, this one exhibited a beautiful arrows pattern… I simply asked “Is this a Hearts on Fire Diamond?” (knowing perfectly well that it was not) and was told “No that brand is only sold by Shreve & Company, that is a Tiffany round brilliant cut diamond… All of our cuts are our own. Tiffany invented the round brilliant cut diamond in the 1980’s.” I somehow managed not to choke on my tongue, and then said “Well it’s an amazing looking diamond. And it’s quite large, do people actually wear diamonds that big?” to which she responded “Oh yes, all the time… In fact, I’ve sold several of those in the past year”. Which leads me to believe that she’s not brand new…

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Are Tiffany Diamonds All About Price?

The first question that the “sales professional” at Tiffany & Co., asked me was “When are you planning on getting engaged?” which was immediately followed by “And how much would you like to spend?” to which I replied “Sometime in the near future.”

Then I told her that I was thinking somewhere in the range of $30,000.00 to $40,000.00 but that I could go higher… and finished up with “I think I want something in the range of 1.80 to 2.00 carats, F to G color and VS-2 in clarity… at least that’s what my brother told me to look for.”

She promptly pulled two Tiffany Solitaire style engagement rings out of the case and said “This one is $32,500.00 and this one is $72,000.00 because two carat diamonds cost more… a lot more.”

Yes I understand that a two carat diamond costs more than one which is smaller. However, the diamonds are also two different combinations of clarity. The one for $32,500.00 is a 1.66 carat, G-color, SI-1 clarity diamond (Tiffany #29814457) and the one for $72,000.00 is a 2.28 carat, G-color, VS-1 clarity diamond (Tiffany #29260036).

Upon further questioning, it was explained to me as a clarity difference of one grade…  Ahem, actually it’s a difference of two clarity grades because somewhere in the Land of Diamond Grading, between the realm of SI-1 and that of VS-1 rests a clarity grade known as VS-2 and anybody in the diamond business should try to visit it.

When I asked about the VS-2 clarity grade, I was informed that it wasn’t really all that important because it wouldn’t make that much of a difference in terms of price.  I’m willing to bet that Martin Rapaport, publisher of the Rapaport Diamond Price Report might beg to differ…

In fact, I don’t have to guess because I have a current Rap Sheet right here on my desk. Let’s see, it indicates that the difference in price per carat between a two carat, G-color, VS-1 and VS-2 clarity diamond at the wholesale level is $1,800.00 per carat… Running pretty simple math, figuring out what the wholesale cost of the diamond would be, calculating in the apparent premium for a Tiffany Diamond, and I come up with a difference of roughly $7,680.00

Which I guess isn’t much of a difference if you’re going to spend $70K on a rock without knowing anything about it.

Diamond Grading by a Neutral Third Party? Uh, Nope.

So when I asked to know more about the characteristics of the Tiffany diamonds, such as the proportions and the inclusions (actually I used the word Flaws) I was asked to wait a minute so that she could print them out from the computer… She returned a few minutes later with a plain white sheet of paper that described the basic details of each diamond such as the measurements, clarity grade, color grade. However there was no indication as to the type of inclusions within the diamond, or their extent or location… I asked whether the diamonds were “certified” by somebody like the GIA or EGL (yea, I choked on it) and was told that Tiffany diamonds are graded by professional diamond graders at Tiffany and that no additional grading is necessary because they are the best.

I paused for a moment to give her a second to take another swig of the Tiffany flavored Kool-Aid… Why yes, it is light blue in color… Which she’s apparently been drinking, and asked to know more about the flaws within each diamond. At which point I was informed that they really weren’t important because they were not visible to the naked eye… I pressed the issue lightly and was told that there was a plotting diagram of the inclusions on the Tiffany diamond grading report. The diamond grading report would be mailed to me after I had purchased the diamond.  I should allow two to three weeks for delivery… Wow.

“Oh all right” I continued… “but would it be possible to see what they looked like?” I asked. And I was told “We don’t really do that…” which leads me to believe that the majority of people buying diamonds from Tiffany leave without having a clue as to the type of inclusions within their diamonds.  This is mind boggling to somebody like me who posted clarity photographs and detailed diamond grading information for every diamond in our inventory. But I suppose that some people prefer to live by the “Ignorance is bliss” model of the world.

Tiffany Diamonds descriptions, Tiffany & Co., Stanford Shopping Center, CaliforniaAs I began to excuse myself, I thanked the sales person for her time and for giving me a lot to think about… I began to fold the diamond information sheets which she’d printed out into the cover of my iPad and was told that they don’t give those out… I thought about making a mad dash for the door. But instead I asked “Oh can I write down the details then?” To which she responded by taking out one of her business cards and writing the stock number, carat weight, color, clarity and price on the front for me… I asked to borrow her pen and wrote out the measurements for each diamond on the back of the card.  According to the diamond grading department at Tiffany & Co., the 1.66 carat, G-color, SI-1 has a total depth of 62.9% with a table diameter of 54% and a crown angle of 34.8 degrees with a pavilion angle of 40.9 degrees with a medium to slightly thick, bruted girdle and no culet.  The diamond is inscribed T&Co.N05240056.

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The 2.28 carat, G-color, VS-1 clarity, Tiffany diamond is reported as having a total depth of 62.4% with a table diameter of 55% and a crown angle of 34.6 degrees with a pavilion angle of 41.0 degrees with a medium to slightly thick, faceted girdle and no culet.  The diamond is inscribed T&Co.N01300131.

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Three Little Birds Singing the Tiffany Diamonds Song:

As I walked out of the store, dumbfounded by the lack of diamond grading information which I was able to obtain from the “sales professional” at Tiffany (please refer to the business card for verification of the term) I stumbled across a jewelry store located just a few doors down. And right there in plain view of the front door, I counted three GIA Gem Scopes sitting on the front counter. It was good for a chuckle.

But what really made me laugh is that when I started the engine of my car, the song “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley was playing on the radio. The line “Don’t worry ’bout a thing, every little thing’s gonna be all right” filled the air and it dawned on me that this is a perfect theme song for Tiffany & Co., because it seems to fully embody the experience that they are providing for their customers… “Don’t worry ’bout a thing… (Tiffany Diamonds are great, just take our world for it) and everything’s gonna be all right…”

Perhaps Tiffany Diamonds is a Cult:

You caught the reference to Kool-Aid, right? You didn’t think I was finished with that concept, did you? All right, I openly admit that I don’t have any evidence in support of this theory, but it’s possible that Tiffany & Co., is some sort of a religious cult. It would explain why hundreds of thousands of people walk through their doors and blindly hand over their hard earned cash in exchange for shiny baubles which they prominently display to identify themselves as exclusive members of Club Tiffany.

Or perhaps it might just be the time honored reputation of Tiffany Diamonds, and the well developed allure of the baby blue box.  Honestly I don’t know, but I for one am not impressed by either of my shopping experiences with Tiffany & Co. I invite them to raise the stakes and enter the modern age of information technology, and provide their front end sales staff with a more in-depth knowledge of diamonds and diamond grading.

I for one would find it quite refreshing to have the sales person be able to explain to me what a “bruted girdle” is because the diamond “sales professional” which I encountered was unable to do so… It is a gemological term which refers to a girdle edge which has not been polished and appears to be granular and rough.  It is called “bruted” because the process of grinding two diamond crystals together to create the basic round outline of a round brilliant cut diamond is called “bruting” and this is something that I consider to be pretty basic.  I mean, the sales person at my local Ford dealership can tell me what “chrome trim” is on the detail description.

Proportions Maximize the Brilliance of a Tiffany Diamond:

Tiffany Diamonds Engagement Ring Finder, Tiffany Diamonds ReviewsAccording to a video presentation featured within the Tiffany & Co., Engagement Ring Finder app that I downloaded on my iPad, featuring their chief gemologist Melvyn Kirtley, “Tiffany diamonds are always cut for beauty, not size, to ensure spectacular brilliance.” He continues in the video to say “At Tiffany’s obviously, we cut our diamonds to the proportions which maximize brilliance which actually means more weight loss, up to 62% of the rough diamond must be cut away… blah, blah, blah, all Tiffany diamonds are cut for brilliance, not size.”

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Well, sort of… the crown angle of 34.8 degrees of the 1.66 carat, G-color, SI-1 clarity, Tiffany diamond that I looked at has a pavilion angle offset of 40.9 degrees which is spot-on. However the diamond has a total depth of 62.9% which is far beyond the range of total depth which I find to be acceptable which is between 59 – 61.8%.

I’d like to think that the diamond cutters could have left a little more of the diamond rough on the floor… and the total depth of the 2.28 carat, G-color, VS-1 is 62.4% which isn’t much better. The crown angle of that Tiffany diamond is 34.6 degrees and it is offset by a pavilion angle of 41.0 degrees.  Both diamonds have medium to slightly thick girdles, and this is accounting for some of the extra total depth. But I have to ask you… If you’re going to be paying top dollar for a Tiffany Diamond, do you want to pay for visible surface area or unnecessary total depth?  Yea… that’s what I thought.

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If I were actually going to buy a Tiffany Diamond:

I’d start out by bringing my own diamond grading loupe… Ba-Da-Bing! And I’d ask the sales person to limit the selection of round brilliant cut diamonds which they offer to me so that all of the diamonds are within the following range of proportions:

Total depth between 59 – 61.8%
Table diameter between 53 – 57.%
Crown angle between 34.3 – 34.9 degrees
Pavilion angle between 40.6 – 40.9 degrees
Girdle thickness between thin to medium, faceted (not bruted)
Culet size: none

This will truly maximize the light return of the diamond and save you from spending money on unnecessary total depth. While this will provide you with a better selection of Tiffany Diamonds in terms of light return, it will not provide you with any indication as to the optical symmetry of the diamond. Thus the only insight you will have as to the potential visual performance of the diamonds will be whatever you can decipher with your eyes while being influenced by the jewelry store lighting overhead.

I was able to see a distinguishable difference in visual performance between the seven carat diamond which remained beneath the glass of the display case and the other two Tiffany Diamonds which I was offered for consideration.  It would have been quite interesting for me to have been able to see whether any of the diamonds exhibited a crisp and complete pattern of Hearts and Arrows, but I’m guessing that truly precise diamond buyers are not the ultimate target market of Tiffany & Co., then again, I could be wrong… In which case perhaps they’ll have plotting diagrams of the inclusions, photographs of the diamonds as seen while unmounted through an ASET Scope, Ideal Scope and Hearts & Arrows viewer for the next time I walk into a Tiffany & Co., to shop for a diamond, but I’m guessing not.

By the way, I’m completely serious about my offer to provide diamond education to the sales professionals at Tiffany & Co., I think that my in-depth diamond grading knowledge, front counter experience and 30+ years as a buyer of ideal cut diamonds for the industry would be quite beneficial to their corporate structure and customers… we’re talking a real game changer.  Of course, the staff could just read the tutorials featured on this web site… just say’n.