It appears that Astor by Blue Nile Diamonds has replaced the Blue Nile Signature collection. At the present time, Astor by Blue Nile Diamonds are available in round and princess cuts. Whereas the original Blue Nile Signature collection included other fancy shapes.
Blue Nile did not provide their affiliates with advance notice of the new collection. Which means that we get to learn about it together. With that in mind, let’s explore the new line of Astor by Blue Nile Diamonds.
Since this is all new, I haven’t had a chance to conduct the usual research before writing this review. I’m going to approach writing this review of Astor by Blue Nile diamonds as if I’m a consumer sitting down to look at the collection for the first time.
However, as a professional diamond buyer with 30+ years of actual hands-on diamond buying experience, this will obviously be from a trade perspective. This should be interesting. I suppose that before we begin, we should explore the claims being made by Blue Nile.
One of the first things you’re going to see is this statement about the Astor by Blue Nile diamond:
The screenshot above is a claim made by Blue Nile on their website. These statements imply several things from my perspective. The first is that the Astor by Blue Nile diamond is different than everything else. By continuing to read that page, I will discover how they create sparkle which is unmatched. I interpret this to mean that no other diamond offers sparkle which is comparable or better.
With that in mind, I fully expect to be impressed. I wonder whether this claim will hold water as we move through the evaluation process. Remember that I’m learning about the Astor by Blue Nile diamond right along with you, step by step. Therefore, this review of the Astor by Blue Nile diamond is going to be more like a casual conversation among friends. Which means you get to hear what I really think (unedited).
With that in mind, this initial statement by Blue Nile raises a few questions that we’ll be looking to answer:
I’m certain that more questions will arise as we move down the page. However, these are the questions that first come to mind, as I read that introductory paragraph. Naturally, the idea that Blue Nile created a new diamond cut piqued my curiosity. Due to the fact that the Astor by Blue Nile diamond page seems artfully vague, we have some investigating to do.
The words that Blue Nile used above to peak our interest, did just that. I am curious to see how Blue Nile is creating diamonds guaranteed to deliver unmatched sparkle. Because let’s face it, I’ve been at this game since 1985 and the promise of anything new is exciting.
The modern round brilliant cut diamond has been the bread and butter of the industry since the mid-1950s. However, even that is a redesign, largely built upon the work of Marcel Tolkowsky in 1919. With the promise of a new creation nibbling at my curiosity, I ran a patent search for the Astor by Blue Nile diamond:
Crud. That was anticlimactic. When a diamond cutter creates a new diamond, they usually file a patent on it to protect their design. Perhaps Blue Nile will provide us with the patent registration at some point in the future. That will enable us to examine the facet structure of the diamond and easily identify what is unique about it. In the meantime, we’re going to have to take the Astor by Blue Nile diamond apart to see what makes it tick.
The next section of the Astor by Blue Nile diamond introduction page looks like this:
I took the liberty of highlighting that sentence in red because this is a pretty hefty claim! Let’s read that again…
Let’s break that down. ‘Every’ Astor by Blue Nile diamond receives ‘the highest grade’ for each (category) by GemEx. As you might imagine, I tend to be kind of literal and I assume such statements to be 100% accurate. With that in mind, I interpret the word ‘every’ to mean every single Astor by Blue Nile diamond.
By the same token, I interpret ‘the highest grade’ to mean the highest scores for Light Performance on the GemEx grading platform.
Three blue bars on the far right side of the spectrum of Very High on a Gem Ex Light Performance report. This is what I deem to be “the highest grade” available from GemEx. Would you agree?
The reason why I’m bringing this up is because of the way the two diamonds look in the video frame. That first shot of them looks kind of wonky, don’t you think? Thankfully, things straighten up a bit when you click to watch the video:
This is the shot that Blue Nile should be using on the Astor by Blue Nile diamonds introductory page. This image clearly shows the difference in how light is reflecting throughout the two diamonds. The Astor by Blue Nile diamond on the left does look better than the diamond on the right. No doubt about it.
In fact, if know anything about diamonds, then you can see that the diamond on the right is leaking light. Just look at the edge of the table facet all the way around the diamond on the right. That’s light leakage, plain as day.
Another thing I want you to notice is the way light is reflecting off of the arrows pattern. Notice how all of the arrows on the Astor Diamond on the left are dark. That is because they are reflecting back the dark color of the camera lens. While the generic round brilliant cut diamond on the right is not reflecting light evenly. Some of the arrows are light, while some of the arrows are dark.
Sometimes this is little more than the alignment of the diamond to the camera lens. In this case, the arrows will fire as the diamond goes into rotation. Other times, it is a matter of the pavilion main facets being slightly off axis. Which is commonly referred to in diamond cutting circles as azimuth shift or facet yaw.
While I understand the point that Blue Nile is trying to make, this seems more like an apple to oranges comparison. From my perspective, the diamond on the right is clearly not cut well. While the Astor by Blue Nile diamond on the left appears to be cut much better. Which I suppose is the conclusion that Blue Nile wants us to reach. However, I would like to see the diamond grading reports for both diamonds.
Are we comparing two diamonds which both have an overall cut grade of GIA Excellent? Do the diamonds have the same proportions? Do both round brilliant cut diamonds have the same facet structure? It seems to me that if we’re going to make this kind of comparison, we should consider all the details. If the focus is on Light Performance, then we should compare super ideals.
Otherwise, this kind of thing is like trying to compare Coke & Kool-Aid, instead of Coke & Pepsi. If we’re going to do this right, then we should compare diamonds of equal proportions. In my experience, super ideal hearts and arrows diamonds offer the best light performance. With that in mind, a video of an Astor next to one of those would be much more impressive.
Shooting a video of a Porsche 911 speeding past a rusty old pick-up truck doesn’t really prove a thing. If you want to impress me, show how Astor by Blue Nile diamonds stack up against a hearts and arrows super ideal cut diamond. Be sure to provide all the details, that way we can fully appreciate the dramatic differences.
Moving further down the introductory page for Astor by Blue Nile diamonds, we get to the proportions. Unfortunately, Blue Nile doesn’t really tell us anything about the proportions of the Astor diamonds. Once again, they just giving us a bunch of marketing hype. “Every Astor by Blue Nile diamond is cut to ideal proportions to reflect light and ensure maximum sparkle.”
The next paragraph that explains the exceptional symmetry of the Astor by Blue Nile diamond is just as illuminating.
However, these two paragraphs give me hope. They lead me to believe that the Astor by Blue Nile diamond is going to offer the light performance of a super ideal. According to this, the Astor diamonds are cut to ideal proportions for maximum sparkle. They have also been cut to achieve precise symmetry for maximum sparkle.
Now we’re talking my language because I live in the world of super ideal hearts and arrows diamonds. I can not wait to see the ASET Scope, Hearts & Arrows Scope, and Ideal Scope images for these diamonds.
I will openly admit that this next part is a pet peeve of mine. Despite numerous claims by diamond dealers and jewelry stores all over the world, there is no such thing as a GIA Certified Diamond. The GIA Gem Trade Laboratory does NOT certify diamonds.
Everybody in the diamond industry should know this because the disclaimer on the back of a GIA diamond grading report says so. But people keep promoting the idea that diamonds are GIA Certified because Joe Blow Public expects them to be. Which I suppose is why we see things like this:
The correct way to say this would be that Astor by Blue Nile diamonds are graded by two gemological laboratories. Because according to this FAQ response by the GIA, they do not certify anything:
Read the first line: “GIA does not certify or appraise any material submitted for analysis.” With that in mind, why would Blue Nile suggest that their diamonds are dual certified?
My guess is that somebody in the marketing division is trying to meet your expectations. People send me requests all the time for a GIA Certified Diamond. The fact of the matter is that I usually just ignore it and simply refer to them as GIA graded.
To my complete shock, it appears that GemEx is promoting the idea that they certify diamonds. However, if that’s true, why does their disclaimer state that it’s not a guarantee? According to the dictionary, a certification is a guarantee. Perhaps people don’t use dictionaries anymore, but there is an App for that.
By the way, read the line right above the section highlighted in red. But only do so if you don’t have any sort of liquid substance in your mouth. I will not be held responsible for damage to your computer equipment. “Results are repeatable with an accuracy range of +/- 5%. FIVE PERCENT. Then read the last sentence of that paragraph. “The images and Light Performance grades on diamonds are viewed and analyzed electronically only and as such are not guaranteed by the company.” Then what the Freaking Frak are they Certifying?
With this in mind, let’s run a search for Astor by Blue Nile diamonds and see what they look like. Perhaps doing so will provide us with some quick and easy answers to the questions from above.
Let’s run a search on Blue Nile for Astor Diamonds weighing between 1.00 – 1.49 carats, F-G color, and VS-2 to VS-1 clarity. Here’s a screenshot of the search parameters so that you can follow along:
It doesn’t seem to matter whether I check or uncheck the box for a 360° view. Nor does it matter whether I adjust the sliders for Excellent polish and symmetry. The number of Astor by Blue Nile diamonds available within this range remains constant. I did not adjust the parameters for total depth or table diameter since I don’t even know what it looks like yet.
Now we’re going to right-click our mouse over the orange arrows on the right side of the listings, and open each diamond up in a new tab in our browser.
Interestingly enough, the first few GIA diamond grading reports for the Astor by Blue Nile diamonds in the list, do not contain a plotting diagram. The diamonds apparently come with a GIA Diamond Dossier, which is kind of weird from my perspective.
The GIA Dossier format is usually reserved for diamonds weighing less than 1.00 carats. Since we’re searching for Astor by Blue Nile diamonds weighing more than 1.00 carats, I expected to see a full format GIA diamond grading report. That is actually the reason why I chose the 1.00 – 1.49 carat range for this search. But check it out for yourself:
And finally, there is this 1.00 carat, G-color, VS-1 clarity, Blue Nile Astor diamond with a plotting diagram! Hold on a second! Does the plotting diagram on the lab report look like a modern round brilliant cut diamond?
The plotting diagram for this Astor by Blue Nile diamond looks like a standard round brilliant cut diamond to me. With that in mind, I’m really curious to “Discover how we [Blue Nile] create a diamond for unmatched sparkle”.
Blue Nile’s use of the word “create” in conjunction with a new brand led me to believe that they had created something new. After all, their Blue Nile Signature round diamonds already offer ideal proportions. Those diamonds also came with GemEx reports from GCAL.
Am I missing something? If you see what I’m missing here, please let me know by leaving a comment below.
The plotting diagram of the Astor by Blue Nile diamond on the GIA diamond grading report shows a modern round brilliant. With that in mind, we’re going to rely upon my preferred range of proportions for round brilliant ideal cut diamonds. This is the range of proportions that I rely upon as a diamond buyer, to ensure the best light performance:
Table diameter between 53 – 58%
Crown angle between 34.3 – 35.0 degrees
Pavilion angle between 40.6 – 40.9 degrees
Lower girdle facets between 75 – 80%
Star facets between 40 – 58%
Girdle thickness between thin and slightly thick
Culet: AGS pointed or GIA none
Then we’re going to run through the lab reports again, eliminating all the options that don’t meet my selection criteria. Prior to taking this information into account, there were 27 Astor by Blue Nile diamonds available for our consideration. Let’s see how many of those diamonds have the proportions within the range that I adhere to.
Fortunately the 1.00 carat, G-color, VS-1 clarity, Blue Nile Astor diamond with the plotting diagram has the right proportions. The 40.6 degree pavilion angle should produce a high volume of light return. While the 34.5 degree crown angle produces a virtual balance of brilliance and dispersion. Brilliance is white sparkle and dispersion is colored sparkle or fire. The 75% lower girdle facet length should produce sparkle that is larger in size and bolder in appearance.
All right, this definitely looks like a standard round brilliant ideal cut diamond to me. So, once again, I’m real curious to see how that’s going to produce sparkle that is unmatched by anything else. Because I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m seeing some variances in the size and shape of the pavilion main facets. I’m referring to the arrows pattern, which doesn’t look entirely symmetrical.
This leads me to believe that this diamond is not cut to the higher standards of the super ideal cut classification. Which would be perfectly fine, but if you’re going to claim that this diamond exhibits sparkle that is unmatched. Then I expect you to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
This is the GemEx report for this Astor by Blue Nile diamond. The first thing that I notice is that this new report format does not contain the same images that were available for Blue Nile Signature diamonds. The new report format for the Astor by Blue Nile diamond does not appear to provide Hearts & Arrows scope images. That is the only way to accurately judge the degree of optical precision.
At the same time, it appears that Blue Nile is no longer providing us with an Optical Symmetry analysis. That is another thing that used to appear on the GemEx reports for their Blue Nile Signature diamonds. Which was kind of useful for judging light leakage and seeing how evenly light was reflecting throughout the diamonds. It wasn’t quite as insightful as an ASET or Ideal Scope image, but it was better than nothing.
But I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed not to have access to the usual reflector scope images. I have to be honest and admit that I’m not a big fan of this grading platform. From my perspective, the new GEMEX report for the Astor by Blue Nile diamonds is a giant step backward.
How can Blue Nile possibly claim that a diamond that scores in the low range of very high for SPARKLE delivers “unmatched sparkle”? This is going to keep me up at night. Not to mention the fact that the diamond got a score in the lower range of very high for brilliance.
Perhaps we should just assume that somebody in the marketing division really doesn’t know that much about diamonds? What is it that they say? When all else fails, give somebody the benefit of the doubt.
Given the position of the bar for the FIRE rating for this diamond, one could argue that this Astor by Blue Nile is a very fiery diamond. However, we also can not jump to conclusions based upon the GemEx score for only one diamond.
Going back to the first 3 results for my Astor by Blue Nile diamond search above. This 1.00 carat, F-color, VS-2 clarity, Astor diamond by Blue Nile has an overall cut grade of GIA Excellent. The diamond grading report does not feature a plotting diagram of the diamond. Thus there is no indication of where you should look for the inclusions within the diamond. If you have keen eyes, then you might be able to find them within the clarity video.
By the numbers, the 40.8 degree pavilion angle should produce a high volume of light return. While the 34.5 degree crown angle produces a virtual balance of brilliance and dispersion. The 80% lower girdle facet length is likely to produce pin-fire type sparkle. It is worth mentioning that the GIA rounds this measurement off to the nearest 5%. This is one of the reasons why I prefer the AGS Laboratory.
The GIA also rounds off the crown angle, crown height, and pavilion depth measurements to various degrees. However, that is a topic for another blog post. Oh, that’s right, I cover all of that in the blog post on the GIA vs the AGS Laboratory.
The next step of the evaluation process is to actually look at the diamond. Tell me what you see when you look at the arrows pattern of this diamond? Do the arrows appear to be symmetrical in size and shape?
Does the degree of contrast brilliance appear to be even and consistent? Or does the arrow in the nine o’clock position appear to be different than the rest? From this vantage point, all of the arrows should be dark because they should be reflecting back the dark color of the camera lens.
Of course, this might be due to the alignment of the camera lens to the surface of the diamond. So what you’ll want to do is click and hold your mouse down over the video and drag the diamond left and right. Does the arrow (pavilion main facet) in the 9 o’clock position ever fire? Or does it remain translucent while the diamond is in the rotation?
Do you see any signs of obstruction under the table facet of this Astor by Blue Nile diamond? I’ll give you a hint. I’m referring to the little black asymmetrical triangles visible between the arrows in the relative 11 o’clock and 3 o’clock regions. This is usually an indication that the diamond has not been cut to exhibit the highest degree of optical precision. Do I really need to point out that once again, the score for Sparkle is on the edge of High to Very High?
Which brings me back to one of the questions posed at the beginning of this article. “Unmatched Sparkle” as compared to what?
This 1.00 carat, G-color, Blue Nile Astor diamond also has an overall cut grade of GIA Excellent. Once again, the diamond grading report does not feature a plotting diagram. This Astor by Blue Nile diamond does not have proportions that meet my selection criteria. The 41.0 degree pavilion angle is too steep for my preferences. Although it might be acceptable if the pavilion depth were 43%. However, the pavilion depth is 43.5% which I consider to be the critical tipping point where light begins not to strike fully off the pavilion facets.
The crown angle of 33.5 degrees is shallower than I prefer. This usually creates a higher degree of brilliance, but at the expense of dispersion. Interestingly enough, the bars for Fire and Sparkle are on the far right side of Very High on the GemEx report. While the score for Brilliance is down on the line between High to Very High.
Which kind of conflicts with what I’m telling you. However, that might be one of the reasons we returned the GemEx machine after playing with it. As did the majority of my competitors who gave this machine a go a few years ago. The fact of the matter is that we simply found it to be unreliable. Which apparently is another way to say 5%, but I digress.
All right, so once again, take a look at the arrows pattern and tell me what you see. Drag the diamond left and right with your mouse. Look to see whether the translucent arrows ever reflect back the dark color of the camera lens. Do you see any obstruction? It would be very interesting to see ASET and Ideal Scope images for this diamond.
As you can plainly see, the Brilliance rating for this diamond is on the line between High to Very High. Once again, I fail to see the correlation between this and the highest score available from GemEx. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the Astor by Blue Nile scores in the higher range? Because a Brilliance score on the mid-line of High to Very High is not ‘the highest’ by any stretch of the imagination.
Be that as it may, the GemEx report for the Astor by Blue Nile diamonds to serve a purpose. You can use them as a basis of comparison for deciding which Astor Diamond to choose. Stick with the proportions I suggest, and look for diamonds with a higher score. But really, I would like to see Blue Nile go back to the GemEx report with the reflector scope images. There is a lot you can tell about a diamond by looking at those images.
If Blue Nile wants to compete in the realm of super ideal cut diamonds, they need to step up and get with the times. On that note, they should also seriously consider sending these diamonds to the AGS Laboratory. The Light Performance grading platform of the AGSL is far superior to the GIA in my opinion.
All right, now we’re getting somewhere. Look at the GemEx score for this 1.00 carat, G-color, VS-2 clarity, Astor diamond from Blue Nile. While it is still not the absolute highest score I’ve ever seen, it is on the higher end of the spectrum. Keep in mind that every cut grade represents a range or spectrum. Thus there is going to be a low end, a high end and that no-mans land in the middle. It’s not that I expect every Astor by Blue Nile diamond to exhibit the highest score. As much as I object to their implying that they do when they clearly do not.
This diamond has a 40.8 degree pavilion angle, which should produce a high volume of light return. The 34.5 degree crown angle should produce a virtual balance of brilliance and dispersion. It looks to me like the GemEx score for this diamond reflects this. In addition, the diamond appears be exhibiting stronger contrast brilliance.
Be that as it may, I would still like to see the plotting diagram for this diamond. At the same time, I would like to see an ASET Scope, Ideal Scope, and Hearts & Arrows scope image. That’s just the type of diamond buyer that I am. I don’t like to buy diamonds blind when these devices are readily available. I’ll bet that GemEx could provide these images if enough of us ask for them.
The following Astor by Blue Nile diamonds from this search, meet my proportions criteria. Thus they should exhibit a high volume of light return and a virtual balance of brilliance and dispersion. Although this may be true, the GemEx scores are still all over the place. Suffice to say that I’m all right with that, as long as you simply overlook the marketing department’s use of the term highest. Due to the manner in which the search engines work these days, I’m not going to label each of these an Astor by Blue Nile diamond. Obviously they are all part of that collection:
With all due respect to the Gorilla in the room, I don’t see how Blue Nile has created anything new here. As near as I can tell, the Astor by Blue Nile is simply the Blue Nile Signature diamond by a different name. However, without the insight provided by hearts, arrows, or optical symmetry scope images. Which I suppose is why some of this marketing fluff just rubs me the wrong way:
Who comes up with this stuff anyway? Probably the Mad Men of Marketing. Which let’s face it, is the suits job. At the same time, my job is to help you circumvent all the marketing hyperbole. The intent of this article is to help you cut through the fluff, and bore down into the details which make a difference.
I have no delusions. I’m certain that I have no more friends in the marketing division at Blue Nile. I might have even upset a few of my friends in the diamond division, who really give it their all. But they all know that Todd Gray from Nice Ice is a perfectionist, who focuses primarily on the niche of super ideal cut diamonds. Their job is not to please me as a diamond buyer, but rather to create a diamond brand that attracts the broadest market base. To that regard, they’ve probably accomplished the task.
But if you’re like me, which means you’re super detail-oriented, you’re going to want to know more. You thrive on the details, you want the comfort and peace of mind that only comes with knowing you have all the information at your fingertips. Which means that you’re going to want to see those reflector scope images. I understand because I wouldn’t be able to make such a large investment without them either.
Assuming that you want to buy the best Astor by Blue Nile diamond available, I would look for the following:
One thing that I’ve learned throughout the years, is not to buy into the illusion created by a brand name. By my standards, most brands of ideal cut diamonds leave a lot of wiggle room for proportions. If you were keeping count, only 16 of the 27 Astor by Blue Nile diamonds made the cut.
Which is why each diamond must be considered on its own merits. Regardless of what we call it, or the name we give it, a diamond is a 3-dimensional model. The factor that separates one diamond from the next is Light Performance. Which is not something that I rely upon GemEx to measure for me. I’m not really a fan of that grading platform, but to each their own as they say. It’s still better than nothing.
I hope that you found this article to be illuminating. The reality is that you don’t know what you don’t know until you know more. Chew on that concept for a moment and let it sink in. I love to share my diamond buying knowledge with people and see the look of understanding dawn upon their faces. Perhaps you had a few of those A-ha moments while reading this article. If so, I hope that you’ll take a moment to leave a comment below. By all means, let me know if you would like my help with your diamond buying quest.