I’ve been pondering something for awhile now and needed to get an answer to the question which was “Why does Tiffany & Co., seem to focus all of their advertising promoting a perfectly wrapped blue cardboard box instead of the quality of their diamonds?” After all, they are one of the largest diamond companies in the world, they’re not in the business of manufacturing cardboard boxes… So this past Tuesday, I walked into Tiffany & Co., to take a look at some of their diamonds under the guise of shopping for a Tiffany diamond engagement ring. Read my review of Tiffany & Co., if you’d like to know more about that little adventure.
The sales woman who assisted me was very polite and helped me to select two Tiffany Diamond solitaire style engagement rings to consider. Both Tiffany engagement rings contained round brilliant cut diamonds which were described to me as “Tiffany Diamonds” which are each inscribed with “T&Co” and a reference number which can be used to assist with identification.
For the purpose of this article, it is important to mention that regardless of who might have cut the diamonds for Tiffany & Co., that the addition of the “T&Co” inscription and reference number changes it from just another diamond into a Tiffany Diamond, regardless of whether it was actually cut by Tiffany & Co., or not. This incredible metamorphosis enables companies like Tiffany & Co., to charge whatever they want for the diamond because on a surface level it is no longer a commonly traded commodity, but rather a “Tiffany Diamond” which is only available from Tiffany & Company.
Before you get all worked up and think that this is a brilliant marketing ploy designed by Tiffany & Company to mislead the masses into paying higher prices for diamonds than necessary, it’s not an idea exclusive to them and it probably wasn’t entirely their idea… Back in 1999, the Brains behind DeBeers (extra points if you get that reference) created the DeBeers Supplier of Choice program which required all sight holders to develop and market their own “brand” of diamonds… and the easiest way to distinguish one brand of diamonds from another was to simply inscribe the girdle edge of the diamonds with a catchy trademarked name. The driving force behind this program was the belief that the value of the diamonds being sold under the brand name would no longer be subject to commodity type pricing; manufacturers would be able to raise their prices; retailers would be able to maintain higher margins and most importantly, DeBeers would be able to charge higher prices for diamond rough.
The concept of branding merchandise which is similar to other merchandise is not exactly a new idea, every consumer product is branded in one fashion or another, even generic n0n-branded merchandise is now being branded and marketed under the guise of not being branded. Have you ever heard the rumor that all gasoline is processed at the same refinery and then marketed under a variety of brand names? Is there really a difference between the quality of gasoline being sold by Chevron, Shell, ARCO, COSTCO, etc., or does the difference merely exist in our minds as a result of the marketing messages which we have succumbed to?
I have a confession to make… being the smart little monkeys that we were back in the day when Nice Ice was blazing the trail of online diamond sales, we marketed our own brand of diamonds under the trademarked name of Nice Ice. We were straightforward about the fact that we were cherry picking the inventory of several manufacturers of round brilliant ideal cut diamonds and marketing those hand-selected diamonds under our own trademark. It made logical sense to do so, it was the direction the diamond market was headed and my point is that Tiffany & Co., is really no different than the rest of us with regards to the necessity of marketing themselves as a brand.
From my perspective, it makes sense to pay more for a brand when doing so provides me with a consistency of quality or the exclusivity which is not available from another brand or product being offered for a more reasonable price… I’d be inclined to pay more money for a Porsche than a Volkswagen if I were in the market for a performance automobile, but this is not to say that you should because you might not be a fan of Porsche.
Savvy consumers know that automobiles are built in a variety of qualities and offer various degrees of performance regardless of manufacturer… some people will read every article they can get their hands on before deciding which car to purchase and other people will simply walk into a dealership and plunk down their hard-earned cash without doing any research at all. I imagine that automobile manufactures love both types of customers, but that car salespeople much prefer the latter…
As a seasoned professional diamond buyer, I’m here to tell you that I don’t pay attention to brand names when buying diamonds… I’ve seen too much inconsistency in the diamond cut quality and optical symmetry of the diamonds marketed under various brand names over the years, enough to know that I have to carefully examine every diamond to ensure that it meets my selection criteria and thus I’m going to boldly recommend that you do the same.
There I said it, the price on my head probably just went up considerably… I’m kidding, sort of. This is exactly the kind of statement that got us sued by 50 members of a trade organization called Polygon back in 1997 for “disclosure of proprietary information to the public and disparagement of an entire industry.” Yea we were really popular with retail jewelers back then as the first ray of light cracked through the darkness on the way to the information age. How did all that turn out? Well let’s just say that I’m a big fan of the First Amendment of the United States which protects Freedom of Speech and more specifically Satirical Wit.
Now where was I? Oh that’s right… I was explaining that hyperbole like brand name, marketing slogans and flashy photographs of diamonds and jewelry in magazine and brochure advertising has very little to do with the actual light return and visual performance of a diamond. In fact, from what I’ve seen, sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with light return and visual performance at all.
What does control Light Return in a diamond are the proportions and my personal preference for diamond proportions is as follows:
Total depth between 59 – 61.8%
Table diameter between 53 – 57.5%
Crown angle between 34.3 – 34.9 degrees
Pavilion angle between 40.6 – 40.9 degrees
Girdle thickness between Thin, Medium & Slightly Thick, Faceted
Culet Size: GIA “none” or AGS “pointed” (same thing in real life)
And I prefer that the overall cut rating of the diamond be either GIA Excellent or AGS Ideal-0 and while I consider the GIA Gemological Laboratory to be Excellent, I truly prefer the Platinum Light Performance grading platform offered exclusively by the AGS Laboratory. The Light Performance grading platform of the AGS Laboratory incorporates their proprietary Angular Spectrum Evaluation Tool (ASET) which evaluates how the diamond is making use of the light which is available to it and enables us to interpret those findings by dividing the lighting factors into red, green and blue with the colors black and white representing light leakage.[separator]
The Ideal Scope which was developed by Garry Holloway of Australia to help diamond buyers determine the extent to which a diamond is leaking light. All diamonds leak some light, but some leak more light than others. This 2.212 carat, F-color, VS-1 produced by Brian Gavin is an excellent example of a round brilliant ideal cut diamond which is returning most of the light which enters it back up towards the viewer (that’s you by the way). The reddish-pink areas are light being reflected back up towards the viewer and the white areas represent normal leakage for a round brilliant ideal cut diamond.[separator]
Optical Symmetry is not graded by either the GIA or the AGS Laboratory at this time and represents the precision of facet alignment as well as the consistency of facet shape and size per section. The importance of Optical Symmetry can not be overstated because it has a direct impact upon the Visual Performance or “Sparkle Factor” of the diamond… The only way to judge the optical symmetry of a diamond is to evaluate the pattern of Hearts and Arrows which are created by the facet structure of a round brilliant cut diamond when the facets are precisely aligned and shaped.[separator]
The availability of this type of detailed information which provides me with clear insight into the precision to which the facets of this diamond have been shaped and aligned, combined with a detailed proportions analysis and a lab report provided by a neutral third party such as the GIA or AGS gemological laboratories, enables me to accurately compare this diamond against other brands such as Blue Nile Signature Diamonds, Brian Gavin Diamonds, Crafted by Infinity Diamonds, Hearts on Fire, James Allen True Hearts, and yes even diamonds from Tiffany & Company. Although this type of comparison is overkill against a Tiffany Diamond in my opinion because Tiffany & Company does not currently provide this type of in-depth gemological insight to their customers. In fact, during my undercover shopping trip to Tiffany I discovered that the majority of diamonds being offered by Tiffany & Co., are not graded by an independent gemological laboratory, but rather are graded by their in-house gemologists. Hey Toyota Dealers certify Toyota pre-owned vehicles themselves all the time, so I guess it’s all right, but I’m kind of a cynic so I’m the type of guy who’s going to ask for a CarFax and an evaluation by my own mechanic.
All right, before I head down this road, I feel compelled to remind you once more that Tiffany & Company is a BRAND and thus I’m not going to attempt to compare one brand of diamond against another because it’s not actually possible to do so… but as a consumer, I certainly can choose to ignore the trademark inscribed upon the diamonds and take the characteristics of a couple of round brilliant cut diamonds which were offered to me during my recent secret shopping trip to Tiffany & Co., and compare them to diamonds with similar characteristics online. So that’s what we’re going to do…
While at Tiffany & Co., I looked at two round brilliant cut diamonds which are described as follows:
Round Brilliant “Tiffany Diamond” graded by their in-house gemologists as weighing 1.66 carats and being G-color and SI-1 in clarity with a total depth of 62.9% and a table diameter of 54% with a crown angle of 34.8 degrees and a pavilion angle of 40.9 degrees with a medium to slightly thick, bruted girdle and no culet with excellent polish and symmetry. The diamond is inscribed “T&Co.N05240056” or it might actually be “T&Co.N05240036” it’s kind of difficult to read on the business card… they actually wouldn’t let me leave with the piece of paper which they printed out of the computer to show me the measurements of the diamond. They also wouldn’t actually discuss the inclusions within the diamond with me and I was told that the inclusions within the diamond would be indicated on the plotting diagram featured on their diamond grading report which would be mailed to me after I purchased the diamond which was selling for $32,500.00*
Excuse me, but What The Frack?!?! Who sells diamonds like this in the information age when customers expect detailed diamond grading information and transparency on the part of the vendors? More importantly who buys diamonds like this? Don’t look at me like that… everybody knows that it’s impossible to control a monkey, the little bastards show up wherever and whenever they want and are well known for flinging poo![separator]
Let’s see the next diamond I looked at is described by the gemologists at Tiffany & Company as round brilliant “Tiffany Diamond” weighing 2.28 carats, G-color, SI-1 clarity, with a total depth of 62.4% and a table diameter of 55% with a crown angle of 34.6 degrees and a pavilion angle of 41.0 degrees with a medium to slightly thick, faceted girdle and no culet with excellent polish and symmetry. This diamond is selling for $72,000.00*
All right so if you were shopping for a house, you’d compare prices by taking things like the square feet, construction style and location into account… With diamonds you would compare shape (round brilliant), carat weight, color, clarity, proportions, polish, symmetry and the optical symmetry. Tiffany & Company does not provide their customers with the opportunity to compare the optical symmetry of their diamonds with their competitors, but that shouldn’t stop us from taking that into account whenever possible.
Now if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that neither of the Tiffany Diamonds referenced above meet my selection criteria for diamond proportions outlined above because the total depth of both diamonds is too deep for my personal preferences… Instead of searching for comparable diamonds which do not meet my selection criteria, I’m going to focus on diamonds which do meet my selection criteria because that makes sense to me. With that in mind, I found this 1.72 carat, VS-2 clarity, G-color, Signature Diamond from Blue Nile** which is selling for $21,502.00* that’s a difference of almost eleven thousand dollars (!) and the diamond is graded by the GIA Gemological Laboratory as being one clarity grade better… it’s also a little bit larger. According to the GIA, the diamond has a total depth of 61.2% and a table diameter of 57% with a crown angle of 34.5 degrees and a pavilion angle of 40.8 degrees with a medium, faceted girdle an no culet… this is dead center in the range of proportions that I outlined above and I also know that the inclusions located within the diamond are clouds of pinpoint size diamond crystals because that is clearly indicated on the plotting diagram of the GIA diamond grading report which Blue Nile makes readily available on the diamond details page for this diamond.
If it is absolutely imperative that you propose with a teal blue box for reasons pertaining to keeping things color coordinated or something, JewelrySupply.com sells the box pictured to the left for $1.73 each. Of course I have no idea how much a few inches of white satin ribbon is going to cost you… it just might send this project over budget.[separator]
Now while this diamond is probably cut well enough to be within the Top 1% of diamond cut quality for the number of round brilliant ideal cut diamonds produced in the average year, I can tell you that the optical symmetry is not quite perfect by looking at the image of the hearts pattern provided on the GCAL brilliance report because there are visible inconsistencies in the size and shape of the hearts… this is not really surprising to me because Blue Nile does not market their Signature Diamonds as being “Hearts and Arrows Diamonds” and notice that neither does Tiffany & Company. This is a great option if you’re looking for a round brilliant cut diamond that exhibits a lot of light return and you’re not overly concerned with optical symmetry… it’s going to save you a lot of money.
This 1.81 carat, G-color, SI-1 clarity, Signature Diamond from Blue Nile** which is selling for $21,630.00* is the same clarity and color as the 1.66 carat, G-color, SI-1 clarity Tiffany Diamond which is selling for $32,500.00 and is graded by the GIA gemological laboratory as having a total depth of 61.8% and a table diameter of 56% with a crown angle of 34.5 degrees and a pavilion angle of 41.0 degrees – which is one tenth of a degree outside of my preferred range of parameters, but equal to the pavilion angle of the 2.28 carat, G-color, VS-1 clarity diamond offered to me by Tiffany & Co., during my secret shopping trip. And truth be told, I wouldn’t knock a diamond out of the race simply for having a 41.0 degree pavilion angle if all of the other factors were within range, so this remains a good option… According to the GIA, the inclusions within the 1.81 carat diamond from Blue Nile consist of diamond crystals in the form of crystals, clouds, needles and a different type of inclusion called a natural which is simply part of the original skin of the diamond. Based upon the hearts image provided on the GCAL brilliance report, it appears that the optical symmetry of this diamond is a little better than the 1.72 carat, G-color, VS-2 outlined above, but it’s still not perfect enough to be considered a Hearts and Arrows diamond and thus while the visual performance is going to be better than most, it could actually be a little better… regardless, buying this diamond over the 1.66 carat, G-color, SI-1 from Tiffany & Co., saves you a whopping $10,870.00 and it’s going to face-up larger.
This next diamond is just slightly outside the range of my preferred selection criteria because the total depth measurement is 61.9% instead of being 61.8% but it’s still worthy of consideration, especially keeping in mind that the total depth of the 1.66 carat, G-color, SI-1 clarity, option from Tiffany & Co., has a total depth measurement of 62.9% which is one full percentage point higher! With that in mind, this 1.706 carat, G-color, VS-1 clarity, Brian Gavin Signature Hearts & Arrows Diamond is selling for $25,970.00* which is $6,530.00 less than the diamond from Tiffany and it’s two full clarity grades higher! According to the AGS gemological laboratory, the diamond has a total depth of 61.9% with a table diameter of 55.9% and a crown angle of 34.8 degrees with a pavilion angle of 40.9 degrees and a thin to medium, faceted girdle and a pointed culet. The inclusions consist of crystals, clouds and feathers as is clearly indicated on the plotting diagram on the lab report.
All right so that 2.28 carat, G-color, VS-1 clarity diamond outlined from Tiffany above is selling for $72,000.00* and it was an impressive looking diamond… but so is this 2.212 carats, VS-1 clarity, F-color, Brian Gavin Signature Hearts & Arrows Diamond which is graded by the AGS Laboratory as having a total depth of 61.4% and a table diameter of 56.4% with a crown angle of 34.7 degrees and a pavilion angle of 40.9 degrees with a thin to medium, faceted girdle and a pointed culet. Brian Gavin is currently selling this diamond for $54,499.00 with an additional discount available for payment via cash / wire transfer, this is a price difference of $17,501.00 and the Brian Gavin Signature Diamond is one full color grade higher and does exhibit a crisp and complete pattern of Hearts and Arrows which is indicative of diamonds with superior optical symmetry and visual performance. You really can’t go wrong with a diamond cut like this and the money you’re going to save will buy an awful lot of champagne at your wedding! Heck it could pay for a really nice honeymoon trip.
What did you say? You want to save money and you want a larger diamond too? Well all right… the customer is always right as they say… How about this 2.517 carat, F-color, VS-2 clarity, Brian Gavin Signature Diamond graded by the AGS gemological laboratory as having a total depth of 61.4% with a table diameter of 55.9% and a crown angle of 34.1 degrees with a pavilion angle of 40.9 degrees and a thin to medium, faceted girdle with a pointed culet which is selling for $61,380.00* According to the plotting diagram provided on the AGS Diamond Quality Document the inclusions consist of crysals, clouds, feathers and needle shaped diamond crystals. All right, so what we have here is a diamond which is larger than the 2.28 carat, G-color, VS-1 clarity Tiffany Diamond, we’ve gone up one color grade and down one clarity grade and we end up saving $10,620.00 Now you might notice that the crown angle is a smidge shallower than my preferred range, but it’s still a good offset for the 40.9 degree pavilion angle when other factors such as total depth and table diameter are taken into account.
I suppose that if you’re really looking to get the look and feel of a classic Tiffany style solitaire, you might want to consider this Tiffany Inspired Solitaire from Brian Gavin Diamonds because it looks pretty similar to the one which I was holding in my hands at Tiffany & Co., last Tuesday. This knife edge solitaire from James Allen looks pretty good also and so does this 1.61 carat, G-color, VS-2 clarity, James Allen True Hearts Diamond which is selling for $19,330.00* and is graded by the AGS as having a total depth of 61.9% with a table diameter of 55% and a crown angle of 34.9 degrees with a 40.8 degree pavilion angle and a thin to medium, faceted girdle and a pointed culet. The inclusions are indicated as being crystal, feather and needle[separator]
Obviously there are people who prefer to buy different products from different places and this is as true for products like diamonds as it is for every other type of luxury product. There will always be people who will pay more for a particular brand or label, if for no other reason than the privilege of being able to tell their friends that they did so… and it’s really not right or wrong, that is their choice. I’m inclined to pay more for some things than others, I pay a lot more for my Lucky Jeans than I’d pay if I just stuck with Levi Jeans and that’s my prerogative… actually I wear both if anybody cares. The point is that if it is important to you or your fiance to own a diamond from Tiffany & Company, then you should absolutely spend the money to do so… the point of this article is to provide you with the knowledge and tools necessary to accurately compare diamond prices online if that is your interest. The decision as to where you should purchase your diamond is yours and yours alone. But if you’d like help looking over the details and/or finding some options to consider, feel free to drop me a note.
* Diamond prices as advertised by each vendor referenced at the time this article was written on May 17, 2013 and are subject to change without notice due to fluctuations in the global diamond market and other factors.
** Blue Nile changed the format of how deep links were created when they switched their affiliate network from GAN to CJ, and thus the original links to the following diamonds were broken and have been replaced with links directed to their diamond search engine, which is fine since these options have probably sold by now. Please use my free Diamond Concierge Service if you would like me to help you find the best options currently available, but the information that can be obtained by reading the article is still applicable even if the diamond details pages can not be accessed.
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