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Kay Jewelers command a huge presence within the world of jewelry retail; owned by Sterling Jewelers, it is the second largest mall-based jewellery store chain, second only to Zales. Although it is best known as bricks and mortar store in 2005, Kay Jewelers made the move to online sales with emphasis of diamond and bridal jewellery and this is where the focus of my review will be. With endless promises of low-cost diamond jewelry, Kay Jewelers advertising and marketing go to prove that if a deal seems too good to be true, it definitely is.
Founded in 1916 by Edmund and Sol Kaufmann, Kay Jewelers started life as a small corner in furniture store that belonged to Sol and Edmund’s father. The pair sold a variety of trinkets, glassware and watches but realised that jewelry was going to take their business to the next level. The business model we see today could not be further from the company’s quaint beginnings. Sterling Jewelers (who own Kay Jewelers) are the largest jewelry store conglomerate in the world.
Kays offer pre-set engagement rings, as well as a ‘build your own’ option. Instantly I would advise caution if choosing a pre-set ring; you will be buying the diamond blind and can expect the central stone to be of a lower quality than desired. In most instances, Kay Jewelers use diamonds of I1 clarity grade for their pre-set engagement rings, which is not a clarity grading I would recommend to anyone looking for a beautiful diamond to complete their engagement ring. It can be possible to find eye-clean I1, but they are a more challenging find and without the ability to view the diamond in the pre-set engagement rings, you run a substantial risk of ending up with a visibly included stone that you have paid a huge premium for. This issue is not exclusive to Kays, in my experience high quality diamonds are never priority in the pre-set jewelry of large chain retailers (with the exceptions of genuine premium brand such as Tiffany & Co), and for this reason I could never recommend them.
Issues still arise when is comes to the ‘build your own’ option for engagement rings. Kays diamonds are almost exclusively IGI certified; on average an IGI certified diamonds come in around three grades higher than their GIA equivalent. This means that if you buy an IGI diamond that is certified as a G in clarity, its ‘true’ grade, or the grade it would be given by the GIA, is likely to be closer to J or even a K in color.
Choosing a diamond to add to your ring is a vague process. The options for carat weight are bracketed, limited and unspecified and you are given three ‘quality’ options, which are ‘Good’, ‘Better’ and ‘Best’. These quality brackets are determined as follows:
Good - The quality will be no less than an I1 in clarity and an I in color
Better – No less than an SI2 in clarity and an I in color
Best – No less than a VS2 clarity and an I in color
These bracket options tell us next to nothing about the appearance of a diamond. We know what the minimum requirements are for each ‘grade’, yet after going through the whole ‘create your own’ process, at no point are you able to specify or even find out the color and clarity of your stone. These are the absolute basics of diamond buying and Kay Jewelers are failing to meet them. I would usually review the other diamond performance reports that a company offers; needless to say, these are overlooked entirely by Kays.
The selection of settings and pre-set rings is great and there is a huge variety to choose from. The ‘build your own’ option allows tweaks at every stage in the creation of ring, even allowing the buyer to choose metal and mount and alter finer details on the ring such as the texture and style of the band. However, this cannot make up for the lack of information regarding the diamonds. Ultimately, if you are choosing to have a diamond engagement ring, the diamond needs to be the star of the show; it is the element of the ring which holds the value and rarity that defines fine jewelry and without it the sparkle, beauty and scarcity of the engagement ring is lost.
Some commend Kays for their ‘great deals’ for occasion jewelry (Valentine’s day, Mother’s day etc) and their coupon offers. However, I would suggest that these gimmicks are no substitute for beautifully crafted jewelry, and a ten-dollar coupon will not take the edge off of a $10,000 engagement ring that carries an inferior grading report such as IGI.
Using the ‘build your own’ options from both websites, I compared a 1:00ct, ‘Best’ Quality 4-claw diamond solitaire set in 14k white gold from Kay Jewelers with a GIA certified H-SI1 4-claw 14k white gold solitaire from Blue Nile.
The Kay Jewelers ring is $8,798.64
The Blue Nile ring is $4,785
That’s a staggering difference of $4,013.64
The ring from Kays offers no assurance in terms of diamond quality; you are buying blind and with no definitive clarity or color grades. By contrast, Blue Nile offer high-res imaging and 360 videos of their diamonds, almost all of which are GIA certified. This is no an isolated incident, in fact I find Kays jewelry consistently comes in thousands of dollars more expensive than Blue Nile and James Allen time after time.
Is it unfair to make this comparison? Afterall, Kays have been a predominantly bricks and mortar jewelers for many years, so should we compare them to the global giants of e-commerce diamonds? In short, my answer is yes. My job is to advise on the best quality and price for your diamond jewelry therefore if Kays are offering an online buying option, they should be held to the same standard as their competitors.
This huge price difference is all down to the simple matter of inventory. Sites like Whiteflash, Blue Nile and James Allen all carry huge online inventories. As the diamond is not physically in their possession and the company themselves have not bought it, it is simply listed on their website. This means it can still be sold by the diamond trader and by the company, after which the online inventory is simply updated. However, bricks and mortar jewelers need diamonds to show people, meaning they need them in the stores. This means they will have to either buy the diamonds (which would total millions of dollars) or have them loaned to them for a fee. This explains the price hike between bricks and mortar stores and online vendors, but how do we explain the difference between the online prices?
Again, this is partially down to inventory; sites like Blue Nile do not have the same overheads that bricks and mortar driven jewelers do and their business model is completely focused on diamonds. This allows them to offer diamonds that are both great value and great quality. It is also to keep consistency across the brand. If someone purchased a ring in a Kays Jewelry store, only to then see they could have bought it on the Kays website for thousands of dollars cheaper it would break trust in the company and reveal unfavourable details about company profit.
Some buyers don’t mind paying a small premium to buy from a well-established bricks and mortar store but if this is you, I still advise caution when considering Kays. They are considered to be one of Sterling Jewelers’ premium brands, however while the prices are certainly on the premium end of the jewelry spectrum, the quality of their diamonds is well below par.
The Final Word
When it comes to the sparkle of a stone, the defining feature is the cut but this is closely followed by the clarity; as Kay Jewelers miss the mark on both of these, it is difficult for me to find a situation in which I would recommend them to a buyer.
Their selection of settings is fantastic and their website is slowly rising to the level we have come to expect from diamond e-commerce sites, however until their diamonds catch up they will remain a 2/5* company.
Make sure you get in touch with me directly for any further assistance however.