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Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry describe themselves as offering the best value, service and selection on their diamonds and fine jewelry products. They have eight stores across three states and present themselves as an upmarket jewelers with shop fronts that seem to reflect this.
Can Lee Michaels back up those claims of value, service and selection, and are they a good choice for buyers? This guide explores the ins and outs of Lee Michaels so you can make an informed choice.
Lee Michaels are a second generation family jewelers. Their first store opened in Baton Rouge in 1978 by Lee and Brenda Berg. They have seen steady growth over the years which is usually a good sign. They prides themselves on offering ‘extraordinary experiences’ for their customers.
I tend to focus on diamond quality and price when I review jewelers as it makes for an easier ‘across the board’ comparison with online vendors. Nevertheless, I also help customers who want a ‘traditional’ experience find suitable bricks and mortar stores for their needs. Lee Michaels staff are given a GIA education, specifically an AJP (Accredited Jewelry Professional). The AJP is fairly basic, but it can make a huge difference in the knowledge and quality of a sales team. Sadly, finding good sales people is a roll of the dice. In reality, the Lee Michaels is hugely varied from store to store, staff member to staff member. This is one of the known pitfalls of bricks and mortar shopping.
The shops are pretty, some staff are great while others are not. When you make promises of customer experience, you must deliver consistently. This is what sets stores like Harry Winston apart from your typical jewelry store. The rise of online vendors like Whiteflash, Blue Nile and James Allen, who offer customer support and an exceptionally detailed diamond education have raised the bar - bricks and mortar stores can’t compete with online prices so they must go all out on the experience. I expected more from Lee Michaels.
Even if you find yourself a helpful, knowledgeable Less Michaels team member it still cannot save you from the even more pressing issue. The diamonds themselves.
Despite presenting the value of the GIA by ensuring their staff members have an AJP, Lee Michaels sell GIA certified diamonds, alongside those with an ‘in-house appraisal’. This is highly questionable. I do not recommend in-house appraisals. The process of grading a diamond is complex. It requires years of experience and lab conditions in order to be accurate and consistent. This is a real slip up that throws Lee Michaels commitment to quality diamonds into question. You can read more about diamond grading reports and their importance in my full guide.
There is also zero focus on cut quality. Lee Michaels will comfortably sell you a diamond with a GIA cut grade of ‘Good’ under the guise that this is an appropriate level of quality. It isn’t. The majority of diamonds certified by the GIA receive a ‘Very Good’ or ‘Excellent’ grade – in fact they make up over 90% of GIA certified diamonds. A ‘Good’ is in fact, not good enough. The best vendors prove the diamond cut quality by providing diamond imaging and light performance reports.
Despite the generally low quality of Lee Michaels diamonds, they average around 30% more expensive than leading online vendors. We know that better prices can be found online, but the difference here is vast. On their website, Lee Michaels list their first core value as realizing ‘…the most important thing we sell is our name.’ Although intended to boost your confidence that they would attach the Lee Michaels name to anything subpar; my overall view of Lee Michaels tells me they want you to pay (a lot) for the name, but not a lot else.
The Final Word
On paper, Lee Michaels should be a good choice, but upon closer investigation they are fraught with the age old issues of bricks and mortar shopping and also fall short of quality and experience. For this reason, I do not recommend them.
Not only can you find much better prices for diamonds on vendors like James Allen, but you can have a better experience even when shopping online. Whiteflash offer open communication and support from the moment you contact them and beyond – they build lasting relationships with their customers through incredible trade up policies and friendly advice. They are evidence that online buying can be a personal experience, but with more knowledgeable staff and a better diamond selection.