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The Zales business model is a rack them and stack them approach – they are considered the pioneers of this attitude towards jewelry sales within the US, as they were the first jewelry chain to make the move to indoor shopping malls.
You may have heard the name, but do you really know what Zales have to offer?
In 1924, brothers Morris and Willian Zale opened the first ever Zales store in Wichita, Texas. They instituted credit plans whereby the average American consumer could afford the home appliances, cameras and jewelry that were sold in store. This very much set the tone for what the Zales name would become.
In 1957, the brothers opened their first store inside a shopping mall. The ultimate goal was to sell as much jewelry as possible for the lowest price – this started the mass marketing of jewelry within the US. From the beginning of the Zales story, the company has used smart marketing and advertising to appeal to customers.
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Each branch of the Zales tree has a slightly different focus (for example, Piercing Pagoda is a low market jewelry kiosk) but the focus of Zales is diamonds and diamond engagement rings. Despite this apparent emphasis on diamonds, Zales only sell pre-set rings and do not offer loose diamonds.
You can shop by shape, setting type and metal type but there are no options to filter by diamond quality – an instant red flag for any brand who claims a commitment to diamonds.
It is not uncommon for online vendors to only offer pre-set options but it is not my preferred way to shop, nor is it the way I recommend. Buying a loose diamond allows you to specify the exact qualities and work to a strict budget. It is the most transparent way to purchase an engagement ring, allowing you to allocate your finances as you see fit across the Four C’s and the setting.
Zales do specify the color and clarity of the diamond in each ring, but sadly this brings little comfort. This 1 carat solitaire features a K-I3 round brilliant – a K in color might be passable, but an I3 will be a heavily included diamond that is dull and lack-lustre. There is no mention of cut quality, so we can reasonably assume that it is either poor or unknown (or both).
Zales post an image of ‘the ring’ in question, but with a significant caveat; “Merchandise enlarged to show detail and may not always be exactly as pictured”. I can tell you quite categorically that the diamond in the photo is not a K-I3.
Indisputably the biggest red flag of all is that there is absolutely zero mention of certification anywhere. If you do find a certified diamond at Zales, the grading body will be the IGI. The IGI are known for inflated and inconsistent grades; why do Zales use them? Because it is much cheaper to have the IGI grade a diamond than GIA or AGS and the inflated grades allow for a bigger mark-up. Click here to learn more about diamond certification and why it’s so important.
Zales diamonds are low quality and they capitalise on the naivety of buyers and the popularity of their name.
You may think that this stack them high and sell them cheap attitude translates into great savings for the consumer – sadly this is not the case. As I have said before, there is no such thing as a budget diamond and any company claiming to sell ‘clearance’ or ‘bargain’ diamonds is simply selling poor quality diamonds with big mark ups.
A simple comparison using our example from above:
Zales Round Brilliant
Carat weight: 1.00ct (expressed as 1 carat, suggesting it could be slightly above or slightly below)
Cut: Not specified
Price: $2,699 (including a 14k white gold prong setting)
James Allen Round Brilliant
Carat weight: 1.07ct
Price: $1,800 (pair with this 14k white gold prong setting from James Allen for a total price of $1,980)
Though not a diamond I would recommend, the James Allen diamond is objectively better than the Zales option and the setting is higher quality. Despite this, the Zales engagement ring is over $700 more expensive. In every case with Zales, you will find low quality jewelry with inexplicably high prices.
The Final Word
At times, working in the working diamond district presented to me the most grasping and cut throat sides of jewelry and diamond sales; I feel Zales represent this in a commercial form. While their ethos is rooted in making jewelry affordable for everyone, their jewelry is hugely over-priced and I can see absolutely no justification for the premiums. There is no saving grace for Zales and I can only hope that buyers will conduct heavy research before parting with their money.