Virtual Purchase: 1/2 Carat TW Round Diamond Stud Earrings

Several times a month, I am going to do a “virtual purchase” of a piece of jewelry.  I will  articulate a jewelry purchase scenario, and go through the decision-making process of what, how and where I choose to “purchase” the item.

What:  This week’s virtual purchase will be a pair of 1/2 carat tw (total weight) round diamond solitaire earrings in simple white gold mountings, with nice sparkle without overpaying for quality you can’t see.  While this is a popular size for diamond earrings, keep in mind that these will be smaller than you think–the 1/2 carat diamond total weight is spread across 2 stones, so each is 1/4 carat and the typical diameter is about 4mm each.  Click here for a neat little graphic from Blue Nile illustrating relative diamond size. 

Where: I am going to shop online at Costo.com, Blue Nile, Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Diamond.com, Diamondstudsonly.com, and Union Diamond.  NOTE: unlike loose/solitaire diamonds, earring of this size won’t typically have independent diamond reports/certificates from the major grading labs.  I am only going to sites where I am reasonably confident that I would get the quality that is stated on the website.

Here are the results, click here if you need help on the diamond 4C’s terminology:

Company: Mounting Metal: Min Color: Min Clarity: Cut:  Price:  Comments
Amazon.com 18 kt H-I SI2 VG  $521.99 Excellent value, cryptic price messaging
Diamondstudsonly.com 14 kt G-I SI2 VG  $599.00 If they can deliver this quality, it’s a good option
Union Diamond 14 kt H-I SI1-SI2 NA  $600.00 If they can deliver this quality, it’s a good option
Blue Nile 18 kt I SI2 Good  $700.00 OK value, nice site, consistent quality
Costco.com 14 kt I VS2 Good  $799.99 Nice value for higher clarity, probably can’t see difference
Walmart.com 14 kt I-J I1-I2 NA  $499.00 Not comp quality, not recommended
Diamond.com 14 kt H-I I1 NA  $695.00 Not comp quality, not recommended
Bottom Line:  If I were purchasing for myself, I would purchase the Amazon.com pair.  They have the best quality/value ratio for the $521.99 price.  However, I don’t know how long the “sale” will last, so if they discontinue the sale price, I would recommend either the diamondstudsonly or the Union Diamond pair.  If you are really into higher clarity, the Costco pair might do it for you.  As with all jewelry purchases, it takes some research and legwork to compare, and it can get confusing for the lay person.  Not all diamond earring quality combinations are equal across different companies, as the table above shows.  Below are my notes about the specific details of the merchants and their offerings, and links to the exact pairs reviewed.
Costco.com:  Yes, their site is clunky–the refining browse structure is just awkward.  But their prices are usually very good, they tend to have nicer qualities, and are scrupulous about quality control.  They have a smaller selection than other sites, but they have a nice pair of 1/2 carat tw round diamond earrings set into classic 14kt white gold baskets, I color or better, VS2 clarity or better for $799.99.  I know from industry reputation that their cut quality is pretty good.  That price includes shipping, and the site says you can have them in 2-3 days.

Blue Nile:  Beautiful site, pretty intuitive to browse for earrings.  At Blue Nile, you can build your own pair of earrings by selecting matched pairs of diamonds and a mounting style of your choice, or you can choose from popular sizes/shapes already mounted.  The most likely pair of round diamond studs was 1/2 ct tw, I color or better, SI2 clarity or better, good cut, set into 18 kt white gold screwback settings for $700.  You can get them next day for free if you order by a certain time.  These are slightly lower clarity than the Costco pair, but at SI2 you are unlikely to see any inclusions with the eye, and you get better mountings for almost $100 less than the Costco pair.

Amazon.com:  If you click on Amazon’s Jewelry catagory, they have a “Diamond Stud Earring” heading in the left nav that takes you to this page set up with all of their pre-set diamond earring choices in popular shapes/sizes/qualities.  The round diamond stud earrings in 18k white gold basket settings with a regular friction back are H-I color, SI2 clarity or better, and very good cut (which will give you great sparkle) for $869.99 retail plus shipping, which doesn’t sound competitive with BN or Costco.  BUT, there is a sale of 40% off applied when you actually put the item in your cart and go through the purchase process until the final “submit”.  The final price is $521.99 which is an excellent value.  I don’t think shipping is free unless you are an Amazon.com Prime member.  But I find the whole pricing strategy to be odd.  These earrings have a $2380 retail, which is TOTALLY ridiculous!  Then they have their published discounted price of $869.99, which is high.  The final price of $522 is very good, but it’s not transparent and difficult to get to. 

Walmart.com:  Platinumgirl shops at Walmart for jewelry, you say?  Well, they are the largest retailer of jewelry in the US by volume, and this is a basic item, so I figure I should check it out.  The site is terrible–you can’t sort for size, quality, even shape.  I finally found a pair of 1/2 carat tw round diamonds, H-I color, I1-I2 clarity, in 14k white basket settings for $499.  These are in no way comparable to the other diamond earrings I found at other sites–I just don’t recommend an I2 for anything–and probably not pretty at all.  The Amazon.com pair is light years ahead of these and for not much more ($521 final price).

Diamond.com:  Surprisingly, since they are a jewelry-specific site, I find this site to be challenging.  For all the browse refinements in the left navigation, I still have to wade through a bunch of stuff to find the round solitaire 1/2 tw studs.  The closest I could come to the other contenders was this pair, at H-I color, I1 clarity for $695, in very un-appealing 14k white gold screw back settings.  I would not recommend this pair.  For the same price (or lower, in Amazon’s case), Blue Nile  and Amazon both have finer quality.

Diamondstudsonly.com:  I am giving this site a try, since it comes up at the top of Google search results.  You can sort of “build your own” by selecting diamond shape, mounting style and metal type, and diamond quality ranges.   I selected what we have been comparing: 1/2 ct tw, G-I color, SI2 clarity, very good cut in 14kt white gold basket settings for $599, with free Fed Ex 2 day shipping.  This is a good value.  Only drawback is that I’ve never ordered from them before and don’t know if they are being spot-on with their quality grading.

Union Diamond:  Since I found their selection and pricing very good on my virtual purchase of a 1 carat solitaire, I thought I would check them out for diamond studs, too.  The site is OK.  You can choose from a drop-down menu of mounting options, so I selected their 14kt white gold basket settings.  The detail page says 1/2 ct tw, H-I color, SI1-SI2 clarity for $600.  Free Fed Ex shipping is included.  If the cut is good to very good, this pair is right in the range of Diamondstudsonly.com and Amazon.com for pretty comparable quality.

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