This post was last updated on 20th June 2018.
New York City’s famous Diamond District is home to more than 4,000 jewelers and wholesalers congregated at one single location. Situated in Midtown Manhattan, the entire street is a constellation of small jewelry stores and exchanges selling various types of gemstones, fine jewelry and diamonds.
Did you know that more than 90% of diamonds imported into the US market actually pass hands through the district before making their way to other retailers down the pipeline? Not coincidentally, one of world’s largest and oldest diamond exchange, the DDC, also resides at the heart of the district.
Whether you are a serious shopper or someone who’s just browsing out of curiosity, you’ll find an overwhelming selection of diamond jewelry on display. In today’s post, we are going to take an indepth view into shopping at New York’s famed Diamond District and offer tips to help you navigate the pitfalls of spending money there.
You can find the Diamond District in NY along West 47th Street in between the 5th and 6th Avenue. In the excerpts from Google Map below, I had indicated the district with a red line.
Most stores are open on weekdays and Saturdays from 9.30am to 5.30pm. Do note that the opening hours may vary from store to store and certain businesses only allow visitors by appointment only.
As a consumer, you might assume that the Diamond District at 47th Street is an ideal destination to start shopping for a diamond ring. However, the truth is far from that. In fact, it may actually be more difficult for the average consumer to buy a truly high quality engagement ring than anywhere else.
To the uninitiated, the Diamond District is a huge shark tank. During my visit, I had personally experienced the sinister side of the district where jewelers tried to rip me off by assuming I’m an average Joe who knows nothing about buying diamonds.
Besides aggressive sales people who would say anything to make you believe their claims, you also need to be wary about the false promise of “record low-prices”. I strongly urge you to do your research carefully before buying anything to avoid getting scammed.
Most consumers assume that the Diamond District is full of deals and that they can buy diamonds at wholesale prices. People who believe that are delusional and it is important for you to have realistic expectations.
Here’s my first rule of buying diamonds: Unbelievable cheap deals NEVER exist. As I had explained in my free ebook (simply sign up for the newsletter with your email to download it), if the price of a diamond is too good to be true, its qualities is being misrepresented. A tell tale sign is that these diamonds do not have grading reports from a reliable 3rd party lab like GIA or AGS.
NOTE: If you’re buying a diamond or colored gemstone, make sure you check if the stone is natural and whether it had undergone any form of treatments.
If you intend to shop the Diamond District with zero knowledge, you are asking for trouble and you deserve to get ripped off for not doing your due diligence. Don’t expect the jewelers to give you a complete education and honestly point out negative aspects of their diamonds. Many people had fallen prey to unethical jewelers because they didn’t know better. Don’t let this happen to you.
In my own experience, the sales people on 47th Street are not orientated towards good customer service. Instead, they are extremely sales orientated and would tell you all sorts of stuff just to make a sale. Make sure you read up extensively on Beyond4Cs.com and build up a comprehensive knowledge about the 4Cs before shopping.
Some shops in the Diamond District list their inventory on their websites. To be more productive in your shopping, you may want to shortlist certain items beforehand and make appointments in advance to view them. This will help you save time instead of blindly walking into stores searching for something you want.
Salespeople in the Diamond District area are notorious for their arrogant and aggressive attitudes towards customers. On my last visit, I entered about 13-14 jewelry stores and stopped by countless of booths in jewelry exchanges.
What I noticed was a stark difference in the way customers get treated, depending on the kind of customer you are identified as. In my own experience, the sales person changed his attitude completely as soon as he knew I had no intentions of making any purchase.
Besides a cocky attitude and obvious displays of being inpatient, I was treated with a lack of respect when I started probing for details of individual jewelry pieces. In one instance, I was refused to be shown an item and had a sarcastic remark thrown at me “You aren’t buying anyway, why do you want to see it?” (What? You mean everyone who walks into your store MUST buy something?)
Could you imagine facing someone who said that to you if you were shopping for a 10k engagement ring? It really makes me wonder how these shops can survive if they treat all potential clients in this manner. Anyway, this type of customer service simply irks me and gets on my nerves.
Besides poor service, here are some shady marketing tricks that sales people would use to instill false urgency in an attempt to make you commit to a purchase.
– They will tell you that the item you are viewing is a “hot product” and will be gone by the time you return to the store again.
– If you buy now, they will reduce the price by XX% and this special deal is only valid if you commit immediately.
– They will act like giving you a “special discount” is a big deal and will call their managers, CEO, mother, father or even their imaginary boss to get the discount “approved”.
Now, I’ve been around in the industry long enough to tell you that these tricks are basically lies to prey on greed and impulsive shopping behavior.
Here’s my advice and it also pertains to jewelry shopping in general. You shouldn’t never feel intimidated by the salesperson to ask any questions you have. The job of a sales person is to help you with a purchase and not to scare or pressurize you. If you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to walk away from the situation like I did; simply hit the door and move on to the next store.
The New York Diamond District has more than 4000 businesses and the majority of them are selling the same merchandize. Since the product offerings overlap from one store to another, you should browse around a little to get a feel of the prices being offered. Needless to say, you shouldn’t be making a big ticket purchase at the first store you enter.
Now, one of the most common mistakes people make when performing price comparisons is that they aren’t comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges. When comparing diamond prices, you should be using 2 diamonds with similar specifications and paperwork for the comparison. For example, a 1.00 carat G VVS2 diamond graded by EGL is not the same as a 1.00 carat G VVS2 diamond graded by GIA.
Also, you need to beware of misleading banners and advertisements that say “wholesale” prices. This is a marketing gimmick. Wholesale prices don’t exist on the retail storefronts and if you are in a store who claims this, walk away. The real “wholesalers” don’t deal with the public and will only sell to people in the trade or other jewelry businesses.
Here’s a piece of advice to help you in your negotiations with sales representatives. Never tell them how much your budget is or how much you want to spend. If you do, this will set the price that they will charge you. Instead, you want to maintain a bargaining leverage by getting them to show you items you are interested in before mentioning prices.
One common trick jewelers employ to misrepresent their diamonds is through the use of appraisals with overly inflated values and shady grading certification. Bear in mind that NOT all grading certification are made equal.
If a vendor tries to sell you a diamond with a certificate from dubious gemological labs like EGL, GAI, IGI, GALA and etc…, I can assure you that the grading standards are poor and the diamond will be overgraded in its true properties. That is to say, a G VS1 diamond graded by an unknown lab would likely be a J SI1 if the same stone was graded by GIA. You’ll end up paying more for a diamond that only sounds better on paper!
In order to know exactly what you are buying and that the diamond is being represented correctly, you should only consider diamonds graded by GIA (Gemological Institute of America) or AGS (America Gem Society).
Let me make something clear; you should never shop with the mindset of returning a purchase for a full refund. You want to make the right purchase the first time round by doing it once and doing it well. In my opinion, any return policies the vendor offers is just to safeguard your purchase and to eliminate risk.
Secondly, the majority of diamonds sold in the district aren’t well-cut and more than 90% of goods sold there are sub-par in my opinion. On top of that, the majority of shops on the 47th Street have difficult return and exchange policies.
Before handing your credit card or cash over to a jeweler, you need to be crystal clear on the type of return or refund policies they have in store. If you are a first time buyer, the semantics of return and refund can be very confusing and the context can be different from other forms of retail businesses.
In short, return means you can only return the item and exchange it for another item. Any money you paid will be locked in with the jeweler and converted into the form of a credit. A refund means that you can get your money back. It is best to get all the refund/return terns and conditions written out in black and white.
For me, the rule I abide to when buying diamonds is simple; NO REFUNDS = NO PURCHASE. Speaking from both a professional and a consumer point of view, I will only buy diamonds from vendors who offer NO QUESTIONS ASKED refund policies for 14 to 30 days.
The rationale is straightforward here: if I’m going to be unhappy with my purchase, there’s no way I would buy anything else from the same jeweler again. I’m not going to let my money be locked in with the jeweler and be forced to spend my credit with him/her. Having a return period of at least 2 weeks will give me sufficient time to evaluate the newly purchased piece of jewelry.
If the jeweler you are working with won’t allow a refund policy and only accepts returns, don’t do business with them since these are the kind of people who won’t stand behind their products. Find someone else who would and with the amount of jewelers on the 47th Street, I’m sure there will be someone who would gladly offer you such terms.
Hawkers may be some of the most colorful characters found on the Diamond District in New York City; carrying banners, handling out leaflets and smooth-talking unsuspecting clients into the stores. Personally, I find them to be a huge nuisance because of their aggressive attitude and annoying pestering.
In my opinion, their presence cheapens the district and makes it look like a 3rd world flea market. Based on my own experience and visiting stores touted by hawkers, businesses that hire hawkers tend to offer mediocre products. If you think about it logically, would any respectable business need to rely on street hawkers to solicit business?
From emails sent by readers, I heard horror stories about unscrupulous merchants who trick unsuspecting customers by showing them a particular certificate and selling them a completely different diamond. Unethical vendors take advantage of customers using this switching scam with the hope that they can’t tell the differences in quality. The best way to prevent such rip-offs from happening is to use a loupe or microscope and ensure that the inclusions shown on the certificate matches up with the diamond you are buying.
Another similar scam that ignorant customers get conned by is the use of doctored and fake certification papers. To avoid this, make sure you know how the original grading reports for GIA and AGS look like and verify them against their respective online databases with your mobile phone.
Lastly, regardless of the amount paid for any purchase, always request a printed sales slip which clearly indicates the vendor’s name, address, date of purchase, purchase amount and any applicable sales taxes. Any verbal claims/guarantees that were made by the jeweler should also be written down. This will give you grounds for pursuing legal actions in the event the claims are found to be false.
At any point in time, if a jeweler or store makes you feel uncomfortable, listen to your guts and leave. There are literally hundreds of other shops and exchanges within walking distance that may be better worth your time.
Shops along the NYC diamond district don’t accept cheques and prefer to deal in cash transactions. In my opinion, it is best to make purchases using an American Express credit card. In the event of a dispute, AMEX usually takes the side of the customer and may help you perform a charge back to get your money back.
The only type of jewelry I would recommend buying at the diamond district is precious metal based jewelry because they are sold by weight and aren’t as complicated as buying gemstones. For example, gold bangles, gold bracelets, platinum wedding bands can easily be compared in terms of prices and styles.
Unless you are looking at metal jewelry created by well-known designers, the prices offered to you shouldn’t be drastically different from one jeweler to another. When buying gold or platinum jewelry, look out for a quality stamp or hallmark (e.g. 18K, PLAT 950) which indicates the kind of material used.
All in all, I can sum up the Diamond District in 2 words – Buyer Beware! In reality, the 47th Street is a huge beginner’s trap for buying diamonds. If you don’t want to take the risk of buying jewelry and end up receiving something else for what you actually paid for, avoid the area.
If you had been to the NYC Diamond District, I would love to hear about your experience and details of what you bought (if any). Do share it with us in the comments section below.