Established in 1847, Cartier begun its long and prestigious history of designer jewelry from a humble store in Paris. If you didn’t know yet, Cartier is famous for their well-designed watches and fine jewelry collections. They were also the pioneers of using platinum in jewelry and made it one of the most popular material choices in present day.
In this review of Cartier, I am going to focus mainly on their diamond engagement rings and share my first hand shopping experience with you. Now, I had previously visited Cartier on a few occasions a few years back and they were all casual visits to check out their jewelry offerings.
This time round, I had the opportunity to experience the entire shopping process because a good friend of mine approached me to help him buy a proposal ring from Cartier. Needless to say, I gladly obliged and rendered my help immediately. Besides doing my friend a favor, I could also give Cartier’s customer service a full test run to see how well they fare.
Before I continue with the review on Cartier, I want you to be fully aware that I’m a person who couldn’t care less about branding when buying jewelry. My philosophy in diamond buying is always to shop for the best value and quality possible and that’s not something you will get in high-end boutique jewelry stores.
In this particular scenario, my friend is pretty set on a Cartier ring and he understands that Cartier is going to impose a huge premium on their jewelry pricing. My presence at Cartier is to help him make the best possible purchase from the available choices.
A budget of roughly $4,500 – $6,000 (prices in USD) was set for the purchase. The plan was to maximize the diamond’s carat weight (>0.5 carats) without a strong emphasis on high color and clarity ratings. As long as the diamond faces up white and is eye-clean, that’s what really matters to my friend (i.e. G color, VS2 clarity).
Based on my previous experiences with Cartier, I knew there probably won’t be a wide range of diamond selections for any given specifications of the 4Cs. So, we kept our fingers crossed and hoped to be able to find a suitable ring within our budget at Cartier.
We visited Cartier on a weekday afternoon to avoid the crowds and thankfully, we were the only customers in the store. Since the objective of the visit was to shop for a diamond engagement ring, it’s good to have undivided attention from the sales staff.
Unlike some other high-end boutique jewelry stores I had visited, Cartier’s service is considered very good and you feel like a “king” the moment you walk into the store. A doorman politely greets you and holds the door for you while you make an entrance. Since there were no other customers around, we got attended to immediately.
Once the sales attendant knew about our intentions to buy an engagement ring, we were quickly ushered into a “private” room where we could comfortably sit, sip a cup of coffee and had the selections brought over from the showroom for our viewing. Overall, the service and attitude of the sales personnel left me with a great first impression.
On a side note, the “private” room offers a more conducive environment for selecting diamonds as the lighting was significantly softer and less glaring compared to those used in the showroom. Also, there is a separate desktop lamp with white fluorescent lighting that can be used for jewelry inspection.
Now, the reason I brought up the point about the “private” room is that most first time shoppers don’t realize the importance of lighting when selecting diamonds. You need to understand that jewelry store lightings are ALWAYS designed to flatter and enhance appearances of diamonds regardless of how well cut they are.
Just because a diamond looks nice and sparkly in a jewelry store doesn’t mean it will look the same once you walk out of the store with a purchase. I had seen it happened on multiple occasions where people make impulsive purchases only to realize they bought a diamond with poor cut standards.
Anyways, if you are thinking of shopping at a Cartier boutique store, do make use of the “private” room even if it’s just for the coffee. You will get treated very well and also get to enjoy personalized service there.
Since we were looking for a simple and classy ring setting design, the signature Cartier 1895 setting was the most obvious and safest choice.
Casted in platinum, the Cartier 1895 setting features a sturdy 4 prong solitaire design which doesn’t catch onto clothing or lining easily. It’s perfect for people looking for an elegant and durable setting.
If you are shopping for an engagement ring and have no idea what your recipient’s preferences are, my recommendation is to stick with a plain solitaire ring design.
Inside the private room, the sales staff started off by showing us a few Cartier engagement rings with different carat sizes and begins preaching about Cartier’s diamond quality. Basically, it’s some marketing stuff about how much their diamonds sparkle and how they are different from diamonds you see in other stores.
Interestingly, the sales staff chose to emphasize on the process in which their diamonds are meticulously selected by in-house specialists. We were told that Cartier has such “high standards” and “selection criteria” for their diamonds that the majority of diamonds from their suppliers are rejected and only the “best” gets picked.
To be honest, if I was someone with zero knowledge about diamonds, he would probably be able to convince me that Cartier’s diamonds are the best in the world. I would have to give credit to the sales staff for his convincing sales presentation.
Unfortunately for him, he didn’t know he’s speaking to someone who knows his stuff and is used to being fed marketing BS* all the time. You see, I’m someone who often frequent malls with my spouse and visiting jewelry stores is one of my favorite past times. I had sat through similar sales presentations countless of times and I know better than to blindly believe whatever a sales person says.
Now, it’s perfectly OK for vendors/salespeople to boast and make claims about their products. However, when it comes to the crunch, it is the quality of the product that really matters and whether their diamonds are truly well-cut. I’ll talk more about their diamond quality in the later paragraphs.
When my friend first told me about his budget of $6k, I estimated he could get a super ideal cut F/G color diamond between 0.60-0.70 carats if he shops for an unbranded diamond. Obviously, shopping at Cartier meant significantly higher prices but the question was; by how much?
Based on our budget of $6,000, the sales staff showed us 3 diamond rings with the following center diamonds: 0.30 D color VVS1, 0.42 E color VVS2 and a 0.46 G color VVS1 (most expensive and slightly over our budget).
There were also a couple of other available options which are near the $8,000 mark in the store. For example, a 0.54 F VS2 diamond was available for around $8,000 but this was way over our initial budget of $6k. Since my friend didn’t want to over extend his budget, these rings were out of the question.
As someone who had help thousands of readers around the world buy diamond rings online, I have absolutely no problems in helping people cherry pick the best possible diamond for any given budget. This is because I have access to tens of thousands of diamonds for me to work with anytime.
However, when shopping at Cartier, the available options would probably boil down to a measly 2-3 diamond options if you are super lucky. Sadly, there was nothing within our specifications available in-store for us. At this point, the sales staff made the effort to check the inventory of every single Cartier store in the country and even went as far as checking the Cartier stores from neighboring countries.
Unfortunately, there was still no joy as the search came up fruitless. There isn’t a single G or H color VS1/VS2 diamond that is pre-mounted in an 1895 Cartier setting around the 0.50 carat mark.
Now, the specifications (4Cs) of the diamond aren’t the only factors causing availability problems for shoppers. Cartier expects you to purchase a diamond ring off-the-rack and this means you have to make do with whatever ring size the diamond was mounted on.
Granted, Cartier offers free ring resizing within 3 months of your purchase but you need to bear in mind that ring resizing requires 10-15 working days. And if you urgently need a diamond ring for a proposal, you are most likely screwed.
In our case, my friend needed a diamond ring urgently because he was flying off to Australia in a week’s time and had made plans to propose during the trip. Obviously, he couldn’t afford the ridiculously long waiting time for the ring to be resized if it was needed.
Now, I know some of you may argue it’s no big deal because resizing can be performed any time after the proposal has taken place. Well, it’s probably OK if the ring is a little loose as you can still slip it on the lady’s finger during the proposal.
On the other hand, if the ring is too tight and can’t be fitted onto her finger, wouldn’t this cause some awkwardness when a guy is down on his knees? Wouldn’t you want that perfect moment to be etched forever in your memories without any hiccups?
With a limited amount of selections in store, you need to be extremely lucky in order find a diamond ring which meets your specifications perfectly. This is even more true if you are shopping within popular ranges like F-G color and VS1-VS2 clarity grades.
So, what happens if you can’t find something suitable in-store and directly off the rack? Given the limited selections available, I’m very sure there are many other customers who face the same problem we had encountered.
And that’s where Cartier’s “Set For You” program comes into play. Basically, this program works like a “build your own ring” program many online vendors offer. With a choice of setting, the sales staff can help you select a diamond from Cartier’s loose diamond inventory and get a ring custom made.
In case you haven’t realize yet, Cartier’s Set For You service is the same as buying BLIND online. I would NEVER recommend doing this as you don’t get to see the diamond beforehand nor do you get to see any additional information beyond a grading report. Also, Cartier’s program pales in comparison to other online vendors because their loose diamond inventory is extremely small.
As a testament to this, there were only 2 possible diamond choices within the Cartier’s Set For You program based on our own experience. One being a G color 0.50+ carat “Very Good” cut diamond and the other, having similar specifications to the G color VVS1 0.46 carat diamond that was already in-store.
To make matters worse, the sales staff actually made a recommendation for the diamond with “Very Good” cut grade.
The fact that the sales staff had the audacity to say Cartier’s diamond quality is consistent and among the best in the industry while trying to sell us a “Very Good” cut diamond makes me infuriated. I will go in-depth into discussing their diamond cut quality standards in a moment.
You see, Cartier wants you to believe and trust that their diamond selection process is stringent. However, the presence of “Very Good” cut diamonds will tell any trained gemmologist worth his salt or any slightly more educated shopper otherwise.
Besides the poor diamond selections, the other problem with this customized service is their super long delivery time. Depending on how busy their work schedule are, I was told that it could take anywhere between 6-10 weeks before you’ll receive the actual ring. And if you compare this to most other online vendors, the waiting time is relatively long. Again, this method of buying a ring isn’t suitable for people in a rush.
Summary: Your chance of having instant success and finding the exact ring without performing any modifications is very low. When this happens, you either have to wait a couple of months for new inventory or you’ll have no choice but to purchase the next best available option.
At Cartier, the minimum diamond clarity you will find is VS2 and the minimum color available is H. In some ways, the pre-filtered criteria are quite similar to Tiffany & Co’s and other high end boutiques like Harry Winston. From a consumer’s point of view, it’s easy to understand why they don’t go below VS2 since Cartier wants to maintain eye-cleanliness.
In terms of color, diamonds above H color will help ensure the diamond faces up white without noticeable tinges of color. Such filtering parameters are common practices employed by big brands in order to maintain some level of consistencies in their products. If you are interested, you can read up on how they select diamonds on their webpage here.
As they say, the devil is always in the details. Once you start looking carefully into how Cartier selects their diamonds, you will realize that their marketing pitch may not be in-line with their actual practices. Check out this screenshot captured directly off their website.
I’m sorry… Did you just shoot yourself in the foot?
Now, did you remember we were told that Cartier employs “specialists” to select diamonds from their suppliers? On their website, they claim that their “diamonds undergo the most rigorous selection” and ironically, these “specialists” allow diamonds with GIA “Very Good” cut grades to pass through their selection process.
The GIA “Very Good” cut grade and the terms “optimal brilliance”, “guarantee of exceptional beauty” should be mutually exclusive. As someone who is trained at GIA, I’m familiar with the technical aspects of cut and can tell you flat out that a diamond with GIA “Very Good” cut is mediocre.
However, Cartier seems to think otherwise and have no qualms about doing so. In fact, during our visit to Cartier, we were recommended such a diamond by the sales staff who served us. For now, let’s take a slightly more technical approach to analyze each of their listed criteria.
A round diamond with a large table size (> 60%) will typically experience some degree of light leakage and impact its overall brilliance. Let’s take a look at what happens when the table size is 63.0%
Regardless of whatever crown/pavilion angles the diamond has, the maximum cut grade it can achieve is only a “Very Good”. This is because the diamond’s overall optical performance takes a hit when the table facet is too large!
Sigh… The problem here with deep diamonds is that the diamond faces up smaller because weight is trapped in the profile. Also, steep diamonds cause light leakage to occur under the table. Now, that’s not say there’s no issues with a 58% depth. At such a shallow depth, the diamond will exhibit light leakage as well and at certain tilt angles, you would be able to notice an unsightly girdle reflection under the table facet.
While Cartier claims that this is a criteria on their website but I’m glad it wasn’t enforced. Most of the round diamonds I had examined have a girdle range between thin – medium – slightly thick. Anyways, an overly thick girdle will cause the diamond to face up smaller.
For brilliant cut diamonds under 0.30 carats, Cartier allows a cut grade of “Good” to “Excellent”. WHAT!!?? As if the bar isn’t low enough, they are going even lower by selling you GIA “Good” cut diamonds? For the record, I recommend buying diamonds with nothing less than an Excellent cut.
To me, this is a huge red flag and something you need to beware of especially if you are buying a Cartier engagement ring with small sized solitaire diamonds (e.g. 0.25 carats).
MAKE SURE YOU CHECK THE DETAILS OF WHAT YOU ARE BUYING AND ASK IF YOU ARE NOT SURE!
For the kind of ridiculous premium Cartier is charging you for their jewelry, one would expect only the top tier GIA triple excellent diamonds to be used. Frankly speaking, I’m shocked to see GIA “Very Good” cut diamonds being offered; let alone the thought of “Good” cut diamonds being used. What a joke!
When buying a diamond, I’m a firm believer that cut is KING. Just the fact that Cartier selects GIA diamonds with “Very Good” cut grades to make up their inventory reveals a lot about the kind of standards they have.
For the record, there is no lack of top-tier GIA excellent cut diamonds available in the market today. Extremely well-cut GIA triple excellent diamonds may be difficult to find but there are enough to go around (i.e. out of 100 GIA triple excellent diamonds, I can usually find 1-2 diamonds that meet my criteria to be purchase-worthy). There’s absolutely no reason to start selecting diamonds from the “Very Good” cut grade tier if you are really looking for quality.
During our visit to the store, we were recommended a GIA Very Good cut grade diamond by the sales staff and this diamond was based in Paris. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to inspect that particular Very Good cut diamond in person. So, I did the next best thing and searched for Cartier rings in the secondary market.
Here’s a GIA grading report for a Very Good cut diamond from Cartier which I found on eBay. Someone listed the ring for sale and it has all the relevant certificates of authenticity from Cartier and GIA.
Speaking from a professional’s point of view, this is a diamond I cannot recommend to anybody in good faith. The proportions aren’t fantastic and the diamond runs a heightened risk of chipping due to its “Very Thin” girdle.
Unlike Cartier’s diamond selection standards, I review every single aspect of cut quality when picking out potential diamonds for purchase. Considering the price premium being paid for Cartier’s jewelry, one would expect more and not diamonds with Very Good Polish, Very Good Symmetry and Very Good Cut grades. And sad to say, this isn’t an isolated case with Cartier’s diamond engagement rings.
Here’s another Cartier diamond ring listing on the secondary market and I am using it purely as an educational example of the kind of quality you may expect to find:
Without the need to see this diamond in person, I can immediately identify a huge number of issues based on the diamond’s grading report. Let me list out the problems below:
1) The table and depth proportions combination is not ideal for light return.
2) The girdle thickness range is mediocre (medium-slightly thick is the max I would recommend).
3) The pavilion angle is too steep (41.4 degrees) and will result in light leakage.
4) There is a presence of a very small culet.
5) Polish rating is only Very Good.
6) Symmetry rating is only Very Good.
Mind you, these are NOT hallmarks of what a truly well cut diamond should have.
Interestingly, when I told the sales staff that Very Good cut diamonds will have issues with optical performance and/or durability and I didn’t want my friend to buy such a diamond. Could you guess what the Cartier’s sales staff reply was?
Well, he started to go about saying how Cartier’s diamond selection system is way above GIA’s grading criteria. “It doesn’t matter whether a diamond has a GIA “Very Good” or “Excellent” cut because Cartier uses their own benchmarks to select diamonds based on its appearances.”
That’s a huge claim that would probably work well with 99% of consumers.
Clearly, the sales staff has no idea how diamonds are graded at GIA because I did questioned him whether he knew about the GIA’s grading procedures. The sales staff (incidentally who’s also the boutique supervisor) thought GIA only graded a diamond’s cut based on proportions. Well, it isn’t.
GIA’s cut grade is determined based on a combination of measured parameters (e.g. proportions) and visual observations (e.g brilliance, fire). For people interested in more details, check out the following links for journal papers published by GIA:
In short, I can summarize the factors that determine GIA’s cut rating with the chart below.
When a diamond is graded “Very Good” by GIA, it means that the diamond didn’t meet the standards in one or more areas of “Face Up Appearance”, “Design” and “Craftsmanship”.
For example, if a GIA “Very Good” diamond is polished to excellent proportions and receives a rating of excellent for both polish and symmetry, this means the diamond FAILED the visual inspection tests for brightness, fire and scintillation for an excellent rating during the grading process.
You need to understand that every single GIA “Very Good” cut grade diamond receive the particular rating for some reason/s in cut deficiency. Based on Cartier’s sales staff marketing pitch, he wants us to blindly believe an “intangible aspect” of Cartier’s selection process that a “Very Good” cut diamond is a great choice because he is trying to sell it to us.
I’m not stupid and I don’t buy the claims. Instead, I want to base my diamond selection criteria on tangible facts and data.
When selecting a well-cut diamond, GIA triple excellent diamonds are only a basic prerequisite to start your search in. That is to say, anything below a GIA excellent cut grading is an immediate no-no and should be eliminated.
Now, you need to understand that even within the GIA triple excellent range of diamonds, there are a lot of variations in optical performance and cut precision. You can read this article I wrote on this topic for more details.
For beginners who find it difficult to discern cut differences in glaring spot lightings of jewelry stores, I recommend using an ASET or Idealscope. This levels the playing field and allows you to critically review diamonds for their light performances.
At Cartier’s jewelry boutique, we were shown 8 diamond rings with GIA Excellent cut grades. Within these 8 diamonds, there was a mix of polish and symmetry ratings ranging from Very Good – Excellent. With these kinds of standards, it’s no surprise you probably won’t find exceptionally well-cut diamonds at Cartier.
Anyways, these ASET images are representative of what I see when I examined Cartier’s diamonds physically through my ASET scope. Out of all the 8 GIA Excellent cut round diamonds I had examined, all of them exhibited certain degrees of light leakage under the table.
ASET images reveals how a diamond returns light and how well the diamond performs optically. For more details about ASET images, click this link. You can also make use of the ASET reference charts here for comparison.
I place a diamond’s optical performance above anything else and Cartier’s diamond rings fail to impress me. In fact, not a single Cartier diamond I had seen so far had passed my personal standards to be purchase worthy.
Since a Cartier ring was what my friend wanted, we had to settle for something less ideal in terms of cut. With limited selection choices, we also had to compromise on our initial specifications. We ended up paying an additional premium for a VVS1 clarity and purchased a diamond smaller than 0.50 carats. We also exceeded our initial budget and paid $7,000 for the ring.
Representative ASET image of round diamond we bought.
It’s not a bad diamond but it isn’t a great one either.
Cartier Solitaire 1895 ring with center diamond: 0.46 carats, G color, VVS1 clarity and triple excellent cut.
The accompanying GIA report for the purchase.
Cartier certificate of authenticity which comes with every purchase.
Free ring cleaning service – This is a default policy almost every jeweler offers and is actually a marketing tactic to increase future sales. Speaking from practical experience, it is going to be a huge hassle to bring your ring down to your jeweler every week in order to keep it clean. Instead, cleaning your ring at home takes only 5 minutes of your time and can be performed easily with simple tools like toothbrushes and soap.
Free ring resizing is valid within 3 months of purchase and depending on the type of ring designs, there are limitations in which the ring’s size could be altered. For example, plain solitaire settings like 1895 or Cartier d’Amour solitaire can have more leeway in size alterations. However, for rings like Cartier Destinée, Trinity Ruban or Ballerine designs, the presence of pave melees will restrict how much the ring size can be changed.
Cartier charges a workmanship fee for re-polishing your ring which many other jewelers perform for free.
And as far as I know, there are no trade up policies for purchased jewelry (with the exception of “exchanging” your purchase within 2 weeks for another jewelry piece of higher value).
Once the purchase was made, the sales staff mentioned that the ring box could be gift wrapped and wax sealed. What immediately came to my mind was the vintage looking wax seals that were hand-stamped in the olden days.
I encouraged my friend to get it wrapped since it’s a complimentary service. After all, he can always unwrap it later if he doesn’t want to present the ring box with the wrapping.
Here’s how imagined it was done at the back of my head…
Instead, here’s how Cartier packages the gift box in their showroom. First, they wrap the ring box in a piece of plain white paper. Next, they drip hot wax onto the package at the ends. Thereafter, they use a piece of pre-moulded wax seal and simply stick it over the hot wax.
It’s a little disappointing because the purpose of the hot wax was to act as a glue instead of being used for the seal creation. There’s no stamping process involved at all. And because the wax seals are pre-moulded, each of them comes in a generic cookie-cutter shape. Personally, I feel that this standardization makes the wax seals lose its authentic appeal.
You probably knew that Cartier is going to charge you an arm and leg because of their branding. So, let’s put things into perspective and perform side by side comparisons against some of my recommended vendors. Once you see what the other jewelers are charging for their products, you will realize how excessive Cartier’s premiums are.
Comparison #1 – Cartier vs. Brian Gavin Diamonds
First of all, let’s take a look at what it would cost us for a platinum ring with a 0.46 carat, G color, VVS1 clarity diamond if we were to shop online at BrianGavinDiamonds.com. Remember, we paid $7,000 for our Cartier ring. Feel free to click the images below for more details about the listings.
Guess how much the proposal ring at BrianGavinDiamonds.com cost? With a better clarity and more well-cut center diamond, the entire purchase only comes up to $3,530 ($2,521 + $1,017). That’s half of what was paid for the Cartier ring and we have gotten a diamond with bigger carat size and brilliance too.
Comparison #2 – Cartier vs. James Allen
Now, I contacted Cartier’s client services via email and phone to check out the prices of Cartier’s diamond engagement rings. Here’s a screenshot of the email to show you what I was quoted with. The price of a 0.85 ct diamond with F color, VVS1 clarity would cost around $13,800.00.
At James Allen, here’s a diamond with similar specifications and I matched it with a platinum solitaire ring design.
The total cost of the ring at JamesAllen.com amounts to $7,425 ($6,600 + $825). Compared to the cost for a Cartier ring with similar diamond quality, that’s a stark difference.
Comparison #3 – Cartier vs. White Flash
Besides round diamonds, I also did an inquiry into princess cut diamonds to see if the absurd margins were similar across the board. Here’s a screen capture of the email where I was quoted $6,450 for a 0.50 princess cut diamond mounted in a 1895 setting.
In comparison, here’s what an AGS000 princess cut diamond with the top-of-the-line optics would only cost you at WhiteFlash.com.
In total, shopping for a super-ideal princess cut diamond at WhiteFlash.com would cost you only $3,262 ($1,824 + $1,438). In this scenario, you are really getting a diamond with superb optics and it costs roughly half the price of a similar Cartier princess cut engagement ring.
The boutique manager I spoke to revealed that Cartier do not make diamonds, do not cut diamonds nor do they produce the diamonds they sell. They merely “hand pick” diamonds from their suppliers and when it comes to diamonds (like anything else in retail businesses), just because a brand name is attached to a piece of jewelry doesn’t necessarily means that it is of better quality.
Now, I know there are many people who would call high-end boutique jewelry stores a rip-off but I won’t go as far as to saying that about Cartier. I find them to be a respectable business and ultimately, it’s all about perspective.
Like any other premium jewelry brands (e.g. Tiffany, Harry Winston), you are definitely going to pay a lot more because of the branding and it really depends on what the name is worth to you.
In my personal opinion, I feel that their customer service is among some of the better ones I had experienced (better than how I was treated at Tiffany’s). However, is this experience and feel-good factor of owning a piece of Cartier jewelry worth the additional thousands of dollars for a purchase?
Well, I personally cannot justify paying 2 times more for a similar diamond ring I could get elsewhere. To me, the quality of the end product matters more because it is a tangible aspect that will “last forever”. In contrast, the 2-3 hours of shopping experience at Cartier will only slowly fade over time.
I hope my personal experience with Cartier has given you some insights about their diamond jewelry and will help you make better purchasing decisions.
On a last note, I would love to hear your thoughts about buying diamond jewelry from branded establishments. Would you be willing to pay significantly more for a similar diamond ring because of a particular branding and why?
Feel free to leave your comments below!