PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- If purchasing the world's most precious gem is in your future, this is a report you can't afford to miss.
Action News Troubleshooters' undercover shopping experience could save you thousands of dollars. Even a local gemologist was surprised by what we found.
Essentially the same diamond could cost you thousands of dollars more. It all depends on where you shop.
Here's tip number one: Like our undercover shoppers did, look at loose diamonds and buy the diamond and setting separately. Checkbook Magazine says some stores pre-set lousy diamonds to hide flaws.
While no two diamonds are exactly alike, you can compare by using the same specs known as the 4 Cs.
Undercover shoppers for Checkbook Magazine and the Action News Troubleshooters asked jewelers in the tristate area and online to price diamonds that were within these specs:
Carat: 1.5 carat
Cut: Excellent cut
Clarity: VS1-VS2 clarity
Color: G or H color.
We also asked every store for diamonds that are GIA certified.
Michael Gallagher Jewelers in Bear, Delaware gave a price of $10,754.
At Zales, the cost was between $19,000 and $31,000.
That's a $8,000 to $20,000 difference!
"For sure, shop around. We found really big price differences from jeweler to jeweler for pretty much the same exact diamond," Kevin Brasler, Executive Editor of Checkbook Magazine, said.
For a 1-carat diamond with similar specs, Checkbook Magazine's investigation shows you could pay as little as $5,762 at B2CJewels.com or as much as $21,166 at Zales..
That's a $15,404 difference.
"In general, independents offered the best value; they offered stones that were around $11,000 to $12,000, whereas the chains, their prices were much higher, several thousand dollars higher," Brasler said.
Small independents with the best prices included Michael Gallagher, as well as David Jay Jewelers in Warrington and Steven Singer in Center City.
"I think your method of going about it was spot-on and accurate and I think the results are pretty surprising," Kevin Clemency, a gemologist for Steven Singer, told Action News, adding, "Essentially if you're paying more, you're either paying for the name or there's just too much profit being made."
While online-only stores offered some of the lowest prices, most won't ship you a big selection all at once, so you can't examine stones side-by-side.
Also be aware, slight differences in the four Cs can translate into thousands of dollars, and while some of the Cs do matter, others don't.
For instance, Checkbook Magazine says do buy a diamond with an excellent cut.
"That's really where you are going to get the best bang for your buck. Buying a diamond with a very clear color grade of an E or F or having a very pure diamond in terms of no inclusions or anything like that, those things don't matter nearly as much," Brasler said.
In response to our story, Signet Jewelers, the parent company of Zales, says:
"The trust and satisfaction of our guests is vitally important to us and has been crucial to our ability to serve as a leader in the jewelry industry since 1924. We are dedicated to offering competitive prices to our guests as part of our commitment to exceptional customer service. While it's not possible to comment on the survey given the number of potential pricing variables involved and unknown survey participants, we recommend that customers should always shop at a trusted jeweler and request independent, third-party diamond grading reports when purchasing a loose diamond."
Diamond Buying Checklist from Delaware Valley Consumers' Checkbook Magazine
- Focus on value. You'll get a lot more bang for your extra bucks by buying an ideal-cut diamond. But if you can't otherwise discern differences in quality between two stones, don't pay more for the higher-quality stone. Most shoppers should avoid paying extra for diamonds with color grades above F or with clarity scores better than SI1.
- Stick with GIA-certified stones. If the store can tell you only that a diamond is "certified," without a designation from the GIA or other reputable organization, ask to see something else. Many other certifications tell you nothing about stone quality.
- Compare prices. You'll find huge store-to-store price differences for comparable diamonds. When our undercover shoppers obtained price quotes from local stores and chains for excellent cut round brilliant diamonds, weighing 1.50-1.55 carats, VS1 or VS2, G or H color, some stores offered prices of $18,000 or more while others charged $11,600 or lower. Prices available from online-only sellers were even lower.
- Look at loose stones. Some stores pre-set lousy diamonds to hide flaws.
- Consider alternatives. Sapphires, rubies, and other stones offer similar dazzle at significantly lower prices. Lab-grown diamonds are chemically and physically identical to mined diamonds but cost about 30 percent less.
- Review the return policy. Buy from stores that offer returns with a full refund within 30 days. And pay by credit card. If a store doesn't come through, you'll have the option of disputing the charge with your credit card company.
- Get expensive purchases appraised. Although you'll have to pay about $50 to $200 for an appraisal, it's good insurance against being given-either intentionally or by mistake-a switched-out gem that's of lower quality than what you paid for.
- Shop for just under the carat weight that you consider ideal. For instance, if you want a 1.50 carat diamond, ask to also see a 1.49.
- Beware if a jeweler shows you only Diamond A and Diamond B, and A is clearly of poor quality, and the jeweler shows you nothing in the middle.
Our 6abc viewers have free access to Checkbook Magazine's full report on diamonds until March 5, 2017.
Click here for more information on the 4 Cs and the entire investigation results on pricing. Where does your jeweler fall on the list?
For a limited time until March 5, 2017, our 6abc viewers have free, full to Checkbook Magazine's diamonds report. Click here for full results: https://www.checkbook.org/6abc/diamonds