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Chicago Tribune

How to buy an engagement ring online

By: Debbie Carlson

What's held back online fine-jewelry sales is consumer concerns about legitimacy, said Jennie Pastor, chief executive officer and founder of Kavador, an online jewelry marketplace that represents independent jewelry stores.

That's starting to change, and experts have tips on how to buy properly.

The level of trust between consumer and retailer must be significantly higher than with other types of retail, Pastor said. It's not like buying a toaster; people spend thousands of dollars buying an engagement ring.

"Obviously the internet is rife with scams and fake sites, but with fine jewelry specifically, buyers really do rely heavily on the integrity of the seller because even when they receive the piece, how many will look at the stone and … know for sure it is a diamond and not a cubic zirconia or crystal?" she said.

Kavador's Pastor and George Peralta, jewelry sales manager at M.S. Rau Antiques, in New Orleans, which sells fine jewelry online and at its physical location, said purchasers should use common practices to verify an online retailer — read social-media reviews, see if it is registered with the Better Business Bureau, find out how long the site has been around, check that the articles on the press page are legitimate.

Also make sure the gemstones — i.e. diamonds, emeralds — are certified by a third party, like the Gemological Institute of America, they said.

Josh Holland, director of brand experience for Blue Nile, a leading online diamond and fine jewelry retailer, said certification from GIA is "the gold standard of diamond certification."

"The quality of diamond with that report is considered guaranteed," he said.

After verifying the store, the steps for buying a ring are similar, online or offline, Holland said.

"It's very easy to get smart about buying a diamond. I'm not talking about being a gemologist. Knowing the basic four C's (carat weight, cut, color, clarity) and where you can play a little bit — if I get a lesser color grade, I can get a better cut to sparkle more. Those things are easy to understand by doing basic research online," he said.

Reputable online sellers give as much information as possible and invest in high-quality photography to show as many aspects as possible of the ring and gemstone, and a store should be able to answer questions, they said.

Security during shipping is critical. Verify the seller is insuring the ring in transit, using major couriers and that someone must sign for the package. If the company doesn't offer free shipping, Peralta said, this is one time when it is worth it to pay for expedited or overnight shipping.

Verify the return policy. Even the best photography isn't the same as seeing the ring in person.

"Like a fingerprint, each single diamond has its own life. That's what makes it special," Peralta said.

Be aware of the return-policy period, Pastor and Holland said. If the return period is before the proposal, Pastor said ask the seller to agree to extend that return period. "Any reputable fine jeweler will be happy to do that. It has to be liked; she can't have to keep it because you missed the return date," Pastor said.

Pastor and Holland said their returns are very low, under 10 percent. Holland said buyers can return the ring for any reason, although he said one of the top reasons for returns has nothing to do with the product.

"(It's) she says no," he said.

Debbie Carlson is a freelance writer.



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