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How to Buy a Loose Diamond

by David Weliver

Close-up of brilliant cut diamonds on blue background

Learning how to buy a loose diamond for an engagement ring or other piece of diamond jewelry can save you money and will allow you to choose your perfect diamond with exacting precision. Online diamond jewelers make it much easier to compare and select loose diamonds compared to visiting diamond wholesalers in places like the New York City diamond district.

What are loose diamonds?

Loose diamonds are gem-quality diamonds that have not be set in jewelry like an engagement ring, diamond pendant, or diamond stud earnings.

Diamonds come out of the ground rough with jagged uneven edges. Highly-skilled diamond cutters take rough diamonds and cut them into the common diamond shapes used in jewelry (e.g. round, princess, emerald, heart, etc.).

These diamonds are then offered for sale around the world — first to diamond wholesalers and later to jewelers who set them in various pieces of jewelry.

Very small loose diamonds are less valuable and sold in bulk. Jewelers use them as accent jewels on everything from watches to pavé diamond rings.

Larger loose diamonds (a half-carat or more) are more valuable and will be used as the center stone in diamond rings, pendants, and other jewelry.

But consumers can buy loose diamonds too.

Why buy loose diamonds?

Buying a loose diamond rather than pre-made jewelry allows you to purchase a diamond of exact specifications and use it in a custom setting. You may also save money by buying a loose diamond and having a jeweler set it for you.

The prices of diamond rings and jewelry you see for sale in your local jeweler’s display case sell for much more than they cost to make. Jeweler markups on diamond jewelry are breathtaking. The most expensive jewelers are making a 50% profit on some of these items.

If you take the time to learn enough about diamonds (our diamond buying guide is a good place to start), you can save most of that markup by buying a loose diamond either from a diamond wholesaler or an online jeweler.

Diamond prices are set by something called the Rappaport Price Sheet. Because this universal price guide exists, dealers of loose diamonds are careful to set their prices according to the latest pricing guide. They will add a mark-up, of course, but it might be a reasonable 10%, for example, rather than the 50% mark-up at big jewelers.

When jewelers set a diamond in jewelry they can obscure the actual price of the diamond with the setting and sidestones. The more intricate a piece of jewelry, the more difficult it is to value. As a result, the jeweler can charge more.

Every diamond is unique. The 4 Cs of diamonds: Cut, clarity, color, and carat determine a diamond’s rareness and value. The diamonds jewelers most often use in their engagement rings and other jeweler conform to the average buyer’s preference.

The average consumer prefers a larger diamond that sparkles (has a very good or excellent cut). Color and clarity are often slightly less important. At mainstream jewelers, you will find lots of larger diamonds with yellowish tints and a few scratches (inclusions).

If you’re looking for a diamond with high grades in all four Cs, you’ll have better luck shopping for a loose diamond. Also, shopping for an odd combination (such as a colorless diamond of average cut) might save you money as these diamonds are generally less popular, so you can probably get a deal.

Where to buy loose diamonds

There are two places to buy loose diamonds: The diamond rows of large cities (like NYC’s famous diamond district on 47th street) or online jewelers like James Allen, Blue Nile or Brilliant Earth.

The best online jewelers have tens of thousands of loose diamonds for sale.

They provide robust filters to allow you to narrow your search by price, size, color, clarity, cut and shape.

Online jewelers like Blue Nile allow you to easily compare loose diamonds in your price range.
An example of the loose diamond filter tool at Blue Nile.

Most also provide 3D images of each individual stone. All of their diamonds are certified by leading independent grading laboratories. They also offer generous no-questions asked return policies because they want you to be happy with such an important purchase.

One online jeweler — Brilliant Earth — also stands out for its commitment to ethically-sourced diamonds and jewelry. If you want to ensure your diamond is not only conflict-free but tracked using blockchain technology to ensure its origins — Brilliant Earth is the place.

More: Why does diamond certification matter?

If you live in a large city like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and some others, you can also purchase loose diamonds in your local diamond district.

The New York City diamond district is a top destination for loose diamonds.
The New York City Diamond District.

These diamond districts are blocks where multiple diamond dealers have set up shop. They tend to be clustered together to allow customers to comparison shop and because they trade with each other. They also enjoy strength in numbers as security is so important in the diamond business.

If you know what you’re doing and are a shrewd negotiator, buying directly from a diamond wholesaler affords you the chance to buy a loose diamond at the lowest possible price. That said, these stores can be intimidating.

Diamond dealers are notoriously high-pressure salespeople. They haggle all day, everyday. Buying a diamond this way will not be easy, but it will make a great story!

Where to get loose diamonds set

Both online jewelers and diamond wholesalers that sell loose diamonds will set your diamond for you in a variety of different ring styles. If you want a setting that’s highly-customized, there are many independent jewelers that will be happy to set your ring in a custom design.

Online jewelers make designing your own engagement ring incredibly easy with online tools.

They have hundreds of different settings to choose from in both gold and platinum. Most diamonds can be paired with most settings. You can design and preview your setting online. They will then build it and ship it to you within a week or two.

If you want something truly unique, your best bet is to find a local jeweler who does custom designs. You can search for a master jeweler at the Independent Jeweler’s Organization’s website.

You will pay a design fee in addition to the material cost of the ring or other setting, but they will usually be happy to use the loose diamond you have purchased.

Summary

There are pros and cons to buying loose diamonds. You can choose the exact diamond you want, and you may be able to save money. On the other hand, you will have to go through the extra step of designing your own setting and waiting for your ring to be built.

Another advantage to buying a loose diamond that has not yet been set is that you can truly see it in its true form. Sometimes settings are intentionally positioned to hide any flaws or blemishes in the diamond, meaning you see it in the store and then you get it home and under the right lighting, voila! Where did that spot come from?

Loose diamonds hold nothing back. It is a little more difficult to maneuver and must be handled only with tweezers by a skilled salesperson or professional jeweler, who can then show you the loose diamond under a gem scope or glass piece (loupe). A gem scope is the best way to see the innards and exterior of a loose diamond.

Buying a loose diamond eliminates many uncertainties, mainly about the setting. Plus, by not overpaying for an engagement ring setting, you will get exactly the diamond you want; with nothing more, or less.

Recommended Jewelers

James Allen

James Allen logo

James Allen is the most competitive diamond vendor with more than 150,000 loose diamonds in inventory. They have been a leader in selling diamonds online and pioneered 3D imaging so you can see the exact diamond you're buying in exquisite detail. You'll find it hard to beat James Allen in terms of price or selection. Read our James Allen review.

Shop James Allen »

Brilliant Earth

Brilliant Earth logo

Brilliant Earth is the global leader in ethically-sourced jewelry. Brilliant Earth goes above and beyond existing standards to offer “Beyond Conflict Free Diamonds” that they select for their ethical and environmentally-responsible origins. With over 120,000 diamonds in inventory, you can be sure to find your perfect diamond and feel good knowing it was responsibly-sourced. Read our Brilliant Earth review.

Shop Brilliant Earth »

Blue Nile

Blue Nile logo

Blue Nile is the world's largest online jeweler. Their reputation for quality and customer service is unparalleled in the industry. Blue Nile offers free shipping, a 30-day return policy and satisfaction guarantee. Read our Blue Nile review.

Shop Blue Nile »