This comprehensive analysis of Zales provides a thorough look at:
- Zales’ identity
- Unique aspects that distinguish Zales
- Essential features
- Positive aspects
- Negative aspects
- The value proposition of their diamonds
- And additional details.
This current evaluation will explore all of these topics and more. Let’s begin!
Who Is Zales?
When it comes to diamond stores, Zales is often the first to comes in mind for many people. Zales is a renowned major jewelry company in the United States. Plus, it is part of the giant jewelry industry, Signet Jewelers, along with Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers. Signet also owns other different stores, including the well-known James Allen, one of the most reputable and reliable online diamond retailers.
Since being acquired by Signet, Zales has been working hard to integrate its brand with Jared and Kay Jewelers. While Zales has a few similarities in policies, such as warranties, it differs from its sister stores in that you cannot return Zales jewelry pieces to different store like Jared and Kay Jewelers.
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Zales has been in business for almost a century, with its first store opening in Wichita Falls, Texas in 1924. Initially, the store sold cameras, small appliances, and cookware, but over the years, the founders Ben Lipshy, Morris Zale, and William Zale, expanded the business, implemented credit policies, and provided excellent customer service. Eventually, the company moved its headquarters to Dallas, Texas.
Today, Signet’s acquisition of Zales in 2014 has solidified the company as a renowned jewelry stores in the United States. While it may be a cousin store to Kay and Jared, Zales still stands out as a top destination for those seeking quality jewelry.
What Makes Zales Unique?
Despite starting as a brick and mortar jewelry store, Zales has continued to develop its website. However, the company falls short in different areas in comparison to other major online diamond retailers.
Since being acquired by Sterling, Zales’ mission has been to “Celebrate Life and Express Love,” which is best delivered in-person by any Zales associate who has the ability to create a sense of belonging among customers, as if they were members of the same family. This approach, aimed at creating a consumer base for life, doesn’t translate well to e-commerce, which is more geared towards those who prefer a straightforward purchasing experience without sales pitches.
Nevertheless, Zales is still a popular choice for online shoppers due to its clicks and brick business model, which allows customers to return their purchases to the store if necessary conveniently.
While the personal touch of the in-store experience is missing online, Zales still offers a vast selection of fine jewelry, including different charms and charm bracelets, blue diamonds, bridal sets, colored gemstone jewelry, gold chains and black diamonds. If you’re looking for more unique pieces, the online store is a better bet. In fact, you can even create mother’s necklaces with birthstones and see a simulation of what it looks like online.
Zales Customer Service and Support
Zales’ customer service in-store and online can be hit or miss depending on the luck of the draw. The downside to working with such a large jewelry store is that there are so many employees that you never know the kind of attitude you’ll encounter.
One major issue with their customer service and support is that the Customer Care Team lacks gemological training and knowledge of diamonds. They’re primarily trained to deal with customer issues and provide support instead of offering guidance or diamond expertise.
Clients have the option to reserve a consultation, yet genuine expertise lies solely within managers and assistant managers, who possess knowledge unrelated to gemology.
During a conversation I had with a Customer Care representative about Zales’ build-a-ring alternatives, it became apparent that the online customization process is limited. Zales allows you to create the ring online, but the lack of options to choose your diamond’s grade means you may miss out on significant savings.
Furthermore, if you need an unlimited warranty for your ring, you must purchase it their physical store within 30 days. Otherwise, the ring will not be covered by the warranty.
Therefore, what kind of experience should you anticipate when making a purchase at Zales? Here’s a general rundown of how the process typically goes, and it can typically be straightforward. However, keep in mind that some items can take longer to process than others.
Picking the Diamond
Zales offers two different ways to design a perfect ring online – the Vera Wang Custom and the Design Suite. The latter is a selection of exquisite designer engagement rings exclusively available at a few Kay stores and Zales. Let’s explore both options in detail.
The Design Suite is a quick and straightforward process that does not allow the customer to choose individual loose diamonds. Instead, you can select from 8 popular carat weights, but you cannot choose by carat points or diamond grades such as SI1 and VS1 clarity. Moreover, the color grade is pre-set as near colorless, which may not look great if you have chosen a large carat weight and the diamond cut is not ideal.
By opting for a slightly lower carat weight such as 0.91 instead of 1, you can save a couple of hundred dollars without any visible differences. This is a secret that most of the big players in the diamond industry may not want you to know. Zales currently offers I1, SI2, and VS2 clarity grades for diamonds, with only I1 diamond rings available for sale online and in-store.
It is worth noting that Kay and Jared offer a similar concept of designing an engagement ring online, allowing you to select loose diamonds on their websites. It is likely that Zales may follow suit to stay competitive in the future.
I opted for round cut diamonds with a 1 carat weight, and a I/VS2 color and clarity grade. However, since the Design Suite does not itemize the cost of the mounting and diamond separately, we will have to determine the price once we have selected the mounting options.
Although the Design Suite is similar to that of Kay’s, Zales offers a unique option called the Vera Wang Custom. This service provides extra diamond shape alternatives, such as emerald cut or and pear cut, and the ability to select colored gemstones as the center stone.
When using the Vera Wang Custom option, you can select your desired carat weight from a dropdown menu, which includes 1/2, 1, 1.4, 1.5, or 2 carat center stones.
The clarity grade choices are limited to SI2 and VS2. However, unlike the Design Suite, they do not provide any information about the diamonds color grade, but it’s safe to assume they will be almost colorless.
For my ring, I have chosen a typical 1 carat round-shaped diamond with a VS2 clarity grade. However, similar to the Design Suite, the cost of the diamond and mounting are not separated in the Vera Wang Custom process.
Choosing the Setting
After reviewing how to select the diamond in the Vera Wang Custom and Design Suite alike, let’s proceed to the next step in designing your ring – enter ring settings.
Once you have chosen the diamond options, you will find the various ring head styles available for your selection. Zales provides visual aids to help you see how different styles look.
In the Design Suite, Zales breaks down the ring setting into different parts, beginning with the ring head. There are various options available for different ring head styles, and we have chosen a typical 4 prong settings head to give you a rough idea of the cost of a 1 carat diamond on the lower side of the pricing spectrum.
Next, Zales provides mounting choices, and we have opted for the cathedral setting without the “peekaboo” diamond.
You can also choose from different side stone styles and metal detailing, such as those in vintage-style rings. We have chosen plain options for these features to provide a more accurate understanding of the lowest cost associated with a 1-carat diamond ring.
Zales offers options for the ring metal, including 10K, 14K, and 18K gold, as well as platinum. It’s worth noting that Zales offers different options for solid 10K gold, which is more affordable than other places that offer a minimum of solid 14K gold.
You can also choose another color for the ring head other than the original ring setting, with options including rose gold, white, and yellow. Unfortunately, platinum is not available as a ring head option, despite its sturdiness and lighter weight.
Lastly, you can select an engraving, ring size, and a wedding band to match if the need arises. After reviewing your selections, you will receive a breakdown of the details, including the color grade of your diamond, which for our selected ring is I.
The total cost of a diamond solitaire ring that weighs a carat with I/VS2 color and clarity grades at the Design Suite goes for around $9,041.92.
In the Vera Wang Custom collection, you’ll notice the signature touch of blue sapphires, which represent eternal love. There are various sapphire head styles available to choose from.
As Vera Wang is a renowned ring designer, you’ll have the opportunity to select a style setting for your ring. While there are many beautiful designs to choose from, we have opted for a regular solitaire look.
The total cost of a round diamond engagement ring that weighs a carat at Vera Wang Custom collection, with VS2/I color and clarity grades goes for $12,531. Here is our final product:
Underneath the review details, you’ll find a shipping notice before adding the ring to your shopping bag. The processing time takes 12 working days, and signatures are also required for delivery.
Assuming everything is satisfactory, you can proceed to the checkout by adding promo codes in the given field. It’s convenient that the promo code field is not obvious, yet accessible.
For checkout, you have the option to use the credit/debit card or PayPal. Zales provides two shipping options: home delivery or in-store pickup. After filling out your contact information, you get to pay using a credit card. Alternatively, you can choose from several financing options available.
Zales offers a range of financing options, including The Pagoda Credit Card, Diamond Card, and Gordon’s Credit Card. What’s more, the Diamond Card can be obtained from Zales and offers a few financing plans. You can choose a 6-month premium with zero down for purchases over $300, a 12-month plan with no interest for purchases over $750, 18-month premium plan for purchases over $3,000, or a 36-month premium plan for purchases over $1,500.
Zales provides a flexible return policy, allowing you to return your purchase for a full refund within 30 days (from shipping date) or exchange it within 60 days. You can return the order you made online either by mail or in-store. For mailed returns, you can go to their site and generate the shipping label for your return.
Exchanges, however, must be done in-store. In the case of watches, they give their clients an option to initiate a return is available for a duration of 30 days along with all the original paperwork, including receipts and certifications.
The refund policy ensures a complete reimbursement will be provided, returning the funds to the initial payment method within 30 days (from ship date). If you used an LLL card, the refund will be reversed, while cash payments may take up to 7 to 10 working days to receive a cheque from their Home Office. If you paid with a credit or debit card, the refund must be returned to the card, so it’s crucial to be aware of any card cutoffs or expirations when making the purchase.
For those planning to exchange their purchase and get something else, the 60-day exchange policy applies. Please remember that custom-designed and engraved items are non-returnable.
What I Like About Zales
There are some areas where Zales could improve, there are also aspects that I find appealing. See below for more information.
Zales provides different warranties, but adding an unlimited guarantee online to Vera Wang or the Design Suite is not possible. You must visit the jewelry store to get it added. The lifetime warranty is dependent on in-store diamond checkups, cleaning, and inspection by any sales associate.
With six-month inspections, the lifetime warranty covers diamond replacement with either the same or even better quality, and lab created diamonds are usually replaced with lab created diamonds. However, if the center stone is an I1 diamond, the new inclusions may not be as per your standards, but it’s still better than not having a diamond.
Zales offers a lifetime Jewelry Protection Plan (JPP) at a price that depends on the item’s cost. For the most part, gemstone and diamond jewelry items have the option to purchase the warranty. The plan covers routine maintenance and metal work, including tightening stones, soldering gold chains, rhodium plating, soldering rings, mending a break in shank, resizing, and retipping prongs.
James Allen’s lifetime warranty at no extra cost covers all routine maintenance. It’s the most preferable warranty but I appreciate that Zales offers different types of repairs under its warranty and gives you a chance to buy it.
In contrast, Blue Nile doesn’t provide any unlimited guarantee that covers any routine maintenance. The cost of Zales’ JPP is likely the same as that of Kay’s ESP, but slightly cheaper since Zales is lower-tier as compared to Jared or Kay Jewelers.
Zales offers the option to exchange any solitaire pendant, bridal set, solitaire earrings, solitaire ring or necklace for qualification towards an upgrade. It is necessary to choose a new diamond jewelry item whose value is twice that of your qualifying trade-in, as indicated on your purchase documentation. You have the opportunity to enjoy a discount of up to 50% on a more expensive piece of jewelry.
However, you must visit a physical store in order to utilize the trade-in facility and make the most of its benefits. If you are unable to visit a store, this benefit is not applicable. It would be great if they introduce an online trade-in system. In contrast, James Allen allows the customer to trade-in the diamond and also collaborates with different companies to help sell the diamonds at the comfort of your home.
Zales is the perfect destination for reasonably priced personalized jewelry. They have a wide range of options for pendants, birthstone rings, and other different customized jewelry pieces. If you’re interested in gold-plated nameplates and engravings, Zales offer plenty of choices to suit your taste.
One feature that I find particularly appealing is that Zales allows you to sample what personalized rings would look like. Plus, you can choose the birth month of loved ones, children, or siblings and see whether the gemstone is lab-grown or not.
You can also select your preferred metal type and karat. Sterling silver is an option if you are looking for a cost-effective alternative. Additionally, if you would like to add engraved names on the ring, you can preview it beforehand.
The feature is not only innovative and fun, but it also provides customers with a rough idea of what to expect before making a purchase. I wish the build-a-ring option was as detailed and transparent as this. Zales typically has the capability to make online orders fully customizable, they choose not to do so for the most expensive merchandize, such as bridal jewelry pieces.
What I Hate About Zales
Similar to other jewelry stores, Zales also has some items that may not excite us. Here are some aspects we are not particularly fond of when it comes to Zales.
The Build-A-Ring Process
Based on my experience, I would advise against using Zales’ Design Suite to build a ring. Although we have previously provided a step-by-step guide on different ways of building it, there are several reasons why you might want to avoid this process.
Firstly, the options for diamond grades are too general. By restricting your options and denying you the ability to switch between features, the industry may be taking advantage of you. Some SI1 diamonds clarity grades are eye-clean and cheaper as compared to an SI2, and by pairing this with diamonds weighing 0.89 carats, you could save a few hundred dollars.
Moreover, let’s suppose you’re unable to procure a ring valued at $9,000. A significant portion of individuals find themselves in a similar predicament. The majority of prearranged engagement rings found both offline and on the web tend to possess an I1 clarity rating. The I1 grade denotes the presence of inherent flaws or imperfections within the primary gemstone, known as blemishes or natural inclusions.
These inclusions are natural, it is preferable to select diamonds where they do not obstruct vision. Some inclusions are located on the diamond’s edge or where the prong may be situated in a perfect setting.
However, since you cannot choose your diamonds at Zales, will you be content with paying $5,000 for the same ring with a diamond chosen at random, one that might include one of these inclusions?
Most likely not. While a few of them may appear acceptable, the others are not as appealing. However, the reality is that any of the I1 clarity diamond stones could be selected as the center stone.
Even if the Vera Wang Custom does not offer an I1 diamond option, you could find darker inclusions on the SI2 diamond. VS2 diamonds may have minor inclusions, but they should not be visible.
If you need to use Zales’ build-a-ring feature, I suggest doing it with Vera Wang custom design. It is stunning, but also quite expensive. Any ring designed by a top tier designer might be relatively expensive as compared to a regular ring. Although you could construct a similar ring, you will not have that iconic sapphire.
In general, I am uncomfortable with the limitations Zales imposes on the diamond grades. However, the reality that you are uncertain about what your center stone will look like along with the exorbitant prices. It is a daunting wager for diamond buying. I would prefer choose what I can clearly see at James Allen.
Sterling Jewelers has experienced numerous controversies throughout its history, encompassing employee guidelines and in-store protocols. While the bulk of the negative publicity was primarily associated with Kay and Jared prior to Zales’ involvement, Zales has now assumed an identical standing as its counterparts.
Many individuals consider these businesses to be fraudulent. The most common complaint across all three stores pertains to the repair shops and ring repairs. People frequently spend more than a week having the ring resized, only to discover that it is still the incorrect size upon return.
To make matters worse, some customers have reported arriving at the store to collect the diamond ring, only to discover that it is not the right ring altogether.
Other grievances with Zales Jewelers and its affiliates include issues with their customer service and credit cards. You can also find numerous horror stories regarding these problems on sites that review Zales such as the Better Business Bureau, Trustpilot, and Facebook.
While it is true that most people are responsible for customer service, these problems are far too frequent to instill trust in the company especially as a potential prospect.
So why Zales and its affiliates are still the most popular and profitable jewelry stores? Because customers can visit the store in person. However, many of them are unaware that they might be paying exorbitant prices for subpar quality diamonds. Let us examine precisely how much.
To compare the online ring creation processes of Zales and James Allen, I attempted to recreate the 14K gold 1 carat round-shaped diamond ring with I/VS2 clarity and color that I designed on Zales’ platform.
On JamesAllen.com, I created a similar ring with the GIA certificate and the cathedral setting, but unlike Zales, there was no option to choose a certified diamond. While Zales offers preset rings certified by GIA and IGI, they can be pricey.
However, it’s important to note that we recommend diamonds with certifications from AGS and GIA, as IGI has looser grading standards. Thus, IGI-certified diamonds with a VS2 clarity rating might actually have a low grade especially when it has a GIA certification, the industry standard.
Upon comparing these two rings, I observed that the diamond ring from James Allen was significantly cheaper than Zales, even though their online ring designs differ slightly. James Allen’s ring, priced at $4720, is even on sale currently. However, I decided to give Zales the benefit of the doubt and recreated the same ring on James Allen’s platform, which was $4,321.92 relatively cheaper as compared to Zales, and you have the option to choose and pick your own diamonds.
Moreover, the cathedral setting of James Allen’s ring is set lower, making it less susceptible to snag, and it comes with an unlimited warranty that covers all necessary routine maintenance at no extra cost. In comparison, Zales charges an extra $449.99 for a lifetime warranty.
Considering the amount of money saved, you can even get another diamond with similar grades and have some money left. It doesn’t make sense to pay more for a lower-quality ring when you can purchase a high quality one for less. Therefore, it’s better to opt for the James Allen ring rather than the Zales ring.
Conclusion – Best Customized Birthstone Jewelry
Zales may have won an accolade, but the entire build-a-ring process is lackluster compared to most online diamond retailers with superior customization options at better prices and quality.
However, what sets Zales apart is their fantastic customized jewelry creator that lets you design birthstone jewelry for any occasion or symbolization, including matching rings for couples, friendship, romantic, or sisterly bonds.
The endless options and ability to reorder birthstones provide confidence in the final product. While Zales may not be the best choice for building a ring, it is an affordable option for personalized jewelry. When it comes to purchasing diamonds online, it’s best to compare Zales and James Allen to ensure the value for money per carat.