Zales Review (2021 Edition) The Diamond Store – See The Difference

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This is a super in-depth review of Zales.

In this up-to-date review I’ll break down:

  • Who Zales is
  • What makes Zales unique 
  • Key features
  • Things I like 
  • Thing I don’t like
  • Whether or not their diamonds are worth the price tag
  • And lots more

Let's get started!

Who Is Zales?

zales homepage

For many people, Zales is the first place that comes to mind when thinking of a diamond store.

Zales Corporation is another famous mega jeweler in the United States, and yet another company under the umbrella of jewelry industry giant, Signet Jewelers. Signet owns Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers. They also own many other stores, including our favorite online diamond retailer, James Allen.

Zales is one newest acquisitions to the family, and they have been hard at work integrating the brand into the fold with Kay Jewelers and Jared since then. 

Zales has similarities in line with the other stores when it comes to warranties and other policies, but you are unable to return Zales jewelry to another store like Kay and Jared are able to do with each other. They’re more sister stores, and Zales is a cousin store.

The company has been around for almost 100 years, with the first Zales Jewelers opening up in 1924, at a building in Wichita Falls, Texas. The founders were Morris Zale, William Zale, and Ben Lipshy. At this time, they also sold cameras, small appliances, cookware.

For the next 20 years, they worked on expanding the company, implementing credit policy, delivering great customer service and expansion in both Texas and Oklahoma. They moved their HQ from Wichita Falls to Dallas, Texas.

In 2014, Signet bought Zales Corporation and it remains as one of the most popular jewelry stores in America today.

What Makes Zales Stand Out?

Zales may have started and continues to flourish as a brick and mortar jewelry store, they continue to develop their website. Still, when compared to major online-only diamond retailers, they are still lacking in many areas.

Since Sterling bought Zales, the mission of the company is to “Celebrate Life and Express Love”. This concept is best served face-to-face with a Zales associate. In a Zales store, they focus on making you part of the family. The whole gimmick is about creating customers for life.

Unfortunately, business models like this don’t do well in an ecommerce setting. Online diamond retailers are for those who simply want to purchase without any kind of sales pitch or having to go into the store.

While the personal feel of family isn’t evident online, Zales still remains a popular place to purchase from online because of the clicks and bricks business model.

Before COVID 19 hit, around 70% of people in a study preferred to buy diamond engagement rings and wedding bands in a store. Even if you purchase something the online, the idea of knowing that you’re able to conveniently return it to a store if it’s not exactly what you pictured comforts many.

Like its cousin stores, Zales also carries a wide inventory both online at Zales.com and in-store. If you’re looking for gemstone or diamond jewelry for more unique tastes, you’re better off going online. Stores mainly carry the items that are the most popular.

They carry one of the largest selections of fine jewelry to include bridal sets, colored gemstone jewelry, charms and charm bracelets, blue diamonds, black diamonds, and gold chains. Online, you can create mother’s necklaces with all different birthstones and actually simulate what it would look like online.

Zales Dedication To Customer Service

Zales customer service both inside the store and online are both nice enough, if you're lucky. The problem with huge jewelry stores and brands is that they have so many people working behind the counters and manning the phones, that you really don't know what kind of attitude you're going to get. 

What really bothers me about Zales customer service is that the Customer Care Team aren't gemologist or even trained in diamonds themselves. They're trained to handle issues and problems, like chat support, rather than guidance or deal out diamond knowledge.

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You can book a session with a consultant, but only managers and assistant managers have any real training and it's not gemology either. 

I struck up a conversation with a representative form Customer Care trying to ask some questions about the build a ring options. 

According to our conversation, it looks like my wish to create a personally designed ring online is halted by Zales. While you can create a ring online, doesn't mean you should. Without being able to carefully choose your diamond grades, you're missing out on tons of savings.

And if you want a lifetime warranty, you'll have to get it in store or your ring will be without a warranty. You only have 30 days to purchase one too. 

Zales Shopping Experience

So, what can you expect when shopping with Zales? Here's the general rundown on how the average process should go. It CAN be as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4.  Note that different items may take longer than others. 

1. Picking Your Diamond

There are two ways to build an engagement ring online with Zales: The Design Suite and the Vera Wang Custom. Vera Wang is a line of designer engagement rings carried by Zales and select Kay stores. We'll go through both options. 

Design Suite

Zales and Kay have the same concept for building a ring online, but just titled it differently. Kay and Jared both allow you to choose loose diamonds on their website, so I suspect Zales is en route to offer the same thing down the road in an effort to keep up with the competition. 

This creator doesn't allow you to choose from individual loose diamonds, so the process is pretty quick and straightforward. You don't get to pick your exact diamond grades, like an SI1 or VS1 clarity grade. They also don't allow you to choose a colorless color grade and only offer the choice of near colorless. 

You are given 8 options to choose from when picking a carat weight. Unfortunately, you're only given the most popular carat weights to choose from, not by carat points.

By choosing a .91 carat diamond instead of a 1 carat diamond, you will find there's a couple hundred dollars difference, but no visible difference. This is one of the secrets to diamond buying that the big guys don't want you to have that option. 

The color grade is already set for you as I, which is near colorless grade. Typically, near colorless is a great option, but it looks immaculate only on an ideal cut diamond. And since we don't get the option of any kind of a cut grade, a near colorless diamond might not look great- especially if you've chosen a large carat weight. 

The clarity grades that are offered are the choices of I1- Included, SI2 Slightly Included, and  VS2 Very Slightly Included. Zales only sells I1 diamond engagement rings in store and online in preset rings.

I've selected a 1 carat round cut diamond with the VS2/I clarity and color grade. Because the Design Suite doesn't separate the price of diamond and mounting, we'll go ahead and price it after selecting the rest of the mounting choices. 

Vera Wang Custom

While Zales' Design Suite is the same as Kay Jewelers, the Vera Wang Custom is unique to Zales services. You are actually given additional diamond shape choices to include both pear and emerald cut diamonds. You also are able to select multiple colored stones as your center stone. 

You get to choose your carat weight through a little dropdown menu and are offered the choice of 1.4, 1/2, 1, 1.5, and 2 carat center stones. Your choices for clarity grades are SI2 or VS2. Strangely, they tell you absolutely nothing about the color grade of these diamonds. I'm assuming they'll be near colorless. 

I've selected a simple 1 round cut diamond with the clarity grade of VS2. Just like Design Suite, the Vera Wang Custom process doesn't separate cost of diamond from the mounting.

2. Choosing Your Setting

Now that gone through how to pick your diamond in both the Design Suite and Vera Wang Custom, we can move right to the ring setting. 

Below your diamond options, you'll see the next step in your ring design, the head of the ring. I like that they have visuals to show you how each style looks. 

Design Suite

For the Design Suite, instead of just choosing a ring setting, Zales breaks it down into parts. The first is the ring head. Here's options for ring head style in the Design Suite.

We've selected a simple 4 prong head to help give an idea of the minimum cost of a 1 carat. Here are the mounting choices given:

I've chosen a cathedral setting for my Zales diamond. They offer me an option for a "peekaboo" diamond, which allows a little bit of sparkle beneath your diamond. We'll opt out of that this time. 

Next you can choose if you want side stones in the following styles:

You can choose if you want some detailing on the metal. This designs are often found in vintage style wedding rings. 

I've selected "plain Jane" everything to give a better idea of the minimum price for a 1 carat diamond engagement ring. You're given the options of 10K, 14K, 18K for gold and platinum for the ring metal. I like that they give you the option for 10K, which allows for a little bit cheaper than most places that sell minimum of 14K gold.

Additionally, you can choose a different color ring head than your actual ring setting. Zales offers  rings in white, yellow, and rose gold. It's a shame they don't allow you to choose a platinum head, because it allows for a more sturdy ring, without having the weight of an engagement ring made completely of platinum.

Finally, you can choose a ring size, engraving, and a matching wedding band if you so desire. Right below that, they let you review all the text details of what you've chosen. Here it also tells us that our color grade is I, so we solved that mystery.

The total of our 1 carat diamond solitaire ring with clarity and color grades of VS2/I from the Design Suite is 9,041.92. 

Vera Wang Custom

Vera Wang's signature mark on the LOVE collection features blue sapphires to signify everlasting love. They show you the different kinds of sapphire heads you can choose from.

Because Vera Wang is a ring designer, you'll get to choose the style setting. Vera Wang has some really pretty designs, but we're going to go with the most simple solitaire look. 

The total of our 1 carat round Vera Wang custom diamond engagement ring  with VS2/I grades is $12,531. Here's our finished product:

3. Purchase Process

Before we add our engagement ring to our shopping bag, underneath your review details, there's a shipping notice. It takes 12 business days for processing in addition to your shipping choice. Signatures are required.

Everything looks good, so let’s add it to the cart. Before you check out, you can input any promo codes if you scroll down. Convenient that you can go straight to checkout without even knowing there was a place for a promo. 

You can either proceed to regular checkout using your debit/credit card or you can checkout through Paypal. Zales allows you to ship to store or ship to your home. After you've filled out your contact info, you can pay with any major credit card or you can opt for special financing.

Zales has a few different financing options for you: The Diamond Card, Gordon's Credit Card, and the Pagoda Credit card. The Diamond Card is given at Zales. The Gordon's credit card comes from another jeweler under Zales, Gordon Jewelers. Zales is also the parent company of an ear piercing and jewelry retail store called the Piercing Pagoda. 

The Diamond Card has a couple different options for financing plans. If your purchase meets a minimum of $300 or more, you can do a 6 month plan with zero down that day. If it's $750 or more, you can do a 12 month no interest plan. For an  18 month plan, the purchase must be $3000 and for the 36 month plan, it has to be a $1500 minimum.

4. Return Policy

Zales has a 30 day (from ship date) full refund or 60 day exchange policy. You have the option to return your online order through the mail or to a store. Mailed in returns are done online at the website and you are provided a return shipping label.

Exchanges have to be completed in-store. 

Watches have to be returned within 30 days. All original paperwork such as a receipt and any certifications that came with it.

The return policy allows you to return your Zales purchase within 30 days (from ship date) for a full refund to the original form of payment. If on an LLL card, it’ll reverse. If you paid in cash, you’ll more than likely have to wait 7-10 business days for a check from Home Office.

If you pay debit/credit card, it needs to go back to that card. Be aware of card cutoffs and expirations when purchasing because it can be a big pain to get that refund. If you’re planning on exchanging your purchase for something different, they have a 60 day exchange policy.

You can only do exchanges in store. Watches have to be returned 30 days. Note that custom designed merchandise or engraved can’t be returned at all

What Did I Like About Zales?

There's a lot of things about Zales that I feel could be done better, but there are some things I like. Check it out below.

Warranties

Zales has a couple different warranties to be aware of. Unfortunately, there's no way to add a lifetime warranty online to either the Design Suite or Vera Wang. You'll have to go into a store to get one added on. 

Zales offers customers a lifetime warranty that's dependent on them coming into the store to get their diamonds checked. A sales associate will clean and inspect your jewelry and record it.

As long as you're up to date with 6 month inspections, if you lose a diamond, they'll replace it with the same or better quality. Lab diamonds are replaced with lab diamonds.

Keep in mind that if you've got an I1 diamond as your center stone, you'll have an entirely different stone with new inclusion placements that might not be up to your liking. But hey, it's better than no diamond at all I suppose. 

The Jewelry Protection Plan is a lifetime warranty that you can purchase. The price is dependent on the price of the item. Most diamond and gemstone jewelry in Zales has the option of purchasing this warranty. The JPP covers all metal work and routine maintenance.

It can cover rhodium plating, resizing, mending a break in shank, soldering gold chains, soldering rings, retipping prongs, and tightening stones. 

While I prefer a free lifetime warranty that covers routine maintenance like James Allen, but I do really like how many more types of repairs Zales can do under that warranty.

I also am glad they at least have the option to purchase it. 

Blue Nile doesn't offer any kind of lifetime warranty that covers routine maintenance, so I think it's nice to have that option. 

Unfortunately they don't display the costs of their JPP, but they will be similar to Kay's ESP costs, except probably a little cheaper because Zales is considered lower-tier than Kay or Jared. 

Trade-In Policy

Zales allows you to trade-in any bridal set, solitaire ring, solitaire earrings, necklace or solitaire pendant to be eligible for an upgrade. You must select a new piece of diamond jewelry that is 2x the price of your eligible trade in as per your receipt. You can actually get up to 50% off a higher priced piece of jewelry.

Lab-created diamonds and colored gemstone jewelry are not able to be traded in. 

To take advantage of the trade-in service, you have to go into a store. If you're unable, that whole selling point becomes moot. Hopefully they will make a trade-in system online. James Allen actually allows you to trade-in your diamond and even partners with a company to help you sell your own diamonds from home. 

Personalized Jewelry

If you're looking for affordable personalized jewelry, look no further than Zales. They offer many options for birthstone rings, pendants, and other personalized jewelry. If you're looking for gold-plated name plates or engravings, they have plenty of options to choose from. 

I really like that you can actually sample what a personalized ring looks like. You can pick the birth month of children, siblings, or other relationship. It'll show you whether or not the stone is lab created. You get to choose your metal as well as the karat. These are offered in sterling silver if you're looking for cost-efficiency. If you'd like to add names engraved on it, it'll look like below: 

This feature is so neat and fun, plus it helps you really get a good idea if you want to purchase it. Now, if only their build-a-ring options were this transparent and detailed. It's clear that Zales has the capabilities to make your online order fully customizable, but won't with their most expensive items- their bridal jewelry.

What Didn't I Like About Zales?

Like every jewelry store, there are things we find that we’re not too excited about. Zales is no different. Here are the things we don’t like about Zales.

Build-A-Ring Process

If I've learned anything, you don't want to do the build a ring process with Zales, at least with the Design Suite. We've already done the play by play on how to build it, but here's why you don't want to. 

The diamond grade selections are too broad. By narrowing your choices and not allowing you to toggle between features, you are being sucked in by the industry. Some SI1 clarity diamonds are eye-clean, but cost less than an SI2. Pair that with a diamond that weighs .89 carat points and you can save yourself a couple hundred. 

Even more than that, say you can't afford a $9,000 ring. Many of us can't. Most of the preset engagement rings in-store and online have an I1 clarity grade. I1 is included, which means there can be natural inclusions or blemishes on your center stone.

While these are natural, it's best to pick a diamond where the inclusions don't impede sight. Some sit on the edge of the diamond, or where a prong might be in a setting. 

But since you can't choose your actual diamond at Zales, would you be happy paying $5000 for the same ring with one of these diamonds randomly being picked?

james allen round cut loose diamond
james allen round cut loose diamond
james allen round cut loose diamond
james allen round cut loose diamond

Probably not. 

A couple look decent, but the other two, not so much. But the truth is, any one of these I1 clarity diamonds could be your center stone. The Vera Wang Custom doesn't have I1 diamond as a choice, but you can still find dark inclusions on your SI2 diamond as well. VS2 diamonds have small inclusions, but you shouldn't see them on there. 

If you must build-a-ring with Zales, I'd rather you do it with the Vera Wang custom. The design is beautiful, but the price is steep. Any ring made by a high-end designer will be more expensive than a ring. Granted, you could build a ring similar to that, but you won't have that signature sapphire

Overall, the restrictions Zales puts with their diamond grades, the fact that you don't know what the center stone is going to look like, and the really high prices don't make me comfortable as diamond buying. It's too much of a gamble. I'd rather go with what I can see at James Allen.

Reputation

Sterling Jewelers has had quite a few scandals over the years, from employee policies to in-store policies. While most of the really bad press was directed at Kay and Jared before Zales came into the fold, Zales has inherited the same reputation as the other two. 

Many people say these companies are scams. The biggest complaint in all three of the stores is regarding ring repairs and the repair shops. Often times, people spend two weeks getting their ring resized to come back and find out that it's the wrong size.

Even worse, some people have said they've gone to pick up their diamond ring from a store to find out it was the wrong ring

Some other problems people have had with Zales and other affiliates is issues with their credit card and customer service problems. You can find horror stories of issues on Zales review sites like TrustPilot, Facebook, and the Better Business Bureau. 

While I realize that people are in control of the customer service, it's clear that these issues are way too common for you to put your trust in them. It doesn't instill confidence in the company as a potential customer, does it?

Why does Zales and the other remain to be the most popular and profiting jewelry stores then? Because they can go into the store. But most of them don't realize that they are overpaying for poor quality diamonds. Let's see how much. 

How's Zale's Pricing?

Since Zales and our favorite online diamond retailer James Allen create rings online a little differently, I'm going to create a ring as close as I can get to the 14K white gold 1 carat round diamond engagement ring with a color and clarity of I/VS2 I created at Zales using the design suite. 

I've created a 14K white gold 1 carat round diamond engagement ring with a color and clarity of I/VS2 on JamesAllen.com. It is a cathedral setting that comes with a GIA certificate. It's worth noting that you don't have the option to select a certified diamond. Zales does offer certified preset rings by both the GIA and IGI, but they are very expensive. 

14k solitaire white gold

However...

We only recommend buying diamond certified by either the GIA or AGS. IGI certified diamonds are okay, but they have lower grading restrictions. This means that an IGI certified diamond that has a clarity rating of VS2 may actually be a lower grade when certified by the GIA, which is the standard for all things diamond and gemstone.

GIA report

Comparing the two diamonds, here is what I see. I was able to pick through multiple loose diamonds and identify the most affordable option. While the cathedral setting on James Allen's diamond ring is set lower than Zales', there's no way it accounts for the immense difference in price. 

James Allen's diamond ring is $4720 at full price. It's currently on sale for even cheaper, but I thought we'd do Zales a solid. James Allen's ring is $4,321.92 cheaper than Zales, and it comes with a GIA cert and you're able to pick and choose your own diamond. It's also set lower than Zales' cathedral setting, so it's less likely to snag. 

Additionally, if you want your ring warranty, you'll have to pay another $449.99 for a lifetime warranty. James Allen offers you a free lifetime warranty that covers all the essential routine maintenance.

With how much we've saved, we could literally buy another diamond with the same diamond grades and still have a little bit of cash left over. Why would you pay more for a ring that is lower quality than less for a higher quality one? You wouldn't. So don't.

Zales Bottom Line: Best Personalized Birthstone Jewelry

Zales does win an award, but when it comes to their build a ring process, it's just a participation trophy. There are many online diamond retailers that have a superior process to customizing rings online, with better quality and better prices. 

But what our online retailers don't have, is the awesome personalized jewelry creator on their site. I talked a lot about this feature where it allows you to create different pieces of birthstone jewelry. 

Even if you're not a mother, there are different reason and symbolizations you might use this. Many people create matching couples rings. Whether it's romantic, sisterly, friendship, or just for yourself, the options are endless. 

I love that you can play around with the system and reorder birthstones. I can see everything in detail and know exactly how it's going to turn out. While I can't feel confident in building an engagement ring at Zales, it will definitely be a go-to for affordable personalized jewelry. 

Huge Holiday Sale: James Allen, our #1 ranked online diamond retailer, is currently offering 25% OFF engagement ring settings and more. Plus, for the first time ever they have 3% OFF on all Earth-created diamonds. Click Here to combine savings from these amazing offers.

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