Buyer Beware: 8 Tips on Purchasing Fine Gemstones Online

Image of modified yellow beryl ImagePurchasing gemstones online can be more complicated and difficult than purchasing in person, but purchasing in person means visiting a retail store where prices may be much higher and selection limited.  This online price advantage can have numerous disadvantages.  Viewing a gemstone in person allows one to visually see the brilliance, polish, cutting, color, inclusions, and much more.  Color is VERY important in not only colored gemstones, but also diamonds.

Color can be affected by the wavelengths available in existing lighting. Light sources may make the same gemstone look entirely differently from one light source to another.  In everyday life, we encounter various forms of light: fluorescent, incandescent, halogen, tungsten and many others.  There are companies that specialize in just lighting.  For example, the lights in your local meat market are specifically designed to show a nice red meat color vs. a standard light source that may show a more brownish color.  Jewelry stores utilize lights that contain more wavelengths (full spectrum) that show the dispersion in diamonds; they may enhance diamonds, but may not do justice to other gemstones.  Alexandrite is an excellent example of how important lighting can be, as its body color typically changes from a greenish to purplish under fluorescent and incandescent light, respectively.

Image comparing advertised gemstone image and received gemstonePhotos appearing online may not show an accurate color for a particular gemstone or the photo might have been manipulated to show the gemstone as one will never see it under any normal lighting conditions!  One must also recognize that everyone’s computer monitor will vary in color; and colors displayed can be quite different from the actual color.  I have personally observed this while traveling and accessing my website from another computer.  I am very well aware of what the color of the gem should be and have been surprised and shocked at the color displayed in front of me!  I had one customer/investor who made large purchases annually; he adjusted his monitor so that the gemstones he received would match the colors on our website.  In this way, he was seeing a more accurate color online to what he was actually purchasing and therefore, what he would receive.

It helps to have a decently clear photograph of gemstones.  Frequently one can easily identify issues between the description of a gemstone and the displayed photo. Macro photography may show inclusions if present; this doesn’t necessarily mean that one can see these issues with the naked eye.  However, in some cases, some sellers have described their colored gemstones as having a clarity of VVS (clarity typically used in discussing Diamonds), or Flawless, and when one views the photo, one sees a gemstone that has a look of cracked ice, a far cry from being VVS or Flawless and therefore equivalent to being off by 4-6 clarity grades!

Image of advertised Green Tourmaline with flaws visible

Points  to Consider Prior to Purchase:

1.) Be aware of photo manipulation. One can sometimes see that the hue of the gemstone is also present in the background. This could be sign that the photo was enhanced. If the color is very unusual or unheard of for a particular gemstone, be suspicious.  (Our forte is the unique, unusual, one-of-a-kind and high end color; whilst in our case, the material is genuine, always do your homework.  Also any issues would be covered by our Lifetime Guarantee.)

2.) Read the descriptions of carat weight, color, cutting, clarity and other information carefully and thoroughly.

3.) If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. $10,000 gemstones cannot be purchased for $0.99.  (Plus $10 for shipping!)

4.) A cert could be beneficial to identify the gemstone, however, do some research online to verify that the name of the lab on the cert is indeed legitimate. I have seen some certs on diamonds from a company called GIAA or something similar. This is just too close in name/acronym to GIA (Gemological Institute of America) a respectable lab.  Perhaps this other lab may be hoping one confuses GIAA with GIA. (Of course, GIAA might be a fine lab, but most consumers feel comfortable with GIA certs vs. most other gem labs.)

5.) Treatment/Enhancement Disclosure is necessary.

6.) Are you purchasing from a website that is known to have fine gemstones or are they lower end gemstones?  (It would be unusual for a company selling lower end, lower prices goods, to have an exceptional high end item, but then again, it is not impossible.)

7.) Color is EVERYTHING. Throw in a modifier to the main color, make it lighter or darker, and the price per carat can plummet.

8.) I personally try not purchase gemstones that look too dark from a few feet away. Ideally, I seek those gems whose color can be seen from 10 feet or more away.  There is also nothing like a glowing gemstone!

Having over 30 years experience in the gem trade, I have attempted to make purchasing on my website easy and have based my policies on what I would personally desire when making such a purchase online.  These are some of the following steps that I have personally taken to make shopping for gemstones online easier for our customers:

  • I have attempted to insure the color of the gemstone that we see on our office computer is as accurate as possible, but cannot guarantee others see the same color.
  • A decent photo of a gemstone is important, and I spend time taking numerous photos of a gemstone and choose the best one.  If I feel it does not accurately reflect the gemstone beauty, color, etc. I typically also state that fact.  Some of the older photos are not the best, and will be replaced in the future or if there is an inquiry by a customer.
  • The goal has always been to sell a quality item at the best price and that also represents a large savings to the customer.  Prices are based on wholesale prices and range from below wholesale, at wholesale or between wholesale and retail, depending on the purchase price.  I personally travel to various parts of the world to buy directly from the mines and as soon as gemstones have been faceted and available for sale.  This gives us a tremendous advantage on price over others.
  • In order to sell the best gemstones, it was necessary to work with cutters who facet our rough, recut or repolish as necessary. We can control the cutting if we are faceting from rough and this makes a tremendous difference as we can facet for beauty and not weight which has been the norm.
  • Responses to emails and phone calls are typically immediate or within a few hours unless on the road selling to stores or traveling abroad.
  • We have been in business for over 30 years and are known for high quality colored gemstones, many of which are unique, unusual, one-of-a-kind and frequently precision faceted.. You have our 100% Customer Satisfaction Guarantee as well as our Lifetime Guarantee – our website has more information.

The gemstone business has changed dramatically over the past 31 years…  I have traveled to many places of the world purchasing gemstones and rough directly from the source, and have had a web presence since 1999.  Even with a degree in gemology from GIA (Gemological Institute of American), it takes time and effort to stay abreast of all the new treatments/enhancements; older ones now permeate the market.  It is always best to purchase from someone who has the reputation, knowledge, discloses treatments/enhancements and who stands behind ALL items sold.


L. Allen Brown is a Gemologist (GIA) with over 30 years of experience in the industry and has traveled to gem producing countries seeking faceted gems and rough at their source. He is CEO of All That Glitters, a Massachusetts based business involved in the importing and faceting of fine quality colored gemstones.

Check out more articles on How to Buy Gemstones or Compare Prices on Jewelry!