It’s safe to say that the world has moved on from the heyday of the great American mall – and, as a result, that most of us are pretty quick to write-off names like Kay Jewelers as relics from a bygone era, easily evoked by the smell of a Cinnabon stall or the multi-layered echo of the atrium on a busy Saturday morning.
Sure, there are some great memories attached to those days but, at the same time, they feel a little out of date. Stores that considered the mall their stomping ground – stores like Zales and Kay Jewelers – are, and always were, an obvious choice.
With that being said, is it really so wrong to go with the obvious choice? Sure, there are certain things that Kay Jewelers seem to have fallen behind on, but the world of fine jewelry and the process of finding an engagement ring haven’t just been changed for the better. Mounting pressure from the internet has forced a lot of stores to change too quickly, and to the detriment of their customers – and, at WillYou.Net, we’re no strangers to critiquing the impact this has had on shoppers who simply want to find the most beautiful diamond, the perfect ring, and a reasonable price.
In other words, we’re not going to pretend that Kay Jewelers is anything groundbreaking – or that it’s even changed much since the last time you walked through their doors, or stopped to stare into their window. What we’re also not going to do, however, is write-off Kay Jewelers altogether simply because it’s part of an ‘older way’ of doing things. The ‘new way’ is, in our opinion, a far worse option…
Our rating: three stars
The positives: a trusted name across the states, with a wide selection and some GIA certified diamonds, able to offer the invaluable in-store experience their online competitors can’t.
The negatives: the majority of the diamonds we saw had IGI, while others feature no certification at all. Their trusted name means some shoppers might feel comfortable investing in a diamond that has not been analyzed by a trusted, third-party lab.
Kay Jewelers is one of a number of major American jewelry store chains owned by the industry giant, Signet Jewelers. We have reviewed its sister companies, Zales and Jared Jewelers, already at WillYou.Net, and found a number of similarities (as well as a number of differences) between them. While Zales is a good all-rounder for finding gifts for Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, birthdays and Christmas, Jared is a little more up-market – a little more prestigious thanks to its typical placement outside of malls, rather than crammed between a Victoria’s Secret and a Footlocker.
But we’re here to talk about Kay Jewelers – once again, a big name on the mall circuit, but still sufficiently independent from its siblings that it’s got plenty of talking points of its own.
Kay Jewelers was initially founded more than a hundred years ago, in Pennsylvania. The year was 1916, and the business – owned by the Kaufmann family – sold a wide array of items, from furnishings to decorate items and, as you can imagine, jewelry.
Unfortunately, not much else is known about Kay Jewelers’ early beginnings. The store passed into the second generation – brothers Sol and Edmund, who found far greater promise in the store’s jewelry section than any other – and, eventually, became one of Signet Jewelers’ key players in the American market. These days, Kay Jewelers boasts more than 1,000 locations across the country, and a name that is likely to be one of the first that pops into our heads when we think of jewelry.
It seems almost inevitable that that represents an Achilles heel of sorts. The obvious choice is the safe choice – and the safe choice becomes, in time, a pretty generic and even unimaginative option, particularly with the industry thriving creatively as it is now.
We can, however, still see a lot to commend in a store like Kay’s. Sure, it’s not one of the highest rated stores at WillYou.Net – nowhere near, in fact – but it’s got a lot more going for it than plenty of others…
Kay Jewelers may have branched out into ecommerce in more recent years, but, as you can imagine, we feel that one of the greatest things they can offer to their customers is tradition.
Think about it this way. In a few years, there’s every chance that those large online vendors – the ones whose names seem to be everywhere, and who now represent the ‘obvious’ choice for a lot of shoppers – are going to start to seem a little like the mall-based jewelry stores do now. Obvious, easy, convenient as a result of their prevalence…
But the thing that mall-based jewelers – or any other bricks-and-mortar jewelry store – will always have to their advantage is the fact that they exist, in the real world, where shoppers can walk in and have that traditional experience. They can look in the case, see the diamonds move and sparkle on the back of their hand, talk to the jeweler, and experience their option, rather than just looking at them on a screen.
This is why we cannot let go of the idea that the bricks-and-mortar jewelry store – whether it’s located in a mall that’s currently in need of an update, or in one of America’s most infamous Diamond Districts – will always have an edge over the online vendors, and why shoppers will always return to them.
Kay Jewelers is not a luxury, high-end brand, but that’s as much a benefit as it is a downside. The high-end luxury brands are overpriced, and not the right places to turn to if you want to get the best diamond possible for your investment.
We’re more than willing to admit, of course, that in order to get the best possible diamond for your investment, you’re going to have to do your research before heading into a Kay Jewelers. Unlike smaller jewelry stores, they’re lacking that finesse when it comes to selecting the very best diamonds for their customers and, in our opinion, seem to be taking a more ‘try everything and see what sticks’ approach. Clearly, it works for them – but, in order to make Kay Jewelers work for you, you’d have to prepare yourself with a list of non-negotiables first.
This is where our review takes a downturn. We’ve talked up the in-store experience that Kay Jewelers can offer, but it is important to keep in mind that, while shopping in store is always going to be a better option than shopping online, you can’t let that make you complacent when it comes to the diamonds themselves.
Buying a good diamond is a combination of two things, alongside researching the basics of quality beforehand. First, you want to be able to see it – second, you want to be able to fall back on the report to understand the things you can’t see (and, to an extent, the things you can).
We’re talking, of course, about diamond certification – those independently created reports provided by third-parties, detailing the specifics of a diamonds Four Cs (Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat weight) as well as other aspects impacting its appearance and light performance, like proportion and fluorescence. These third-party gemological laboratories are all aimed toward providing the same service, but their methods are totally different from one another’s, and the results often wind up being wildly different depending on what lab your diamond is sent off to.
At WIllYou.Net, we only ever recommend readers invest in GIA or AGS certified diamonds. The GIA is widely regarded as the best choice, primarily because of its fair and unbiased approach. It was initially founded to bring transparency to shoppers who didn’t know much about the diamonds they were buying, and remains true to that original philosophy to this day.
Shoppers who look at GIA diamonds can feel sure that they’re not being led to believe that the diamond they’re being shown is worth more than it is, which, as you can imagine, is an invaluable lifeline for many, many people around the world who aren’t trained in gemology.
At Kay Jewelers, the majority of their (certified) diamonds feature reports from the IGI, rather than the GIA…
The IGI, or the International Gemological Institute, is geared up to produce reports on much higher volumes than the GIA. They invest less time into each diamond, which reduces turnaround time for vendors looking to acquire certification and, as a result, represents an ideal alternative to the slower, more exacting (and more expensive) labs.
The trouble with churning out reports like a factory line is that it risks increasing the opportunity for human error, or general inconsistencies. In the past, independent investigations have demonstrated evidence of these inconsistencies. Even our own investigation made clear the trouble with using the IGI rather than the IGI.
For more information, you can read our full guide to IGI diamonds. While it’s not the worst lab we’ve discussed at WillYou.Net, the service it offers seems to offer significantly more benefit to vendors (i.e., in this instance, Kay Jewelers themselves) rather than the shopper. The only apparent benefit is a slightly reduced cost, since certification is cheaper and not so highly regarded, but you’ve got to question whether that reduced cost will be off-set by thepotential over investment shoppers make into IGI diamonds.
As you can probably guess, a store of Kay’s size and prominence offers an incredibly wide range of ring settings. There are plenty of classics – halos, solitaires, three-stone settings, and budget-friendly clusters – but we didn’t see anything truly innovative of groundbreaking. It’s not that we expected to – stores like Kays are successful at what they do, and don’t need to revolutionize jewelry design when so many of their customers turn to them because of the fact that they know exactly what to expect. Plenty of jewelry stores stick to the tried-and-tested favorites, so we’re not going to fault them for that.
One of the most impressive parts of their offering is their Custom Jewelry Design studio, where you can bring a sketch – or even just an idea – into one of their stores, and consult with their craftsmen to bring it to life.
They offer a digital version of this – an online ring builder almost identical to those of the big online vendors – but, as you can imagine, we didn’t spend much time dwelling on that. While we’re never going to believe buying a diamond online is a good idea, buying a diamond through Kay’s current platform seems like an accident waiting to happen. Shoppers have minimal control over the quality of the stone they invest in – even less than what they would get with a brand like James Allen, which we’ve reviewed here.
Sure, you’ll probably find a greater level of passion and expertise at a smaller establishment, rather than a titanic chain like Zales. That is, after all, another issue all the big stores have – the pressure to ensure consistency across more than a thousand stores. Zales employees many, many sales associates, consultants, and jewelers to man their stores, and working toward a strong and consistent experience across the entire country inevitably means that they won’t be able to equip their staff with the same levels of expertise, passion, or creativity that you’ll find in a smaller, local jewelry store.
Kay Jewelers, like a lot of the big name retailers we’ve reviewed already, caters to an incredibly wide customer base. We found diamond rings for less than $500, but also pieces with original listing prices of more than $25,000. It’s never difficult to spot where costs have been kept to a minimum on the cheaper rings – there are a lot of clusters and illusion settings, where the metalwork appears to dwarf the diamonds (creating, from a distance, the illusion of a more impressive ring.
Around the $6,000 – $8,000 range is where you’ll find the designs that will appeal more to the average shoppers’ expectations. 1 carat solitaires and halo rings with CTWs of around 1.3 – 1.5. We even came across one GIA graded diamond in a solitaire ring, with I color and VS2 clarity, while browsing their website. The ring was originally priced at $7,999.99. Confusingly, however, the center stone and the CTW of the ring were both listed as 1 carat, but the ring featured a hidden halo.
While it may be a minor oversight, the price of a 1 carat diamond solitaire will almost always be higher than a ring with a CTW of 1, so it begs the question, what exactly are shoppers paying for, and is it worth the price?
This is, perhaps, part of the issue with stores like Kay Jewelers. They are covering so many bases – offering so much of everything at every price point – that a lot of things seem to be glossed over or rushed. $7,999.99 is a lot of money, and any shopper preparing to spend it shouldn’t have to worry about details like this.
There’s no doubt that shoppers would be able to find a price to accommodate their budget at Kay Jewelers. Where the doubt does begin to creep in, however, is when you start to consider the overall value of the ring, and how it compares with the price listed.
Get the rest of your questions about Kay Jewelers answered below…
Yes, Kay Jewelers sells real diamonds, and you can trust that any diamond listed as such will be natural, and authentic.
It’s important to remember that, while it may not represent everyone’s first choice for an engagement ring, Kay Jewelers did not become the well-recognized, widely-renowned store that it is selling fake diamonds or cheap diamond simulants to unwitting shoppers.
These days, Kay Jewelers does stock some lab created diamonds, but, given the significant differences in value between a natural diamond and a diamond grown in a lab, this is always stated clearly to shoppers to avoid any confusion.
Kay Jewelers also sell pieces featuring low-cost diamond alternatives like cubic zirconia, moissanite, and white sapphire. These three gemstones all offer relatively convincing alternatives from a distance – although, up close, the differences between them and real diamond are clear to see, even if you’re not an expert (or even particularly experienced with looking at diamonds).
Again, it’s important to remember that these simulants are used to create budget-friendly pieces for their customers, rather than being used to ‘trick’ shoppers into paying far more than they should for an inferior product. If a store like Kay had been ‘hoodwinking’ their customers, it would be headline news by now…
No. In recent years. Signet Jewelers (Kay Jewelers’ parent company) have been forced to close a number of stores, including some Kay Jewelers locations, but, more recently, their figures have been stronger again.
In recent years, big stores like Kay – and even your small, neighborhood jewelry stores – have felt a mounting pressure from the prevalence of the online vendors. Unfortunately, as well as the jewelry store, it is the customer who winds up missing out, since the online experience is lacking some of the most fundamental aspects that we – and many experts – believe to be fundamental to buying a diamond ring.
Fortunately, we are coming out the other side. Now that the online jewelers are no longer a novelty, many, many shoppers are aware of the shortfalls of taking the ‘easy route’ and picking out a diamond over the internet. Bricks-and-mortar stores remain the traditional choice, and we’re very sure there not going anywhere.
There’s no easy answer to this question, since there’s so much variety in terms of what they offer to shoppers. IGI certification is not something we would recommend, but we wouldn’t go as far as to say that every diamond Kay Jewelers stocks is poor quality.
Let’s phrase it another way: IGI diamonds are poor investments and, given the fact that the overwhelming majority of diamonds on sale at Kay Jewelers seem to have been graded by the IGI, it stands to reason that we would consider them to be poor investments.
As we mentioned above, we did come across one GIA graded diamond – which, presumably, means there are more, and that some shoppers will be lucky enough to come across one during their search. It isn’t a strong guarantee, but it means that Kay Jewelers have at least some diamonds worth a closer look.
Remember that GIA certification isn’t everything. The right diamond will be of eye clean quality, and feature an Excellent or Very Good cut. The online listing we looked at did not list a Cut grade – surprising (and a little worrying) given the mammoth importance of a high quality cut – but, presumably, had we found that ring in-store, the report would have been available to look at in closer detail.
At least, that’s what we’d hope.
Surprisingly, yes, it’s pretty common knowledge now that Kay Jewelers are one of the few chain jewelers open to negotiation.
In general, negotiating a more attractive price is something that we would only advise shoppers to attempt in smaller, independent businesses. For the larger chains, ensuring consistency across every one of their stores means that it’s a lot easier for them to block negotiating altogether, and only accept the listed price for the item.
Besides, with so many sales staff coming and going throughout the years, it would be very difficult to ensure all of them are able to entertain customers’ negotiation tactics without the risk of them going too low.
This is something that makes Kay Jewelers stand out from the crowd. We’re not saying that you should expect to get hundreds of dollars knocked off the asking price of your chosen ring – in reality, any compromise from Kay Jewelers will likely be nominal – but that it never hurts to ask. You’ll want to make sure you’ve already got a good rapport with your sales associate, and don’t make the mistake of picking a ring outside of your budget, thinking you can sweet talk them down to a number you can manage.
Based on our own findings, we’d be a little more likely to recommend Zales, primarily because of the wider range of GIA certified diamonds they seem to stock.
Unfortunately, both stores do fall short when it comes to certification. This is alarming, given the fact that the importance of certification is not exactly open to interpretation, and stores like Kay and Zales aren’t ‘green’ newcomers still finding their feet.
It seems likely that intentionally overlooking the importance of diamond certification is a good way to keep overheads low. On their website, Kay state that ‘some’ of their diamonds are accompanied by independent certification – which essentially means that only some of their diamonds are even worth a second look.
When you look at it that way, it can start to feel pretty demoralizing. Stores like Kay Jewelers have a strong reputation across the country. They might not be the most original or exciting store, but they’re trusted, consistent, and seen as a good place to turn to by shoppers who don’t have a clue about buying a diamond, and don’t want to get duped. If uncertified diamonds are on display, then what’s there to stop unsavvy shoppers from believing they make just as a good of an investment as the certified diamonds?
In fact, since the uncertified diamonds are likely to be significantly cheaper than comparable, certified diamonds, what’s to stop those shoppers from thinking they’ve stumbled upon a great way to save money on their stone?
Kay Jewelers is a definite giant of the industry. It is impressive how they have grown over the years, and there’s no doubt they have helped to create countless perfect moments between couples, friends, and family members. We can’t help but feel a little nostalgic when we happen to find ourselves in the mall, walking past their doors, for holiday seasons and Valentine’s days past.
That’s why it’s a little disappointing when we take a step back, and look at Kay’s offerings objectively. It’s hard to imagine a store with as much influence as Kay Jewelers not realizing the issues that accompany subpar certification, or no certification at all. True, it helps their bottom line, but it also means that shoppers who have done their research can’t consider them a strong contender for their engagement ring.
With more than a thousand locations, and a sentimental pull that many Americans feel, it’s a shame we can’t give Zales – or their sister companies – higher ratings. But, when there are so many jewelry stores offering exactly what Kay Jewelers won’t, the choice becomes pretty obvious to us. For you, there is simply no benefit to compromising on certification or quality, even if the price looks too good to pass up.