Michael Hill has a pretty unique position when compared with the other jewelry stores we’ve reviewed already, in that, while it’s not the biggest or most recognizable name in the US, it more than compensates for that fact by its global renown. What started in New Zealand in the late 1970s has grown into something of a powerhouse over the course of almost half a century.
Their first store was originally opened with the intention of making jewelry shopping less of an intimidating prospect – and, as a result, helping shoppers to enjoy the process of looking, trying on, and consulting with their jeweler.
It was a great mission, and an excellent philosophy, and it’s something that, these days, we feel is executed perfectly by a very long list of jewelry stores across the US. As for Michael Hill, however, we’re less than impressed…
Our rating: two stars
The positives: able to offer the all-important in-store experience to shoppers.
The negatives: diamonds are GSI certified, and quality is unreliable.
Michael Hill’s first store was opened in 1979, in a town called Whangarei, New Zealand. Eight years later, after gaining considerable attention from the New Zealand market, the store expanded into Australia then, after the turn of the millennium, the USA and Canada.
Their stores often occupied mall locations, and, as is the way with so many mall-based chain stores, started to take on a pretty generic, cut-and-paste appearance and atmosphere.
If you’d read our guide to jewelry stores in the mall before, you’ll know that we don’t have any major, on-sight issues with them. Sure, there are a lot of malls out there that are perhaps a little bland, and a little short on character – and that vibe, sometimes dreary or workaday, can infect the stores operating within them if they’re not careful. But, at the same time, there are plenty of mall-based jewelry stores doing an excellent job, and offering that first-rate experience we consider to be an integral part of making a good diamond purchase.
If you’re looking for a good mall jewelry store, we found plenty of positives in our review of Ben Bridge, for instance.
But, when it comes to Michael Hill, we were left disappointed – most notably, by the quality of the diamonds they source for their customers…
The fact that Michael Hill’s diamonds are graded by the GSI tells you more about the experience they offer to their customers than anything else, in our opinion.
We’ve written a comprehensive guide to certification from the GSI (the Gemological Science International) – and, more specifically, why you should avoid wasting your money on GSI diamonds at all costs – but the crux of the issue is that their services tend to appeal to large chain stores because of two major reasons.
The first reason is speed. They’re not as slow and exacting as, say, the GIA, which means they can churn out reports to meet a much higher level of demand. The second is cost-effectiveness.
That’s all well and good, but the GSI is also known for being far less consistent – and far ‘looser’ – in its approach to grading quality, meaning that it’s not uncommon for a diamond to be given a higher grade from the GSI than it would get from the GIA. In this scenario, the diamond looks better on paper than it really is to a discerning eye, and whoever is selling it can get a higher price.
The ranking of independent diamond labs is not a secret – or, for the most part, a subjective matter. The GIA and AGS are globally renowned, particularly for the level of consistency and reliability they offer to shoppers. As a result, it’s easy to feel pretty skeptical towards jewelry stores that choose to utilize a laboratory that is widely thought to be significantly less reliable.
The biggest advantage Michael Hill offers to its customers is that they aren’t trying to convince them to drop thousands of dollars on a unique item without ever seeing it in person first. Bricks-and-mortar stores will always have the edge over online vendors for that reason but, at the same time, save your time and money for a store offering GIA graded diamonds.
Michael Hill’s diamonds and engagement ring settings are about what you’d expect from a predominantly mall-based chain jewelry store. It’s hard to say whether or not their prices reflect the true quality of the diamonds, however, simply because of the fact that a GSI diamond will, to us, always come with a question mark. Diamond certification is there to provide the shopper with transparency and understanding – not ongoing concerns and uncertainties.
Since GSI certification is unreliable, we see Michael Hill’s quality as the same.
The store has a shaky reputation for quality, particularly for its engagement rings.
Yes, their first store opened in New Zealand in 1979.
The brand remains highly successful in New Zealand and Australia to this day.
We don’t like to see a bricks-and-mortar jewelry store fair so poorly, since these physical stores are under mounting pressure from the trend of online shopping, but there’s no way of sugarcoating a store that relies so heavily on a loose grading lab without putting readers at a disadvantage.
We would expect a store like Michael Hill to acknowledge something as basic as the importance of diamond quality, and ensuring that their customers – customers investing significant money into a single item, and hinging a major life change on it – are in position of all the facts.
So, while we will always stand in favor of a store that stays true to the in-store experience that is, in our opinion, as essential to buying a diamond as the diamond itself, we can’t give a higher rating to Michael Hill, or the service that it has chosen to offer to an international customer base.
If you’re still on the hunt for a reputable, bricks-and-mortar jewelry store in your area, then take a look at our own recommendations using our Jewelry Store Locator, rather than leaving it up to chance.