Tiffany's Bling vs. Costco's

Dec. 16, 2006 — -- While diamonds come from deep within the earth, there are lots of places people can go to get one -- from high end retailers to big-box stores.

Elisabeth Leamy, "Good Morning America's" consumer correspondent, recently investigated whether a diamond at a discount is as high quality as one at a hefty price.

Leamy started at Tiffany & Co. The legendary jeweler has thousands of diamonds and elaborate settings to choose from, with prices starting at $1,200.

Although many people think of Tiffany as the top of the high end, the store can be budget-friendly.

Tiffany's upgrade policy allows consumers to exchange a modest ring for something fancier years later. Tiffany will also clean diamonds and make sure the setting is secure for the rest of the buyer's life. The store's staff will even educate consumers by taking them into a private room to examine different stones under a microscope.

After visiting the store that everybody thinks of for diamonds, Leamy went to a store that next to nobody thinks of for diamonds -- Costco.

There were 25 diamond rings to choose from, ranging in price from $500 to $23,000. There's more variety on the Costco Web site. Consumers can also buy a diamond ring at Costco and have it reset somewhere else.

"We're not really a, a jewelry store so we don't really carry the best of the best," said a Costco employee, "but we try to do top quality."

Shopping for diamonds among bags of spinach and display models of vacuum cleaners may not be so romantic. But Leamy was more interested in the quality of the diamonds themselves.

High End vs. Budget

To find out how the stones measured up, she went to Martin Fuller, considered one of the finest master gemologists on the East Coast. He carefully analyzed Leamy's purchases and revealed good news.

"You got exactly what they said you were getting," Fuller said.

At Tiffany, Leamy bought a round diamond, just over a carat, with very slight flaws and a color grade of F, meaning colorless. She paid $16,600 for it, including the famous Tiffany setting. Fuller consulted the standardized guide appraisers use and told her the same grade of diamond would cost an average of $10,500 dollars at a no-name store without a setting.

Still, Fuller thought she got a fair price. He said that the extras that come with the Tiffany name have value.

"Anything that is brand name and has developed the reputation that Tiffany has developed -- they've earned it over the years, for quality control -- you can go there," he said. "You don't have to think twice about your purchase. And you pay for that."

At Costco, Leamy bought a round diamond, just over a carat, with very slight flaws and a color grade of H, nearly colorless. It cost $6,600, $10,000 less than the diamond from Tiffany. Fuller said the average price for the stone would be $8,000, not including the setting.

"It's a little bit of a surprise," Fuller said about Costco's diamond. "You wouldn't normally consider a fine diamond to be found in a general store like Costco. But I'm pleasantly surprised, as well. It's a beautiful stone."

Tips for Bling Buyers

"Good Morning America" offered tips to those in the market for a diamond.

Make sure the diamond that comes with a certificate from the Gemological Institute of America or the American Gem Society.

Make sure the store has a written cash refund policy. (Both Tiffany and Costco do.)

Get the diamond appraised by a qualified gemologist as soon as it's bought. It's necessary for insurance purposes.