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Can you bargain shop for diamonds?

Your sweetie doesn’t have to spend a fortune for rocks on Valentine’s Day.
/ Source: TODAY

Valentine’s Day is less than a week away. I know a lot of us are hoping for a nice piece of glitter to come our way.  Fellas, if you are reading this right now there is still time to get your sweetie a nice rock. But if you go out to purchase a diamond, you’ll soon discover that you may need a degree in gemology to figure it all out.

To see just how tricky and buying a pretty stone can be, I decided to take my pal and gem expert Antoinette Matlins shopping in New York City. Of course, we started with the best and most prestigious jewelry store: Tiffany’s. Oh, that pretty blue box; oh, that feeling when you enter it’s majestic doors on Fifth Avenue. Yes, shopping there is a pleasure.

They didn’t try to push me into buying more than I could afford. So I walked out with a pair of quarter carat stud earrings. Antoinette loved them — beautiful color, cut and clarity. I paid a little over $2,200 for them and then had them independently appraised. Ouch! Our appraiser said they were worth about $1,500. But hey, they were pretty and we were paying for the whole Tiffany experience. Tiffany says part of their pricing goes into the careful craftsmanship and design.

Well, I guess I could do without the status of Tiffany, so we ventured to Fortunoff’s, a mid-priced retailer down the street. Again, I opted for studs about the same size and doled out $2,500. We had the same appraiser take a look at them. And voila! I made out better. The price was what it should be, but the quality was better than what Fortunoff’s  claimed it to be. Of course, appraising a diamond can be a bit subjective.

For the real bargain, Antoinette and I hit world renowned 47th Street, in the city’s diamond district. Wholesalers there are ripe with bargains, right? First of all, salespeople come at you. They pull you into their stores promising a lot of flash for very little cash.  Once you take a look at something, they don’t let you out without dropping their price --sometimes in half. But what are you really getting when you buy “wholesale?”

I purchased bigger studs at one of the shops for about what I paid at the other retailers.  I thought I got a great bargain. I was told the cut was “premium,” the color was “H” and that they were “clarity enhanced.” Ever hear of “clarity enhanced?” We found out that means the fractures have been artificially filled. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you know what you are buying. So we had those earrings appraised. We paid $2,200 and that’s what they were appraised for. Sounds pretty good. Until, that is, we find out the diamond we purchased was of less quality than what the retailer claimed it to be.

Our appraiser said it was cut well, not “premium,” but not bad. That’s the good news.  The bad news? The color was no where near “H” it was “J,” and  the clarity wasn’t even in the range of what they said it was. So did we overpay?  We paid the right price for the type of stone we bought, but it was certainly no bargain. After showing the “wholesaler” our appraisal, our money was refunded.

Janice Lieberman’s Bottom Line: Spend a few extra dollars. Go to an independent appraiser, not someone the jeweler recommends, and find out if you really got the diamond you thought you were getting. Shop around to learn about the different colors, cuts, clarity and carat available. Also realize that “wholesale” may not mean “good value.” And if you are giving it as a gift, get a receipt. All the diamonds were refunded to me in cash when I told them I changed my mind.

And have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Janice Lieberman is the “Today” show’s consumer correspondent. She joined NBC News as a consumer reporter in 1999. She is author of “Tricks of the Trade: A Consumer Survival Guide.” She is a graduate of Rutgers University.