Q: Many people in South Africa are concerned about buying diamond jewellery on the internet, they get discouraged by stories of unscrupulous vendors or fly-by-night operations. Is the internet safe? Can virtual merchants be trusted when buying diamonds online?

Martin: Indeed buying diamonds online can be hazardous but in my opinion, if you know what you are doing, it can be a very satisfying and rewarding experience.

Q: Rewarding, in what way?

Martin: First of all, online diamond prices are much lower than at traditional jewellery stores. Online vendors have lower overheads, so these savings can be passed onto clients. Virtual world can also offer clients a wider selection of designs with multiple configurations, like different alloys in various metal colours, or numerous diamond spec options. Furthermore, online surfers can easily educate themselves about various aspects of diamonds and precious metals, internet learning opportunities are abound!

Q: You also used the word 'hazardous', can you explain?

Martin: Simply put, there are cyber crooks out there and dishonest vendors who can profit from client’s lack of basic diamond knowledge. For example they can offer substandard diamonds, like enhanced ones in terms of heat treatment or laser drilling, without fully disclosing these facts. Furthermore they can also ‘inflate’ the actual diamond specs for the sake of favourable price comparison, or even attach fake grading reports. I have seen this sort of thing happen on the mass auction sites like Ebay or BidorBuy. You should really avoid these when shopping for diamond jewellery.

Q: What else can go wrong when buying genuine bling online?

Martin: Nowadays anyone can build a trustworthy-looking website, but not everyone is a genuine business. Some do not have a street address, some operate from home, and some only communicate via cell phone or email, with no dedicated landline number. In cases like these clients will have no recourse if anything should go wrong with the deal. Having said that however, I must stress that there are also many honest internet diamond merchants with excellent business practices.

Q: So how does one differentiate between the good and the bad?

Martin: As I mentioned, reliable merchants will have physical presence, and by that I mean an office or a shop with Telkom or NeoTel fixed number, where clients can arrange meetings. Online vendors should also have long internet existence as well as their own domain-based email address, not at Gmail or at Yahoo. They should offer diamond grading reports from accredited labs like GIA, DIA or EGL so that clients could easily verify all specifications of their diamond. Lastly, for additional credibility, genuine merchants should be members of the JCSA.

Q: JCSA?

Martin: It stands for the Jewellery Council of South Africa. It is the jewellers’ ethics governing body which assists in client-merchant disputes, they do it by means of official arbitration and legal recommendation.

Q: Ok, but what about websites’ security and online payment safety? Surely, diamond transactions attract large amounts.

Martin: Yes, that is why credible websites should use security certificates, like SSL. It stands for Secure Socket Layer which protects websites from hackers. To recognise the SSL, surfers can look for abbreviation ‘https’ which is in front of the website’s URL, in the browser’s address window. Moreover websites should use an independent and recognised card payment facilitator who will have own security certificate installed. When requesting payment by credit card the client should be re-directed to such facilitator, card details should not be made available to the merchant.

Q: Anything else the diamond shopper should look out for?

Martin: Apart from what I’ve outlined already there are some common sense rules. Like any other physical business, virtual vendors should be properly registered with CIPC and SARS. On their websites they should display their ‘Privacy’, ‘Returns & Refunds’ policies, as well as ‘Terms & Conditions’ of website use. Furthermore, if they offer a delivery service, they should be contracted with the recognised courier company who will insure ‘high value’ goods.

Q: So it is really down to common sense and being search engine savvy?

Martin: Exactly! And it can all be done from the comfort of your favourite chair.