Blue Nile bought by Bain Capital- Can the company regain its leadership position?

bluenile_diamondsBlue Nile, arguably the most respected online jewelry brand, has been bought by Bain Capital. Could this reflect a rethinking of the online business model?

Recent Changes

Since Blue Nile started being a clearing house for diamond dealers instead of owning all inventory, the competition has gotten even tougher.  Dealers are also using their own stores or websites to sell the same inventory. As a result, over 50% of the time I request a diamond online from Blue Nile or other sources the stone is not available.

The inventory is being marketed in so many channels at the same time that its impossible to know what’s out there. Blue Nile now shows the availability date next to each stone rather than showing what’s actually available now.  However, when customers pay thousands of dollars, they’re not interested in waiting weeks to get a glimpse at what they’ve bought.

The company has also recently opened “webrooms” in malls where shoppers can view jewelry but not purchase it. This seems to be a nod to the need for an actual customer experience when purchasing bridal jewelry. Yes, clients want the best prices. But they also want someone they can talk to, jewelry they can see and touch and a place to go for service or repair.

While Blue Nile offers a quick turnaround for repairs, it can feel awkward to ship off an expensive piece of jewelry and hope you get it back. All of this points back to the value of having a footprint to provide that experience in person.

Bain’s Impact

Is the purchase of Blue Nile by Bain Capital a signal of a major change in the industry? Its hard to tell. The company has been one of the most innovative and successful companies in the industry. But what’s happening now isn’t working. Per the 3rd quarter earnings report, sales of engagement jewelry in the US dropped 8.5% from a year ago. There may be larger forces like the election at play, but others companies are seeing increases in revenue and profit.

With a whopping 35% decrease in EBITDA from 3rd quarter last year, the company was certainly a target for a takeover. Bain is taking the company private but indicates that for now, business fundamentals will continue as usual. With shares up 33% after the announcement, shareholders clearly think that its time to make some significant changes. Let’s see if some new guidance can reignite innovation and disrupt the industry again.

October and Opals

opalAncient Romans thought that opals were the most precious of all stones because they contained all colors. Is there anything more amazing than the explosion of color that high quality opals flash? They’ve been prized throughout history for this unique property.

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When the crystals grow, they create patterns which reflect light like rain through a rainbow.

Not all opals show their rainbow brights. Common opal, or opal without the play of color, can be found in beautiful opaque colors like creamy pink, denim blue and even teal green. There’s also Mexican fire opal, which can be a transparent bright orangey red.

Because opals contain water, they can be easily damaged if they dry out or are exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time. In fact, dryness in an opal can cause it to crack and loose its phenomenal color. Properly mined opal is stabilized for ten or more years before it is cut so that it can acclimate to its new environment above ground.

Opals are by nature soft stones, so while you often see them in rings, they are almost always cabochons, or rounded tops instead of faceted. That keeps edges from chipping or breaking. They are also usually set low in jewelry.

As the month of October brings a world of new fall color around us, what a perfect stone to celebrate that fire!

September babies, don’t get the blues.

Sapphires come in nearly all colors of the rainbow.  In fact, many of the blue sapphires you see on the commercial market today may have started out a different color.  A significant portion of rough sapphires have a green hue and turn blue when heated or otherwise treated.

Some of the most prized sapphire colors are blue, pink, and Padparadscha (a bright orangey-pink).  Yellow, orange and purple sapphires can be spectacular and there is a resurgence of interest in green sapphires.  Did you know there are no red sapphires? That’s a trick question- rubies are in the same family, we just call them out separately.  Each color has it’s own personality and intrigue.

What should you look for when buying a sapphire?

First, make sure you are looking at the “real” thing.  Lab created sapphires have been available for over 125 years and aren’t always easy to distinguish from earth mined stones.  They are also worth a lot less money.  A gemologist can make this distinction.

Second, make sure the sapphire is a single stone, not a doublet.  Some manufacturers actually use a less expensive green sapphire base with a thin slice of the more expensive blue sapphire on top.  This one is tricky, but if you hold the stone in front of light and look at its profile you can see the two different colors.  Third, find out if it has been treated.  There’s nothing wrong with treatment- the vast majority of stones are spiffed up in some way.  Heat and diffusion treatments can enhance the color and clarity of a sapphire, leaving you with a more beautiful gem to gaze at.

Sapphires that are beautiful and have not been treated are significantly more expensive and more rare.Still confused about these spectacular stones?  Seek out a GIA certified Graduate Gemologist near you.  He or she will be happy to help.