Compared within one company, the reason will most likely be that the gem photo does not show the stone's true beauty or else hides its flaws.
An honest web dealer will set his price based on the stone and not its photo.
However, a price will also be influenced by the sellers future expectations of the stone's value, his personal taste and the current demand for a particular variety.
If you compare prices between companies, especially on an international basis, the differences might be even bigger.
Here are possible reasons:
The cost structure on Fifth Avenue NY is different from that of a suburb of Bangkok (which does not mean NY traders sell too high but they offer a completely different service level).
Some old time traders have discovered the web as a channel to sell off their bad leftovers.
Some are said to use sample photos instead of actual ones.
You are looking at industrial quality sold at cutting costs (read below: The $2.99 question)
As a rule, never buy without certificates (third-party, not self-made, mind you) and sufficient inspection time.
When you compare carat prices, make you sure you compare on the same level:
Some companies charge extra for transport, insurance, certificates, listing etc. and you might end up paying double prices per carat before the stone is finally at your door. See our "No Extra Fees" policy.
EBay is notorious for $10 offers on stones that the sellers claim have a declared market value of $1000. Why should someone sell a $1000 stone for ten dollars, unless he is really desperate - which wouldn't give him time for EBay anyway?
You might sometimes find an undervalued bargain on EBay (if you know more than the seller), but you will definitely not get a fine sapphire for $10. If that were so, nobody would be working anymore, let alone mining.
Nobody will sell significantly under value. In the gem trade as much as (or even more than) anywhere else the old rule applies: You only get what you pay for!
The $2.99 question:
We are frequently asked:
"People sell gems for $2.99 on the Internet! What is wrong with them?"
That depends on how you look at it. These are gems of lowest quality sold at "cutting costs". That means they were produced at bottom rock cost:
These stones are mined by day-laborers who risk their lives for a buck a day without any support what-so-ever. They get injured? They get fired. They become too old? They get fired. The mine closes? etc.
Then, the stone is either machine cut or faceted by some Thai girls who work their backs and eyes sick in 7/14 shifts, sitting in a dimly lit room on wooden benches. They get sick? They get fired. They ruin their eyes? They get fired. etc.
The Karma of these stones is as bad as it gets. The only people who are happy that you buy it, are the factory owner and the trader who makes 5 cent each stone (and Ebay of course), but nature and people are wasted on the way.
If you care about these things here is the rule:
Any hand cut stone below 15$ does not leave enough for the cutter or miner. (Add 20$ transport, $20 certificate, $5 insurances, $5 taxes, $4 packaging, $4 handling, some margin and you arrive out at our cheapest stones.)
A precious gemstone for $2.99 is a contradiction in itself. Sure, one can buy cheapest industrial sapphire for $15 a kilo, but what for?
Those who try the cheap-cheap offers have no fun at all, soon lose interest in gems and drop out. Then, after people have risked their lives and nature has been ruined for them, the $2.99 stones get lost in the "drawer-with-the-useless-cheap-stuff".
So, yes, we think there is something wrong.