I was forced to buy a $20,000 diamond on my Royal Caribbean cruise. How do I return it?

During her recent Royal Caribbean cruise, Kathy Hoffarth purchased a $16,000 diamond in Jamaica. At the next port, she exchanged it for a larger, more expensive one. Now that she is home she doesn’t want that diamond, either, and she wants her money back. But is that possible?

Hoffarth’s story is a study of what not to do while on vacation. Namely, making high-ticket, impulse purchases from merchants who soon will be thousands of miles away — making returns and negotiations difficult if not impossible.

During the cruise, Hoffarth was shopping for a unique diamond to celebrate her upcoming 50th wedding anniversary. At Diamonds International, she found what she thought was the perfect jewel to mark the occasion.

“We bought a ‘Crown of Light’ diamond for $16,200,” she remembers. “The Crown of Light is touted to be the most brilliant and sparkling diamond because of its 90 facets, and this is why we bought this special diamond.”

The problems began when she reboarded the ship and took a closer look at her new bauble in a different lighting. She was not pleased with what she saw.

“I noticed immediately after leaving the bright store lighting that it did not sparkle,” she recalled. “I contacted our Royal Caribbean Port Shopping guide, and he put us in touch with Diamonds International in Cozumel to help resolve this problem.”

A Port Shopping “guide” is an employee of Royal Media Partners who is dedicated to helping passengers navigate their port shopping experience with approved and trusted merchants within the “Port Folio.” Diamonds International is one such store.

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Hoffarth says after three hours of shopping at Diamonds International in Cozumel she was “forced” to exchange the Crown of Light for a much larger diamond. This one cost an additional $3,500.

“They were not going to let us leave unless we bought something else,” Hoffarth told me. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

Once she arrived home, she contacted Diamonds International (DI) and asked to return the gem and get a refund. They declined her request and pointed out that the contract that she signed specifically mentions that “buyer’s remorse” is not a valid reason for a return.

So Hoffarth settled in to read the terms of the bill of sale; something that she should have done before signing it. There, she found that the only valid reason for a return of a piece of jewelry is if it is appraised at a lower value within 30 days of purchase.

Hoffarth then took her diamond for an official independent appraisal and discovered that it exceeded the appraisal given to her by DI.

With that path to a refund a dead end, Hoffarth decided to approach her return from a different angle. She complained to DI that she should be given a refund based on the poor quality of the original diamond that she had purchased in Jamaica — The Crown of Light.

Diamonds International rejected this refund request as well, citing that she had exchanged that diamond and was no longer in possession of it.

I asked if she had the Crown of Light appraised before she returned it. She had not.

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“You could just look at it and know that it was poor quality,” she told me.

If you are contesting a $20,000 purchase, you need proof — not a voiced opinion.

In response to Hoffarth’s ongoing complaints to the company and to the Better Business Bureau, Diamonds International offered that she could return the diamond that she does have and receive a DI store credit. But they reiterated that this is a goodwill gesture, and they stand firm with their assertions that she is simply having a case of buyer’s remorse.

Hoffarth believes this resolution is unfair, but she has decided to return the diamond and take the credit because “they have me over a barrel.” And she asked how she could have avoided this “trap” in the first place.

A contract can protect both sides of the customer/company equation.

In the case of the original diamond, Hoffarth had 30 days to have it independently appraised. If it did not appraise at the price she originally paid at DI, she would have qualified for a full refund. She did not do that. Instead, she returned it to the DI store in Cozumel.

Her ongoing complaints about the original diamond to the Better Business Bureau, TripAdvisor and elsewhere are puzzling. DI took it back, no questions asked. The diamond that she does possess has been independently appraised at a higher value than she paid. And lastly, DI has agreed to allow her to return it and receive a store credit.

This appears to be a fair offer from DI, and we must regretfully dismiss this case because the contract does not support Hoffarth’s appeal for a refund.

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It is never wise to make such a significant purchase without having time to think it over. A few hours in a port of call is not the place to make these types of expensive and irreversible decisions. However, if this is something you decide to do, it is imperative to read all of the terms of the contract before you sign it — not after a dispute has begun.

We wish the Hoffarths a happy 50th anniversary, and we hope that she is able to pick out a substitute piece of jewelry that she will be pleased with.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, SEO-lady, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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