How To Shop For
Buying a piece of fine jewelry is unlike buying any other product. What
other product comprises materials that are often billions of years old? The
natural gemstones and precious metals from which fine jewelry is created
have a uniqueness and complexity that require special knowledge--and often
gemological equipment--not readily accessible to the average consumer. No
two gemstones are alike; design and quality vary greatly from piece to
piece. Most consumers could not evaluate a strand of quality cultured
pearls, distinguish between a blue topaz and a sapphire, or recognize a
one-carat diamond. And even if they do know the difference between carats
and karats, how do they know they are getting what they're paying for?
With the proliferation of jewelry outlets, including catalogs and electronic
shopping, selecting where and what to buy can be a daunting experience. The
Jewelry Information Center, a non-profit trade association headquartered in
New York City, provides the following tips on finding the right jeweler and
what to look for when buying fine jewelry.
1. Buy from a trusted jeweler or one who has been recommended.
Choosing the right jeweler is like choosing a doctor: ask friends or
colleagues to recommend someone they know and trust. Otherwise, find out
how long the jeweler has been in business by checking with The Better
Business Bureau or the Chamber Of Commerce. The right jeweler is a trained
professional who can knowledgeably guide his customer through the selection
process. And he will be there later if the piece needs to be cleaned,
restrung, or remounted. Find out what other services the jeweler provides
that might be important in the future. Ask what the return or trade-up
policy is. And finally, is the jeweler affiliated with one of the jewelry
trade organizations that require a code of conduct for its members?
2. Don't be dazzled by discounts.
If a store is offering unbelievable discounts of 50% or more, the sale is
probably just that -- unbelievable. Consumers should play it safe by shopping
around first and comparing actual value. They may find that a regular price
at other stores matches or is less than the "discounted" sales price.
3. Look for the registered trademark and quality mark.
When buying a piece of gold jewelry, the karat mark, often called the
quality mark, tells the percentage of pure gold in the piece. Pure gold,
or 24k, is usually considered too soft for jewelry. It must be alloyed with
other metals, such as copper, zinc or silver, to give it strength and
durability. 14k gold, for example, is 58.3% gold; the rest are alloys.
Jewelry less than 10k gold (or 41.7% gold) cannot be legally sold as gold
in the U.S. Ask the jeweler to show you the quality mark for gold, as well
as for platinum and sterling silver jewelry. If the quality mark appears
on the piece, a registered U.S. trademark is required by federal law. That
assures the consumer that the manufacturer stands behind the authenticity
of the piece. If the trademark is not there, don't buy it.
4. Get it in writing.
When buying fine jewelry, ask the jeweler to write a complete description
on your receipt. For gold jewelry, ask for the karatage; for diamonds, the
cut, color, clarity, and carat weight (the weight of the center stone and
total carat weight if there are side stones); for colored stones, ask for a
description of overall color and carat weight and if the stone is of
natural origin or has been treated in any way. That information should be
included on the bill of sale.
No other object known to man gives as much lasting pleasure as a piece of
fine jewelry, made from precious metals and ancient stones found deep
beneath the earth's surface. The shopping experience can be equally
enjoyable when consumers keep in mind the above tips and look for a
knowledgeable, established jeweler to assist them in finding the right
piece for their budget and personal style.