Buying Jewelry with Confidence

Buying a piece of fine jewelry is unlike buying any other product. Gemstones and precious metals have a uniqueness that requires special knowledge and gemological equipment not readily accessible to the average consumer. Most consumers could not evaluate the quality of one strand of pearls over another, nor distinguish between a pink sapphire and a pink tourmaline, nor recognize a one-carat diamond. No two gemstones are alike. At a glance, they may look the same or weigh the same, but different internal characteristics give them different qualities - and different prices. Nor are all precious metals alike. Quality and workmanship in both alloying the metal and creating the finished piece play a part in determining its quality and cost. The proliferation of outlets from traditional jewelry stores to catalogs to electronic shopping media makes it hard for consumers to know where and what to buy. The Jewelry Information Center, a non-profit trade association, provides the following tips to find the right jeweler and what to look for when buying fine jewelry.

1. Buy from a trusted jeweler or one that has been recommended by friends, colleagues, Chamber of Commerce, or Better Business Bureau.

The right jeweler is a trained professional who can knowledgeably guide customers through the selection process, and who will be there later if the piece needs to be cleaned or repaired. Ask about other services the jeweler may offer, such as custom design, appraisals or trade-up policies, and ask if the jeweler is affiliated with one of the jewelry trade organizations that requires 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, they're probably just that - unbelievable. Shop around and compare actual value. Is it the same weight, quality and workmanship? Precious gems have an established valuation process and precious metals prices are listed on the COMEX, so nobody is giving away anything at 50% less than it's really worth. Often, the "discount" at one store is higher than the "regular" price somewhere else!

3. Look for the registered trademark or quality mark.

The karat mark, or quality mark, tells the percentage of pure metal in the piece. By U.S. law, a quality mark MUST be accompanied by a manufacturer's registered U.S. trademark. If there's no trademark, don't buy it.

Common Trademarks
14K or .585 is 14 karat gold, which is 58.5% pure gold and the remainder, alloys of other metals like copper, zinc or silver to add strength and durability. 18K or .750 is18 karat gold, 75% pure gold. 10K, or .417 is 10 karats, the lowest U.S. legal minimum to be called gold jewelry. Pure gold is 24K or .999 and is very soft. PLAT or PT950 is platinum, 95% pure metal. STERLING or .925 indicates that a silver piece contains 92.5% pure silver.

4. Get it in writing

Ask the jeweler to write a complete description of your piece on your receipt, including metal karatage, diamond color, cut, clarity and carat weight, a color and carat weight description of any colored stones, and to disclose whether the stone is natural or has been treated in any way.