Jewelry -- best materials and makers?
January 29, 2011 8:14 AM   Subscribe

school me on high-end jewelry?

1) After reading up on diamonds and understanding how to tell their quality, etc. I've been looking at online catalogs and it turns out that very few materials are as expensive as diamonds are in small sizes. Am I missing something? Are there really valuable gemstones out there that go for several thousand usd for a couple carats? Should I be looking into metals as well or are platinum and similar metals pretty much the top end of commonly used jewelry metal?

2) What is the 'really' high end? Like there's the Tiffany's and Cartiers but are they basically the most exclusive stuff or is there a further, more couture like set of brands/makers out there? I'm liking the stuff I see by Boucheron.. what I can tell from pieces I see by these companies though is that a lot of them are using things that aren't that expensive inherently (silver, gold, onyx) and then selling them at a massive markup. I'm kinda wondering how to tell what's a prestige/heirloom brand that's "worth it" in that sense..

I'm a guy mostly interested in buying for myself (rings, light necklaces and bracelets) but as a curious consumer will be happy to learn about makers that only make jewelry for women. A lot of this is just aspirational window shopping and self-education

posted by the mad poster! to Shopping (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Just thought I'd add Harry Winston to your list of upscale jewelers.
posted by Andrhia at 8:37 AM on January 29, 2011

Also check out Van Cleef and Arpels.
posted by Anima Mundi at 8:50 AM on January 29, 2011

Something to consider is the issue of conflict diamonds. So I would add to your homework some research on which jewelers commit to only using diamonds that are ethically sourced.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:01 AM on January 29, 2011

And H. Stern and Bulgari and Neil Lane and Chopard and Fred Leighton
posted by rmless at 9:03 AM on January 29, 2011

A good quality emerald can go for way more than a diamond. Emphasis on good quality.

Jewelery prices are very subjective. For example, people pay X for an engagement ring, it's appraised at 1.5X, but then you can only re-sell it for 0.5X. Furthermore, diamonds really aren't that rare, you're just paying what deBeers wants you to pay.
And if you're buying an expensive onyx and silver ring, you're clearly paying for the designer name and not the actual material or workmanship, think Juicy Couture sweat pants.

The "worth" is how ever much you place on it, regardless of market or retail value. Some people absolutely adore their silver Tiffany jewelery and prefer it over the same-priced gold items found elsewhere, others go for the gold from lesser-known equal-quality places. has some very informative forums.
posted by Neekee at 9:12 AM on January 29, 2011

Are there really valuable gemstones out there that go for several thousand usd for a couple carats?

Yes! My favorite stone, Alexandrite is worth (much, much) more than diamonds. Part of this is because they are exceptionally rare in sizes greater than half a caret; a full, cut caret of Alexandrite would probably run you around $25,000.

What is the 'really' high end?

Michelangelo is high end. What does that mean? Well, the truly great stuff isn't paid for by the masses, because the masses are a bunch of fucking idiots that need to have the differences between fine and shit explained to them like they're three year-olds. They don't pay for quality because they don't understand what it means and couldn't tell the difference, anyway. The artisans—the specialists—they stay in business, but only at the behest of extremely wealthy individuals. The idiots would rather buy cheap knock-offs because, again, they don't know or care about the difference. In order to stay in business, the real masters need wealthy benefactors. Like, for instance, Michelangelo.

The trick, then, is to first find the benefactors and then work backwards.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:19 AM on January 29, 2011

Response by poster: Jacqueline, good point. What I've found out is that a lot of sellers will say they don't sell conflict diamonds but actual Kimberley certificates etc. are for large unpolished pieces and operates on a more wholesale level. Makes me wonder. I know I've been led astray on things like pony fur by salespeople in the past (telling me it's from a naturally dead animal which I'm now sure is untrue)

Thanks for the responses so far, they've been very helpful. Here's a passage from an email from a friend in response to my question that kinda got me started:

"my current obsession is Carrera y Carrera (I LOVE IT ALL!), Van Cleef & Arpels (my 2d fave), Buccellati, Temple St. Clair, Harry Winston (Hope Diamond), Kisselstein-Cord (neat American designer, can be cheap or expensive), Chantecler (a fave amongst Italians), Judith Ripka, Graff, Mikimoto (Japanese pearls, best out there), Tiffany's, David Yurman (American jeweler), Bulgari, Boucheron (really neat stuff), de Beers (largest supplier of blood diamonds) etc. (best Parisian jewelers located in Place Vendome)

--The thing w/jewelry is that most have stuff that costs from very little like $100 to SUPER expensive - like you can get things custom made at a lot of these jewelers. Or getting something in gold as opposed to silver costs about 20x more. For example - A Harry Winston ring might cost $30k, but you can go to HW in NYC and ask them to do a special ring for you and it could be $100k by adding a small jewel. "

what I'm essentially trying to do is start building a collection of stuff that may be not be extravagant but really high quality (i.e. small but internally flawless diamonds, non-cultured natural pearls, heavier gold etc.) I think like (god willing I don't go broke for extended periods of time :) 10 or 15 years into such an effort I'd have something modest but really worthwhile
posted by the mad poster! at 9:37 AM on January 29, 2011

Colored gemstones can be more expensive than colorless diamonds on a per-carat basic, for instance Alexandrite and 'paraiba' tourmaline. The only diamonds that are considered particularly collectible are very large ones and the colored ones (perhaps the most expensive gemstones of all). The sky's the limit; you can pay millions for a single gemstone. Rarity, desirability, size, and quality (cut, clarity, color, etc.) generally are reflected in prices. Colored stones come in and out of fashion and that's reflected in their prices. As has been noted, you generally won't get back what you paid for a diamond if you're selling to a dealer (you probably won't for a colored gemstone either, as they are selling it to you with a markup).

In terms of metals, platinum is the most expensive commonly used metal. In theory there are more expensive, rarer metals, but they aren't used for jewellery (iridium?)

In terms of maker, I think of these as brand names. You could get a purse from Gucci or whatever high-end European maker you like, and a lot of what you're paying for is the name brand, as opposed to the actual material and craftsmanship. In terms of very high-end makers, there are some individual designers who create works of art with precious materials, and their extravagant creations can cost millions.

Having said that, unless your budget is in the millions, I would suggest buying a loose stone from a reputatable online dealer that offers a return policy and a certificate (I can vouch for, icgems, gemselect, africagems, aussie treasure chest--black opals, and Then once you have a stone you're happy with, have a local jeweller design and fabricate it into a ring/whatever. That way you can choose the metal and the design (hard to find nice men's rings prefabricated). You'll get a much nicer gem in your ring doing it this way, in my opinion).

Another tack is to look for 'vintage' used gemstone jewellery on eBay. The Bay seems pretty sketchy for gems, IMO. Hmm, a perfect 10-carat pigeon's blood ruby for $5.99???

Here is some reading about gemstones: how to collect gems for fun and profit; Common Sense Approach to Gemstone Investment; and some great forums (fora!) here for colored gems and diamonds.

The single greatest value for money I ever found was sphenes. Great value also in color change garnets if you can find one, other garnets (tangerine, rubellite, tsavorite, etc), colored sapphires, tanzanite, amythest, danburite, tourmalines, and zircons. To some extent because the public has never heard of many of these stones, you can get something rarer and more beautiful than the well-known stones (diamonds emeralds rubies sapphires) for your money.
posted by kevinsp8 at 9:46 AM on January 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Civil_Disobedient, interesting (and amusing) response. Yeah I one rule of thumb I've been thinking of recently is the good old "in business since 1865!" kinda thing. Like has this watch company actually created watch technology? Has this jeweler or luggage maker been 'around'? If you look up some of these names on wikipedia you realize that a lot of these companies have had heads of state and royalty and international celebrities as their customers but again figuring out which company specializes in what is important.. a lot of 'designer' companies will sell you things that aren't well made and that they don't specialize in.. in fact here's what I wrote back

"I find it kinda corny to have houses like YSL or Hermes that will sell you perfume, jackets, shoes, watches, etc. I'm like yeah but what do you really make?

And the trick with it is that if you get D&G sunglasses say, they might be equipped with non polarized lenses when the half-priced Ray-Ban will have a much higher lens quality and be polarized. You know what I mean?

Same with watches, like yeah Balmain and Dior and what have you will sell you a watch but what we really want are companies that specialize in making their own movements, in the mid-range Rolex but in the high end something like Jaeger LeCoultre or Patek Phillipe etc, these people been around, making watches, that's what they do."

posted by the mad poster! at 9:50 AM on January 29, 2011

Collecting diamonds may be a mug's game at this point, in terms of investment; advances in lab diamond technologies are tremendous. This article is pretty sweeping in its gloom about jewels and jewelry as investments. Talk with your financial planner, who may have even more up-to-date data.

If you want to collect something with lasting value in the jewelry line, collecting irreplaceable antique pieces by famous designers of the past, rather than stones, is probably a safer bet. Firestone and Parson offers unique, high-end antique pieces, as does Richard Ogden.

In antique jewelry, "book pieces" (pieces that have been documented in, as the phrase suggests, books--either monographs about individual designers or design traditions, or exhibition catalogues from museums) have an extra cachet and added value.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:29 PM on January 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agree with that, jewelery is not considered a good investment in general. Buy it 'cause you like to wear it. For investment, buy a stock or something. But you can't wear a stock certificate.
posted by kevinsp8 at 1:39 PM on January 29, 2011

Yes, jewelry is not really an investment unless you are buying antiques that have already appreciated in value ... or unless you get really, really, really, really lucky and chance upon something that later becomes an antique. But virtually no jewelry you buy will you be able to resell for what you paid for it ... I actually own an antique pearl bracelet, which I love, that sold for hundreds of dollars 100 years ago (the style and provenance of the pearls was briefly extraordinarily trendy in the 1910s/1920s which hyperinflated the prices, but is no longer remotely in style; people mostly remark upon how odd they look). I paid $25 from a estate-and-antique jewelry dealer, so I'm sure it's worth no more than $20 wholesale. That's much more likely to happen than any appreciation in value. And the more you look at name brands, the more you're paying for branding over actual value of the materials. (And most commercial brands will have too many pieces on the market to garner any rarity as antiques in the near future.)

So buy what you like and want to wear and/or want to pass down to your kids.

"what I'm essentially trying to do is start building a collection of stuff that may be not be extravagant but really high quality (i.e. small but internally flawless diamonds, non-cultured natural pearls, heavier gold etc.) I think like"

If that were my goal, I'd work with a small local jeweler and, you know, buy those things. And have him make things for me. I certainly wouldn't be paying for a Tiffany's markup or chasing brand names. Gemstones and precious metals are commodities; "Tiffany's" doesn't add any value to the underlying quality of the material, just perceived value in the brand name.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:31 PM on January 29, 2011

Response by poster: great information esp: re antique jewelry not necessarily gaining value. I know now not to go for 'brand' stuff in jewelery for quality reasons unless I really like the design of the item or want something from the brand in particular based on its name
posted by the mad poster! at 9:58 AM on January 30, 2011

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