overpriced shiny rocks
August 13, 2011 10:07 AM   Subscribe

My mother has been buying gemstones and other jewelry on the Home Shopping Network, about $3000-4000 worth over the last two years. This is money she can't afford, and by her own admission it's a compulsive habit. However, she insists the gems are a good deal because they're so beautiful and "you can't even find them in department stores". I don't know anything about HSN or gemstones, but I'm assuming this stuff is nearly worthless junk, and I'm looking for information to back that up to convince her to at least quit HSN. Please help.

I'm at my wit's end and so frustrated, because my mother's finances are in bad shape right now, and she is burning through her life savings on this junk. Truth be told, I don't really know that she's being ripped off. I just assume that HSN's business model is to sell overpriced trinkets to people who have little access to information or alternatives. I know even less about gemstones, and I can't really get too much detail from her about what she's bought, but they're not diamonds, or sapphires, they're cheaper stones, I'm pretty sure significantly less than $100 for individual pieces of jewelry. At that level, I'm assuming none of it is really worth anything resale. Would I generally be right? She has this idea that the stuff she's buying is such a great deal that she could potentially make money off of some of them if she resold.

If one wanted to buy gemstones, either loose or in settings for a good price on the internet, where would I go? Where could she maybe learn about gemology from an unbiased source, any good books on amazon, or magazines, something that would be helpful for a beginner or layperson?
posted by skewed to Shopping (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
There are expensive gem dealers online and there are places where you can get good bargains.

Typically when I'm pricing out stones, this is the first place I go. I've bought a few stones here, and based on comments by jewellers, I'd done well, but I also only buy AAA type stones. I also typically wait for the two-for-one or three-for-one sales that the site commonly holds.

Alternatively if you want to see what higher end suppliers charge, head over to http://www.pricescope.com/forum/ and look through the suppliers mentioned in those threads.

You may also want to check out this recent comment of mine, as it does address the value of the items purchased through a similar (although Canadian) outlet.

Actually that thread also lists some good resources about findings suppliers, so take a look through it. Alternatively walk into any beading shop and look around to get a sense of what the going price is for less valuable (onyx, lapis, etc.) stones.

As to whether or not your mother is making good purchases based on appraisal pricing of the pieces, the real problem is her finances. If she can afford to buy the pieces and they make her happy fine. If she can't afford them, then that's the problem that the two of you need to address.

I will say that the hook a lot of these shopping channels use is that they push payment plans and their own credit cards. That way people who can't afford a big ticket (say over $1000) item think to themselves that buy paying $100 a month, they can manage the cost. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.
posted by sardonyx at 10:22 AM on August 13, 2011 [8 favorites]

buy paying $100 a month

by...that by paying $1000...
posted by sardonyx at 10:28 AM on August 13, 2011

Best answer: Resale value on HSN jewelry is basically nothing. I had a 14K gold ring set with sapphires and cubic zirconia that a relative had given me, and during a scary financial time I thought, "Oh, I can pawn that and make a little very-needed cash that way!" Sadly, the ring's value was assessed at approximately $10. That's ten dollars, not a typo. The stones were not real, they were paste. The gold was real and 14K, all right, but it was gold plating over low-quality silver.

It might be helpful to show your mother this discussion about jewelry quality by users on HSN's forums.
posted by palomar at 10:31 AM on August 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Gemstones are pretty and shiny, and depending on the rock's type, size, and whether it is polished or uncut makes a significant difference in price. A piece of polished garnet or peridot the size of a teardrop can cost roughly the same as a piece of uncut quartz the size of two digits of your pinkie finger. I'm also talking about unset pieces; pieces that have been put into jewelry can cost far more.

One thing I'd suggest considering would be attempting to help your mom break the habit. I'd say that's the bigger problem at hand. Try convincing her to sell the pieces she has and she what she can get for them versus what she paid for them. If she gets more, bonus; if she gets less, you have a way to convince her that they're useless.

Another method could be buying unset pieces and creating her own jewelry to sell or wear. I have done this before as well, and it can be fun and rewarding, especially if she starts being able to sell the pieces she makes.
posted by dustpatterns at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2011

Best answer: Never mind, there's a typo in my correction. I'm giving up now.

Before I do, here are just a few links I've got bookmarked that you may find interesting/helpful:

I've got more, but I'm in a bit of a rush at the moment. Feel free to memail me if you want more info.
posted by sardonyx at 10:33 AM on August 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

IANAL, but from what I've read Home Shopping Network seems to be a reputable source of gemstones/jewelry. Are the stones real? You must always read the description provided in the graphic - sometimes it will specify "simulated" or "lab-created." Are lab-created diamonds as valuable as mined diamonds? The DeBeers Company has made sure that the price of "real" diamonds are artificially inflated. Anyway, I used to watch HSN during certain host segments because their voices gave me a lovely ASMR sensation, so I learned a lot about the various gemstones (many of which I'd never heard of before - peridot, tourmaline, etc.) Mr. Adams mistook my viewing as a longing for sparkly jewelry and bought me a beautiful white gold band channel-set with rubies and sapphires for our 10th anniversary. "I even made sure to buy it from that lady you like" he enthused when I opened the package. I was at a jewelry repair shop once having an errant stone put back in another ring, and spontaneously asked the jeweler about this new band. He examined it with his loupe for several minutes and then told me that as far as he could tell from that bried examination, the gemstones were authentic, as was the white gold setting.

HSN and QVC are the two shopping channels with a huge following and an equally huge reputation that they would be loathe to have tainted by selling fake gems (other channels, maybe not so much). That is not to say that any gemstone is worth the price being asked - a piece of jewelry is only as valuable as what someone else wants to pay for it. If your mother can ill-afford these purchases, she needs to stop and find solace in some other hobby. Jewely, even actual diamond pieces, rarely increases in value, and is not a solid investment. The Crown Jewels are only as valuable as they are because of the history behind them, not the actual retail value of the stones.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:34 AM on August 13, 2011

Augh, forgot to add a quick note: I buy gemstones often, usually for less than $5 for tiny uncut pieces. I have purchased a hunk of uncut amethyst the size of my fist for $15US, and a piece or polished lapis lazuli the size of my hand for $30CAD.

Hope that helps!
posted by dustpatterns at 10:42 AM on August 13, 2011

Best answer: There's little question that this stuff has little re-sale value -- how open to 'convincing' is she? It might be illustrative to have her take a trinket to a pawn shop and see what sort of offer is made...

She can also cruise eBay to see what similar jewellery is going for, and what HSN jewellery sells for. Here's a lot of 18 pieces that went for $146.55; six bracelets, $23.01

I would drop $10 on a Rio Grande Gems & Findings catalogue for her (or she can browse it on-line, but the thing is huge).

I wonder if she would not enjoy doing that 'sell jewellery at home parties' sort of thing? Not to say that that involves quality stuff, just sort of same-y stuff that she'd at least get for free.

(I think Oriole Adams' assessment is probably largely correct and it is unlikely that HSN is ripping people off any more than anywhere else comparable, but, cheap jewellery does not have any notable re-sale value, period. There are some rare exceptions with notable designers but that is not going to be the case in the near future and/or with the sort of mass-marketing HSN would be doing; nothing she's buying will be a rarity.)

Simple article on jewellery as 'investment' "When the owner of a piece of jewellery goes to sell their 'investment' they will be lucky to get 30% of its cost price back. In fact, most jewellers will not even consider buying the piece back. The buyer will be forced to sell it at a massively discounted price in a pawnshop or on Ebay."

If logic fails here, try to address whatever it is that's leaving her feeling a need to shop compulsively. Boredom, anxiety...?
posted by kmennie at 10:43 AM on August 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

To clarify, the ring I had tried to sell was an HSN ring.

Oriole Adams is correct in that HSN and QVC are large companies who are probably not directly lying to their customers about the value of their jewelry. There's nothing strictly illegal about advertising something as 14K gold and not mentioning that it's actually gold plating over cheaper metal and not solid gold. Technically, if the gold used in the gold plating is 14K, then the seller can claim the ring is 14K gold. And yes, peridot and tourmaline are gemstones, but they are semi-precious stones and generally pretty easy to find, so their resale value is not terribly high unless they're of exceptional quality.

The jewelry you can buy at HSN and QVC is usually on par, quality and resale value-wise, with jewelry you can buy at Macy's or JCPenney or other department stores.
posted by palomar at 10:55 AM on August 13, 2011

It sounds to me like there may be underlying issues. The kind of behavior you describe is self-destructive, and your mother is aware of that. Could you get her into counseling? Convincing her of the low value of her purchases might slow down her spending, but if she is knows she can;t afford them and purchases them anyway, that sounds very much like an addictive behavior to me.
posted by annsunny at 11:22 AM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Can you delete the channel from her cable lineup via the remote? I did this for myself with Fox News and it led to much less angry channel surfing.
posted by thorny at 12:02 PM on August 13, 2011 [8 favorites]

My mother has been buying gemstones and other jewelry on the Home Shopping Network, about $3000-4000 worth over the last two years.

That's about $120 to $150 a month, which really doesn't sound like a whole lot of money unless she's living in extreme poverty. Most people spend more than that a month on Starbucks or junk food. You say that she is using her savings for the junk jewelery: if it's giving her pleasure to do so then what is the real problem here? Spend 5 bucks a day on Starbucks and all you have at the end of the month are the jitters . At least you mom has some pretty looking trinkets to look at in the same time frame. Granted the stuff is worthless but it gives her some joy so unless she really ramps up her spending I'm not clear if there really is an issue.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 12:28 PM on August 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

You say that she is using her savings for the junk jewelery: if it's giving her pleasure to do so then what is the real problem here?

If the OP's mom has limited income and limited savings, this could have serious repercussions in the not too distant future. For instance, my grandma probably has 15-18 years left, and she has a very modest amount of money saved. Due to rising costs her SSI checks don't cover all her monthly expenses anymore, so I supplement her income (and will likely have to do so for the rest of her life) and she takes a small withdrawal from her savings every month. There's enough in her savings that she should be able to maintain a good standard of living (and a bit of room for frivolities like a new piece of jewelry every few months if she wants) for the rest of her life if she's prudent, and if not too many horrible things happen like governmental collapse or zombie hordes. If she were to start spending $2K a year on costume jewelry the whole plan would fall apart. (If she were buying it with resale in mind, that would be even worse.)

OP says mom's finances are in bad shape already. Any decent financial advisor will tell you, when your finances are in trouble, you cut out any unnecessary spending. Costume jewelry is pretty much the definition of unnecessary spending.
posted by palomar at 2:37 PM on August 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Edit pony!! That should say $150 a month for costume jewelry is pretty much the blah blah blah spendcakes.
posted by palomar at 2:39 PM on August 13, 2011

Is your mother willing to go to a Shopaholics Anonymous meeting?
posted by brujita at 2:58 PM on August 13, 2011

I'm not a fan of HSN, and I am 100% willing to believe it is crap, but they are pretty clear about what you are buying. When it is plate and synthetic stones, they tell you that - acrylic, glass and "gold tone." When it is sterling and some type of gemstone, they tell you that, too. The issue is that people do not realise that these attributes do not make the goods "heirloom quality."

The other issue is that while you can say "Mom, that 4.3 total ct weight London Blue topaz ring is $119; here's a 4.7ct London Blue topaz stone for $35!" she isn't buying uncut stones. She's buying jewelry, which is a totally different experience. She's sitting at home watching these people show her pretty things, hearing what a great deal it is, and how there are less than 100 left and the lines are full with selling out buyers. It's an un-subtle but very tested, refined and effective sales tactic perfected over the last 30 years.

Nothing in the world could stop my mother in law from home shopping because she enjoyed the whole process: the watching, the picking, the phone call and chat, the wait for the delivery, the unboxing, etc. She was housebound and nobody begrudged her some entertainment she could comfortable afford. But if your mom thinks these items have actual resale value, you may be able to disabuse her of this notion by having a few of her favourite pieces appraised.

That may move you to a spot where you can say "Mom, if you want to buy things from HSN, you are an adult and you can do that, but you should buy things you like and will want to wear and get use out of now, because that's the real value here. Don't focus on the resale value because there isn't much and that's not what the items are about." I say this because mentally, the margin between "great deal for resale" and "things I actually would pay to wear" is significant.

Overall, the "this is a scam and you are being screwed" approach is very unlikely to work.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:27 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the real problem to address is that the people on HSN make her feel good, and she may be lonely, so she watches more HSN, and gets sucked into buying more stuff she can't afford. New hobbies, like knitting, which has lively online and real life communities, or volunteering, might give her some needed social life and displace the shopping.
posted by theora55 at 8:36 AM on August 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for the information. To clarify, this is a habit she absolutely cannot afford, she's spending money she could conceivably need for food or rent five years from now. It's definitely part of a larger habit of compulsive buying, both from tv shopping and from catalogues. She admits she buys when she is feeling anxious/depressed. She even asked me to block the channels next time I am there, but that won't be until December.

I think the idea of taking some of the items to a pawn shop to have them appraised is a good idea, I don't think she'd be buying many of these items if she thought their "real" value was 40-50% of what she was paying. I'm also going to try to get her some gem books so she can still learn about them and enjoy them.
posted by skewed at 8:55 AM on August 14, 2011

Maybe something like Collecting Costume Jewelry 101; "This book provides beginning collectors with friendly one-on-one advice on how to begin a collection and how to recognize good quality costume jewelry," etc?

It would be nice to get her out of the compulsive buying thing, but if it was possible to channel it into something harmless like a regular sweep of the local thrift shops for hidden gems in their costume jewellery piles, perhaps she could get her shopping fix and find some interesting stuff without spending much.
posted by kmennie at 10:34 AM on August 14, 2011

I'm guessing a difference between true "costume jewellery" (white metal/glass or paste stones) and the things that the OP's mother is buying (sterling or 10K with lower-end semi-precious stones). Or maybe we're both wrong and she's buying Padparadscha sapphires.

If it's the stones she's interested in, she'd be better off with books like this, or this or this. Mind you, they're not cheap.

I think the idea of taking her pieces in and trying to sell them is a good one, but be fair to her. Take her to a jewellery shop that deals in estate pieces and that actually might have some clue about gemstones. Not every pawn shop owner would be able to identify a spessartite garnet. Heck, I've even seen jewellery shop owners who couldn't tell a sapphire from a blue topaz.

If she's buying from a shopping channel, she likely has a good idea of the weight of the silver or gold in the piece she's buying. You want to see my answer in this thread to get an idea of how much just the metal (gold) would be worth in her pieces.
posted by sardonyx at 10:52 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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