Who is being unreasonable here?
April 12, 2012 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Gold engagement ring has broken a little over 2 years after we had it resized. Is the jeweler to blame, or do these things just happen?

In December 2009 I had a family heirloom ring (circa 1940s) sized down slightly to fit my bride-to-be. I went to one of the older local jewelry shops. They specialize in estate jewelry, and are reputed to do their own work, rather than sending pieces out to have work done.

Now, less than 3 years later, the ring has cracked cleanly open. (If the diamond is at 12 o'clock, the split is at 6 o'clock.) She took it back to that same jeweler, and they want $60 to repair the split. When my wife pointed out that it had only been 2 years, they corrected her, "actually it was 3 years ago". (In truth, 2 years and 3 months.)

Now, granted, we didn't buy the ring there. But I would still expect them to stand behind their work, and I would expect that a resized ring should be strong enough to last longer than 3 years without requiring a repair.

Is the jeweler being unreasonable? Or are our expectations unrealistic?

Are you in the jewelry business? I'd love to hear from you.
posted by sportbucket to Work & Money (5 answers total)
For a data point, my gold wedding band only now just cracked where it was resized 22 years ago. My personal opinion is that a good jeweler would fix that for you for free if you bought the ring from them, but it's more reasonable to charge if you didn't. A weld is always going to be a weak spot and from their point of view, maybe your wife was wearing the ring while jackhammering your front walk or put some other unreasonable stress on it. I would definitely at least expect to be charged for materials.
posted by HotToddy at 3:09 PM on April 12, 2012

Do they have any state guarantees of any kind?

I think it's unreasonable to expect them to fix it for free. It would have been good customer service for them to do the repair free or discounted, but I don't think it is owed you. I think you have the corresponding right to think they did a poor job, review them poorly online, and tell your friends you what you think about the quality of their service.
posted by pseudonick at 3:43 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am formerly a jeweller specializing in Estate Jewellery. This happens.

These are not the most and best technical terms, because because I am zonked on cold medicine and want to get back to huddling under the blankie, but:

You do not say what karat gold the ring is, or enough about it - but whatever the case, this happens. And I do not know your lifestyle or how it has been maintained. And, I don't know if it's a wide band or a thin one. So, assuming what I consider modern habits in wearing and caring for a ring, here goes:

If your ring is a lower carat gold, say, under 18k, it is going to have a higher percentage of alloy and the resulting metal will be more brittle. (18k is 75% gold; the rest alloy. 14k is 58.3% pure - just over half! That's a significant difference in density.) Gold is dense and malleable and durable, and so the higher the carat, the more wear it will take. If it is white gold (not as popular in the forties, but still available) the alloys at the time made it even more brittle.

An older ring, especially from that period, will have worn thin (from the inner surface to the outer surface, as well as from edge to edge) in exactly that area because that's where the most wear occurs. These days, people are even harder on their hands than they were in the forties; and depending on the lifestyle, even more likely to damage rings with things like metal railings in public and use where the ring is often struck or rubbed against other, harder object. Even wearing them doing dishes is rough on them.

Metal is something that can be stressed, right? And vibrations and blows are not something rings are impervious to. A thin ring, both in width and thickness is going to feel the affects of wear and tear more than a wider band with some thickness to it.

Sizing down in the way you described means that it was cut, re-shaped and likely soldered rather than welded back together. The split is not a defect in the work, but a result of the combination of wear/daily damages, the solder being weaker (necessarily - and it's a lower karat gold) than the metal on either side that it's holding together. Depending on the design of the ring and how many sizes it was reduced, the re-shaping that was maybe required by pulling the shoulders down can put extra tension on the join.

Without knowing more about the condition the ring was in when purchased, it maybe would have been better for it to have been be re-shanked (from, say 4 o'clock to 8 o'clock) rather than sized down; though that sometimes takes a ring off-round, and is more expensive, and a jeweller cannot anticipate how hard an individual will be on their jewellery so, they may often take the more conservative route first to preserve as much of the ring in its original state as possible.

If your wife had hit it hard enough, at the right angle the day after it was done, it still could have happened and it would not have been a result of the work, but of the nature of soldering metal under stress together. So, by this time, it likely split from a combination of factors over a decent amount of time, none of which have to do with the quality of the work.

For my clients, I'd check their jewellery yearly - I'd keep a book and invite them in. The stores where I worked would inspect a client's jewellery free of charge at any time. Jewellery needs to be maintained not as much as, say, a car - but say, like a house furnace: Claws holding stones can thin and snag; the metal can become pitted from chemicals; and shanks become worn and thin over time. Regular inspection keeps things from being surprises. (A customer once complained that her diamond just disappeared one day - when I showed her the mount under a microscope, she realized that the two remaining prongs were, like, microns thick after forty years of wearing it without ever looking at it closely. She was lucky they held the stone as long as they did. We could have tipped them and prevented that.) Most jewellers can guarantee their work for a certain amount of time, but three years would be over-the-top; and that's usually only if they manufacture the ring. Otherwise six months to a year for the work is average, for goodwill purposes - but in any case, that often includes a clause about periodic maintenance.

$60 is more than fair, because it is laborious to do a repair like that well - lots of shaping and filing, and sometimes plating to cover the visible seam; and of course, gold's up. You might want to consider that if it's less than, say, 2mm at its thickest and the band is narrower than 3mm, that it would be worthwhile to re-shank it. Either, as I said, a half-shank, or consider a full-shank (from the shoulders).
posted by peagood at 3:46 PM on April 12, 2012 [29 favorites]

That's excellent information, peagood, thank you!

I think we're still going to take the ring elsewhere to be repaired, but it's nice to know that this shop wasn't being unscrupulous.
posted by sportbucket at 3:54 PM on April 12, 2012

You're welcome. Sorry for the typos and mess - I'm not in my right mind. Also, I was just coming back thinking that I made a mistake - the shank, if it's less than, say, 1 mm, you might need it to be sectioned. 2mm is actually a good thickness, relatively. Sadly, when I went to look for a visual representation of what that would look like, all I found was this, so I'm going to leave off. MeMail me with any other questions if you like.
posted by peagood at 3:58 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

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