Avoiding getting ripped off in a market filled with experts, salespeople when you're a novice.
June 18, 2008 2:05 PM   Subscribe

How do you avoid getting ripped off in the jewelry market when you're not an expert?

I was recently introduced to the jewelry market after deciding to get my SO something special. I know almost exactly what I want. But I was hoping to spend somewhere closer to $1000 than $100.

My main question is revolves around the concern that (like real estate) this is an expert's market. How do I make sure that I'm not getting ripped off when I know nothing about jewelry? There is a huge range of prices for things that look the same to me. I'm sure to an expert there are real differences, but it is all just confusing to me. I just want to fork over my money!

I see a couple of options for me:
* Stick to brand names and get what I want custom-made. Hope that they don't rip me off.
* Spend a lot of time shopping around and most likely not finding what I want.
* Ask for advice! (What I'm doing here.)

I'd appreciate if you could give me advice on what to do in this particular situation, but general advice would also be great (and would probably help myself and others in the future).
posted by Poleris to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For starters, I'm a jeweler by trade.

It's impossible to become an "expert" in a short amount of time but do spend some time educating yourself along the lines of what it is you're looking for.

There's a lot of information available. Some of the forums aren't a bad place to look either. They give you the opportunity to do some reading and and "size them up". I have a forum where I and other jewelers participate trying to provide helpful information at

Getting to know and develope a level of trust with whomever you want to work with is a good thing. How responsive are they to questions? How helpful are in trying to help you learn what you'd like to know? etc.

Comparison is a very good way to help you size up different items and merchants. Comparing apples to apples.

If you choose to deal with someone online, find their contact information, and speak to them directly. Verify return and/exchange policies and see if the are published for the public. Ask them about warrantees and guarantees and see if they are published as well.

Speak with jewelers local to you. Ask questions. Voice your concerns. You'll generally find that those most interested in hepling you educate yourself are often good ones to deal with. They realize that it's important that you are comfortable in dealing with them as it's a benefit to you both.

When comparing price, it's important to compare like items. Remember, the discount isn't important. What you end up paying is. All merchants depend upon making a profit.

I know this is rather general information but I hope it helps.

posted by ChainzOnline at 2:35 PM on June 18, 2008

Here's another option: Post a request on Etsy's "Alchemy" page: http://www.etsy.com/alchemy/

People who sell on etsy can then make an offer to implement your idea, describing the materials and their process and qualifications. You can visit their store and see the stuff they have for sale and the stuff they've already sold to gauge their skill level. You can pick one of the offers and work with an artist to make the thing you want.

(Disclaimer: I'm an etsy seller, but not one who uses the Alchemy feature much because doing custom work stresses me out.)
posted by rivenwanderer at 2:39 PM on June 18, 2008

My solution to this problem has been to only ever deal with individual artisans (and sometimes the kind of jewelry shop that carries pieces from a small set of artisans). That way anything I buy will likely be a one-off or part of a small run of pieces; the quality can be partly assessed by the design and partly by talking with the artisan; and if the ethical issues matter to you (eg "blood diamonds") you can talk about those directly with the person who makes the jewelry. Asking a person where they buy their gold, and why, make me a lot more comfortable than reading a bland corporate statement, and gives me a much greater hope that what I am being told is true.

They could still be selling me painted brass instead of gold, and I'm sure I wouldn't be able to tell the difference, but if the designs are beautiful and the artisan is a good person to talk to, I'm not to worried about being deceived about the materials. Their reputation is on the line, after all, and if I'm unhappy with what I was sold I'm not going to be sending more business their way.
posted by Forktine at 2:42 PM on June 18, 2008

lol @ rivenwanderer :) Having spent more than 25 years making custom jewelry I know the feeling.

An additional point Poleris...

I took a quick peek at the pendant you posted a link to. You'll find that that particular style of journey pendant is available as a blank mounting in several stone size options to just about any jeweler. The bulk of the price for it is going to be in the stone size and quality of the stones.

If you check around, you'll likely find many jewelers who are able to put something together more you that matches your budget.

posted by ChainzOnline at 2:49 PM on June 18, 2008

Son of a jeweler here, FWIW. Grew up in the business.

The necklace you linked to has tiny gems, and the diamonds are either distinctly colored, or else they're grading the amethysts with the color rating. Not sure - I've never heard of diamonds with that much color before, except for those which are valuable because of it (like the Hope). The necklace is also freaking tiny; it will look dinky on her. The diamonds' color probably isn't noticeable between the emeralds (which will color the diamonds anyway). The necklace is certainly not impressive, but might be pretty enough for a high school girlfriend, or the lady of a gentleman of extremely modest means. Personally, I think it's overpriced, but that's really a judgment call...

Now, on to your real question. Educate yourself (which you are doing), and resolve that jewelry is only worth what you think it's worth. There's virtually no resale value in jewelry; used class rings sell for 10% of their original cost when sold for gold; used wedding rings aren't much better, until they're old enough (and interesting enough) to be "vintage" heirlooms. Even then, they trail new rings in value for a while.

So, if you think a necklace is worth $X, it is, plain and simple. If you later find out you could have gotten something similar for less than $X, you'll feel ripped off - but it's not like you really have a chance of finding an identical piece somewhere else, and using one of those "We'll beat others prices!!!" claims, since there are myriads of jewelry pieces out there. Don't make those comparisons after buying! Be happy with your decision.

On Cut, Clarity, Color, & Carat (google these "4 C's" if you don't recognize them):

Cut: Any cut but the two modern "brilliant" cuts have diminished brilliance. Most gems are cut with "best possible shapes" for their particular style (marquis, round, oval, etc). Even if they're cut poorly, neither you nor I have the expertise to judge this. Ignore this C.

Clarity: are the stones visibly clean to your eye? Some cuts will produce dark areas that appear to be inclusions (that is, damage to the perfect crystal matrix). However, these dark areas reappear symmetrically about the stone. For instance, marquis cuts (like an American football shape) have dark spots in the center, causing a "bow tie" effect. But - since this is always perfectly symmetrical, you can tell it's a feature of the cut, and not a problem with clarity.

A magnifying glass (bring one, if you can! ... otherwise, ask for one!) will make inclusions easier to see, but remember that it will make unseeably small inclusions suddenly apparent. Only use the glass to make sure that you're looking at an inclusion (and not some shape-related shadowing, as above); if you can't also see the effect with your bare eyes, no one will ever know it's there. Jewelers refer to this as SI clean, for Slightly Imperfect (but not so imperfect that the bare eye can see it).

Color: If you're looking for a mixed-gem setting, the color of the diamond will be obscured by the reflections from the nearby colored gems anyway. This is no big deal (as I argued above).

Carat : This really just means "size". 1 carat is a bigger-than-average engagement ring diamond: huge. "Carat Total Weight", "CTTW", or "CTW", means the total volume of all the stones added up. Thus, the necklace in the link you provide has 7 roughly-equal-sized stones, with 1/10 CTTW. That means each stone averages 0.015 carats in size. I'm not sure you'd notice a stone that size if it got caught under your eyelid... (kidding!) (mostly)

For the price range you're thinking of, I'd expect you could find 1 CTW (or more) necklaces quite easily.

Final jewelry info argument: avoid mall & big-name, TV-advertised jewelers. Their prices are set by their overhead. I may be biased here, but I think the prices are much better at "mom & pop" stores. What you sacrifice is variety - which you get back by going to a few different shops before making your decision.

Final argument: Sex & the City isn't all wrong; in one episode Boyfriend buys engagement ring which disappoints Carrie. Boy returns to store with Carrie's girlfriend, who advises him on what he should trade it back in for. Carrie is now happy.

Lesson? A less shallow woman would have been happier with his loving gift, but let's face it: it's going on her body. If possible, take a close friend of hers shopping. Or, at least, discreetly survey her jewelry collection, and find something that fits in, stylewise, color (does she have earrings that will look nice with it?), size, etc. Does she wear only yellow or only white gold? Or only sterling silver? Know this before you look!
posted by IAmBroom at 3:08 PM on June 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

There's virtually no resale value in jewelry; [...] Sex & the City isn't all wrong; in one episode Boyfriend buys engagement ring which disappoints Carrie.

In the event that you purchase a $1,000 jewellery item and your SO doesn't like it, your main option is to return to the store and swap it, as reselling it would mean taking a large loss. Custom-made jewellery is unlikely to be returnable in this manner for obvious reasons.

However, this only need factor into your decision proportional to the probability of your SO wanting something different.

That said, were I in the situation where someone was disappointed with an engagement ring I had just given them, let's just say I would be returning that ring for a refund not a replacement.
posted by Mike1024 at 4:11 PM on June 18, 2008

Ask friends and family for a jeweler they have been using for years and have great trust in.
posted by poppo at 4:23 PM on June 18, 2008

I appreciate all the great advice. Do you guys have any recommendations for jewelers in the San Francisco area? Since I value my time, it sounds like my best option is to find someone trustworthy.
posted by Poleris at 4:27 PM on June 18, 2008

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