Pearls of Wisdom: Shopping Tips for Jewelry

Every day we face a plethora of special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc. And then there are the standard holidays: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. At one time or another, we all have had the (sometimes difficult) task of shopping for jewelry for that special someone. Will she like this necklace? Does he like rings? What’s her favorite gemstone? Should I get 10 karat or 14 karat gold? How do I know I bought a quality piece of jewelry?

To help alleviate the stress of shopping for jewelry, we went to the experts for their advice. So before making your next jewelry purchase, read on to find out the ins and outs of shopping for jewelry.

Where to Buy

When shopping for jewelry, there is no shortage of retailers to be found. But how do you know which one is the right place for you? How can you be sure you are getting your money’s worth? Before heading out, do your homework on jewelry retailers. There are several ways to find out about the jewelers in your area. First and foremost, you can check with the local Better Business Bureau to see if any consumer complaints have been filed against the retailer.

Second, you can check with Jewelers of America, the national association for the retail jeweler, to see if they are registered members. Members must agree to maintain the highest standards of honesty, fairness, professionalism and services. Also, find out if staff members have diplomas from the Gemological Institute of America. While they are not required, GIA diplomas are regarded as the most prestigious academic credentials in the gem and jewelry industry.

What to Buy

Many times, shoppers looking to buy jewelry are sure of only one thing: They want to buy jewelry. Deciding what to buy, however, may not be as easy. Selections range from the very simple to the most extravagant, in any shape, size or style imaginable. Rings, watches, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, pins, cufflinks – item availability is mind-boggling. Throw in custom designs, and the possibilities are endless.

So how do you decide what’s appropriate for your special occasion? Talking with your jewelry professional is always a great place to start. Because they sell jewelry on a daily basis for a myriad of occasions, they have a good idea of what makes a great gift. For instance, diamond stud earrings and cultured pearls continue to be popular choices. For men, watches are a hands-down favorite. Birthstone jewelry also remains popular for birthday gifts.

For standard holidays, certain items seem to sell better than others. For Valentine’s Day, diamond and white gold hearts are popular. Rings or pendants with their children’s birthstones are popular for Mother’s Day, while cuff links bode well for Father’s Day.

Remember that no matter what you purchase, if you select it with the recipient in mind, you are sure to make a good choice.

Diamonds Are Everyone’s Best Friend

Diamonds continue to reign as the gemstone of choice for jewelry shoppers. They can be incorporated into just about every piece of jewelry available – rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, cuff links, watches, pins – anything you can imagine. Shoppers can find a wide selection at most retailers, and if they don’t find what they want, there is the option to have the piece custom made. They also have the option of selecting loose diamonds and having them incorporated into pre-made settings.

When shopping for diamonds, shoppers always should consider the four C’s: cut, color, clarity and carat. Cut refers to both the shape of a stone and the quality of the cut. Popular shapes include round, princess, emerald, oval, pear and marquise.

When examining the quality of the cut, buyers should look at the proportions of dimensions of the stone as well as the depth and diameter. Stones cut very deep (“heavy makes” in the business) with less diameter generally carry a discount on the wholesale market. Stones cut very shallow (“spread cut”), while looking larger than their true carat weight, are less brilliant and fail to generate the “life and fire” that a well-cut stone would.

Color is determined by the amount of yellow apparent in the stone. The most internationally accepted color scale in the diamond industry is provided by the Gemological Institute of America. The scale runs between D and Z, or colorless to light yellow. Generally, the more colorless the stone, the better the quality. However, if enough yellow is present, it can be considered “canary,” at which point it may be worth more than a white diamond. Because the distinctions between grades are very subtle, they generally are undetectable by the untrained eye.

Clarity refers to the flaws in a stone. Usually in the form of “inclusions,” these are included crystals, feathers or fractures, and can be black or white. Again, the GIA provides the most internationally accepted scale. The scale runs from flawless (the best quality) to included (the least quality). Internally flawless, very very slightly included (VVS), very slightly included (VS) and slightly included (SI) are the middle grades.

Carat represents the weight of the stone.

Once shoppers know the facts about the diamonds they are considering, then they can make a knowledgeable decision on what to purchase.

Gold vs. Platinum

In recent years, jewelers have seen a rise in the popularity of platinum jewelry. However, gold continues to be a mainstay in jewelry purchases. When shopping for these precious metals, be sure you know what you are buying. Like diamonds, gold and platinum also are rated for quality, which is based on purity.

The purity of gold is defined by the term karat, which is 1/24 part of pure gold by weight. Hence, 24 karat gold is pure, 22 karat is 91.7 percent pure, 18 karat is 75 percent pure, 14 karat is 58.3 percent pure and 10 karat is 41.7 percent pure. No jewelry item less than 10 karat may be sold in the United States as gold jewelry.

Gold that is not 100 percent pure is mixed with other metals to give it durability. These metals generally are copper and silver. To change yellow gold to white, large amounts of nickel or palladium are added to achieve the white color.

For platinum, purity is designated by the grades of PT900 and PT950 – the higher the number, the higher the quality of platinum. PT900 indicates 90 percent pure platinum mixed with 10 percent iridium. PT950, the highest purity available, indicates 95 percent platinum mixed with 5 percent iridium.

Before purchasing gold or platinum, make sure you do your homework to ensure you are getting the quality you want.

Where to Buy

While there is no wrong time to buy jewelry, some occasions are more popular than others. Christmas is the most popular time to buy, with anniversaries and birthdays second, and Valentine’s Day third.

Now that you have the basics of shopping for jewelry, you are ready to hit the stores. Whether buying for yourself or for others, you are sure to make a great purchase!






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