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How to Buy Jewelry

August 5th, 2009

how-to-buy-jewelry.jpgAccording to a recent study conducted by Blue Nile, an online diamond and fine jewelry retailer, 75 percent of men said they don’t feel knowledgeable about buying jewelry. And yet, men still do most of the jewelry purchasing. Now, what does that tell you? Here’s an entire gender that knows every trivial spec about their cars, their stereos, even their fishing rods, and yet they drop down hundreds if not thousands of dollars for jewelry without any research whatsoever. If that doesn’t prove once and for all that women have won the battle of the sexes, I don’t know what will. There’s really no way to remedy the situation and remain married, so at least we can educate ourselves a bit and see if we can avoid getting ripped off in the process.

First, let’s familiarize ourselves with the different materials we’re likely to encounter:

Gold

The purity of gold is expressed in units called “karats”, with each karat representing 1/24 of the total. So, 24 karat gold (24k) is 100 percent gold. But because gold is very soft, other metals are added to make an alloy hard enough for use as jewelry, usually resulting in 14k or 18k gold. Keep in mind that solid gold does not mean 24k gold, but a gold object of any karat that is solid metal, and not hollow. When inspecting a piece of gold jewelry, look for the karat mark, as well as the name or trademark of the producer.

Platinum

More expensive than gold, platinum is also mixed with other metals. The purity of platinum is marked in parts of platinum per thousand. If an alloy is more than 950 parts platinum, it may be labeled as just platinum (Plat, or Pt). Otherwise it will list the number of parts per thousand of platinum. If the platinum content is significantly low, the rating may also list the other composite metals.

Silver

Jewelry made of “sterling silver” is 92.5 percent silver, with other metals (usually copper) added for durability. Look for the quality marks “sterling”, “ster”, “sterling silver”, or “925″, all of which must be accompanied by the producer’s trademark.

Diamonds

The value of a diamond is determined by its carat (weight), cut, color, and clarity.

Carat: One carat (not to be confused with karats of gold) equals 1/5 gram, or 200 milligrams.

Cut: The cut of the diamond is not really about the shape of the stone, but about how well it reflects light. The more light that is reflected, the more brilliant the stone appears (and the more expensive it is). Without getting too complicated, just know that “ideal” cuts are the best and most expensive.

Color: Paradoxically, the ideal color for a diamond is no color at all. Diamonds are graded on a color scale, which starts at the most expensive and colorless, indicated by the letter D. As you move down the alphabet, diamonds get cheaper and more yellow (”fancy colored” diamonds, which may actually have lots of bright color, are very rare and very expensive).

Clarity: A diamond’s clarity refers to the amount of internal blemishes, or “inclusions.” While a lower clarity grade will affect the price of a diamond, it’s very difficult to tell the difference with the naked eye.

Pearls

There are four different types of pearls you may encounter:

  • Natural pearls are those created by oysters on their own. They are extremely rare and very expensive.
  • Cultured pearls are produced by oysters, but they’re made with a little outside assistance. Cultivators insert a small bead into the oyster, which is then coated with “nacre”, the substance the oyster produces that forms the pearl and provides its luster.
  • Freshwater pearls, while often not as perfectly formed as saltwater pearls, do tend to have a thicker coating of lustrous nacre. In addition, they’re more reasonably priced than their saltwater cousins.
  • Imitation pearls are made of plastic or glass, fabricated to look like pearls.

Of course, just knowing a little bit about the components of jewelry doesn’t really help all that much with the actual buying process. The most important thing to consider is personal preference. And since you’re buying for your wife, it’s her preference that really counts. Here are some tips to help you find the perfect jewelry for her:

  • What types of jewelry does she wear, or not wear? If you notice that she only wears gold, then she may not appreciate a silver ring. If she has lots of necklaces and earrings, that’s a good sign that she enjoys them. Remember, jewelry is an irrational pursuit, so as long as you don’t buy the exact same thing, the more the better.
  • Look to match with jewelry she already has. Women are always looking to match earrings with a necklace, and vice versa.
  • Try to match an outfit. Buy her pearls to go with that black dress she just bought. Not only do you get points for the jewelry, but you earn extra credit for noticing her clothes.
  • Don’t go it alone. Ask family and friends for their suggestions. Spend plenty of time with your jeweler, asking questions and telling him or her about your wife. A little expert advice can go a long way in finding the perfect piece.
  • Make it significant. Buy something to remind her of that trip you took together, or have a family heirloom reset for her to wear. This one can be tricky, so make sure you consult friends and family before purchasing.

Now, when the time comes to buy, the fun really begins. If your wife will appreciate that little blue box from Tiffany’s as much as the jewelry inside, then by all means raise your credit limit and head on over. But I would suggest that you shop around in those fancy department stores, and then make the final purchase in the diamond district downtown (most big downtowns have one), in some old brick building where the elevator has a gate you have to slide over manually before the door closes. This is the kind of a place where you’d expect to see Christian Szell, the “White Angel” from Marathon Man, walk by with a briefcase manacled to his wrist. Just keep in mind that when you walk through that door, you have to commit yourself to haggling like you’re in a Turkish bazaar, since the salesmen are master closers and it’s tough to get out of there without buying something. Here are some suggestions to help you get a great deal:

  • Do your homework, so you know exactly what you’re looking for. If they don’t have it, move on to the next place.
  • After they show you what they’ve got, even if you see exactly what you’re looking for, always ask, “So, when are you getting more in?”
  • They’ll say something like, “The retail on this one is $8,500, but I can let it go for $650.” I’m never sure what retailer could ever charge that top number; maybe that’s the price in Turkish liras or drachmas or something.
  • As far as you’re concerned, there is no bottom to this negotiation, I don’t care how offended he pretends to be, you should negotiate as if he’ll eventually just give it to you for free.
  • Eventually you’ll get to a number that feels like rock bottom. Offer him $20 less. Keep in mind a lot of these places only take cash (surprise, surprise).
  • Most important of all, make sure you know their refund and return policy before any money changes hands. Make sure your receipt has the exact details of the item you bought, along with any certification that may go along with it. Wives are notorious returners and exchangers. She may tell you she’s just taking the ring or necklace back for a fitting, and come back with something completely different and assume you’ll never notice. If she’s happy, then you’re happy, so just play dumb.

To use the musical terminology, most jewelry has a strong attack but a limited sustain. You make a great impression when the gift is delivered, but unless it’s something she’ll wear every day, the effect soon fades. The best way to lengthen the sustain is to associate the jewelry with another memorable event. If you wait for a special occasion, you can create a memorable getaway in which to present her with the jewelry, and thus make the jewelry more memorable too.


Amy Weber is a freelance writer and article supplier for DailyArticle.com, a source of some surprisingly inexpensive but original articles on buying jewelry and other topics for those who are patient enough to browse through the full selection.

Related Article: Buying Wholesale Jewelry


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