In some ways, buying jewelry can be a bit like buying a car. You can’t just go by surface-level looks—to make an informed purchase, you need to know what you’re looking for. Examine the fine details, ask questions, and check the paperwork; it’s an investment, and you want to come out on top.
It’s an appealing concept to shop around for the perfect item, finding just what you want for a great price. But when it comes to fine jewelry, whether it’s a gift for a loved one or a treat for yourself, you don’t want to sacrifice quality for the sake of a price tag.
Shopping: where to start
Before your hunt can begin, you need to know where to look. Keep in mind that shopping for fine jewelry doesn’t mean sticking to those Manhattan big names. Such illustrious brands come with an equally lofty price tag, even when they aren’t actually selling you the best quality pieces.
Rather than browsing the most highly-esteemed establishments, find less-prominent sources with potentially fairer prices. Smaller and more personal boutiques, estate sales, private dealers can provide fantastic options with amazing prices—if you’re feeling brave, you can even attend an auction!
Regardless of where you choose to shop, it’s vital to pay attention to whether a piece is as elegant as it appears at first glance. Even if you aren’t an expert, just by knowing what to look for you’ll be able to give any seller trying to pull a fast one a run for their money.
How it’s made
The most apparent aspect to pay attention to is how well a piece is put together when gauging its worth. If, for example, a pendant has visible seams on the back from the casting process, it’s most definitely of a value akin to costume jewelry.
It’s worth considering just how well jewelry featuring a gem or diamond set by metal prongs is configured. Check to see if the stone is loose, or if there is space between it and the prongs, leaving the stone held in place by a messy spot of glue on the back. We don’t just mean rings, either. Pendant necklaces and other pieces also have prong settings.
The metal itself can make or break a piece’s value. If the coloring is uneven or has an artificial-looking sheen to it, it may be made with a cheap alloy or a synthetic component that’s been painted over.
The weight of the jewelry can be telling as well; check to see if the weight and movement match with its appearance. It can be particularly noticeable when it comes to metals like sterling silver, gold, and platinum. Classified as heavy metals, they should feel—well—heavy. If you hold a gold piece and find that it’s noticeably lighter than one would expect, it may only be gold-plated, or something else entirely.
Reading the marks
If you inspect a piece of jewelry carefully, you may find a stamp hidden somewhere on it, frequently overlooked and unnoticed. These subtle markers can offer valuable insight into the piece’s creation, and a peek into its history.
Purity marks have been legally required on jewelry made in the U.S. since 1906. They indicate the type and fineness of the metal used in a given piece—specifically those that are (at least supposedly) made of silver or gold.
Similarly, and especially prominent in Europe, jewelry may be stamped with an official hallmark by one of its nation’s assay offices. This collection of symbols denotes the purity of the precious metal content, the office that performed the testing, and the year it was done.
Some jewelry will also have what is known as a maker’s mark, the name or initials of the piece’s manufacturer. They’re a trademark, in a way; a mark of legitimacy proving that a specific brand or designer produced a piece.
It can be difficult to decipher for someone who isn’t immersed in the world of jewelry! Our stylists can lend a hand and help you find quality pieces.
The jewel in the crown
Any precious stone used in jewelry in the USA should be certified by one of two agencies—the American Gem Society for diamonds; the Gemological Institute of America for gemstones—to confirm the stone’s authenticity. But like any other document, these papers can be falsified by dishonest sellers.
To ensure that they’re legitimate, one can compare the documentation to the characteristics of the product in question: its height, weight, and imperfections. Knowing about how these stones are valued will help in your analysis of its quality. Though the grading of diamonds and gemstones requires proper training, a general understanding of the concepts can give you a leg up in doing business.
Regarding the solidified carbon that we so dearly covet, quality is determined by the 4Cs: cut, color, clarity, carat.
Perhaps the most important criterion is how the diamond is cut. There are many different shapes, all popular for varied reasons. What matters is precisely how well it’s done, how its planes and angles bring in and reflect light to captivate the eye.
Beyond the diamond’s cut is the color. Hues typically range from a light yellow to the most valuable color—complete lack thereof. Clarity is another factor; its internal imperfections and external blemishes that can be practically invisible to the naked eye. Finally and most simply is the carat: the weight of the diamond in question—after all, bigger is often considered better.
Much of a gemstone’s value lies in its color. It’s preferred that diamonds are clear enough that the real spectacle is how light refracts through them. Gems, on the other hand, are appreciated for their natural intricacies with all of their unique hues and imperfections.
Because color is such a determining factor, gems can be treated in a variety of ways to appear more valuable. A high-quality gem has natural, untreated color. It can be difficult to spot signs of treatment by sight alone, but an awareness of them will at least help you ask the right questions.
As far as enhancements go, heat treatments are the most natural, continuing that which occurred in the extreme heat beneath the earth’s surface. Though not necessarily a problem, it’s something the vendor should disclose up front. If upon asking, you find that they weren’t initially forthcoming with these details, it’s a warning sign to be shrewd in dealings with them.
Less natural is the use of chemicals and pigments. Some stones will be bleached to brighten hues and remove any unwanted color components. This compromises the gem’s physical integrity, leaving it brittle and porous.
In order to alter color, a coat of paint may be applied all over a gem’s surface, or to the back of a gem that is to be set in jewelry. Some gems that are dyed are fractured or made porous to better accept the pigment (especially common in lesser quality pearls). These dyes can leak out of the fractures, or dissolve when introduced to a solvent, and will fade with exposure to sunlight.
It’s common to treat a gem’s fractures and fissures with oils that obscure physical flaws and improve color. Emeralds are typically treated with oils due to their proclivity to developing imperfections during formation.
An oil treatment leaves little initial evidence. It will, however, wear away over time, leaving the stone in whatever sorry condition led to its treatment in the first place. With oils involved, you’ll never know how damaged or fragile a gem is until it’s too late.
Best Kept is your best bet
The small details to consider when separating fine jewelry from other pieces on the market are plentiful. We’ve only covered a fraction overall—there’s plenty more to learn. Remember: if you aren’t a trained professional, you can’t possibly catch everything.
When there’s so much to look out for, why take the risk? With Best Kept, you can ensure that you get a great deal on handpicked pieces without sacrificing quality. Contact us today to learn more about what we can do for you!