Tips on Buying Jewelry


A diamond's value is based on four criteria: color, cut, clarity, and carat. Color is graded from colorless to yellow, cut is the way the diamond is fashioned, clarity indicates how flawless the diamond is, and carat is diamond weight.

Diamond weight may be described in decimal or fractional parts of a carat. A fraction may represent a range of weights. For example, a diamond labeled as ½ carat could weigh between .47-.54 carat. If diamond weight is stated as fractional parts of a carat, the retailer should disclose two things: that the weight is not exact, and the reasonable range of weight for each fraction or weight tolerance being used.

Imitation diamonds, such as cubic zirconia, resemble diamonds in appearance but are much less expensive. Certain laboratory-created gemstones also resemble diamonds and may escape the notice of detectors originally used to identify cubic zirconia. Ask your jeweler if she/he has the current testing equipment to distinguish between diamonds and other lab-created gemstones.

To be sure you are making a wise purchase, follow these guidelines:

  • Take the time to be educated about diamonds so you will understand where the best value is and why.

  • When discussing diamond grades with a salesperson, ask who grades their diamonds, what education and experience that person has and what other grading guarantees are offered. A second opinion is always helpful.

  • When viewing diamonds, never use a black background. Black changes the eye's perception of color. Always view the diamond under magnification and make sure you understand what you are seeing.

  • Comparison-shop before making your decision. Be sure you know how to evaluate the four C's (cut, color clarity and carat weight).

  • Ask the salesperson about diamond treatments. Diamonds can be fracture filled or laser treated to improve their appearance.

  • Be sure you get everything in writing. A sales receipt or appraisal with the quality of the diamond listed is considered a contract and is your only means of proving the quality of your diamond is what you have been told.

  • Read all warranties and guarantees before buying the diamond.

  • Ask for a certificate of replacement cost or an appraisal listing the qualities of your diamond to accompany your receipt.

  • If your diamond comes with a gemological certificate be sure to get the original and keep it with your receipt.

Colored Gemstones
Faceted gemstones usually have better clarity; the faceting allows light to pass through the gemstone and show its brilliance.

Many new stone treatments have been developed to improve the appearance and durability of gemstones. However, a treatment may lower the gem's value and may require special care to retain the gem's appearance.

Laboratory-created (synthetic) stones are identical to natural stones but do not have their rarity and cost; thus, laboratory-created stones are less expensive than naturally mined stones.

In contrast, imitation or "assembled" stones resemble natural stones in appearance, but may be glass, plastic or other less valuable stones.

Follow these tips:

  • Ask whether the gemstone is natural, synthetic or imitation.

  • Ask whether the gemstone was treated in any way.

  • Learn to use a jeweler's loupe (small magnifier) to see inside the stone to check if it is chipped or damaged in any way; ask the salesperson to educate you about the quality of the gemstone.

  • Be sure you get everything in writing. A sales receipt or appraisal listing the quality of the gemstone is considered a contract and is your only means of proving what you have been told.

  • Read all warranties and guarantees before buying the jewelry.

  • Ask for a certificate of replacement cost or appraisal listing the special qualities of your gemstone to accompany your receipt.

  • Ask about the cleaning and care of the gemstone.

The word gold, used alone, means all gold or 24 karat (24K) gold. Because gold is soft, it is usually mixed with other metals to increase its hardness and durability.

The karat quality marking tells you what proportion of gold is mixed with other metals. The most common marks for gold jewelry are 18K or 750 (signifying 75% gold), 14K or 585 (58% gold), and 10K (42% gold). Ten karat gold is the lowest level allowed under U.S. law.

Jewelry made of higher-karat gold is more yellow in color and slightly softer than gold jewelry made of lower-karat gold, which may include copper, silver, zinc, or other metals. Consumers also need to be concerned with the alloys if they are allergic to certain metals or have a high acid content in their bodies. Acid can turn the jewelry you wear black, appearing to be of poor quality when it actually is not.

A wide choice of styles and designs is available in gold jewelry. Because of its creative design and manufacture, designer jewelry may cost more than generic gold jewelry, but having the designer's name stamped inside increases the value of the piece.

To be sure you are receiving the best value for your money when buying gold jewelry, follow these tips:

  • Be sure the item is clearly marked with karat weight and manufacturer.
  • Note if the item will be susceptible to damage in the future.
  • Be sure the karat weight of the item is listed on the sales receipt.

Platinum is a precious metal that is usually mixed with other similar metals. Different markings are used on platinum jewelry based on the amount of pure platinum in the piece. For example, the marking 900 Platinum (as well as the marking 900 PT, 900 PLAT, PT900 or 900 Plat 100 Irid) means that the item is 90 percent platinum and 10 percent other metals. Because of the small percentage of other metals alloyed with it, platinum is hypoallergenic and excellent for people who are allergic to other metals.

  • Be sure the item is stamped with its metal content and manufacturer.
  • Be prepared to spend more initially because of the expert craftsmanship required to work in platinum.
  • Be sure the sales receipt has "Platinum" written in the description.

The words silver or sterling silver signify a product that contains 92.5% silver, which also may be marked 925. Although rich in luster, silver tarnishes when exposed to the elements, causing it to turn dark or black. The tarnish can be cleaned using a variety of products on the market.

Keep these tips in mind when buying sterling silver jewelry:

  • Be sure the item is clearly marked "925" or "sterling silver".
  • Be careful not to confuse "nickel silver" or "German silver" with sterling silver, as those metals do not contain any silver.
  • Be sure the words "sterling silver" are written on the sales receipt.

Vermeil (ver-may) is a special type of gold product that consists of a base of sterling silver that is coated or plated with gold.

Natural or real pearls are made by oysters and other mollusks. Cultured pearls also are made by mollusks, but with human intervention; that is, an irritant introduced into the shells causes a pearl to grow. Imitation pearls are man-made. Because very few natural pearls are now on the market, most pearls used in jewelry are either cultured or imitation pearls. Cultured pearls, because they are made by mollusks, are generally more expensive than imitation pearls. Be sure to find out if the pearls are cultured or imitation.

Pearls are evaluated according to their size, shape, color, blemishes and orient (luster). Another important consideration when buying pearls is the "nacre" or skin. The longer a pearl is left cultivating in the oyster, the thicker the skin that develops. Pearls that have been cultivated for short periods have very thin nacre; with wear or with exposure to strong perfume or hair spray, they can lose their luster rapidly. Strands of pearls that match in size, color and shape are more expensive than those of pearls that do not match as well. Be sure to examine the quality of the pearls to you so that you can make an intelligent decision.

Follow these steps when buying pearls:

  • Know whether the pearls are natural, cultured, or imitation.
  • Ask about the durability of the luster.
  • Be sure the pearls are knotted individually in the strand in case of breakage.
  • Ask about the cleaning and care of the pearls.
  • Be sure an adequate description is written on the sales receipt.

Jewelry Manufacturing Techniques
The way a piece of jewelry is constructed has a great effect on its beauty and durability.

Following are some helpful hints:

  • The more prongs a stone has to hold it in place, the better.
  • Be sure there is room underneath the gemstone for easy access when cleaning.
  • Clasps should be easy to open and close, but not too thin or flimsy.
  • Hollow made bracelets and chains can be damaged with everyday use.

Know Your Jeweler
Check the jewelry store's reputation with family, friends, and members in the community and industry familiar with the store. Check the store's Reliability Rating with the BBB. Ask about the gemological and appraisal education of its salespeople. Find out what trade organizations the jeweler belongs to and the requirements for membership.

Whether you are buying jewelry for someone special or as a treat for yourself, knowing more about the industry will help insure that your venture will be successful. Add to the enjoyment of your jewelry by knowing that you have made the best purchase possible.

For more information
For informational pamphlets on jewelry buying, contact:
Diamond Information Center
420 Lexington Avenue, 9th Fl.
New York, NY 10017
(212) 210-8100

For complaints, contact:
Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Inc.
401 E. 34 Street, Suite N13A
New York, NY 10016

This organization accepts complaints in writing only and does not release complaint information. It maintains ethical practices within the jewelry industry.