Jewelry Buying Advice

Buy from someone you trust. Shop from a well-established professional jeweler. Ask a friend for a recommendation just as you would for a doctor, or check with the Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau. Look for a jeweler who is affiliated with a professional trade association, such as Jewelers of America (JA), that requires high ethical standards of its members and provides them with ongoing education. Look for a sticker on the door or a certificate on the wall. If you don't see one, ask. Get an itemized receipt and the return policy in writing.

Don't be dazzled by discounts. If a venue is routinely offering unbelievable discounts of 50% or more, the sale is probably just that--unbelievable. Savvy shoppers may find that the "drastic discount" price is actually the normal retail price elsewhere.

Ask about the quality mark and registered trademark. With gold jewelry, the karat mark or quality mark indicates the purity of the piece: "14K" means 58.3% pure gold; "18K," 75% pure. In other words, in a piece of 14k gold jewelry, 14 of its 24 parts are pure gold; the other 10 are alloy, which could be any number of different metals, added for strength and sometimes to change the color (to rose gold, white gold, etc.) Platinum - the most durable and most rare metal - is most often marked "PLAT" or "950 PLAT." Sterling silver pieces are usually stamped "925." For pieces manufactured in the U.S., if the quality mark appears, the piece is required by federal law to also be stamped with the manufacturer's trademark, which ensures that the manufacturer stands behind the authenticity of the piece.

When buying diamonds, look for the 4 C's. They are cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. Cut is arguably the most important, because a skillful cut is what will unleash the fire and brilliance in a diamond. Cut, which refers to the faceting, is not to be confused with shape - such as marquise, oval, princess (square), etc. With regard to color, grading begins at D; the deeper into the alphabet one goes, the poorer the color. In a store, ask to see loose diamonds on a sheet of pure white paper and note any contrast, which of course is undesirable. Clarity refers to the presence of - or lack of - imperfections such as bubbles, spots or lines called inclusions. Clarity is graded on a scale ranging from flawless (FL or IF) to imperfect (I).

Cultured pearls. Look for surface cleanliness: an absence of any scarring or pitting. Also important is the pearls' luster: they should be glowing with iridescence, not chalky or dull. When purchasing a strand of cultured pearls, be sure there is a knot between each pearl. This insures that if the strand breaks, the pearls won't skitter across the floor. In addition, the knots keep the pearls from rubbing against each other. Before you purchase, check to see that the pearls are well matched in color and luster, and that they graduate gracefully in size, growing smaller toward the clasp. Roll the strand of pearls on a flat counter top to be sure they don't wobble; this will tell you that the pearls have been drilled exactly through their centers and that they will lay beautifully around one's neck. Fine jewelry is unlike any other purchase. Jewelry that is wisely bought and well cared for will be treasured for generations to come.

This information provided by: Jewelers of America.