The Top Tips for Jewelry Shopping
Don’t wander into a jewelry store without knowing these tips for finding the right jeweler, making smart decisions about financing and selecting the highest-quality pieces.
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Jewelry shopping can be both exciting and intimidating. Whether you’re looking for a little gift for a special occasion or the engagement ring that you hope she’ll wear for the rest of her life, jewelry is an investment. Take the time to do your homework before shopping so you can make a wise choice that will light up your recipient’s face and last a lifetime.
Finding the Right Jeweler
Just like choosing a doctor or a contractor, choosing the right jeweler is an important first step to having a positive experience. Use the Jewelers of America or the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) retailer searches to find stores with high ethical standards and expert sales people. If you’d like to visit an independent or family-owned store, check the ratings with your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau. Also take a moment to search “[store name] reviews” online to read about other customer’s experiences.
A quality jeweler shouldn’t employ high-pressure sales people, but all the same you should know your budget before walking into a jewelry store. When it comes to emotional purchases it can be all-too-easy to get talked into spending much more than you bargained for. Also be sure to shop and compare. You can only know if a deal is really a deal by looking at comparable pieces in other stores.
Even if you have a cash bonus stashed away in your sock drawer, consider using one of the rewards credit cards for a major jewelry purchase. The rewards from purchasing an engagement ring might be significant enough to cover something special on the honeymoon. Or consider applying for a low-interest rate credit card to cover the purchase if you have a solid plan for paying it off in a short period of time.
Understand everything you will get for your money. Some stores offer upgrade policies where jewelry purchased from the store can later be traded in and the value can be applied to a more expensive piece. Many offer extended service plans or cleanings for no additional charge. Also don’t be afraid to bargain. With the exception of very high-end stores, most places will be willing to discuss adding in extra service protection or proving a discount for multiple purchases.
Online shopping for jewelry is convenient but you should follow safe shopping practices. First, only shop at sites with a legitimate offline reputation and a secure website (look for the lock icon in the address bar). Always use a low-interest credit card instead of a debit card because reimbursements for fraudulent charges are more straightforward to obtain from credit than debit.1 The best cards, regardless of the rewards program protect consumers from fraud and may even insure the purchase.
Be sure you completely understand the return policy and don’t buy from any retailer that doesn’t offer full refunds. Request independent grading reports for diamonds and gemstones and require the item comes in the original packaging with an itemized receipt. Finally, be aware that some manufacturers’ warranties are not valid if the item (such as a watch) wasn’t purchased at an authorized dealer.
Jewelry Buying Basics
Sterling silver is the standard for fine jewelry. Sterling is defined as 92.5 percent silver. Avoid items marked “German Silver” or “Nickel Silver” as these contain no actual precious metal. Be aware that major brands significantly upcharge for silver. For example, a Tiffany silver bracelet can cost 80% more than a similar bracelet with the same quality from another store. If the brand matters to your recipient you may want to pay more, but if they don’t have a preference you can save a lot by buying from another retailer.
Always look for the small stamp that tells you the purity of the gold and the manufacturer. The higher the number, the higher the purity. For example, 24k is pure gold, 18k is often considered a good balance of color and price at 75% pure gold, 14k is 58% and 10k is 42% gold.2
You could spend years learning everything there is to know about buying diamonds. Give yourself a basic education in the 4C’s (color, clarity, cut and carat) with this helpful guide from GIA. Then rely on your choice of an excellent jeweler to help guide you to the right stone. Experts recommend never buying a diamond in a setting as the setting can mask imperfections. Instead, select the best loose stone in your budget and then have it set.
There are three categories of gemstones: natural, synthetic and imitation. Natural stones are dug from the ground (though usually treated in a lab), synthetic stones are grown in a lab and imitation stones are just colored plastic. Synthetic stones can have advantages over natural stones, such as lab-grown opals being much tougher than natural opals. Always ask to see an independent grading and identification report before making a major gemstone purchase and check each stone under a jeweler’s loupe for any scratches or chips.
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Pearls also come in natural, cultured and imitation categories. Natural pearls are much more expensive than cultured, while imitation pearls are very cheap as they are usually plastic. A good strategy for picking the best strand in your price range is to have the sales person lay the most expensive strand in the store on a jeweler’s cloth. Then ask to see strands in your price range next to it. Select the one that most closely resembles the luster of the expensive strand. Also be sure the necklace is knotted between each pearl to prevent losing pearls if the strand is broken.
Armed with these tips and resources you can make a smart investment in a beautiful piece of jewelry. Remember to request your own copies of any reports, guarantees, warranties or certificates before leaving the store. And a final note on seasonal jewelry promotions: if it seems like too good of a deal, it’s likely not a good deal at all.