When shopping for gemstone jewelry, carat weight is an acceptable place to begin. But it's only a beginning. Remember that, for diamonds, clarity, color and especially cut can dramatically affect the quality and price of the jewelry. A reputable jeweler should be able — and willing — to give you information on all of the 4 Cs of diamonds.
For colored gemstones, the quality of the color is especially important. Gemstone treatments, done to improve the color and clarity of gems, can greatly affect the value of jewelry. When comparing prices of different pieces, be sure you compare the overall quality of the jewelry-including treatments — not just the size of the stone.
If you are working within a price range, perhaps that's the place to start. You might ask: I have this much to spend, what diamond rings can you show me? Since gem size and gem quality are something of a tradeoff, the jeweler might show you one ring with a small diamond that has good cut proportions, color and clarity grade, and then another ring with a larger diamond of lesser quality. There may be differences in the setting or in the fineness of the metal. This is an opportunity to discuss with the jeweler these different attributes of the jewelry, and to decide for yourself what qualities are most important to you.
It's worthwhile going to more than one retailer to be sure of getting the best value for your money. If you find something you like at one retailer, go to other jewelers and use the same set of qualities to compare prices. Use our checklist (pdf will open in a new window) to aid you in comparing. You might ask: What is your price for a diamond ring with a stone of X carats, X color grade, X clarity grade, and X cutting dimensions? He may not be able to match your qualities exactly, but he will show you something close.
Shopping Considerations and Caveats
- Beware of advertising that proclaims only the carat weight and not the other qualities. (This often happens in TV ads, for example.) Such ads count on the purchaser not knowing what else to look for and not knowing what questions to ask.
- Be wary of retailers who will not give you information on all 4 Cs of diamonds once you have expressed an interest. They may not be knowledgeable, or they may not want you to be.
- Even if you think you already know about the 4 Cs of diamonds, check out cut. You might be surprised.
- Avoid buying through catalogs, ads, or promotions of any kind that do not allow you to ask for the information you need to make an informed purchase.
- Don't assume that if a store says it has bargain prices, it does. Don't assume that a jewelry retail location with a no-frills look will have lower prices. Comparison shop.
- Beware of stores advertising extravagant sales, such as "60% off!" Be sure to comparison shop before buying jewelry there. Some stores list extremely high "regular" prices so they can offer huge "discounts."
- Don't assume that if it's on the web it must be a bargain. The Federal Trade Commission found that many online jewelry retailers and auction sites were misrepresenting carat weights, not disclosing gem treatments, and failing to comply with other FTC guidelines for the jewelry industry.
- Think twice, and then once again, before buying jewelry for investment purposes. Gold and silver prices have undergone drastic changes. And here's a story about a telemarketing scam involving investment gems.
- Be wary of retailers who are not willing to discuss the qualities of their jewelry. Even if the salesperson you are talking to is not a trained gemologist, this information should be part of the store's inventory records and it should be available.
- Beware of the retailer who is not willing to put in writing the specific grades and measurements of jewelry you are purchasing. If he is not willing to stand by his verbal claims, you'd be wise to assume the claims aren't true.
- Ask if the store has a gem lab on site. If a jeweler has not inspected the jewelry with proper equipment, he cannot know its true qualities. He is accepting the word of the gem supplier or is simply guessing. Worse yet, he is just telling you what you want to hear.
- Be wary of insurance appraisals, often on fancy letterhead, that do not completely describe your jewelry. The purpose of the insurance appraisal is to accurately and completely describe the piece being insured. This information insures that you will pay the correct premiums and, if you ever need to file a claim, that the replacement will match the jewelry for which you have so carefully shopped. Ask the jeweler for an appraisal complying with insurance standards. Ask your agent about JISO/ACORD appraisal standards.
- After purchasing jewelry (that does not come with a JISO/ACORD appraisal), have it independently appraised to be sure it is of the quality stated by your retailer. Do not go to an appraiser recommended by the seller but to a jeweler/appraiser of your choice. Seek out a jeweler who is a Graduate Gemologist and has a gem lab on site — preferably a Certified Insurance Appraiser . (Ask your insurance agent for names of CIA jewelers near you.)
- When purchasing jewelry, be sure you have the option of returning the jewelry within a limited period of time. This allows you to return the jewelry if the independent appraisal shows the jewelry is not of the quality the retailer claimed.
The insurance industry has established appraisal standards to protect you. But if you don't specifically ask your jeweler to use the JISO/ ACORD appraisal form, you may not benefit from those standards.
So, before you shop for jewelry, print out the JISO forms (at www.jiso.org). After you’ve made your jewelry choice, have your appraisal completed on a JISO form. If the jeweler is a Certified Insurance Appraiser™, he can use JISO 78 Jewelry Insurance Appraisal form. If he’s not a CIA, have him complete the JISO 805 Jewelry Sales Receipt for Insurance Purposes.