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Buying Jewelry Online:
Getting the Best Quality Jewelry for your Money
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September 30, 2005
Buying jewelry can be fun, exciting and
confusing. Whether you're considering a
gift of jewelry
for someone special or as a treat for yourself, take
some time to learn the terms used in the industry.
Here's some information to help you get the best quality
jewelry for your money, whether you're shopping in a
traditional brick and mortar store by catalog or online.
The word gold, used by itself, means all gold or 24
karat (24K) gold. Because 24K gold is soft, it's usually
mixed with other metals to increase its hardness and
durability. If a piece of jewelry is not 24 karat gold,
the karat quality should accompany any claim that the
item is gold.
The karat quality marking tells you what proportion of
gold is mixed with the other metals. Fourteen karat
(14K) jewelry contains 14 parts of gold, mixed in
throughout with 10 parts of base metal. The higher the
karat rating, the higher the proportion of gold in the
piece of jewelry.
Most jewelry is marked with its karat quality, although
marking is not required by law. Near the karat quality
mark, you should see the name or the U.S. registered
trademark of the company that will stand behind the
mark. The trademark may be in the form of a name, symbol
or initials. If you don't see a trademark accompanying a
quality mark on a piece of jewelry, look for another
Solid gold refers to an item made of any karat gold, if
the inside of the item is not hollow. The proportion of
gold in the piece of jewelry still is determined by the
Jewelry can be plated with gold in a variety of ways.
Gold plate refers to items that are either mechanically
plated, electroplated, or plated by any other means with
gold to a base metal. Eventually, gold plating wears
away, but how soon will depend on how often the item is
worn and how thick the plating is.
Gold-filled, gold overlay and rolled gold plate are
terms used to describe jewelry that has a layer of at
least 10 karat gold mechanically bonded to a base metal.
If the jewelry is marked with one of these terms, the
term or abbreviation should follow the karat quality of
the gold used (for example, 14K Gold Overlay or 12K RGP).
If the layer of karat gold is less than 1/20th of the
total weight of the item, any marking must state the
actual percentage of karat gold, such as 1/40 14K Gold
Gold electroplate describes jewelry that has a layer (at
least .175 microns thick) of a minimum of 10 karat gold
deposited on a base metal by an electrolytic process.
The terms gold flashed or gold washed describe products
that have an extremely thin electroplating of gold (less
than .175 microns thick). This will wear away more
quickly than gold plate, gold-filled or gold
Platinum, Silver and Other Metals
Platinum is a precious metal that costs more than gold.
It usually is mixed with other similar metals, known as
the platinum group metals: iridium, palladium,
ruthenium, rhodium and osmium.
Different markings are used on platinum jewelry as
compared with gold jewelry, based on the amount of pure
platinum in the piece. The quality markings for platinum
are based on parts per thousand. For example, the
marking 900 Platinum means that 900 parts out of 1000
are pure platinum, or in other words, the item is 90%
platinum and 10% other metals. The abbreviations for
platinum - Plat. or Pt. - also can be used in marking
Items that contain at least 950 parts per thousand pure
platinum can be marked simply platinum. Items that have
at least 850 parts per thousand pure platinum can be
marked with the amount of pure platinum and the word
platinum or an abbreviation (for example, 950 platinum,
900 Plat. or 850 Pt.). Jewelry that contains less than
850 parts per thousand pure platinum, but has a total of
950 parts per thousand of platinum group metals (of
which at least 500 parts is pure platinum), may be
marked with both the amount of pure platinum and the
amount of the other platinum group metals in the piece.
For example, the marking 600 Plat. 350 Irid. means that
the item has 600 parts per thousand (60%) platinum, and
350 parts per thousand (35%) iridium, totaling 950 parts
per thousand of platinum group metals, and 50 parts per
thousand (5%) other metals.
The words silver or sterling silver describe a product
that contains 92.5% silver. Silver products sometimes
may be marked 925 which means that 925 parts per
thousand are pure silver. Some jewelry may be described
as silverplate: a layer of silver is bonded to a base
metal. The mark coin silver is used for compounds that
contain 90% silver. According to the law, quality-marked
silver also must bear the name or a U.S. registered
trademark of the company or person that will stand
behind the mark.
Vermeil (ver-may), a special type of gold plated
product, consists of a base of sterling silver that is
coated or plated with gold.
Pewter items may be described and marked as such if they
contain at least 90% tin.
Natural gemstones are found in nature.
Laboratory-created stones, as the name implies, are made
in a laboratory. These stones, which also are referred
to as laboratory-grown, [name of manufacturer]-created,
or synthetic, have essentially the same chemical,
physical and visual properties as natural gemstones.
Laboratory- created stones do not have the rarity of
naturally colored stones and they are less expensive
than naturally mined stones. By contrast, imitation
stones look like natural stones in appearance only, and
may be glass, plastic, or less costly stones.
Laboratory-created and imitation stones should be
clearly identified as such.
Gemstones may be measured by weight, size, or both. The
basic unit for weighing gemstones is the carat, which is
equal to one-fifth (1/5th) of a gram. Carats are divided
into 100 units, called points. For example, a half-carat
gemstone would weigh .50 carats or 50 points. When
gemstones are measured by dimensions, the size is
expressed in millimeters (for example, 7x5 millimeters).
Gemstone treatments or enhancements refer to the way
some gems are treated to improve their appearance or
durability, or even change their color. Many gemstones
are treated in some way. The effects of some treatments
may lessen or change over time and some treated stones
may require special care. Some enhancements also affect
the value of a stone, when measured against a comparable
Jewelers should tell you whether the gemstone you're
considering has been treated when: the treatment is not
permanent; the treated stone requires special care; or
the treatment significantly affects the value of the
Some common treatments that you may be told about and
their effects include:
lighten, darken or change the color of some
gems, or improve a gemstone's clarity.
add more color to colored diamonds, certain
other gemstones and pearls.
some gems with colorless oils, wax or resins
makes a variety of imperfections less visible
and can improve the gemstones' clarity and
hides cracks or fractures in gems by injecting
colorless plastic or glass into the cracks and
improves the gemstones' appearance and
treatment adds color to the surface of
colorless gems; the center of the stone
color and improves color uniformity in some
gemstones and pearls.
lightens and whitens some gems, including jade
A diamond's value is based on four criteria: color, cut,
clarity, and carat. The clarity and color of a diamond
usually are graded. However, scales are not uniform: a
clarity grade of "slightly included" may represent a
different grade on one grading system versus another,
depending on the terms used in the scale. Make sure you
know how a particular scale and grade represent the
color or clarity of the diamond you're considering. A
diamond can be described as "flawless" only if it has no
visible surface or internal imperfections when viewed
under 10-power magnification by a skilled diamond
As with other gems, diamond weight usually is stated in
carats. Diamond weight may be described in decimal or
fractional parts of a carat. If the weight is given in
decimal parts of a carat, the figure should be accurate
to the last decimal place. For example, ".30 carat"
could represent a diamond that weighs between .295 -
.304 carat. Some retailers describe diamond weight in
fractions and use the fraction to represent a range of
weights. For example, a diamond described as 1/2 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 the weight tolerance being used.
Some diamonds may be treated to improve their appearance
in similar ways as other gemstones. Since these
treatments improve the clarity of the diamond, some
jewelers refer to them as clarity enhancement. One type
of treatment - fracture filling - conceals cracks in
diamonds by filling them with a foreign substance. This
filling may not be permanent and jewelers should tell
you if the diamond you're considering has been
Another treatment - lasering - involves the use of a
laser beam to improve the appearance of diamonds that
have black inclusions or spots. A laser beam is aimed at
the inclusion. Acid is then forced through a tiny tunnel
made by the laser beam to remove the inclusion. Lasering
is permanent and a laser-drilled stone does not require
While a laser-drilled diamond may appear as beautiful as
a comparable untreated stone, it may not be as valuable.
That's because an untreated stone of the same quality is
rarer and therefore more valuable. Jewelers should tell
you whether the diamond you're considering has been
Imitation diamonds, such as cubic zirconia, resemble
diamonds in appearance but are much less costly. Certain
laboratory-created gemstones, such as lab-created
moissanite, also resemble diamonds and may not be
adequately detected by the instruments originally used
to identify cubic zirconia. Ask your jeweler if he has
the current testing equipment to distinguish between
diamonds and other lab-created stones.
Natural or real pearls are made by oysters and other
mollusks. Cultured pearls also are grown by mollusks,
but with human intervention; that is, an irritant
introduced into the shells causes a pearl to grow.
Imitation pearls are man-made with glass, plastic, or
Because natural pearls are very rare, most pearls used
in jewelry are either cultured or imitation pearls.
Cultured pearls, because they are made by oysters or
mollusks, usually are more expensive than imitation
pearls. A cultured pearl's value is largely based on its
size, usually stated in millimeters, and the quality of
its nacre coating, which gives it luster. Jewelers
should tell you if the pearls are cultured or imitation.
Some black, bronze, gold, purple, blue and orange
pearls, whether natural or cultured, occur that way in
nature; some, however, are dyed through various
processes. Jewelers should tell you whether the colored
pearls are naturally colored, dyed or irradiated.
A Jewelry Shopper’s Checklist
When you're in the market for a piece of jewelry for
yourself or someone you love, shop around. Compare
quality, price, and service. If you're not familiar with
any jewelers in your area, ask family members, friends,
and co-workers for recommendations. You also should:
Ask for the
store's refund and return policy before you
Check for the
appropriate markings on metal jewelry.
Ask whether the
pearls are natural, cultured, or imitation.
Ask whether a
gemstone is natural, laboratory-created, or
Ask whether the
gemstone has been treated. Is the change
permanent? Is special care required?
Make sure the
jeweler writes on the sales receipt any
information you relied on when making your
purchase, such as the gem's weight or size.
Some jewelers also may supply a grading report
from a gemological laboratory.
In addition, these tips
apply when you're shopping for jewelry online:
companies you know or do some homework before
buying to make sure a company is legitimate
before doing business with it.
Get the details
about the product, as well as the merchant's
refund and return policies, before you buy.
Look for an
address to write to or a phone number to call
if you have a question, a problem or need
For More Information
If you have a problem with the jewelry you purchased,
first try to resolve it with the jeweler. If you are
dissatisfied with the response, contact your local
Better Business Bureau or local consumer protection
agency. You also may contact the Jewelers Vigilance
Committee's Alternative Dispute Resolution Service. This
program assists consumers and businesses in resolving
disputes about jewelry. The Jewelers Vigilance Committee
(JVC) is an independent, non-profit organization formed
to advance ethical practices in the jewelry industry.
You may contact the JVC by mail: 25 West 45th Street,
Suite 400, New York, NY 10036-4902, or by phone:
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