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Celebrating a Special Occasion with Jewelry
The Cultured Pearl The Buying Guide
Getting to know Gems
How to select, buy, and care for, and enjoy Pearl Jewelry
Important Advice before you buy pearls What to ask when buying pearls
The following questions will help you obtain information to help you make better comparison and choices. Where we have indicated, be sure the information is provided on the receipt. Information stated on your receipt provides clear evidence of representation made to you by the seller. In the event of misrepresentation, the written information will enable you to obtain restitution. In United States, consumer protection laws require accurate and complete representation of the facts. If there is misrepresentation, the seller can be held legally liable; in such cases, sellers must refund the purchase price, or deliver a product that meets the written description. Regardless of the store policy (such as “No Return” or “No Credit”).
1. Are these pearls natural, cultured, or imitation?
If they represented to be natural, be sure the words “natural pearls” are stated on your receipt (Bill of Sale). Also, if natural, pearls should be accompanied by a laboratory report verifying this. If they are not, be sure to get a report. Note: X-ray examination must be performed to verify that pearls are natural. This must be done by a gem testing laboratory with proper equipment; dental x-ray are unreliable.
2. What is the shape?
Ask for a statement regarding shape, such as “round,” “baroque,” “teardrop,” and so on. If baroque, note whether symmetrical or asymmetrical. If round, be sure to ask whether the pearl is truly “round” or “three-quarter” round. If round, that should be clearly stated as “round” on the receipt (you may also wish a clarifier, as in “and not three-quarter round”).
3. How would you describe the overall quality of these pearls?
While there are no universally accepted grading standards, there are general standards that are applied by knowledgeable jewelers; they know whether the pearls they are selling are exceptionally fine, good, average, or poor quality. A statement describing the overall quality should be provided on your receipt. (Where terms such as “AAA” are used, ask a copy of whatever material the store uses to define their quality distinctions.)
4. What is the nacre thickness?
Jewelers often don’t know the exact thickness, but a knowledgeable jeweler should be able to tell you whether it is thick or thin from the intensity of luster and orient, and be willing to indicate this on your receipt. We recommend knowing what the nacre thickness is; if the jeweler does not know, you can ask that the pearls be submitted to a laboratory to find out prior to purchasing the pearls. If they do not wish to do so, you want to make the sale contingent upon the pearls having “thick nacre” and submit them yourself to a laboratory that will grade the nacre thickness. Note: Black pearls must be x-rayed to obtained nacre thickness; even when drilled, nacre thickness can not be estimated by examination with a loupe or microscope as can be done with “white” or “light” pearls.
5. Do these pearls have good luster? Do they exhibit “orient”?
Again, find out how the jeweler would grade the luster (exceptionally high or intense, very high, medium, fair, poor). Keep in mind that if they exhibit orient, they will probably have very thick nacre.
6. What color are the pearls?
A knowledgeable jeweler should be able to tell you the body color and overtone and provide this information on your receipt; “white-pink,” for example, would indicate a white body color with a pink overtone. For fancy-color pearls, the body color, overtone and tone should be given and stated in writing; “dark gold-pink,” for example, would describe pearls with a dark toned golden body color with a pink overtone.
7. If a fancy color pearl, is the color natural?
If natural color, this should be stated on the receipt. There should be a laboratory report accompanying the pearls verifying that the color is natural. Be sure to get the original report, and have the seller write the number and date of the report on your receipt, along with a statement that they are “as described in the accompanying report.” If there is no laboratory report, the jeweler can obtain one, or you can can ask that the purchase be contingent upon verification of natural color and obtain a laboratory report yourself. Note: if “natural color” is written on your receipt, the color must be natural; if not, the seller is guilty of misrepresentation.
8. How does “surface perfection” rank?
Again, there is no universal standard, but a general description such as “exceptional,” “very good,” “average,” and so on, should be indicated on the receipt.
Sometimes terms as “flawless,” “VVS,” “VS,” “SI,” or “imperfect” are used. VVS indicates “very very slightly” spotted and corresponds to “very good;” VS indicates “very slightly” spotted and corresponds to “good;” SI indicates “slightly” spotted and corresponds to “poor.”
9. What size are the pearls? ”Is this considered average, large, or small for this type of pearl?”
Remember, price increases as size increases (with half millimeter increment). Be sure he exact size is stated on your receipt. When giving the size of pearls in a uniform strand, there is usually a half millimeter range, that is, “7.0 - 7.5 mm” or “7.5 - 8.0 mm” and so on; in a graduated strand, the size of the largest and smallest pearl should be given, as well as an “average” size for the rest.
Asking how the size compares for the type of pearl you are considering is helpful because it is an indication of rarity; and value, for that type of pearl. A 10 millimeters pearl is not large foe South Sea pearl, for example, but it extremely large, and very rare, for a Japanese Akoya pearl; a necklace of Akoya pearls in a 10 millimeters size would be much more expensive than a comparable necklace of 9 millimeters.
10. How well matched are the pearls?
This is important to note when buying pearl necklaces, bracelet, or jewelry containing numerous pearls. Poor matching will be noticeable, and such pearls should cost much less than well matched pearls.
How to select a reputable jeweler
It’s very difficult to give advice on selecting a jeweler since there are so many exceptions to any rules one can suggest. Size and years in business are not always indicators of the reliability of a firm. Some one person jewelry firms are highly respected; others are not. Some well-established firms that have been in business for many years have built their trade on the highest standards of integrity and knowledge; others have not!
One point worth stressing is that for the average consumer, price alone is not a reliable indicator of the integrity or knowledge of the seller. Aside from variations in quality, which often are not really discernible to the consumer, significant price differences can also result from differences in jewelry manufacturing processes.
Furthermore, depending upon the store, retail markups also vary, based on numerous factors unique to each retailer, including differences in insurance coverage, security costs, credit risks, education and training costs, special services such as in-house design and custom jewelry production and repair, customer service policies, and more.
The best way to select wisely is by shopping around (including online fine jewelry store). Go to several fine jewelry firms (in your area or the Internet) and compare the services they offer, how knowledgeable the salespeople seem, the quality of their products, and pricing for specific items. This will give you a sense of what is fair in your market area. As you do so, however, remember to ask the right questions to be sure the jewelry items are truly comparable, and pay attention to design and manufacturing differences as well. As part of this process, it may be helpful to consider these questions:
- How long has the firm been in business?
A quick check with the Better Business Bureau may reveal whether or not there are significant consumer complaints.
- What are the gemological credentials of the jeweler, manager, or owner?
Do they have any special expertise where pearls are concerned?
- What special services are provided?
Are custom design services, rare or unusual pearls, or educational programs available?
- How would you describe the overall appearance and atmosphere?
Is the jewelry nicely displayed and the manner of the staff professional and helpful? Or hustling, pushy or intimidating?
- What is the store’s policy regarding returns?
Full refund or only store credit? How many days? On what basis can jewelry be returned?
- What is the repair or replacement policy?
- Will the firm allow a piece to be taken “on memo”?
It won’t hurt to ask. Some jewelers will. However, unless you know the jeweler personally this is not often permitted today because of increased security risk and insurance company requirements.
- To what extent will the firm guarantee its merchandise to be as represented?
Be careful here. Make sure you’ve asked the right questions and get complete and accurate information on the bill of sale, or you may find yourself stuck because of a technicality.
If the jeweler can’t or won’t provide the necessary information, we recommend you go to another jewelry (online) store, no matter how much you’ve fallen in love with the piece. And, if you’re making the purchase on a contingency basis, put the terms of the contingency on the bill of sale.
Never allow yourself to be intimidated into accepting anyone’s claims. A trustworthy jeweler will not have to ask for your trust; he or she will earn it through knowledge, reliability, and a willingness to give you information you request, in writing.
Again, in general, you will be in a stronger position to differentiate between a knowledgeable, reputable jeweler and one who is not if you’ve taken time to learn as much as possible about pearls (or jewelry in general) and taken time to compare several jewelers. Unless you are an expert, search online or visit several fine jewelry firms, ask questions, examine merchandise carefully, and then be the judge.