When it comes to defining high-quality jewelry, not everything is a matter of personal taste.
The terms for defining different types of jewelry has always been somewhat ambiguous. What determines if a piece of jewelry fits under the header of custom/fashion jewelry or fine/high-end jewelry?
As designers continue to innovate and experiment with new materials, the boundaries seem to be becoming increasingly blurred between fashion and high-end jewelry. With every generation comes new trends and sensibilities, and today the focus on sentimentality and individuality seems to be at the forefront of importance with jewelry.
However, when it comes to defining high-quality jewelry, not everything is a matter of personal taste. There are always some very clear and objective material criteria that you have to know and use every time you want to buy a new piece of jewelry or a precious stone. Let’s have a closer look at them together.
The best way to find out what kind of quality you’re dealing with is to inquire, simply and directly. Question the seller as to where the jewel originated and how it has been treated. Learn as much as you can and find a trusted source, who also could help you learn. To find the best authentic items at fair prices, visit small, boutique shops and trustworthy private dealers, as well as auctions and estate sales.
The professional jeweler can be recognized by the way (s)he examines jewelry. (S)he picks it up, and looks at it from the back. Very often by looking at the back you can tell good jewelry from bad. You’ll be able to see immediately if the piece is going to last you a lifetime, or not.
The industry is actually very good in faking the shiny part in the front. In the back, you can see the thickness of jewelry, and also the care that was taken in finishing the piece.
When you talk to a dealer or retailer, always request certificates of authenticity for any gem. The bottom line is that you have to trust your jeweler. Just make sure you deal with honest people. This is probably the most important rule to follow when you deal in jewelry and gems.
Look to ensure that the lab certification is from a trusted source (the Gemology Institute of America is the most reputable). GIA’s certification confirms the geographic origin, grade, and quality of stones after the institute has determined an item’s gemological identity, alterations, and origin. The place where a gem originated is important because certain countries, regions, and mines are renowned for the quality of their stones.
It’s also vital that certification papers are current. Two years old? Fine. Ten years old? Not acceptable.
Look for hallmarks
Keep in mind that the more you spend, the more likely your piece will stand the test of time. Cheaper materials or neglect in the general process of making a piece can result in jewelry that falls apart in a short amount of time.
So look for pure metals only (gold is the finest), ensure only high-quality gemstones, avoid plated or nickel-filled jewelry, and avoid wearing acrylic altogether.
One of the first things you can do when you acquire a new piece of jewelry is to look for hallmarks. One hallmark will generally tell us the metal content of a piece, and the other (if there is another) will tell us either the country of origin, designer or manufacturer.
These markings are usually located on the clasp of a necklace, the inside of a ring or bracelet, or the post of an earring. Unless the item is over 100 years old or the hallmark has worn off, all fine jewelry should have some type of hallmark.
Common gold hallmarks include 18K, 14K, 10K, 750, 585, 375.
Common platinum hallmarks include 950, PLATINUM, PLAT. Common silver hallmarks include 925, Silver, 800, Sterling. T
here are so many different hallmarks, but the fact that your jewelry has a hallmark at all is usually a good sign.
If your item looks antique and it doesn't have a hallmark, get the item appraised. If your item looks new but does not have any hallmarks at all, your item is likely just custom jewelry.
Check the item’s weight
This is especially important when you are assessing chains and bangles.
Generally, gold and silver are heavier metals than their fake counterparts like brass and pewter. If you find a thicker gold chain that feels much lighter than a similar gold chain you have, the chain is likely fake or hollow gold. When determining the value of chains, the longer and heavier your gold or platinum jewelry is, generally the more valuable it is.
Fake chains feel fake. Solid gold jewelry is very smooth, heavy and consistent throughout.
For instance, if you have a gold colored chain that has a darker color or even a silvery color showing through on parts that see heavy wear, this is likely a gold plated chain and not very valuable. When solid gold or platinum jewelry wears down, the part showing through should still be the same color. This is not the case for white gold.
The other things that you should be very careful about are the quality of labor and appearance.
When inspecting a piece, it should be perfect inside and out. There should be no sharp edges, cracks, pits, or bad finishes. If there are, send the piece back to be repaired or replaced. Your safety should always be a priority.
Jewelry should be completely finished. Cheap, inexpensive jewelry is polished only on the surface of the piece. As soon as you look into its hidden parts, you can see the rough and bumpy surface of the casting skin.
Casting skin is the rough surface that appears after casting a piece. On good jewelry, this skin is totally removed and highly polished, like a mirror. The jewelry looks crisp. Very high-end jewelry never has a casting skin because it is never cast. Rather, it is built up directly out of a piece of stock.
A mirror finish is an excellent sign of high-quality jewelry. Not only does it look beautiful, but it’ll be incredibly kind to your skin as well. Any roughness or imperfections can irritate your skin over time, causing inflammation, de-sensitizing, and other generally harmful things.
So make sure that your piece shines bright like a diamond! Or else, you’ll regret it soon enough.
Inspect the prongs
In choosing a new piece of jewelry, common sense is important. Don’t let yourself get blinded by the strong halogen light that brings the last hidden sparkle to life. You are not going to wear your jewelry with a lamp attached to your body! Good jewelry looks beautiful in any light.
Some higher quality costume jewelry uses prongs just like in fine jewelry, but a lot of the stones are glued into place. If you have a cameo brooch that looks like it is glued into the setting with no prongs holding it in, this is likely custom jewelry and not valuable. Fine jewelry will be well crafted, with each stone set in an intricate bezel or prong setting, pearls being one of the only exceptions.
Generally, you shouldn’t be able to squash your jewelry in any way with your bare fingers. Watch out for thin ring shanks and flimsy earrings. Good jewelry shouldn’t fall apart if you accidentally drop it once. Just don’t make it a habit.
Examine the stones carefully
Symmetrical jewelry should be symmetrical. Edges shouldn’t be sharp or present a health hazard, like so many rings out there. Stones should be set securely and in a clean manner. You don’t want to get stuck on someone’s clothes and rip them apart.
Small stones (under half a carat) are generally set in a piece of jewelry, and that’s to be expected. Nevertheless, you should ask for the piece to be cleaned before you inspect it, examine it carefully with your naked eye, and then ask for a loupe—a kind of magnifying glass—with which to appraise it more carefully.
Look at the workmanship very, very carefully under a loupe. If you see imperfections or crudeness, if there is not elaborate attention to tiny details, if there are no unnecessary flourishes—in short, if it doesn’t look like the jeweler was showing off—chances are it is not an original.
What you want to avoid is stones that have been irradiated or injected with colored glass or silicon—currently the most popular treatment techniques, especially for expensive rubies and sapphires.
The only way to guarantee that the stone you are buying has not been treated in this way is to be sure that you can return the stone after having it appraised by an independent expert.
Be aware of all the above-mentioned material criteria, and be critical.