The reality is that most of us aren’t comfortable shopping in jewelry stores.
Between the high price tags and the technical trade language, it’s easy to feel out of your depth whether you’re buying for yourself or a loved one.
Take our 4 quick tips and make your next trip to the jewelry store a painless one.
Tip #1 Know What You Want Before Going
Don’t ever walk into a jewelry store and say you’re “looking for something nice for myself/my wife/ a friend.” That’s a great way to get ushered immediately to the most expensive items.
Even if the salesperson tries to be genuinely helpful, you’re still relying on someone else’s taste. Theirs may or may not match the taste and wardrobe of the person for whom you’re buying.
Instead, walk in with a clear idea of the fundamental characteristics you want, even if you don’t have a set of technical terms in mind.
Here is a list of jewelry descriptors you should determine before shopping:
- Color – Know if you want plain gold or silver-colored jewelry or looking for something with a colored stone. If so, what color? This is your most effective determination since it automatically eliminates a considerable chunk of wrong options.
- Metal – Not all silvertone jewelry is silver, nor is all goldtone jewelry gold. If you want a specific metal rather than a general color, say so. It helps eliminate a lot of options.
- Proportion – Give good, descriptive words rather than worrying about technicalities. It’s your job to tell the jeweler, “I want a nice set of cufflinks that aren’t too ostentatious,” it’s his job to know what pairs would match that description.
- Price – You may not want to mention this upfront, but have a limit in your head and stick to it. If you’re offered something outside of it, say so and move on.
Tip #2 Talk To A Jeweler You Trust
If you aren’t lucky enough to have a good friend who’s also a professional jeweler, ask around the family.
You may be surprised who your relatives know — some older men have been dealing with the same family jeweler for decades and could easily pass on a question or two.
When you’re asking for a professional’s second opinion, focus on the things within their expertise – technical questions, details of quality and weight, origins of stones, etc. You’re trying to fill in the gaps in your knowledge, not just get an opinion on your taste.
Of course, you may end up wanting to purchase from a jeweler you or a family member knows and trusts, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just be aware that the best second opinions will always come from people with no vested interest in the sale.
Tip #3 Know Enough To Ask The Right Questions
Whether you’re dealing with a friendly third party or with the man/woman who will make the final sale, you need to know what questions to ask.
This point is where most men get frustrated or intimidated.
Our advice is don’t try to grasp it all at once. And don’t try to pretend you know more than the jeweler — you don’t.
Just go in with a solid grasp on essential qualities of precious metals and precious gems:
Gold and Precious Metals
- Hallmark – This is the manufacturer’s stamp on a precious metal like gold. It should represent either the karat weight (see below) or the purity as a percentage. Percentages are given as three-digit decimals, such that a stamp of “.750” would indicate 75% pure gold.
- Karat weight – This is a traditional measurement of gold’s purity dating back to before precise measurements were available. It is a 1-24 scale with 24 karats theoretically implying pure gold. In practice, anything higher than .999 pure is 24K.
Diamonds and Precious Gems
Remember the “4 C’s” – Carat, Cut, Color, and Clarity.
Not all of these apply in quite the same way to other precious stones, but they’re helpful terms to know:
- Carat – When using a C instead of a K, you’re no longer talking about precious metal. Instead, a carat is a measurement of mass for precious stones, equal to 0.2 grams. People mostly equate this with size, but that’s not necessarily accurate. A good jeweler can cut a diamond (or other stone) to look more prominent than a poorly-cut stone of heavier carat weight might.
- Cut – This is the measure of quality, not the shape of the stone. The U.S. precious stone cuts rate as Ideal, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor. The industry only introduced this scale in 2006, and not all diamonds or other precious stones will have a stated rating. Since it’s difficult for an untrained eye to judge, look for a stone with an established rating or have a professional take a look for you.
- Color – Diamonds are rated on a scale from Z to D, with D being a clear and colorless diamond. Anything J and up is considered high-quality and accordingly expensive. Color matters more if you’re buying a big stone — it’s not worth spending lots of money for a perfectly colorless diamond if it’s too tiny for coloring to be noticeable.
- Clarity – Diamonds and other stones usually contain imperfections. There are ratings based on how they look to the naked eye and under magnification, but you run into a problem here — depending on where in the stone the imperfections (called “inclusions”) are, they might make the gem look more or less flawed.
Tip #4 Find The Right Place To Buy
Not all jewelers are created equal. Some have more extensive selections; others have better prices; some have more helpful and knowledgeable staff.
If you’re fortunate, you’ll find one that’s good at all those things, but it can be challenging.
Know Your Options
- Big Chains – These are the names you know from the radio or TV. They have the most common jewelry, and you will likely deal with a salesperson instead of a jeweler.
- Family or Independent – Expect a smaller selection with someone who has been in the business for a long time. When looking for something more unique and a knowledgeable jeweler, this is your best bet.
- Antique or Pawn Shops – This is going to be second-hand. That means there is a risk of getting ripped off vs. the reward of getting something majorly discounted. Exercise a lot of caution and don’t spend a lot of money here.
The above 4 tips emphasize research and knowledge. When you are familiar with both, you’ll be more comfortable buying jewelry.
You don’t need to be an expert (though it helps to know one), but you do need to know, roughly, what you want. It’s the only sure way to avoid buying what a salesperson wants you to have instead of what you wanted.