Jewellery Buying 101

So, you’re thinking about buying some jewellery. Maybe it’s an engagement ring. Maybe it’s a birthday or anniversary gift that has to be special.

You can shop better by shopping smarter. Here are a few explanations to help you understand the wonderful world of fine jewellery.

What are natural gemstones?

Natural gemstones are found in nature. They are created in and mined from the earth. Pearl is the notable exception, since it comes from a living creature! Natural gemstones are sometimes enhanced, which means they were treated in some way (such as heat) to improve their colour and/or clarity.

What are laboratory-created gemstones?

Laboratory-created gemstones, as the name implies, are made in a laboratory. These stones, which also are referred to as laboratory-grown, manufacturer-created, or synthetic, have essentially the same chemical, physical, and optical properties as natural gemstones. Laboratory-created gemstones do not have the rarity or value of natural coloured gemstones.

What are imitation gemstones?

By contrast, imitation stones look like natural gemstones in appearance only and may be a man made or a natural stone. Laboratory-created and imitation stones should be clearly identified as such.

Gemstone basics: what to look for.

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, 7×5 millimeters).

What is an enhanced or treated gemstone?

Gemstone treatments or enhancements refer to the way some gemstones are treated to improve their appearance or durability, or even change their colour. Many gemstones are treated in some way. The effects of some treatments may lessen or change over time and some treated gemstones may require special care. Some enhancements also affect the value of a gemstone, when measured against a comparable untreated gemstone. Treatments and/or enhancements should always be disclosed by the seller, along with any special care that might be required.

Precious Metals

The word gold, used on its own, means all gold or it can refer to “pure” gold, meaning 24 karat (24K) gold. Because 24K gold is soft, it’s usually mixed with other metals called alloys to increase its hardness and durability. If a piece of jewellery 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) jewellery contains 14 parts of gold, mixed in throughout with 10 parts of an alloy metal. The higher the karat rating, the higher the proportion of gold in the piece of jewelry.

Jewellery should be marked with its karat quality. Near the karat quality mark, you also 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 piece.

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 jewellery as compared with gold jewellery, 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 jewellery.

The words silver and 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 jewellery may be described as silver plate: 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.