The most important characteristic about a piece of jewelry is that you like it. There’s no point in getting jewelry if it’s just going to be sitting in a drawer somewhere collecting dust. That said, when looking at a once-in-a-lifetime piece, such as a wedding band or engagement ring, extra attention must be made not only to the design, but to the overall durability and quality as well.
Quality is Worth it
Imagine driving a car around non-stop for 24 hours a day, for 50 years. That is essentially what your new ring will go through. Repairs and maintenance should be expected, so don’t get upset if a stone gets loose, or even falls out. Jewelry is wonderful thing, because it can always be repaired.
So, how do we determine if something is good quality, but more importantly, worth the price tag?
Eighty percent of the time, if a comparable piece of jewelry is more expensive, it’s due to a superior quality. Heavier weight, brighter stones, and store guarantees are usually indicators of a high quality ring.
If the jeweler you’re buying from guarantees the new piece for life at no extra charge, that’s their way of saying, “We stand behind our quality.” They know there will still be normal wear, but a high quality ring should withstand most normal wear and tear without major problems.
Choosing Stones and Metals
If shopping for diamonds, color should stay above a “J,” otherwise your diamond will start to look a little yellow. Clarity is easy to remember. If you have an “I1, I2, or I3” it will have eye visible inclusions. Anything SI2 and higher, by definition, should only have inclusions visible under magnification.
Don’t put all your trust in that diamond certification, though. Lab reports are only as good as the grader that typed it up, and they can be wrong. Way too many people focus so much on a diamond certification that they don’t even notice major differences in the sparkle and look of the diamonds. Use the certificate as a guide, but when it’s time to make a decision, toss the certs on the floor and simply look at the stones. When you’ve got four completely different diamonds lined up in front of you, one of them will draw you in, and that means you’ve just made your decision!
For colored stones, don’t worry so much about the quality as the color is the most important thing. Everyone prefers different colors for different stones. In my opinion, if you personally like the color, then it’s a good stone. Don’t make a decision based on whether a colored stone is “better” or “worse” than the others, simply pick the one you like!
Metal choice is not so much about quality as it is preference. Every metal has its pros and cons, but much like colored stones, the choice should be made based on personal opinion and not what others are pushing you to get.
Fourteen karat is currently the most popular choice, giving you a balance between durability and gold content. Eighteen karat tends to be more likely to bend under duress; however, people with allergies have less reaction to the alloys, it is more prestigious, and it has a more golden color when used in yellow gold.
Platinum is by far the most expensive and least bendable, but it tends to scratch easily, producing a unique “frosted” look.
Palladium is a relatively new white alloy used in jewelry. Not many jewelers currently work with it, but it is starting to get more attention. A member of the platinum family, it’s more durable than gold, less expensive, and has a natural bright white color, unlike white gold which is always rhodium plated to produce its bright white finish.
All of the metals are great to use and, with proper care, will stand the tests of time. Try to see an example of each type of metal when you’re shopping, and go with the one you’re drawn to. If you have experience already wearing jewelry, examine your current pieces, and if you notice a lot of scratches and marks, it may be best to stay away from the softer options.
Finding a Jeweler
Finally, the type of jeweler you use will determine a lot about the quality and satisfaction of the end product. Independent jewelers will typically dedicate more time to their pieces as opposed to most rings sold by major corporations. Independent jewelers typically use US-based manufacturers which use better quality materials in their productions. Corporate stores use mass-produced rings that are typically assembled in China or Taiwan. These “cookie cutter” rings are usually a little lower quality but sometimes can be less expensive. If purchasing a corporate ring, I would strongly recommend spending the extra money on a service plan to cover repairs as the ring wears.
Be very careful relying on the internet for your jewelry education and purchase. Many websites are trying to sell to you at the same time they’re “educating.” If you need to ask questions, take the time to go and ask a jeweler in person. Live interaction will get you the answers you’re looking for while building a rapport with your new potential jeweler.
It can be tempting to purchase a diamond online, however, you lose the ability to view multiple stones side by side for comparison. Jewelry is all about the look and the sparkle, and no camera can capture that. Spend the extra hundred or two with a real jeweler, and you’ll be rewarded ten times over with savings on future purchases, repairs, and relationships.
Being a jeweler, I can honestly say I’ve never given anything for free to a person who ordered parts of their new pieces online instead of buying them from me. However, I’ve given hundreds of free repairs and even diamonds and gemstones to the customers who have given me the ability to go to work every day doing what I love. The internet is great for many things, but quality and design demands a reputable and experienced jeweler.
Always remember, jewelry is there to make you feel good. You wear it for you, not everyone else. If you want to mix yellow and white, or even add in some rose or green gold, it’s your fashion sense that matters. Jewelry is an extension of your personality and designing a piece should be approached with that in mind.
Photo Credits: Lavinia Marin,Lel4nd, Author.