Jewelry Buyer's Guide
The Makings of a Pearl
Pearls begin when a grain of sand, another piece of pearl, or any other irritant gets into the oyster’s shell. To protect itself, the oyster secretes multiple layers of a calcium carbonate substance called nacre around the foreign object to isolate it from the rest of the oyster. After a few years, the original irritant is covered in a silky coat and, voila, we have a pearl.
Both natural and cultured pearls are born and grow inside live oysters. The difference between the two is that natural pearls are formed by nature, or by chance, and cultured pearls are made by man’s assistance by injecting an irritant into the oyster. Today, most pearls are cultured.
How to Buy Pearls
When buying pearls, consider these six key factors:
LUSTER – Luster is the brightness, sheen and/or glow of the pearl. What constitutes a bright luster is the combination of surface quality and the inner glow of the pearl. With high quality pearls a glow will seem to emanate from within the pearl, especially when light reflects from its surface. Pearls that appear dull, too white, or chalky are not high quality pearls.
SIZE – Usually, the larger the pearl the greater its value is.
SURFACE – A clean surface is a sign of a high quality pearl. The more flawless a pearl is, the greater value it will have. A pearl should be clean of bumps, cracks, and blemishes.
SHAPE – The shape of a pearl can be round, oval, pear shaped, half round, button-type (one axis flattened), circled, or baroque. The chances of an oyster producing a perfectly round pearl are very low and the value of a pearl is adjusted accordingly. Although, asymmetrical “baroque” pearls have appeal of their own and are generally less expensive, making them attractive to buyers on a budget.
COLOR – when purchasing a pearl always look for a brilliant color. The color range of a cultured pearl is black to pink. When deciding on what color you want your pearl to be, it’s best to choose according to your own skin tone. Overtones of green, blue, and pink can complement the right skin tone color, but look unattractive on the wrong skin tone. Pink and silver white pearls often complement fair skin tones, while cream and gold pearls tend to complement darker skin tones.
UNIFORMITY – When selecting more than one pearl, uniformity matters. Since every pearl produced is one of a kind, the more uniform a strand or pair of pearls is, the greater its value.
Types of Pearls
Akoya Pearls – Akoya pearls come from the Akoya oyster, which usually comes from Japan or China producing a saltwater cultured pearl. Akoya pearls are the most difficult to grow due to the low survival rate of the host oysters, only 5 out of 10 will survive the nucleation process.
Baroque Pearls – The name baroque refers to irregularly shaped cultured pearls that are very lustrous and quite attractive. Because of the shape, these pearls are usually offered at a lower cost.
Biwa Pearl – Originally named after a lake in Japan, these pearls are the first cultured pearls without nucleus, or with an organic nucleus, obtained from a freshwater mussel.
Freshwater Pearls – Produced in great abundance, these pearls are the most moderately priced of all pearls, because they are cultivated from freshwater mussels rather than saltwater oysters. What determines the tone of a freshwater pearl is the original shell the pearl was cultivated in. The most famous type of freshwater pearl is the Biwa pearl, which are grown mostly in Japan, China, and the United States.
Keshi Pearls-The word Keshi in Japanese means “poppy seed”. Keshi pearls are sub-products of a pearl that range in size from very small to tiny. They form accidentally on many cultured pearl oysters.
Mabe Pearls – Mostly grown in Japan, Indonesia, or Australia these pearls are not grown within the oysters body, but rather against the inside of the shell of any kind of oyster. These pearls are mostly used in settings that hide their flat back and reverse side.
South Sea Pearls (also called White South Sea Pearls) – These pearls are cultured in warm salt water in tropical or semi-tropical oysters in the South China Sea, which include the Polynesian Islands, Borneo, Australia, Indonesia, and other Pacific countries. The diameter of these pearls usually ranges from 9 to 14 millimeter.
South Sea Shell Pearls – South Sea Shell Pearls are made of a 100% natural South Sea oyster shell. The pearls have the weight, feel, and luster of genuine South Sea and Tahitian pearl. Perfectly round in shape with a beautiful AAA surface quality, they are hand-knotted on silk cord at a very affordable price.
South Sea Tahitian Black Cultured Pearls – Grown in a variety of large oysters primarily found in the waters of French Polynesia, the unique color and large size of these pearls demand a high cost. The color of these pearls can range from gray to black with green or blue with iridescent overtones. These are the largest of all pearls, usually ranging from 8 to 14 millimeters.
Care of Pearls
Pearls are very soft and need special care and attention. You should never store your pearls in a jewelry box next to other jewelry, because both the box and other pieces of jewelry can damage pearls by scratching and nicking, so keep them in a fabric lined box or fabric pouch.
Skin produces acids that can harm your pearls, so if worn regularly pearls should be wiped down with a soft cloth after every wear. A pearl necklace will gradually absorb acid from the skin that will eat into the pearl causing it to lose its luster. Wiping pearls of with either a wet or dry, soft cloth will prevent dirt from accumulating and keep perspiration, which is slightly acidic, from eating away at the nacre. If you like, you can even use a drop of olive oil on your cleansing cloth to help maintain your pearl’s luster.
Along with being soft and easily scratched, pearls can be damaged by chemicals and heat. Only use jewelry cleaner clearly marked “safe for pearls.” Never use ultrasonic cleanser. Never use dish or wash detergents, bleaches, baking soda or ammonia-based cleansers. Never use toothbrushes, or any other abrasive materials to clean your pearls. Always take off your pearls before you use any cosmetics, hair spray, and perfume. Avoid heat and dry air because both can cause pearls to turn brown, dry out, and crack.
How to Buy Silver
In its purest state, silver can be as soft as gold and therefore it is generally alloyed with another metal, usually copper, to add strength. Karatage is not used when technically speaking about silver because any piece of silver or sterling silver must be 92.5 percent pure to considered real silver. The finish of silver can be polished to a high sheen that not even platinum can match. The finish can also take on different textures when made into jewelry like polishing, matte or brushed, sandblasted, oxidized, or antiqued. Often, silver will take on a worn looking finish because of a response that happens the wearer’s skin so before purchasing a piece of silver jewelry make sure that you are not allergic to silver. All sterling silver must be marked as such.
Rhodium Plated – a tarnish free finish
Care of Silver
Silver requires more maintenance than any other metal. Tarnishing occurs because silver reacts to pollutants in the air, which is then exacerbated by moisture and heat. Tarnishing can be removed by chemical tarnish removing solution.
Diamonds are the hardest of all substances on this earth. They are incredibly resistant to heat and scratching and can only be polished or scratched by another diamond, but an extremely hard blow to the girdle can cause a chip. By having your diamond placed in a protective setting your diamond can stay intact for a lifetime. Their sparkle, if cared for well, will remain undiminished for hundreds and hundreds of years.
How to Buy a Diamond
There are 4 C’s to always keep in mind when purchasing a diamond:
CARAT – The size and weight of a diamond is always classified by carats and points. One hundred points make up one carat. A diamond that weighs less then one hundred points is sometimes identified in point size, for example a .55-carat diamond can also be titled as a 55-point diamond. When diamonds are mined, larger stones are found a lot less frequently then smaller stones making larger diamonds more valuable. Usually, the pricing of diamonds goes up with the carat size.
CLARITY – The greater a diamond’s clarity, the greater its brilliance, sparkle, and value. Diamonds that have perfect clarity are the most sought after and therefore are the most expensive. Most diamonds have inclusions, which are scratches, trace minerals, or any other tiny flaw that takes away from the natural beauty of a diamond. These so-called birthmarks resemble tiny clouds, crystals, and/or feathers. Diamonds that are classified as flawless show no inclusions, these are rare and sought after because of their beauty. Diamonds with extremely tiny inclusions follow flawless diamonds in quality, because the larger and the more visible the inclusions, the lower the quality and rarity, forcing the value of that diamond down. The number, type, color, position, and size of surface and internal inclusions affect the value of the diamond. The reason for this being that large inclusions can disrupt the path of light as it travels through the stone, taking away from its sparkle and value. Ratings are marked as FL for flawless, IF for internally flawless, VVS1 and VVS2 for very very slightly included, SI1 and SI2 for slightly included.
CUT – The cut of a diamond, or the roundness, depth, width, and uniformity of the facets, determine a diamond’s brilliance. The width and depth have the greatest effect on how light travels through and exits a diamond in the form of brilliance. In a diamond that has been cut too shallow, light is lost through the sides causing the diamond to lose its brilliance. In a diamond that is cut too deep, light will escape through the bottom causing the diamond to appear dark and dull. The proportions of a diamond, specifically the depth compared to the diameter, and the diameter of the table compared to the diameter of the diamond, determine how light will reflect and refract within a diamond. While nature establishes the color, clarity, and carat weight of a diamond, it takes a skilled artisan to unveil a diamond’s inner beauty. When a diamond is cut well, light reflects from one mirror-like facet to another and radiates through the top of the diamond.
COLOR – Diamonds are graded by color. Acting as a prism, a diamond can divide light into a spectrum of colors and reflect this light as colorful flashes called fire. A true colorless stone is very rare and sought-after for its quality. The less color in a diamond, the more colorful the fire, the better the color grade. Grading goes by the letters of the alphabet, D being the greatest color quality and Z being the lowest color quality.
Asscher Cut Diamond Shape The “Asscher cut diamond” was developed in 1902 by the Asscher Brothers of Holland. It is a stepped square cut, often called the “square emerald cut” and like an emerald cut, the Asscher has cropped corners.
Until recently, very few stores carried Asscher cut diamonds. But the Asscher cut has rapidly gained popularity as it was featured on the television show Sex & and the City and stars such as Kate Hudson have received Asscher-cuts as engagement rings.
Definitions you should know: Girdle: The narrow band around the widest part of a diamond. Diameter: The width of the diamond measured through the girdle. Table: The largest facet of a gemstone. Crown: The top portion of a diamond extending from the girdle to the table.
Care of Diamonds
Even though diamonds last forever, they must be cleaned periodically to ensure their brilliance. A solution of one part ammonia and six parts water can be used to clean diamond jewelry. It is also a good idea to have your diamonds checked once a year by a professional to ensure the setting is secure.
Precious gemstones – Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald Semi-precious gemstones – Agate, Alexandrite, Amethyst, Aquamarine, Beryl, Citrine, Garnet, Opal, Spinel, Tanzanite, Topaz, Turquoise, Tourmaline, Zircon, Peridot When purchasing a gemstone there are the five characteristics to consider: COLOR – The color of a gemstone it its most defining feature. When deciding upon a gemstone color it is important to look at its hue, tone, and saturation. The jewelry industry as a whole recognizes the highest quality gemstones by their green, red, or blue hue, a medium to dark tone, and saturated color. The most valuable gemstones exhibit a pure color and only slight hues of other colors in addition to their primary color. Tone represents the depth of the color, which can range from colorless to black. The tone of a gemstone is described as “light”, “medium-light”, “medium”, “medium-dark”, and “dark”. Color purity, or saturation, refers to the degree in which the gem is free of brown or gray hues. The gemstones that are most sought after show little gray or brown and are often referred to as having vivid or strong color saturation.
CLARITY – Gemstones form under unique circumstances and each individual gemstone is comprised of a combination of trace minerals that create identifying marks or inclusions in the gemstone itself. Gemstones that are flawless are very rare and valuable and even the most high-end gemstones are at least slightly flawed. The best value is found in gems that are lightly to moderately included.
SIZE – Gemstones can be cut into a round, square, oval, or pear shape. The carat weight of a gemstone is not necessarily an accurate gauge for a gemstone only because all gemstones have different densities. Two gemstones that have the same carat weight may actually have a different weight.
ENHANCEMENTS – Almost all gemstones available have been enhanced. Gemstones that have not been enhanced are very recognizable because of their incredibly high cost. Some enhancements are an expected part of the polishing and finishing process and are accepted by the jewelry industry as a whole. Almost every ruby or sapphire that you would find has been heated. Heating completes a process that nature started, which is to enhance the gemstone to brilliant colors of blues and reds. Placing emeralds in oil has been going on for centuries and fills tiny fissures in emeralds to make them even more beautiful.
CUT – Color saturation determines a gemstones cut. A greater color saturation requires a shallow cut, while less color saturation requires a deeper cut. With gemstones you will not find an ideal cut that is geometrically configured for brilliance like diamonds. To determine if a gemstone is top quality or not, in terms of its cut, look at the setting and make sure that all the facets are symmetrical. An asymmetrical cut crown indicates a gemstone of low quality. A well-cut gemstone is symmetrical and reflects light evenly across the surface and the polish of the stone is smooth without any nicks. CABOCHON - a highly polished, convex-cut, un-faceted style
Care of Gemstones
Gemstones should be cleaned with warm water, an ammonia based detergent, and a small brush. Always keep gemstone jewelry in a soft pouch and never let two pieces touch because scratching can occur.
Use the chart below to learn about some of the unique qualities and ancient folklore associated with modern birthstones.
January Capricorn Garnet - This birthstone is most commonly a deep red. In ancient folklore, it was believed to have magical properties, assuring the wearer of love and faithfulness.
February Aquarius Amethyst - This relative of quartz can be found in varying purple tones. In ancient Greece, it was believed to protect one from the effects of wine!
March Pisces Aquamarine - In the same family of Beryl stones as emeralds, "aquamarine" means "sea water." Reminiscent of the clear blue ocean, gazing into this lovely stone has the power to transport you to remote island beaches.
April Aries Diamond - Those with birthdays in April are fortunate to claim diamonds as their stone. Originating from the Greek "adamas," meaning indomitable, diamonds were believed to offer protection and strength in the face of adversity.
May Taurus Emerald - Beloved and admired for their bold green hues, emeralds evoke wonder for the natural world. Sacred to the Goddess Venus, this stone has been linked to fertility and creativity.
June Gemini Pearl - A unique, organic process is responsible for the creation of pearls inside the shells of mollusks. While symbols of innocence in ancient Greece, today they have come to represent tradition and simplicity.
July Cancer Ruby - Derived from the mineral corundum, rubies can be more valuable than diamonds when flawless! Associated with royalty and the power of life, rubies have been highly revered for thousands of years
August Leo Peridot - The electric green of August's birthstone makes for radiant and exciting jewelry. It is no wonder that this stone, found in lava, traditionally was associated with the sun and endowed with many mystical powers.
September Virgo Sapphire - A cousin of the ruby, Sapphires most traditionally are an intoxicating blue. Virgos can enjoy wearing a stone connected with vision, purity, and spiritual enlightenment.
October Libra Opal - Opaque white stones with rainbow color hues that dance upon the surface, the opal's complexity can be breathtaking. In ancient times, opals were highly valued for their shocking beauty.
November Scorpio Citrine and Topaz - November offers a choice between two beautiful stones, citrine and topaz. According to ancient folklore, citrine connotes a sense of balance and well-being. Topaz, originating from the Sanskrit "tapas," means to glow, and jewelry adorned with topaz does just that.
December Sagittarius Tanzanite - While Turquoise is often used as December's birthstone, now celebrate this month with Tanzanite. Discovered in Tanzania in the 1960's, no other gem has become so popular so fast. Found only in one hilly area of Tanzania, this striking, purplish-blue stone is a gem of rare beauty.
Gold’s softness and malleability makes it the perfect metal to create jewelry. It is also nontoxic, resists tarnishing, doesn’t corrode, is hypoallergenic, and retains its value making it very popular to wear. The natural color or shade of gold is yellow, which also happens to be the most commonly used shade of gold when making jewelry. Yellow gold is alloyed usually with copper or silver to add strength because of how soft pure gold really is. Another popular shade of gold is white gold made by mixing yellow gold with zinc, nickel, palladium, or copper.
Vermeil- Pronounced "vermay," vermeil is a French word describing sterling silver that has been electroplated with at least 100 millionths of an inch of karat gold.
How to Buy Gold
When buying gold always look for the karat mark to ensure that it is real. Pure gold is usually 24K and is much too soft to make jewelry so it is alloyed with other metals to increase its strength. For example, jewelry marked 18K gold means it is 75 percent pure gold. The designation placed on gold like the karat and the maker’s trademark is to ensure that it is real gold. In the Untied States the most common karat of gold is 14K. Nothing less than 10K gold can be legally sold in the United States. However, lower karatages are popular in other countries.
Care for Gold
Since gold is so durable and malleable it is ideal for settings containing diamonds, pearls, or gemstones. Always keep gold clean and never use harsh chemicals to clean it with. Gold can easily be scratched so keep it is a fabric lined case and away from other jewelry. If a piece of a setting breaks you can always take it to your jewelry professional and have it repaired.