Friday, December 2, 2022

Life Expectancy of Jewelry


Submitted Photo | A diamond to avoid… cheap, and highly flawed.

How long will it last? A question that I am often asked after I replace a watch battery. Normally, a watch battery lasts about a year in a good quality watch. In an excellent quality (expensive) watch it can be several years, and in a cheap $5 knock-off watch purchased at the flea market, maybe a few months. So, as you can see, the lasting affect can vary according to the quality of the timepiece.

What about jewelry? Well lately (like in the past 20 years) with the advent of the internet and the cost of precious metals, the life expectancy is similar to watch batteries, cheap @*s jewelry might not stay in one piece 24 hours after you purchased it. Meanwhile, great-grandma Ethel’s platinum diamond ring purchased in 1926 is still nearly in the same condition it was back then. Why? How is that possible?

One word…QUALITY! It is the difference between lasting and not lasting. My loyal readers have heard me preach over and over through the years, cheap lightweight hollow jewelry is a waste of your money. Yet folks still buy millions upon millions of dollars’ worth of the dreck and bring it to me (or other repair facilities) when it fails their expectations miserably. A funny thing, when I implore the owner of this poor excuse for a piece of jewelry to bring it back where they bought it, I hear the same thing over and over, that they “can’t.” The company is either out of business (Go figure!) or it was a final sale, or they bought it in some I’ll-never-be-there-again foreign third world country on a cruise (No kidding!).

Only this morning before I began writing this column, a couple was taken over the coals by a well-known jewelry tourist trap while on vacation in the Caribbean. I’ve learned over the years the places to avoid when looking for expensive jewelry — those are the shops many cruise lines recommend. Those same cruise lines you will find ignore any complaints you may have with the shops they “recommended.”

Don’t be fooled by the price tag. Just because it is expensive doesn’t mean it’s a quality piece, it only means they overcharged you big time for a low quality item. Never buy anything, especially diamonds, without closely examining it with a jeweler’s loupe (10 power magnification device). If the store or the jeweler does not have one for you to use…LEAVE! A jeweler without loupe is like a butcher without a cleaver.

And then you are presented a loupe… now what? The use of one is very simple. Bring the eyepiece close to your dominant eye (usually one’s right eye) and bring the piece of jewelry to the loupe until it is in focus. Do it any other way and you will look like a moron to the jeweler, and not see a darn thing. Once the article is in focus (for example, a diamond ring), look into the interior and surface of the diamond. If it is full of inclusions or white scratch-like flaws (or worse, large white or black spots), you are not looking at a flawless diamond, regardless of what the salesperson or certified documents say. The more flaws or inclusions, the less money it should cost. Ask if you can see the diamond away from the fancy bright showcase lights. Natural sunlight is the best light to view a diamond in to see its true body color. If you are looking for a bright, white diamond and it is pale yellow or dull gray in the sunlight, it’s not what you are in the market for, is it? Less white diamonds are also inexpensive, unless the diamond is a vibrant yellow or some other pleasing color such as blue, pink or even green. A diamond that is a natural fancy color will be more expensive. Not to confuse my readers, but man has the technology to artificially color diamonds permanently to nearly every color of the rainbow. One tried and true process involves radiation (irradiation), but there are now other processes such as HPHT. They look just like the expensive natural colors but due to the process they are not priced the same.

In a nutshell… crummy color, clarity and cut, it’s a crummy low quality diamond that should have a really low price and the same goes for precious stones like rubies, sapphires, emeralds and tanzanite, etc.

Generally speaking, lackluster quality gems are usually set in lackluster low quality settings that amount to a short life-wearing expectancy. A flimsy, lightweight mounting with inadequate prongs won’t hold the diamonds for even a short period of time.

Quite frankly, I don’t even want to accept the stuff for repair. If it’s junk when it comes in, it’s still junk after I repair it, and it will never stay in one piece.

I don’t mean to blow my own horn, but I see pieces of jewelry I made 25 years ago that are in perfect condition with no stone loss and only require a good cleaning or polishing to be as good as new again.

My secret? I only buy and create quality jewelry. Yes, I admit over 50 years in the business occasionally some pieces may have not performed as I expected (the invisible set diamond jewelry comes to mind!). In that case, I would replace it with something that would, and I would never again re-order a problem style for the showcase.

Clean and bright diamonds are happy diamonds. Sturdy and well-constructed, reasonably priced jewelry that lasts more than a lifetime makes a happy, shiny customer.

Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and owner of The Harbor Goldsmith of Marco Island at the newly renovated Island Plaza and has been Marco’s island jeweler since 1994. He welcomes your questions or comments about all that glitters. He can be reached at 239-394-9275 or Visit

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