Sunday, January 16, 2022

Where’s the gold?



I had to do something totally against character the other day: I refused to repair a piece of jewelry for a new customer.

Now wait… those of you that know me personally are probably shocked and appalled because normally I will accept all jewelry repairs no matter how complicated or challenging. The hundreds of repairs my shop pushes out a month, be it season or off season, proves this.

The funny thing about the “piece” in question is it was purchased only a week ago in some Caribbean jewelry emporium.  There it lay on my counter the poor hapless ring wrapped in tissue paper along with the glitter of several small displaced diamonds, the center tanzanite gemstone wrenched from its perch, the mounting bent and broken.

“I just bought this and paid a lot of money. What do you mean you can’t fix it?”

Of course this distraught woman is my first customer to walk in, and I have yet to get my caffeine fix for the day!

I start to explain to her that it’s not that I don’t want to repair it but, because of the way it was made, it is impossible to repair.  This sorry example of a gold tanzanite and diamond ring was designed to self destruct the minute she re-entered the U.S.A.

The weight or heft of the ring was non-existent, construction laughable, the gem and diamond quality dismal, the prongs (what prongs?) were too light and too short to hold the center stone and there were more cracks in the mangled ring than Humpty Dumpty’s worse day.

Working on this ring is a bench jeweler’s nightmare! Number one, it would be a waste of her money and my time. Sure, I could repair it.  The only thing is, after many hours of tedious labor, the only original things on the ring would be the gemstones along with a hefty repair bill.

So, I suggested she try to return the ring where she purchased it, she says it’s not possible!  (I’m not surprised: this is the dawning of the age of disposable jewelry!) The only option, I explained, was to remove the existing diamonds and reset everything in a new mounting. Not exactly the answer she wanted to hear, especially since the ring is barely a week old and cost her a pretty penny in the Bahamas.

This scenario is a common occurrence to many goldsmiths like myself. Certain late night T.V. shopping “bargains” are impossible to repair and cause a jeweler anguish in just adjusting the finger size. The words shoddy, flimsy, and valueless

Richard Alan

Richard Alan

come to mind.  And don’t forget the incredibly special TV offer of only $59.95—and free shipping! You got what you paid for!

The smart jewelry shopper thoroughly examines what they buy, does some homework, asks questions, and compares quality of craftsmanship with price. To avoid getting burned, examine the piece carefully. Most importantly, there should be some semblance of weight or heft, and this will give the piece strength for daily wear and tear. If there are diamonds or gemstones, make sure they are bright and clear. Avoid cloudy diamonds and opaque gems. They are considered worthless. The prongs should be strong and have some substance and be flush on the top of the stone. (Be sure there is no space between the prongs and stones for this will cause consistent snagging.) Also, the gems should be set level not crooked.

The formula for buying fine jewelry is really quite simple: Cheap price = Cheap jewelry.

With the current price of gold and this wonderful economy, if the deal is too good to be true it most likely is. Buyer, Beware! Having gold prices over the $1200.00 mark has severely affected nearly every facet of the jewelry business. There are deceitful jewelry sales advertised everywhere you look, some stores teetering on bankruptcy are resorting to less than honorable means to stay in business.

Many more have been forced to sacrifice quality for survival by selling cheap, poorly made flashy jewelry to fleece the unknowing buyers. (There is one born every minute!) Just because it’s made of gold and contains diamonds or precious gemstones, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s made to last.

I have to be careful myself. On buying trips both domestic and foreign, when scoping out all the new styles and trends, it’s my job to separate the good  pieces from the bad to avoid a problem in the future because of poor design or craftsmanship. The result of selling a piece of unquestionable quality is an unhappy customer and a money-losing experience for me because every time something breaks or falls out, guess who has to place it for free?

Some advice for you insomniac TV shoppers out there: If you must buy that bargain tanzanite ring, make sure you order the right finger size to avoid disappointment when you find out no jeweler in his right mind will touch it.

Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, if he gets angry, he’ll be a mile away… and barefoot!

Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and the owner of the Harbor Goldsmith’s of Marco Island and welcomes your questions about all that glitters 239.394.9275 or

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