Dangers May Lurk Beneath
That Sparkling Gift…

by Antoinette Matlins

Jewelry tops the list of gifts that always brings a smile! But this year the smile may be short-lived…some of those sparkling baubles may be dangerous to your health!

According to Antoinette Matlins, a leading consumer advocate in the jewelry field, and the author of numerous consumer-oriented books on the subject, if jewelry is on your holiday gift list this year, you need to be especially cautious.

“Recently,” says Matlins, “the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a voluntary recall of ‘Children’s Mood Necklaces’ and ‘Diva Necklaces’ and cautioned consumers to stop using these products immediately because they contain high levels of lead.” The problem with these jewelry items is that they could be toxic if ingested by young children. According to the CPSC, there are 51,600 units now in the marketplace. “And priced at about a dollar each,” continues Matlins, “adults are buying them as stocking stuffers for children of all ages, and teenagers are buying them as gifts for friends.”

There is even greater cause for concern. This is just the tip of the iceberg. In the latest edition of her book, Jewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide (GemStone Press), Matlins warns against a much more serious and pervasive problem that could have severe health risks for as much as 10 percent of the American adult public.

Matlins says the biggest problem is white-gold jewelry sold in the United States. White-gold sold in the US is usually made by adding “nickel” to the “gold” to make it harder and to create the “white” color. This is called ‘nickel-alloyed white gold.’ “But the problem with nickel-alloyed white gold,” warns Matlins “is that it has been identified as the most common cause of allergic contact-dermatitis and can lead to more serious allergies such as hay-fever and even asthma!”

The proof of these allegations can be found in the UK and EC, where the incidence of nickel-related allergies has increased so dramatically that nickel-alloyed white gold has been banned for jewelry use. Researchers believe the increase in the number of people suffering from nickel allergy is related to several factors: early ear-piercing; an increase in the amount of costume jewelry worn by young girls; and the increasingly younger ages at which girls now begin to wear costume jewelry.

Matlins admits she doesn’t understand why the American jewelry industry and U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has done nothing to address the problem in the US, and she finds this especially alarming now because of the current popularity of “white metals”—white gold and platinum in particular—and the rising cost of platinum. “I’m very concerned at the moment,” says Matlins, “that with white metals remaining so much the rage, and the price of platinum continuing to increase, white gold will become even more popular as a choice for fine jewelry because it is so much more affordable, especially for gifts for the younger set!” And Matlins knows first-hand because her 13-year-old niece had a terrible reaction that required medical attention.

Fortunately there are alternatives to nickel-alloyed white gold for those who want a white metal and can’t afford platinum. “But first,” Matlins accurately concludes, “consumers need to understand that they should be looking for alternatives!” In Jewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide, Matlins recommends “palladium”—a very affordable member of the platinum family, and one that is being used by an increasing number of designers today—or “white” gold that combines gold with platinum or palladium rather than nickel. “These are a bit more costly than nickel-alloyed white gold, but more affordable than pure platinum or palladium… and there’s no potential health risk,” Matlins adds.

Hopefully readers will take this message to heart, and make choices this holiday season that will “sparkle” for years to come!