How to Select a Reputable Jeweler

By Antoinette Matlins, PG

Author of Jewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide (GemStone Press)


It’s very difficult to give advice on this matter, since there are so many exceptions to any rules we can suggest. Size and years in business are not always absolute indicators of the reliability of a firm. Some one-person jewelry firms are highly respected; others are not. Some well-established firms that have been in business for many years have built their trade on the highest standards of integrity and knowledge; others should have been put out of business years ago.

One point worth stressing is that for the average consumer, price alone is not a reliable indicator of the integrity or knowledge of the seller. Aside from variations in quality, which often are not readily discernible by the consumer, significant price differences can also result from differences in jewelry manufacturing processes. Many jewelry manufacturers sell mass-produced lines of good-quality jewelry to jewelers all across the country. Mass-produced items, many of which are beautiful, classic designs, are usually much less expensive than handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces, or those on which there is a limited production. The work of some designers may be available in only a few select establishments and may carry a premium because of skill, labor, reputation, and limited distribution. Handmade or one-of-a-kind pieces are always more expensive, since the initial cost of production is paid by one individual rather than shared by many, as in mass-produced pieces.

Furthermore, depending on the store, retail markups also vary based on numerous factors unique to each retailer, including differences in insurance coverage, security costs, credit risks, education and training costs, special services such as in-house design and custom jewelry production and repair, customer service policies, and more.

The best way to select wisely is by shopping around. Go to several fine jewelry firms in your area and compare the services they offer, how knowledgeable the salespeople seem, the quality of their products, and pricing for specific items. This will give you a sense of what is fair in your market area. As you do so, however, remember to ask the right questions to be sure the items are truly comparable, and pay attention to design and manufacturing differences as well. As part of this process, it may be helpful to consider these questions:

How long has the firm been in business? A quick check with the Better Business Bureau may reveal whether or not there are significant consumer complaints.

What are the gemological credentials of the jeweler, manager, or owner? Is there a gemologist on staff? Does the store have its own laboratory?

What special services are provided? Are custom design services, rare or unusual gemstones, educational programs, Gemprint, or photographic services for your jewelry available?

How would you describe the store window? Is the jewelry nicely displayed? Or is the window a mélange of incredible bargains and come-on advertising to lure you in?

How would you describe the overall atmosphere? Is the sales staff’s manner professional, helpful, tasteful? Or hustling, pushy, intimidating?

What is the store’s policy regarding returns? Full refund or only store credit? How many days? What basis for return?

What is the repair or replacement policy?

Will the firm allow a piece to be taken “on approval”? It won’t hurt to ask. Some jewelers will. However, unless you know the jeweler personally this is not often permitted today, since too many jewelers have suffered from stolen, damaged, or switched merchandise.

To what extent will the firm guarantee its merchandise to be as represented? Be careful here. Make sure you’ve asked the right questions, and get complete and accurate information on the bill of sale, or you may find yourself stuck because of a technicality.

If the jeweler can’t or won’t provide the necessary information, we recommend that you go to another store, no matter how much you’ve fallen in love with the piece. If you’re making the purchase on a contingency basis, put the terms of the contingency on the bill of sale.

Never allow yourself to be intimidated into accepting anyone’s claims. Beware of the person who says “Just trust me” or who tries to intimidate you with statements such as “Don’t you trust me?” A trustworthy jeweler will not have to ask for your trust; he or she will earn it through knowledge, reliability, and a willingness to give you any information you request—in writing.

Again, in general, you will be in a stronger position to differentiate between a knowledgeable, reputable jeweler and one who isn’t if you’ve shopped around first. Unless you are an expert, visit several firms, ask questions, examine merchandise carefully, and then you be the judge.

Using a Gemologist Consultant

Somewhat new to the gem and jewelry field is the arrival of the gemologist consultant. People interested in acquiring a very fine diamond, natural-colored gemstone, or fine piece of period or antique jewelry that may be difficult to find in traditional jewelry stores are now seeking the professional services of experienced gemologist consultants. A gemologist consultant can provide a variety of services, including general consulting to help you determine what you really want, what it will cost, and how to best acquire it; how to dispose of jewelry you already own, or from an estate; how to design or redesign a piece of jewelry and have it made. A gemologist consultant can also provide the expertise needed to help you safely purchase gems or jewelry at auction, or from private estate sales. An experienced gemologist consultant can expand your view of the possibilities in terms of gemstones and also suggest ways to make jewelry more personal and distinctive.

As with all else in the sparkling world of gems and jewelry, be sure to check the credentials of anyone offering services as a gemologist consultant. Do they have a gemological diploma? How long have they been working in the field of gems? Do they have a laboratory? Can they provide references within the field? Can they provide client references? If you have jewelry you wish to sell, arrange meetings at a safe place, such as a bank vault.

Fees vary, depending on the gemologist consultant’s level of expertise and experience and the nature of the assignment. For example, for general consulting about how to buy or sell gems or jewelry, you should expect to pay about $125 to $200 per hour for someone with good credentials.

For assistance in the acquisition or sale of specific gems or pieces of jewelry, some gemologist consultants work on a fixed fee for the project, some on a percentage of the purchase or sale amount, and some at an hourly rate. When we are retained by clients, our work is done on one of the bases noted above, or even a combination of them, depending on the nature of the work to be done and what best meets the client’s needs.

If You Want to File a Complaint

If you have a complaint about a firm’s practices or policies, please contact the Better Business Bureau in your city. In addition, if any jeweler has misrepresented what was sold to you, please contact the Jeweler’s Vigilance Committee (JVC), 25 West 45th Street, Suite 400, New York, NY 10036, (212) 997-2002. This group can provide invaluable assistance to you, investigate your complaint, and take action against firms believed to be guilty of fraudulent activity in the jewelry industry.

This material is not to be reproduced—doing so is a violation of copyright.
Excerpt is from Jewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide, 7th Edition—How to Buy Diamonds, Pearls, Colored Gemstones, Gold & Jewelry with Confidence and Knowledge © 2009 by Antoinette L. Matlins, PG & Antonio C. Bonanno, FGA, ASA, MGA. Permission granted by GemStone Press, Woodstock, VT,