Along with flowers, candy and a romantic dinner out, jewelry will again be one of the most popular ways to say “I love you” this Valentine’s Day.
Last year, consumers spent an estimated $3.5 billion on Valentine’s Day jewelry, according to the National Retail Federation. Consumer spending is expected to be up this year, with jewelry accounting for the lion’s share of dollars spent on Valentine’s Day purchases.
But buying jewelry can be a daunting process. Hopeful romantics face decisions about gold versus silver, diamonds versus gemstones, what style of setting is best, where to buy, and more recently, whether a piece is made from conflict-free materials.
Rosemary Trainor, the lead instructor at North Bennet Street School’s jewelry-making and repair program in Boston, advises consumers to do their homework before hitting the stores. “Jewelry is too often an impulse purchase,” says Trainor. “A little research will help you avoid a decision that you may regret later.”
Trainor offers these additional tips to help smooth the way to a successful jewelry-buying experience:
• Buying from a big brand name will cost you more. You may be comforted by well-known brands like Cartier and Tiffany, but it will cost you anywhere from 30 to 80 percent more for a piece that you may find at a local jewelry store for a lot less.
• Pay attention to the craftsmanship. Make sure the piece is well made by examining the setting, the clasp(s), the overall finish and other details. Stone-holding prongs should be identical in size and securely tightened, with the stone held firmly in place. Avoid bracelets or necklaces with clasps that are hard to operate, or seem flimsy. Think about whether the piece will be only for special occasions or worn every day, and choose something that will stand up to that use.
• Silver is the new gold. With gold prices at historically high levels, silver continues to be an affordable – and fashionable – alternative, and certainly worth considering. Sterling silver is the highest grade used in jewelry making; a piece marked with the word “sterling” or the numbers “925” is 92.5 percent pure. “Nickel” or “German” silver has no silver content at all.
• When shopping for diamonds, know the four C’s. Diamonds are valued according to their cut, color, clarity and carat weight. Materials such as cubic zirconia resemble diamonds closely but are much less expensive. Certain laboratory-created gemstones also resemble diamonds. Take the time to learn the differences and comparison-shop before making a decision.
• Gemstones can take your jewelry-buying budget farther. Precious stones like rubies, emeralds and sapphires can be an affordable option, provided you know your stuff. Natural gemstones are mined from the ground; synthetic stones are identical to naturals, but are grown in a lab. Imitation stones are assembled from less valuable materials – glass, plastic or lower quality stones. If you go this route, ask for a written appraisal of the stone’s quality along with your sales receipt.
• Buy from a reputable source. Finding a trustworthy jeweler is perhaps the biggest key to having a good jewelry-buying experience. Ask family and friends for sources they trust. Ask similar questions of the salespeople you talk to during your comparison shopping. And be sure to inquire about the store’s workmanship guarantees, repair services and store return policies.
• Consider a custom designed and made piece. Custom jewelry isn’t necessarily more expensive. Find a creative jeweler to design a piece that has special features unique to you and your loved one, and will be treasured for years to come.
The North Bennet Street School’s Gallery/Store carries a nice selection of hand-crafted jewelry made by its students, faculty and alumni. The school’s alumni directory and online commission form are also good resources for finding a jeweler to work with you. Remember that custom work takes time; plan ahead to have that special piece ready for that special occasion.
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