Tuesday Tips: Buying High-End Jewelry

Yes, I know. It seems crazy to be talking about expensive jewelry in the middle of a potential recession. But I'm hoping for a nice Mother's Day gift here. So here are 10 tips for my husband... I mean you, the Shop To It readers, on how to shop for high-end jewelry, which I consider anything more than $1,000:

Tip #1: Feel good about the jewelry store you're giving your hard-earned money to. It should be a place where you feel comfortable asking the dumbest of questions and where you are treated with respect. You also want it to have a good reputation for variety and style. WeddingWire.com offers reviews of different wedding vendors, including jewelers. And don't look to the store's Web site to get a sense of the their selection. "Most jewelers aren't in the tech business so items on their Web site are old, and the new and exciting pieces are not up on their Web site because they don't have the resources to update it everyday," says Ronnie Mervis, owner of Mervis Diamond Importers in Tysons Corner, Chevy Chase, Rockville and Washington.

Tip #2: Be prepared to answer a lot of questions about the recipient of the jewelry, whether it be your fiancé or your mom. High-end jewelers are trained to ask probing questions to be able to fit the jewelry to the person. They'll ask about everything from the person's lifestyle to their occupation.

Tip #3: You'll also want to think about the recipient's body type and hand size. A piece of jewelry could look great in the bright lights of the store but then look like a piece of tinfoil on the person's neck or wrist. "Not every ring is right for every person," says Mervis.

Tip #4: Know the store's return and repair policies. You'll want to make sure you can return or exchange the piece if your honey doesn't like it. Also make sure the store can fix the piece of jewelry if something becomes unhinged.

Tip #5: Ask a couple of questions about the piece of jewelry, like who designed it and where it came from. A special piece needs to have a story behind it, especially if you're thinking of it as something to be passed down to other generations in your family.

Tip #6: Consider some alternative metals to expensive gold and platinum. Some jewelry designers are starting to work with stainless steel, which has a white metal look, according to Nicole Gorman, co-owner of I. Gorman Jewelers in Washington. A simple men's wedding band in stainless steel can go for about $200 while one in platinum can run you up to $4,000. Palladium is another alternative metal that designers are working with. It used to be more common in jewelry but then platinum took over in popularity, Gorman says. It looks very similar to platinum but is cheaper than gold. Also consider a brown diamond, which has less value but an impressive look, according to Gorman. "They're also doing some great rings with smaller diamonds but have that great look," says Gorman.

Tip #7: If you're on a budget but love can't wait, look into financing plans. Most retailers these days have them. And some, like Mervis, are offering zero interest deals to lure customers.

Tip #8: If you can rent a movie, you can rent a piece of high-end jewelry. Say you have a black-tie event to go to but you only have the funds for a nice dress. Some stores offer a rental program where you pay a fee to borrow expensive pieces for a few days. Mervis started one about a year ago where you can borrow a piece of jewelry worth at least $10,000 for five days.

Tip #9: Get an independent certificate from a major gem lab to verify that the stone you're buying is exactly what the store is promising. The three most prominent labs are the Gemological Institute of America, the American Gem Society and the European Gemological Laboratory.

Tip #10: If you're buying an engagement ring, make sure that 90 percent of what you're spending is on the diamond and 10 percent is on the ring. And quality is more important than price. You want a diamond that has the right cut and proportion to allow for the most light to reflect from it, Mervis says. "We're all about the return of light," he adds.

So what are your tips for buying high-end jewelry? Who has the best deals? Post a comment below. And if you'd like some Tuesday Tips on one of your shopping dilemmas, please send me an e-mail at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com.

By Tania Anderson |  April 29, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Tuesday Tips
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Comments

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Tysons Art and Jewlery Exchane and its second store in Fairfax over great deals on diamonds and gold. I bought 1 carat diamond earrings set in white gold for less than half what Mervis wanted for the same quality. Paid $799 for them. Mervis wanted over $2k. Forget the mall jewelers they are way over priced as is Mervis.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 29, 2008 6:43 AM

"It's crazy to be talking about expensive jewelry during a potential recession. But I'm hoping for a nice Mother's Day gift."

And that's your problem. You'd think that instead of making your husband buy you a bauble you don't need, you could encourage him to make a donation to an organization that helps women in need. Or, perhaps you could spend time time volunteering, and helping victims of abuse, or homeless women, or women who are sick.

Posted by: ???? | April 29, 2008 12:32 PM

Re:??????:
How can you fault someone (recession or no recession) who writes a shopping column for writing about shopping? The Post has many other columns about generous giving, saving money, ways to stretch a dime. But this one is about shopping.

Posted by: arlington | April 29, 2008 1:35 PM

If you're looking for something pretty and unique and not bling, consider antique jewelry stores.

Tiny Jewel Box has beautiful but expensive - if you have the money, then yeah, their stuff is gorgeous. http://www.tinyjewelbox.com/

For those on a budget, I prefer the Antique Guild in Alexandria has a mix of high end and slightly worn for reasonable prices (We spent under $1K on my engagement 1/2 carat ring there, and it's a great diamond in a gorgeous Art Deco setting).

Be patient though - it's a bit dusty and cluttered, but there are really nice things there if keep looking.

http://www.theantiqueguild.net/

Posted by: Chasmosaur | April 29, 2008 7:06 PM

I actually used WeddingWire.com to find reviews of jewelers while purchasing wedding bands and found it to be extremely helpful...it crossed a couple places off my list

Posted by: rebecca | April 29, 2008 8:47 PM

I second the recommendation about antique jewelry stores.

But I would like to hear advice about ensuring that a diamond is conflict-free. I know Mervis does not sell conflict diamonds, but what's the best way to go about finding other jewelers who also don't sell conflict diamonds?

Posted by: Tia | April 30, 2008 3:12 PM

Re: Conflict Diamonds -

You can download this buyer's guide, which was created by Amnesty International and Global Witness campaigns.

http://www.amnestyusa.org/diamonds/BuyersGuide.pdf

In reality, you have to hope that the provider/jeweler is buying from a supplier that is actually securing conflict-free diamonds. Unless the jeweler is like Mervis (i.e. - they import their own diamonds), most companies buy their stones or jewelry from suppliers.

It doesn't benefit suppliers to lie, though, so if the company has a policy and a warranty, you are probably getting a conflict-free (or at least conflict-neutral) stone.

If you want to be positive you are not buying a conflict diamond? Buy a professionally appraised/dated antique, that's really the only way to be 100% sure.

Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles all well-precede conflict diamonds (not that diamond mine conditions were or are that great...) and can be purchased affordably.

Besides, well executed Old European and Old Mine cuts can be just as sparkly as a modern computer-cut Brilliant, and in many respects, tend to have more "personality".

http://www.aboutengagementrings.net/antiquediamonds.html

Posted by: Chasmosaur | May 1, 2008 11:12 PM

i came across www.imoveritonline. They rent high end cz jewelry and designer jewlelry. it's perfect for proms, homecomings, weddings...any dress up event. I rented the crawford collection for prom!

Posted by: avery | May 3, 2008 7:37 PM

My mon loves Silver jewelry, but every store carries the same styles. I found a couple of designers in New York that I think are pretty cool. My favority is ynmar jewelry, made of silver yarn... how unique is that?
www.ynmar.com
I got the blue question nacklace... I'm sure she'll love it!

Posted by: Robin | May 4, 2008 6:23 PM

I think the anonymous reader's response to the tips were a bit over the top and minimized the many selfless acts mother's perform all day, everyday.

In direct opposition to that reader's viewpoint, here's my salute to you Tania and any mom hoping to receive jewlery this Mother's Day:

http://njn.typepad.com/10x/2008/05/no-shame-in-you.html

Posted by: Tamera | May 8, 2008 12:20 PM

I find rough diamond jewelry interesting. Companies like 1-877-ROUGH DIAMONDS and Diamond in the Rough are setting new trends in diamond Jewelry. Big department stores are buying into it. I think that it is a break from the bling bling.

Posted by: Rich Girl | May 25, 2008 8:12 PM

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