Shine Bright Like A Diamond: A Valentine’s Day Guide to Jewelry Buying

This time of year, more than any other, we’re bombarded with advertising for jewelry. Apparently that’s what every woman wants for Valentine’s Day and is supposed to respond by enthusiastically jumping her partner’s bones. (Personally, I don’t buy it. My desire for someone has nothing to do with the gifts they buy. But that’s me.) So here’s a basic run-down of what to know going into a jewelry store.

  • The salespeople there work on commission. That means that it’s in your best interests to have an idea of your budget and of what you want going in. All the major jewelry chains have websites, and if you have an idea of what you want to get and what you want to spend, it saves a lot of dancing around.
  • Sizing rings is not free, and it has turnaround time. If you want a ring sized in time for Valentine’s Day, you’d better purchase at least a week in advance, preferably more.
  • “Chocolate” and “champagne” diamonds are a marketing gimmick. Brown diamonds are actually the most common diamonds in the world, and companies now are marketing them as though they were something special. They’re not. Likewise, black and blue diamonds are heat-treated or irradiated to enhance the color, rather than being something super-rare. A natural blue diamond is worth a lot of money, but it’s not nearly the deep, rich color that you see in the treated ones–it’s barely blue at all, more like an aquamarine than the darker shades of topaz.
  • If you’re going to be buying diamonds, know the 4 C’s: carat weight, cut, color, and clarity. Also, understand that if a company says “this is the most important one of the 4 C’s,” it means “this is the category we’re paying attention to, and we slack on the other three.” Learn what differences *you* can see in a stone, because everyone’s eye is different. Personally, color matters to me. I can see the difference between an H and an I color. GIA, one of the best-known diamond grading groups in the world, has an excellent guide to how diamonds are rated here.
  • Unless you’re going to take advantage of an interest-free promotion and know for sure that you’re going to pay it off within that time period, don’t get suckered into a jewelry store’s credit card program. 25% APR isn’t uncommon on those, and it’s ridiculous to pay that kind of interest if you don’t have to.
  • If there’s an extended care plan offered, take it, especially if you’re buying a ring or anything in white gold. Ring sizing isn’t a lifetime thing; in the past year, I’ve gone from a size 8 to a 6 1/2. It’s well worth your while to assume that a ring will have to be sized more than once in the time you have it. Also, white gold, in addition to containing other metals besides gold (all jewelry does–pure gold, which is 24 karat, is far too soft for jewelry), is plated with a metal called rhodium, which is part of the platinum family, and that plating wears off over time. Getting it replated once usually costs as much as the care plan, and for pieces that are going to be worn every day, you’ll usually need them redone at least annually.
  • Don’t fall for watches that have the names of pricy clothing or handbag companies on them. A $400 Michael Kors watch has the exact same movement, made by the exact same company, as a $60 Fossil. If you’re going to buy an investment watch, get one that’s made by a high-quality watch company. Movado’s Bold line is a much better investment for the same money, as are Citizen, Invicta, and Bulova. There will be a post later on how to choose a good watch, but for now, look for one that’s made by a watch company, not a clothing designer. Otherwise, you’re paying just for the name.
  • Most jewelry stores have a private room where they take you if you’re looking at a high-end diamond. If you’re not looking to buy right away, don’t agree to go back there. Otherwise, you’re consenting to a high-pressure sales pitch. It’s like buying a car–once you’re off the sales floor, you’re probably going to end up talked into buying.
  • Most importantly: don’t wait until the last minute. Get your gift well in advance, and know you’ve gotten what you want, instead of waiting until the day you need it and taking what you can find. Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, comes on the same date every year. You know it’s coming, so be prepared instead of panicking.

If you have any other questions about jewelry shopping, please feel free to leave them in the comments!

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