Shopping Tips

It’s that time of the year again when the shopping frenzy begins. Here are some tips to keep you in good stead amidst the madness.

How to Buy Jewellery

Buying jewellery can be fun, exciting and confusing. Whether you’re considering a gift of jewellery for someone special or as a treat for yourself, take some time to learn the terms used in the industry. Here’s some information to help you get the best quality jewellery for your money, whether you’re shopping in a traditional brick and mortar store by catalogue or online.

Gold

The word gold, used by itself, means all gold or 24 karats (24K) gold. Because 24K gold is soft, it’s usually mixed with other metals to increase its hardness and durability. If a piece of jewellery is not 24 karat gold, the karat quality should accompany any claim that the item is gold.

The karat quality marking tells you what proportion of gold is mixed with the other metals. Fourteen karats (14K) jewellery contains 14 parts of gold, mixed in throughout with 10 parts of base metal. The higher the karat rating, the higher the proportion of gold in the piece of jewellery.

Most jewellery is marked with its karat quality, although marking is not required by law. Near the karat quality mark, you should see the name or the U.S. registered trademark of the company that will stand behind the mark. The trademark may be in the form of a name, symbol or initials. If you don’t see a trademark accompanying a quality mark on a piece of jewellery, look for another piece.

Solid gold refers to an item made of any karat gold if the inside of the item is not hollow. The proportion of gold in the piece of jewellery still is determined by the karat mark.

Jewellery can be plated with gold in a variety of ways. Gold plate refers to items that are either mechanically plated, electroplated, or plated by any other means with gold to a base metal. Eventually, gold plating wears away, but how soon will depend on how often the item is worn and how thick the plating is.

Gold-filled, gold overlay and rolled gold plate are terms used to describe jewellery that has a layer of at least 10 karat gold mechanically bonded to a base metal. If the jewellery is marked with one of these terms, the term or abbreviation should follow the karat quality of the gold used (for example, 14K Gold Overlay or 12K RGP). If the layer of karat gold is less than 1/20th of the total weight of the item, any marking must state the actual percentage of karat gold, such as 1/40 14K Gold Overlay.

Gold electroplate describes jewellery that has a layer (at least .175 microns thick) of a minimum of 10 karat gold deposited on a base metal by an electrolytic process. The terms gold flashed or gold washed describe products that have an extremely thin electroplating of gold (less than .175 microns thick). This will wear away more quickly than gold plate, gold-filled or gold electroplate.

Platinum, Silver and Other Metals

Platinum is a precious metal that costs more than gold. It usually is mixed with other similar metals, known as the platinum group metals: iridium, palladium, ruthenium, rhodium and osmium.

Different markings are used on platinum jewellery as compared with gold jewellery, based on the amount of pure platinum in the piece. The quality markings for platinum are based on parts per thousand. For example, the marking 900 Platinum means that 900 parts out of 1000 are pure platinum, or in other words, the item is 90% platinum and 10% other metals. The abbreviations for platinum – Plat. or Pt. – also can be used in marking jewellery.

Items that contain at least 950 parts per thousand pure platinum can be marked simply platinum. Items that have at least 850 parts per thousand pure platinum can be marked with the amount of pure platinum and the word platinum or an abbreviation (for example, 950 platinum, 900 Plat. or 850 Pt.). Jewellery that contains less than 850 parts per thousand pure platinum, but has a total of 950 parts per thousand of platinum group metals (of which at least 500 parts is pure platinum), may be marked with both the amount of pure platinum and the amount of the other platinum group metals in the piece. For example, the marking 600 Plat. 350 Irid. means that the item has 600 parts per thousand (60%) platinum, and 350 parts per thousand (35%) iridium, totalling 950 parts per thousand of platinum group metals, and 50 parts per thousand (5%) other metals.

The words silver or sterling silver describe a product that contains 92.5% silver. Silver products sometimes may be marked 925 which means that 925 parts per thousand are pure silver. Some jewellery may be described as silverplate: a layer of silver is bonded to a base metal. The mark coin silver is used for compounds that contain 90% silver. According to the law, quality-marked silver also must bear the name or a U.S. registered trademark of the company or person that will stand behind the mark.

Vermeil (ver-may), a special type of gold plated product, consists of a base of sterling silver that is coated or plated with gold.

Pewter items may be described and marked as such if they contain at least 90% tin.

Gemstones

Natural gemstones are found in nature. Laboratory-created stones, as the name implies, are made in a laboratory. These stones, which also are referred to as laboratory-grown, [name of manufacturer]-created, or synthetic, have essentially the same chemical, physical and visual properties as natural gemstones. Laboratory- created stones do not have the rarity of naturally coloured stones and they are less expensive than naturally mined stones. By contrast, imitation stones look like natural stones in appearance only and may be glass, plastic, or less costly stones. Laboratory-created and imitation stones should be clearly identified as such.

Gemstones may be measured by weight, size, or both. The basic unit for weighing gemstones is the carat, which is equal to one-fifth (1/5th) of a gram. Carats are divided into 100 units, called points. For example, a half-carat gemstone would weigh .50 carats or 50 points. When gemstones are measured by dimensions, the size is expressed in millimetres (for example, 7×5 millimetres).

Gemstone treatments or enhancements refer to the way some gems are treated to improve their appearance or durability, or even change their colour. Many gemstones are treated in some way. The effects of some treatments may lessen or change over time and some treated stones may require special care. Some enhancements also affect the value of a stone, when measured against a comparable untreated stone.

Jewellers should tell you whether the gemstone you’re considering has been treated when: the treatment is not permanent; the treated stone requires special care, or the treatment significantly affects the value of the gemstone.

Some common treatments that you may be told about and their effects include:

  1. Heating can lighten, darken or change the colour of some gems, or improve a gemstone’s clarity.
  2. Irradiation can add more colour to coloured diamonds, certain other gemstones and pearls.
  3. Impregnating some gems with colourless oils, wax or resins makes a variety of imperfections less visible and can improve the gemstones’ clarity and appearance.
  4. Fracture filling hides cracks or fractures in gems by injecting colourless plastic or glass into the cracks and improves the gemstones’ appearance and durability.
  5. Diffusion treatment adds colour to the surface of colourless gems; the centre of the stone remains colourless.
  6. Dyeing adds colour and improves colour uniformity in some gemstones and pearls.
  7. Bleaching lightens and whitens some gems, including jade and pearls.

Diamonds

A diamond’s value is based on four criteria: colour, cut, clarity, and carat. The clarity and colour of a diamond usually are graded. However, scales are not uniform: a clarity grade of “slightly included” may represent a different grade on one grading system versus another, depending on the terms used in the scale. Make sure you know how a particular scale and grade represent the colour or clarity of the diamond you’re considering. A diamond can be described as “flawless” only if it has no visible surface or internal imperfections when viewed under 10-power magnification by a skilled diamond grader.

As with other gems, diamond weight usually is stated in carats. Diamond weight may be described in decimal or fractional parts of a carat. If the weight is given in decimal parts of a carat, the figure should be accurate to the last decimal place. For example, “.30 carat” could represent a diamond that weighs between .295 – .304 carat. Some retailers describe diamond weight in fractions and use the fraction to represent a range of weights. For example, a diamond described as 1/2 carat could weigh between .47 – .54 carat. If diamond weight is stated as fractional parts of a carat, the retailer should disclose two things: that the weight is not exact, and the reasonable range of weight for each fraction or the weight tolerance being used.

Some diamonds may be treated to improve their appearance in similar ways as other gemstones. Since these treatments improve the clarity of the diamond, some jewellers refer to them as clarity enhancement. One type of treatment – fracture filling – conceals cracks in diamonds by filling them with a foreign substance. This filling may not be permanent and jewellers should tell you if the diamond you’re considering has been fracture-filled.

Another treatment – lasering – involves the use of a laser beam to improve the appearance of diamonds that have black inclusions or spots. A laser beam is aimed at the inclusion. Acid is then forced through a tiny tunnel made by the laser beam to remove the inclusion. Lasering is permanent and a laser-drilled stone does not require special care.

While a laser-drilled diamond may appear as beautiful as a comparable untreated stone, it may not be as valuable. That’s because an untreated stone of the same quality is rarer and therefore more valuable. Jewellers should tell you whether the diamond you’re considering has been laser-drilled.

Imitation diamonds, such as cubic zirconia, resemble diamonds in appearance but are much less costly. Certain laboratory-created gemstones, such as lab-created moissanite, also resemble diamonds and may not be adequately detected by the instruments originally used to identify cubic zirconia. Ask your jeweller if he has the current testing equipment to distinguish between diamonds and other lab-created stones.

Pearls

Natural or real pearls are made by oysters and other molluscs. Cultured pearls also are grown by molluscs, but with human intervention; that is, an irritant introduced into the shells causes a pearl to grow. Imitation pearls are man-made with glass, plastic, or organic materials.

Because natural pearls are very rare, most pearls used in jewellery are either cultured or imitation pearls. Cultured pearls, because they are made by oysters or molluscs, usually are more expensive than imitation pearls. A cultured pearl’s value is largely based on its size, usually stated in millimetres, and the quality of its nacre coating, which gives it lustre. Jewellers should tell you if the pearls are cultured or imitation.

Some black, bronze, gold, purple, blue and orange pearls, whether natural or cultured, occur that way in nature; some, however, are dyed through various processes. Jewellers should tell you whether the coloured pearls are naturally coloured, dyed or irradiated.

A Jewellery Shopper’s Checklist

When you’re in the market for a piece of jewellery for yourself or someone you love, shop around. Compare quality, price, and service. If you’re not familiar with any jewellers in your area, ask family members, friends, and co-workers for recommendations. You also should:

  • Ask for the store’s refund and return policy before you buy.
  • Check for the appropriate markings on metal jewellery.
  • Ask whether the pearls are natural, cultured, or imitation.
  • Ask whether a gemstone is natural, laboratory-created, or imitation.
  • Ask whether the gemstone has been treated. Is the change permanent? Is special care required?
  • Make sure the jeweller writes on the sales receipt any information you relied on when making your purchase, such as the gem’s weight or size. Some jewellers also may supply a grading report from a gemological laboratory.

In addition, these tips apply when you’re shopping for jewellery online:

  • Shop with companies you know or do some homework before buying to make sure a company is legitimate before doing business with it.
  • Get the details about the product, as well as the merchant’s refund and return policies, before you buy.

Look for an address to write to or a phone number to call if you have a question, a problem or need help.

Shopping for toys

Children under 3 tend to put everything in their mouths. Avoid buying toys intended for older children which may have small parts that pose a choking danger.

Never let children of any age play with uninflated or broken balloons because of the choking danger.

Avoid marbles, balls, and games with balls, that have a diameter of 1.75 inches or less. These products also pose a choking hazard to young children.

Children at this age pull, prod and twist toys. Look for toys that are well-made with tightly secured eyes, noses and other parts.

Avoid toys that have sharp edges and points.

Avoid toys that are constructed with thin, brittle plastic that might easily break into small pieces or leave jagged edges.

Look for household art materials, including crayons and paint sets, marked with the designation “ASTM D-4236.” This means the product has been reviewed by a toxicologist and, if necessary, labelled with cautionary information.

Teach older children to keep their toys away from their younger brothers and sisters.

For all children, adults should check toys periodically for breakage and potential hazards. Damaged or dangerous toys should be repaired or thrown away.

If buying a toy gun, be sure the barrel, or the entire gun, is brightly coloured so that it’s not mistaken for a real gun.

If you buy a bicycle for any age child, buy a helmet too, and make sure the child wears it.

Teach all children to put toys away when they’re finished playing so they don’t trip over them or fall on them.

READ THE LABEL

Look for labels that give age recommendations and use that information as a guide. Labels on toys that state “not recommended for children under three … contains small parts,” are labelled that way because they may pose a choking hazard to children under three. Toys should be developmentally appropriate to suit the skills, abilities and interests of the child.

Shopping for toys during the holidays can be exciting and fun, but it can also be frustrating. There can be thousands of toys to choose from in one store, and it’s important to choose the right toy for the right age child. Toys that are meant for older children can be dangerous for younger children.

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