The Gem Lab I.C.G.A.  an Independent American Gem Society Accredited Gem Laboratory

A Traveler’s Guide To Buying Jewelry

Caveat Emptor
Your trip will provide you with memories that will last a lifetime. If you decide to purchase gems or jewelry for a tangible reminder, there are some things you should keep in mind. When you leave the U.S., you leave behind the consumer protection laws and legal recourse that we all take for granted. For centuries throughout the world the basic rule of commerce has been that it is the buyers’ responsibility to know what they’re buying, and what it is worth; and so it is today. The intrinsic value of gems and jewelry crosses international borders, so be suspicious of any unbelievable deals; but bargains do exist for the astute shopper. If you have return privileges through the cruise line; The Gem Lab - I.C.G.A. offers the independent appraisals required.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Your stay in port will be temporary. Any merchant you deal with doesn’t expect to see you again and they are not trying to build a long-term relationship. Returns or exchanges are unlikely or difficult at best. Sales people work on commission and most have no gemological training, so don’t expect unbiased, accurate answers to your questions. It’s your job to know.

A Gem & Jewelry Primer

Precious Metals
Gold, platinum and silver are considered the “precious metals”. All are too soft in their pure state to function very well as jewelry, so they are alloyed with other metals to give them strength. Karat gold can be 18K, sometimes stamped “750”, 14K or “585” or 10K or “416”. Platinum can be marked “PLAT” or “PT950 which indicates 95% purity, “PLAT 900”, or “10% irid. Plat.” Silver can be “STERLING” also stamped “925”, or “900” silver (called “coin” silver). Without these hallmarks the jewelry may not be made of precious metals. Even if present, outside the U.S. there is no legal assurance that they are accurate. The U.S. also requires a “maker’s mark” that identifies the manufacturer. Beware of bad workmanship.

Synthetic and Fake Gemstones
There have been fake gemstones sold as natural for thousands of years. They haven’t gone away; in fact, the technology has gotten much better. Synthetic gems differ from imitations by possessing the same gemological properties as the natural gem, making them much harder to detect. Many jewelers are fooled, and many more never authenticate the gemstones they sell. With that in mind, always ask directly if the stone is genuine and natural; never assume anything. Gems and jewelry are usually unwise “investments” for making money but great emotional investments in love and beauty. Remember, it’s your job to know.

Popular Gems

Emerald: The finest are a vibrant, medium-dark, pure, to slightly bluish-green color with very few to no eye-visible inclusions (flaws, or “jardin”). As one of the most treasured gems in the world, bargains on fine emeralds are very rare. Synthetic emeralds are VERY common and difficult to detect. Nearly all emeralds have been “oiled”; meaning the fractures have been filled with something to improve the apparent clarity. Ask the extent of oiling present.

Tanzanite: The finest are vivid, deep shades of pure blue to violet-blue and free of eye-visible inclusions. They will often look bluer in sunlight and more violet under incandescent lights. Fine stones will be expensive, but the medium blue, lavender and pastel shades are common and inexpensive. Very convincing imitations are very common.

Alexandrite: The finest change from vivid, medium-dark green in in-direct daylight to vivid medium-dark red in candlelight. The Brazilian stones are more bluish-green and purplish-red. Stones with weak, incomplete or muddy color change will have little value. Most natural alexandrite will have some minor eye-visible inclusions. Synthetics are difficult to detect and very common. Imitations are also very common. Fine quality, inexpensive stones are not likely to be natural.

Topaz: Fine “Imperial” topaz is very rare and expensive, paler shades are more common, much less expensive and called “precious topaz”. The finest are vivid, medium, golden orange with red over-tones and are free of eye-visible inclusions. It looks very little like the inexpensive Citrine, which is sometimes called “Brazilian topaz,” “smoky topaz” or “Madeira topaz”. Blue topaz is very cheap because the blue color is created by irradiation. U.S. law requires testing for residual radioactivity before it’s sold; most other countries have no regulations.

Aquamarine: Sometimes confused with blue topaz, except in fine qualities. The best are vivid, medium, slightly greenish blue and free of inclusions. They can be quite large, 20-carat stones are common. Often imitated by synthetic spinel, glass and pale blue topaz.

Diamond: The value of diamonds transcends borders and cultures. Finding a bargain on a diamond may mean that something is being misrepresented. Subtle variations in one quality aspect of a diamond can mean huge differences in value. There are many difficult to detect treatments to improve the color or clarity of a diamond. Only in the U.S. is disclosure of these alterations required.

As you shop for sparkling treasures on your travels, the more you know, the better your chances of success; but the real treasures are the joyful memories.

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