Diamond Disruption

BREAKING NEWS: things that were once found only in nature can now be synthesized by humans!

RUN… DON’T WALK… to your nearest web browser in frantic search of “the truth” about mining vs. lab-creating!

REMAIN CALM… AND YOU MIGHT SURVIVE!

—> Music cue: dramatic up-tempo tuneless 8-bar vamp <—

Okay, enough of that. The emergence and apparent popularity of lab-created diamonds is definitely cause for industry-wide conversation, if not some of the more hyperbolic commentary I’ve read in recent comment sections.

We now know that lab-created diamond companies aren’t kidding around. We know that some companies want to harness this force for evil, some for good, and many for profit.

We also should have predicted that the development, production, expansion, and marketing of this product would happen very quickly (which it did) and that it would reverberate through the industry like a Tibetan mountain gong (felt, rather than heard).

I actually received a handful of messages today from non-industry folks, asking for my opinion on the matter and offering up their own (one notable quotable: “now that Leo won gold, will he bedazzle the trophy in his fake glitter?”). After carefully explaining the differences between “synthetic” and “simulant,” I asked for honest opinions about giving or receiving lab-created diamonds. I also asked if they held the same thoughts about their own jewelry as they would that of friends, colleagues, or family members.

Here are their summarized answers, paraphrased and used with permission:

Friend A: I don’t even like synthetic fabrics, so why would I want synthetic diamonds when I can afford the real thing? None of my friends are engaged or close to it, but I hope they insist on the real deal.

Friend B: Well, I guess if they’re basically the same thing, then what’s the difference? It’s not like it’s an inferior diamond, it just didn’t kill children and the environment to get here. It probably end up like the drug industry though, won’t it, where generics are just as good and cost less, but some doctors are paid by the name brand and won’t write prescriptions for anything else?

Friend C: Ew. I don’t like diamonds at all anyway, and I would never want one for my ring.

Friend D: My center stone is a moissanite, but that’s because I didn’t want a blood diamond and didn’t trust any of the stores around here not to have them. If I’d known about lab diamonds, I might have asked for one.

Friend E: Maybe for earrings or something, if it’s cheaper, sure why not. But for something more important/meaningful like an engagement ring, no way. Test tube babies are still humans, but isn’t trying the natural way first better?

Well, aside from learning a lot more about these their real feelings on things other than diamonds, it was a pretty illuminating set of discussions. The most interesting part? All 5 of these responses are from women between the ages of 25-35. Yes, even evil genius friend B over there, drawing functionally accurate parallels between big pharma and big D. Smart cookie, huh?

As for my own opinions, I prefer to dig a little deeper. The jewelry industry as a whole reacts poorly to change, and adding lab-grown diamonds to the mix of lab-grown colored gems might feel like a step too far for some. The mined diamond industry is certainly feeling the pinch these days, so from their perspective, timing couldn’t be worse.

As you might have guessed by now, I’m not really a flag-waving traditionalist. I think that lab-created anything, sold and marketed with total transparency and accurate information, is perfectly good and healthy and legal. I myself have educated my clients about lab-created colored gems, and they have purchased from me in full knowledge of precisely what they bought.

The romantic in me shudders at the thought of a master gemcutter plying his or her trade with rough that did not come from the earth, passing through the hands of expert dealers and feeding the economies of local governments. The cultural connection I so cherish disappears, and for that reason, I am not personally inclined to seek out non-mined gemstones or diamonds.

Like any ethical jeweler, I abhor the use of marketing or sales tactics that attempt to cloud the truth and shade the facts in order to generate buzz (and therefore, sales). I successfully sold cultured pearls, heat-treated sapphires, and SI2 diamonds for exactly what they are, and never once did I need to resort to used-car-salesman tactics to do so. I see absolutely no reason why the emergence of yet another technological advancement should be met with anything less than our highest standards, as we do what we do best: serve the client.

Now I’m throwing the doors of discussion wide open: what do you think?

 

Take it Off… Take it All Off

Are you ready for something scandalous?

If you’re sensitive to some rather suggestive content, I strongly recommend you stop reading right now. Of course, if you clicked on the blog title already in anticipation of the titillating, then by all means stick around.

What I’m about to ask of you — Ms. or even Mr. Reader — is very personal. You might disagree with it, feel wronged or slighted, and potentially get a little bit offended.

That’s okay. I’m going to do it anyway. It’s for your own good, I promise.

Here it is:

Next time you’re at home, preparing yourself for a long session of sweaty, steamy, soapy, messy hard work… take off your jewelry. All of it.

Strip yourself bare of any adornment, particularly the kind made out of gold or  silver and gemstones. I don’t care of you do it as quickly as possible or turn it into an all-out, music-timed strip show. Just do it.

Ask a friend or lover (or both) to check you over for missed spots before you go. He or she should visually and physically ascertain that you are no longer wearing any jewelry on any part of your body that might come into contact with something sticky, smelly, icky, corrosive, or permanent. And they should be very thorough, just in case.

Now, this might be a great time to corral your precious treasures in one place and give them a once-over. If everything looks to be in good shape, how about warming up a little water and dish soap in a bowl and leaving it all in there to soak while you go about doing whatever chemical-ridden, paint-splattered, dirt-covered activity you had planned.**

Of course, if you just can’t hit pause long enough, just place everything gently in a velvet-lined tray or peanut-packed shoebox on your bureau. It’ll be there when you’re finished.

Once your various vigorous activities are concluded, don’t forget to wash up. Perhaps invite that helpful person back in to make sure you’re thoroughly cleaned — you know, just in case you missed a spot.

Once you and your jewelry are dry, celebrate your reunited status by recounting every detail of every story you associate with each piece. That helpful person will certainly want to stick around for this part, I’m sure.

Now that you feel satisfied by your accomplishments for the day, reward yourself with dinner, drinks, and an evening of light-hearted and casual shopping at your local fine jewelry store. After all, you worked hard today. You deserve it.

**Gold, platinum, diamonds, and hard gemstones ONLY, please. Leave the soft-cloth-cleaning of the pearls for another day, keep the opals and amber high and dry, and put down the toothbrush before you touch anything 18k. K?

FUQ: Frequently Unasked Questions

Before we dive headfirst into retail hell the holiday season and my fun-o-meter stops registering, I’d like to ask you — the consumer — a few questions. Since you’re certainly welcome to ask me anything**, I assume you wouldn’t mind returning the favor just this once.

Some of these questions might be new to you, and that’s okay. Just ask me to wait a moment while you go get someone else who can help me. Offering me a beverage while I wait is recommended, but not required.

Anyway, back to me and my questions. The first one is this: why are your price expectations so low? I mean, you love to ask me why my prices are so high, so I think it’s only fair that you give me a solid, well-composed response to just why you think my prices are so out of line with every other retailer you’ve ever been to (and some you haven’t).

Where did you get that unique scarf/bag/hat/coat? I’m obviously asking because I’m a genuinely interested person who loves fashion and accessories and I know my mother-in-law would love one just like it.

Next question: what’s in that little shopping bag from Competitor Jeweler around the corner? And as a follow-up, wouldn’t it make more sense to attempt a comparison shop before making a purchase?

While I sip this complimentary lukewarm beverage you brought me, could you please explain why you’re surprised that a 2-millimeter micropave diamond eternity band in 18 karat gold has lost a diamond or two, following your rock climbing expedition at Yosemite? I can certainly fix it for you, but my goldsmith is overloaded and we’re now at a 3-plus-week turnaround. Please understand that we want the repair done right, not fast.

This one’s for the romantically-inclined: why, why did you wait until now to design an engagement ring that you absolutely must present on the family vacation in nine days? I’m not saying we can’t handle that request, but you (and we) would feel ever so much less stressed if you had come to us, say, last month. Or even last week. Why do you add so much pressure to an already important event? This is a wonderful time in your life, and we hope you make the most of it!

Finally, please do me the honor of telling me what lucky person in your life you’ve decided to gift with a beautiful, timeless piece of jewelry. I want to hear about her favorite color, his love of working with his hands, and the special celebration dinner you have planned. These are the details that make my job worth doing, and I cherish every story you choose to share.

Oh, and one more thing… will that be cash, or charge?

(Just kidding). (Kinda).

**It’s that time of year again, folks: send me your burning, long-held jewelry questions. I’ll be collecting them for some upcoming Q&A posts. Think how many other people you can help by voicing your questions and finally getting some answers!

Mythbusters: Old vs. New

How you heard the news? Vintage is in! Well, sort of…

Oh, the litany of reasons people cite in an attempt to justify purchasing estate jewelry (i.e. pre-owned). To me, the only reason a buyer needs to purchase any non-necessity is because they love it — all the rest is just window dressing, as they say. But there is a lot of misinformation floating around about vintage, antique, and previously owned jewelry. So here’s a list of commonly overheard phrases, the myths they come from, and some unvarnished truth to provide some perspective.

“I like the look of older jewelry.”
Me, too! But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find new jewelry that is made to reflect a particular era’s style. In fact, with the recent resurgence of white metal, filigree detail, and the ubiquitous halo — all styles that are “comebacks” and not even remotely novel — I’d say your chances of finding a newly-made  ____-style piece are sky-high.

“If it’s antique, it lowers my carbon footprint!”
Not necessarily. From international shipping and customs delays to pre-sale repairs, that estate piece might even have a larger environmental impact than its newer cousin — you know, the one created in a state-of-the-art factory in the US where it was picked up and carried on foot from person to person until it arrived with many of its friends in the Prius-driving sales rep’s eco-friendly luggage.

“I don’t want to buy a conflict diamond.”
Great, because I won’t be selling you one, and I can actually prove it. The Kimberley Process was established in December of 2000 and was adopted in full effect in 2003 in order to impose controls on the rough diamond trade that limit and track the policies (and practices) of participating nations. This certainly doesn’t mean that a diamond sourced prior to this time is a product of a conflict region, but it does mean I can’t prove it either way. Reputable jewelry stores work only with reputable diamond vendors — many of them siteholders at established, well-run mines — so we can be fully confident in our products. The same can not be said for the majority of estate pieces.

“Jewelry always appreciates, so I’m getting a better deal!”
Please repeat after me: “Jewelry is not an investment. I buy it because I love it.” We do not sell jewelry to you today with the idea that you will resell it in 10 years and make a profit, and you don’t buy it because you think it’s a better option than stocks and bonds. Jewelry carries meaning, and that is its primary value. A “deal,” as such, is a rare bird — most often, if you think you’re getting one, what you’re really getting is had.

“If it’s lasted this long, it must be pretty sturdy!”
In a general sense, this carries some truth. A very well-made piece is more likely to stand the test of time, and will likely be in better shape after 50 years than a counterpart of lesser make. Unfortunately, that’s the only bit of truth here — many of the older pieces were made using inferior materials and processes (that is, relative to today’s standards) and they have simply been worn so much that they are in dire need of repair. Often, the issues can’t be repaired at all; when metal has worn away to nothing and gemstones are chipped and crushed, there is very little that can be done to salvage the original piece.

A note on family heirlooms and other types of sentimental jewelry: we fully understand that intrinsic value trumps just about everything I mentioned here, and that you’re often willing to do “whatever it takes” to get that special piece wearable again. But when more than half the ring needs to be replaced — new shank, new prongs, new head, replace four sapphires, recut the center diamond, etc. — ask yourself if it’s worth the time, money, and potential heartache if something unexpected happens in the process. And also, ask us what your other options are… we might surprise you.

Try This One Weird Trick

Clickbait: modern internet users love to hate it. So why do absurd claims and questionable tactics persist? The answer lies in consumer (read: human) habits. Though we vehemently deny it, a tiny piece of us still wants to find that too-good-to-be-true panacea for our perceived woes, and we never really stop searching for it.

Well, I’m sorry to say I can’t offer you a cure-all — I’m in the jewelry business, not snake oil. What I can give you are some neat little tips (definitely not tricks) to help solve some common jewelry woes.

Woe #1: Help! My previous jewelry gets all tangled up whenever I travel. I’ve tried everything!
Woe-away: Meet your new best friend, the drinking straw. Depending on the style and length of your necklace, you can either (a) drop one end of the chain through the straw and re-clasp it, which will keep it from tangling; or (b) cut a small notch in the top & bottom of the straw, drop the whole necklace through, gently tug the chain down each notch, and lay a small piece of tape to keep them in place. Stack multiples together and secure with a rubber band, and off you go. No more tangles!

Woe #2: I’m on vacation and really don’t want a sunburn, so I’m wearing lots of lotions all the time and getting very sandy. But now my diamond rings look disgusting! What do I do?
Woe-away: You have options galore on this one. In order of most to least effective, they are:

  1. Leave your diamonds at home next time, and just wear a pretty but non-gemstone band. Easier to clean, and no risk!
  2. Purchase a portable cleaning stick with brush attached. Use it to gently remove all the build up, rinse, and pat dry.
  3. If applying lotions in a safe place (hotel room), simply remove all jewelry first and allow lotion to dry/set before putting them back on. Be mindful of where you place your jewels during this process (ring holder or jewelry case good, edge of sink bad).
  4. Rinse hands thoroughly with soap and water, taking extra care with rings to rinse well. A very soft, old toothbrush used to brush gently will help dislodge some of the gunk.

Woe #3: My ring is doing loop-the-loops around my finger in the cold weather, but it usually fits fine in the heat. What do I do?
Woe-away: While it’s best to bring this sort of problem straight to a trusted jeweler, there’s a good chance that he or she will suggest some version of sizing balls or bars. Think of them as speed bumps on the inside bottom of the ring, as they help to “grip” the finger a little better when it’s loose, but maintain enough breathing room for when the ring feels snug. Keep in mind that someone people find the little nubs uncomfortable at times, but since they’re typically fairly easy to remove, it’s often worth a shot. Useful for arthritic knuckles, too.

I think that’s enough secret-spilling for one day, don’t you? If you have a jewelry woe, feel free to ask in the comments or send a message. The solution might just help you AND someone else!

Is “Favorited” Really a Word?!

Success (n.): the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

I know I’m not alone in feeling that sometimes success feels more daunting than failure. Failure is so often an end point, but success must lead to further and greater success in order for it to really count. This translates to more work, greater effort, and in the best of cases, potentially higher reward.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I feel like I’ve learned a thing or three from my recent adventures in industry-land. Putting new skills into practice has always been a main tenet of teaching — learn long division, eat it for dinner every night for a week —  and developing my voice and professional relationships will always need doing.

In a concession to my apprentice status, I began speaking up on a small scale, using my least-favorite communication tool to force me to stretch a little: Twitter. A few interactions (tweets? tweet exchanges? does one even “exchange tweets”?) later,  I received some easy and excellent answers to my question from two highly successful known quantities in the industry. I solemnly swear to write posts based on their suggestions, but both deserve some extensive time and thought to pull together.

Anyway, each person’s response was gracious, unique, and thoughtful, which I’ll admit felt somewhat intimidating:
They saw my tweet! They read it, oh god, did I make a typo? No, okay. Someone favorited my tweet! Is that even a word? Why is that a verb now? What the heck is a re-tweet, and what does it mean? What do I say now? Emoticons are unprofessional. Do not use. Wait, did they use one? Does that mean I should, too? I haven’t answered yet. Has it been too long? Do they hate me now?

Ahem.

This brief venture into the unknown caused the old worrier in me to surface, but only briefly. A silly thing, perhaps, to create such mental buzz about a relatively insignificant step, but progress is progress. Finding my voice and raising it to seek out answers to questions, advice and insight, or venture a comment or two is a brick laid in the foundation, and it’s obviously up to me to pursue the personal growth I need to reach my goals.

If I’m going to log this little foray as I success, I have no choice but to follow it up with more — and better — attempts. I’m open to suggestions from reader-experts: how do I build on this experience?

P.S. The former English teacher in me cringes at all this “nouning” and “verbing,” but I think I got the “favorited” thing correct. Right? Right??

Selective Sparkle: Holiday Gifting Guide Part 3

Everybody loves a trilogy, so I’m pleased to present the third and final installment of my gifting guide. ICYMI, head over here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

I had originally planned a humorous little cheat sheet for what to buy each person on your list, but I honestly can’t say I could do it better than this post right here from one of my favorite industry blogs. So please settle in for a chuckle and read her post — trust me.

So here’s the Plan B post instead: a motley assortment of tips & tricks for buying that special someone a little special something.

— Those beautiful diamond studs you chose for your girlfriend of 6 years are lovely, but you might want to ask for something other than a small, square-shaped box that’s going to look a whole lot like the kind of box something else with diamonds might come in. Catch my drift?

— On the other hand, keep him or her from sniffing out a surprise proposal by using something other than a ring box. A good friend used one of those Danish butter cookie tins and placed the ring inside the center paper cup. She chose not to open the tin until dessert.

— A diamond will survive a champagne bubble bath, a pearl might not. Potential choking hazard aside, seriously consider your presentation before drowning your jewelry in your drink.

— Before investing in those five golden rings, try to get a finger size. Please.

— You know the holiday classic, “I Wonder as I Wander”? Don’t let that be you. When we ask what we can help you find, it’s not so much a sales tactic as a way to make life easier for you. A couple once walked in the door, glanced quickly left and right, then the woman turned to the man and said, “they don’t even have any pearls here! Let’s go!” Had we been given more than 3 or 4 seconds, we would have shown them the two large cases of beautiful pearls… located towards the rear of the store.

— Don’t let your budget hold you back. We respect what you want to spend, and can often find something your giftee will adore without breaking the bank. On the other hand, we are neither miracle workers nor magicians, and we can not, in fact, “make a few of those zeros disappear.”

— Many wish list items can be found at different price points: those diamond studs I mentioned could cost anywhere between $500 or $25,000+ so please ask before you cross an item off the list.

— While it is a customer service standard to under promise and over deliver, we’re pretty upfront when it comes to timing a gift for Christmas. There are some things that simply take too much time, and many vendors or other services get backed up or even close early at this time of year. We will always, and I mean always, do what we can for you, but we can’t control every factor (see above comment re: miracles).

— No, that $10,000 ring will not be on sale for $2000 the day after Christmas. Or ever.

— Yes, I really do think that pendant will make your mother extremely happy, especially since it’s a thoughtful gift. Yes, I already removed the price tag. No, I don’t recommend telling her you got a “killer deal.” (Yes, that was a real conversation).

— Please be patient with me if both point-of-sale terminals are in use and I can’t swipe your credit card for another minute or two and it feels a little warm in here and you forgot to call your nephew and the candy store ran out of fudge and the kids singing carols outside are out-of-tune. I will happily wrap your gift in beautiful paper with a big golden bow while we wait for the system, clean your rings and earrings until they shine, and validate your parking so you can continue to shop downtown worry-free. I will do everything in my power to make you happy and comfortable. I will wish you and your family a very happy holiday season, and I will hope you’ll wish me the same.

Coming soon to POKC: The Twelve Gems of Christmas!

Selective Sparkle: Holiday Jewelry Gifting Guide Part 2

Okay folks, I’m back with another Q&A session to help along your seasonal shopping! Today’s questions focus on some useful information to keep in mind when shopping so you don’t end up on some morning television’s Buyer Beware feature. This will be a lengthy post, because I feel that an educated consumer is a good consumer.

Are these natural pearls?”

Ah, such a seemingly simple question with such a complicated answer. We really, really love our pearls around here, and thanks to that addiction passion we tend to know a whole lot about them — which is a darn good thing, considering the huge breadth of pearl jewelry on the market right now.

First things first: almost all pearls are cultured. This means that the oyster that housed them as they formed was grown alongside thousands of others on a pearl farm. It also means that a person most likely took a bead, piece of shell, or even another small pearl and inserted it into the oyster to nucleate (or “seed”) the pearl or pearls that grew inside. In the wild, a pearl occurs when some kind of irritant (like sand) enters the oyster’s shell, and the critter inside builds up layers and layers of nacre (pronounced NAY-ker) around it to stop it from bothering the delicate mollusk. On a pearl farm, it’s the humans that cause the irritation, but what else is new. Zing!

Pearls are judged on the quality of luster, overall shape, surface smoothness, color, and matching (on a strand). The luster is that particular combination of opaqueness and translucence that gives the pearl its soft but reflective appearance. Because pearls are organic, their surfaces are often marked with dimples, pimples, lines, striations, and all manner of varying nacre thicknesses; baroque pearls are unusually and irregularly shaped and therefore have a more uneven surface, while round or off-round pearls should be smooth with few marks. On a strand, pearls should either match as closely as possible (one color) or maintain a similar overtone (mixed colors).

Freshwater pearls are the most widely available, and are often the least expensive because they are grown fairly inexpensively by the thousands (China in particular has developed amazing and innovative techniques, including growing hundreds of tiny pearls inside just one oyster). The most common color is white, and they tend to be smaller than their saltwater cousins. They are also sometimes dyed, a treatment that is not at all permanent and will fade or discolor over time. Dyed colors range from fun brights like purple, pink, and blue to colors that mimic those found naturally in more expensive pearls. A trustworthy jeweler will be upfront about which pearls are dyed and which are not, and they should be priced accordingly.

Saltwater pearls are larger and generally more rare than freshwater, and are frequently referred to by their signature growing locations: Tahiti and the South Sea region. Tahitian pearls have become interchangeable with “black” pearls, though the colors within that category range from bright peacock green and purple to grey-silver or even brownish. South Sea pearls are white, pinkish, greyish, or even a greenish pistachio color. Finally, my personal favorite, the golden South Sea pearl, is a beautiful gold-yellow color that often seems to gleam with its own inner light.

All of the colors mentioned above are absolutely and completely natural — the pearls formed with that color. In fact, that beautiful golden South Sea pearl comes from the Golden-Lipped Oyster! White pearls of both fresh and salt water are typically placed in a bleach solution to ensure evenness of tone, but this treatment is both perfectly common and permanent.

Tahitians and South Seas are more expensive than most freshwater pearls because they take almost twice as long to form, and they are only grown individually — one pearl per oyster at a time. With their variety of natural colors they can be very difficult to match, making beautiful strands difficult to find.

Bottom line: most pearls are cultured, which means farmed (or, as I like to say, grown on purpose!). They are strung on silk and knotted in between each pearl. As an organic gem, they are extremely sensitive to chemicals, changes in temperature, and rough handling, so they should be the *last thing on, first thing off* when worn. Dyed pearls should be far less expensive than naturally colored. Pearls are a beautiful accessory that can be dressed up or down, and have such incredible variety that I can absolutely find a pearl for anyone and everyone.

Why do I see ruby rings for $99 in some department stores?”

The short answer here is that you’re not looking at a natural ruby, you’re looking at a composite formed with crushed red corundum, colored glass, and lead. You might even be looking at a piece of glass with a thin coating of red lacquer. Is it a ruby? No, it isn’t, and a trustworthy store will be telling you that right up front, both verbally and in visible print.

Aside from the obvious deceit and fraud factors, these composite stones are bad news because they can’t be handled like regular gems. Stick one of those rings in a hot ultrasonic cleaner and watch it disintegrate. Try to size the ring or fix a prong and watch it crumble away or turn all kinds of ugly colors. Hit the stone in just the right place with enough force and watch a huge chunk fly away.

Bottom line: when it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Disclosure is a constant industry focus topic, and the good places will be happy to educate you on exactly what you’re buying.

What’s a synthetic stone? What’s a simulant stone?”

A synthetic stone is formed in a laboratory but otherwise possesses the identical properties as the naturally-formed version. A gemologist can perform tests to determine whether it was naturally formed or lab-created, but otherwise the two are the same. Natural gems are more expensive due to their rarity and costs associated with mining and cutting.

Example: synthetic color-change Alexandrite is popular because the natural version is rare and difficult to obtain. The lab-created version is much less expensive but still possess the beautiful color-change properties

A simulant is any material that is meant to look like a particular gemstone but is in no way related or comparable to it.

Example: anything that looks like a diamond, but pretends to be: cubic zirconia, glass, moissanite, or even white sapphire is used to mimic the look of a diamond. To be clear, it’s a synthetic if it’s trying to be something it isn’t, like a CZ and silver ring that looks suspiciously like something that would usually come in a little blue box. It’s not a synthetic if it’s a step-cut green tourmaline — you might mistake it for an emerald, but it’s not trying to be one.

Bottom line: when in doubt, ask! Forgive the broken record, but full disclosure policies ensure you’ll never think you’re getting one thing but end up with another. Also, keep price in mind as you shop to ensure you’re really comparing like to like.

Once again, hit me with your burning questions and I’ll do my very best to answer. No query is too small!

Selective Sparkle: Holiday Jewelry Gifting Guide Part 1

As a person who is supposed to be in the know about all things jewelry, friends and relations frequently send their questions my way on everything from druzy to diamonds. I’m always happy to answer queries and offer advice, and that’s even more true during the gift-giving season (it’s also proposal season, FYI).

I’ve put together a little multi-part list of some of the most common questions I receive from people who really want an honest answer — I don’t sugarcoat, upsell, or otherwise spin my responses to turn a profit. Here we go!

What exactly is Tanzanite? And why should I buy it?”

Tanzanite is a form of the mineral zoisite and is found only in one location: the mines in the area very near Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Its current deposits are rapidly diminishing, making an already rare gemstone even more difficult to obtain.Tanzanite in its natural form is a rather ugly brownish burgundy — the material originally found at the surface had been heated naturally thanks to its journey through the layers of the earth, but today essentially all Tanzanite has been heat treated. This process is common and permanent, and does not detract at all from the value of the gem.

Tanzanite is a beautiful colored gem that many people love for its vibrancy, range of color within the gem, and beautiful contrast when set with diamonds. It rates a low 6.5 on the hardness scale, which means that daily wear in rings or bracelets will cause the gem to abrade fairly rapidly. As an earring or pendant it tends to look best set in white metal. A strong vivid blue is the most valuable, but many people prefer the purple-blue tones due to their color uniqueness and complexity.

Bottom line: If the color is the true attraction and it simply must be a ring, try a purple sapphire or spinel instead — it’ll hold up better over time. In a pendant or earring, they’re divine. Buy for vibrant and vivid color, or if you a particular affinity for the plains of Tanzania.

Can you show me a 1 carat sapphire?”

Sure I can, but what you probably want is a sapphire (or any other gemstone) that is approximately the same millimeter size as a 1 carat round diamond. Gemstones are cut with very different stands from diamonds so they are almost never comparable in terms of size and weight.

Colored gemstones are cut to enhance their color, which frequently means they have a larger depth measurement and often are not perfectly proportional — at least from underneath. An imperfectly cut gemstone will enhance all the wrong things: you might see a section that’s too dark and/or too light, the color might appear muddy or pale, or it might be so deep or broad that it will only work in a custom made piece of jewelry.

All gemstones, colored or otherwise, are priced based on their carat weight. It is possible to have two rubies of comparable quality and length-to-width ratio be two totally different prices based on their individual weight. Gemstones also posses different densities, so two different gemstone types with the same dimensions may not weigh the same.

Bottom line: dimensions are important, not carat weight. A 1ct round diamond does not equal a 1ct round colored gem. Talk to me about the size and overall look you’re going for.

What’s the difference between precious and semiprecious gemstones?” (Otherwise known as The Gemstones Formerly Known As…)

Oh, how I detest this question, and it’s nobody’s fault but our own. For so many years, jewelers drew a line in the sand between the Big Three — a.k.a. emerald, ruby, and sapphire — and, well, everything else. The Madison Ave. geniuses marketed the hell out of buying “semiprecious” gems as less expensive alternatives to the rest, and the result was an entire population hell-bent on spending pennies on some gems and thousands on others for mostly arbitrary reasons.

There are many stunningly beautiful gemstones that are not card-carrying members of the Big Three that can cost far more than the big guys, but a quick internet search will still yield results labeling them “semiprecious.” The term was once attributable to gems that were simply more widely available than those labeled “precious”, but as mentioned above in the case of Tanzanite, that no longer holds true.

Bottom line: ditch “semiprecious,” try “gem with X color in Y price range.” A good jeweler will work with your budget and color preference, or at least be honest and explain why we can’t get something.

Now it’s your turn! Have a burning question about jewelry? Want to know more about a particular metal, gem, style, or the industry itself? Ask away in the comments!