“I never do anything with my hands” and other myths of the
jewelry repair game.
by Richard W. Wise, G.G. 2008
If one more client comes in and tells me her ring should not need
repair because “I never do anything with my hands”, I think I am
going to spit-up. You know, just after you mention a price to do the
repair she bristles like a porcupine then exclaims: “I don’t
understand it! Why did it break? I always take the ring off before I
The suppressed premise here is that jewelry is or should be
indestructible. Apparently at least 20% of the American public
believes this to be true. Jewelry should not break and if it does it
must be defective and therefore the fault of the jeweler.
I guess I just don’t get it! If you buy a new car, drive it off the
lot and run into a light pole, the dealer is going to charge you to
remove the dent. Most expensive items we buy come with a 90 day to 1
year limited warranty. Yet some consumers seem to expect that a
piece of jewelry should come with an all risk warranty. Name me
another consumer item that comes with the expectation of free
maintenance for life?
I have had clients approach me as much as a decade after a piece was
made. Case in point; Mrs. D, an active sportswoman (tennis, skiing,
golf) in her middle years: we had made her a handmade 18k yellow
gold solitaire engagement ring with a 5 carat blue sapphire sitting
right on top of it. The ring had been worn all day, every day for a
dozen years and the prongs were quite worn and the setting required
a rebuild. The client didn’t understand. How could this be? Why
should she pay to have the work done? After all, we had made the
ring. Only after a half hour of explanation did she calm down and
agree to have the work done and pay for it.
Jewelry, like all material things, is subject to wear and tear and
requires occasional maintenance. Gold is a beautiful material but it
is soft. Platinum is more durable but it too will wear over time.
The fact is that in our post-industrial world almost anything,
doorknobs, washing machines, butter knives, golf clubs, can scratch,
dent or otherwise damage precious materials. Gemstones, even
diamond, the hardest substance on earth, can be chipped and broken.
Diamonds or how you can break the hardest substance on earth:
I recall selling a high quality carat size princess cut diamond to a
client. Six months later she returned. The diamond was broken in
half and she was very upset; in her mind the diamond must have been
defective. “I hit it hard but I didn’t think it could break.” I
tried to explain the difference between hardness and toughness and
pointed out that even diamond can break. The client looked at me
like I had three heads. Many people, even jewelers, don’t understand
the difference between hardness and toughness. Hardness is simply a
measure of scratch-ability. Diamond, the hardest substance, is 10 on
the Mohs hardness scale meaning that it cannot be scratched by any
other substance but it can still break. Ruby/Sapphire, is rated 9
and is the second hardest substance; it will not scratch a diamond
but it is tougher and more resistant to breakage. A crisis was
averted when the client’s insurance company replaced the diamond
with barely a murmur.
Some jewelry items are damaged more easily than others. Rings are
number one followed by bracelets, earrings and pendants. Fine
handmade pieces may be more susceptible to certain kinds of damage
due to the fact that they are joined together with solder rather
than being cast in one piece. After all, a Maserati requires more
tune-ups than a Ford. Conversely, some handmade pieces are actually
tougher due to hand forging and temper. One piece castings can cause
real problems. Remember that bargain priced ruby ring that you
bought in India? Remember how it began losing stones, like rain
falling from the sky, as soon as you cleared customs?
Buying Antique Jewelry, the Inheritance can be taxing:
When purchasing antique or vintage jewelry bear in mind that this is
a piece of jewelry that has been around for awhile. Antique jewelry
is normally sold as is! You are buying a piece of history which
means you are inheriting any and all problems that come with it. You
can hardly expect the dealer to be responsible for re-doing a wonky
repair that comes apart 50 years later.
Choose the right materials for the job:
Today we have a lot of choices and some precious materials are more
durable than others. Pure gold is 2.5-3.0 on Moh’s scale of
hardness, platinum is 4-4.5.0. So if you want that wedding ring to
last for fifty years, platinum is your best choice.
Common dust is composed mainly of quartz which rates 7.0 on the
scale. Leaving aside toughness, gemstones below this level of
hardness are a poor choice for everyday wear because simple cleaning
will cause minute scratching that will gradually become visible.
Think about that opal that just seems to stay foggy no matter how
often you rub it.
The Victorian age ended a century ago. Most of us do not wear white
gloves or attend afternoon tea parties and we cannot afford a
footman to open our doors or a maid to do our dishes and we use our
hands all day, every day. We wear our jewelry and yes that jewelry
is subject to wear and tear and may perhaps lose a stone or even
break. If you are looking for an all risk warranty against all the
vicissitudes of modern life don’t look to your jeweler, I suggest
you contact your spiritual advisor or perhaps, more to the point,
your insurance agent.
Please don’t send me your repairs…
Secrets Of The Gem Trade