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Jewelry Buyer's Guide

Judy, Ron and all. Let me vote FOR a guide as soon as, and in
whatever form possible. A brief brochure could be made available to
give students, customers and the craftsmen themselves, giving the
website address, or the publisher’s It is all well and
good to learn a craft through self-taught trial and error, but to
spend good money as a consumer purchasing junk over and over just
makes enemies for the trade. Ron’s brief about the faults of
various chains, for example, is worth a lot of money to all of us.
That otherwise, is only obtained through long
experience and expense. If we Orchidians are truly interested in
educating and improving the craft and business of jewelry, I say
let’s go for it where it will do the most good.


I should hate for a committee of other people to make decisions
about how to judge what quality my pieces are!

The forum consists of many different genres of artists and
craftspeople, we define ourselves. Me? I’m a goldsmith and sculptor.
Just imagine an art gallery telling people how to look for quality in
an oil painting or a print.

Tony Konrath

I still don’t get it. The only way I could support a buyers guide is
if you all use MY criteria. And here it is; Buy what you can afford and
like. If you like and can afford Wal-Mart then enjoy. If you want
distinctive, innovative and interesting then you have to pay more.
Understand the big retailers cannot sell below cost and stay in
business long. You are paying for what you get. If you want natural
stones then you going to pay more, if that is not important to you
then so be it. If you are sold something under false pretenses then
sue the hell out of them. Another thing I don’t understand is all the
fuss about Nike’s sweatshops and conflict diamonds, what about all
the cheap jewelry available? where do the mass of consumers think
that’s coming from? Sam Patania

Dear Tony and Sam,

Nobody ever said anything about regulation or inspection of jewelers
! In my view, those of us who make jewelry as craftspeople are
especially conscientious about quality and craftsmanship. The bone I
am picking are the mass retailers that sell shlock without
reservation of any kind.

Furthermore, I would never recommend regulation of any kind. That
approach to raising standards simply wouldn’t work in the jewelry
business and it would entail the odious creation of yet another
buraucracy of parasites.

My position is that there is a need to better inform consumers so
that they are not victims of their own ignorance and so that they
are less likely to have a bad experience and stigmatize the

Again, in my opinion, the best place to educate and guide the
customer is at the point of sale. Sales people should know enough
aboiut the pros and cons of various choices so that people will have
a good experience with their selections. You sure as hell wouldn’t
want to recommend a half millimeter box chain to support a one ounce
pendant ! And yet, it happens…all too often, as a matter of
fact !

Suzannne Wade’s suggestion that a book ought to be written is a
great starting point, but it won’t solve the problem by itself. It
would serve as a reference for the sales people and it would serve
the special needs of the better educated customer who wants to make
a large purchase, but very few people would part with twenty to
forty dollars to acquire a “how to” book of such limited scope.

Judy’s observations on the attention span of the average customer
are to the point. Thus, as she suggests, a small pamphlet given out
free with each purchase would be a good starting point.

Also, it would be very appropriate for some jewelry association such
as the Jewelers of America would make up articles about jewelry that
would be appropriate for reprint in various popular media.

At the local level, it would certainly be appropriate for those of
us who operate retail stores to make ourselves available to the
various clubs that exist in every town almost anywhere. These clubs
always have a program chairperson who is desperate to find speakers.

Personally , I would much rather deal with a well informed customer
who makes decisions based on facts and experience. A well informed
customer makes rational decisions which preclude the likelihood of
being dissappointed. Ron at Mills Gem, Los Osos, CA.


Other than design which is subjective, I believe that there are
measurable or quantifable standards that I use when I buy from a
vendor. I have a retail business, but I also manufacture both custom
and a line of charms.

There is the master jeweler program that has standards of
achievement. When we are self employed as artisans it is not just to
avoid the critical eye of your employer or supervisor. There is good
channel setting and bad channel setting, good soldering, casting
,polishing, assembly of components.

To not want your work judged by peers would seem to be fear based. If
I do things correctly, I am never afraid of what another
knowledgeable jeweler will say.

Diamonds have lessor or greater value based on cutting.Why would this
not be the same. To be held accountable for your level of skill seems
like a motivator to me.

And, Tony, did I read your reply about handmade chain right, $500 an
inch. If so what metal are you working with?

Richard in Denver

Sam, Unless a campaign by a “special interest group” begins to
highlight a particular “offense”, it just does not happen. Sweat
shops be they sneakers or stones do allow the workers to bring money
home to their families. Boycotts while they do appeal to the media,
usually penalize the lowest person in the chain, be it miner or
assembler. Neither the name brand nor the chain really suffer other
than minor slumps easily overcome by an approaching holiday.

While we, reasonably well fed, easily swayed by a “cause” for the
good of the people, gain a bit of satisfaction, it wreaks havoc
where it least should.

You are totally correct in saying people buy what they can afford.
Those in the lower socio economic bracket feel wonderful being able
to buy an attractive piece of jewelry at Walmart, Sears, or similar.
They love and wear with pride their special piece. So it should be.

Those in the upper brackets usually go with Tiffany, Harry Winston,
or similar. The extra cost for the name is borne by being able to
mention it in passing reference.

It is the middle bracket that can use the contained in a
brochure of what to look for, how to compare, and most importantly,
how to enjoy the artistry of the fabricator rather the name of the
store. A local men’s clothier runs a TV commercial showing viewers
why they should buy at his store. One scene shows removing a "name"
label worth 15 cents from a suit and selling it for $150.00 less.
Another shows a happy customer wearing a just purchased suit
commenting he saw it at a department store for $250, while he paid
just $180. Marketing and proving value is what we need to
accomplish. This will not come by ridiculing Walmart, the Walmart
customer will remember that, when they can afford to move up to a
non chain, proper jewelry store. When receiving something to repair,
the impression you make will last a very long time. Teresa

A reply to Richard & others

I don’t sell to retailers, not for any snobbish reason, but because
I make very things that don’t sell well in retail stores. I have
exhibitions at galleries, my pieces appear at collectors auctions,
people ring me up and ask me to make them something. I never repeat
my pieces, except for limited editions which are all numbered and

I hold City & Guild qualifications in goldsmithing, diamond
mounting, silversmithing, enamelling, engraving and design. I’m also
an elected Fellow of the Gemmological Association (FGA after my name)
the UK equivalent of the GIA certification - so I’ve no objection to
being judged by my peers, indeed many jewellers and artists buy my
work, but I do object to a mechanical set of rules being applied to
it. Pull my chains and they don’t break, wiggle my settings and the
stones don’t move, turn over the settings and they’re as well
finished at the back as at the front. I hope that my pieces will
come up to all the usual standards that we look at each others work
with. On a recent visits to Rome and Cairo I was invited into the
workshops of commercial jewellers who asked me to sit at a bench and
"show us what you can do" - I got applauded! (Now I’m being
boastful… but it was a great experience!)


Many commercial jewellers are critical of my pieces because they
don’t fit in to their stock in trade. I’ll use stones that people
have never heard of, or incorporate iron, plastic - even leather and
silk. They can’t see how someone will pay $1000 for a chain and
pendant if all it consists of it three ounces of sterling, an agate
and a couple of 20 point diamonds. “I can’t sell that!” is a frequent
response. What they seem to look for are hand made pieces that look
as if they’ve been made by machine using standard materials. When was
the last time you saw a piece of Mokume in a retail shop?

On the other hand a large up-market jewellery shop recently offered
me my own cases in their stores - mind you they wanted 120% mark up!

Commercial criteria for quality don’t fit my market. Take for
example the idea that a chain should curl neatly into a pile if
lowered into the hand - often used in retail stores to demonstrate
the precision of machine made chain. Mine don’t! Most hand made
chains don’t. They’ll zig and zag because of the nature of the
process of hand making. I don’t use wire that’s of one precise
dimension because I pull my own and in different ambient temperatures
the wire will vary by a few thousandths of an inch.

Yes, I can charge and get up to $9000 (sometimes a lot more) for an
18 inch 18ct chain with a pendant. A simple 14 inch fine silver
necklace with glass phials filled with gravel and sand recently went
at auction for over $1000. The total cost of materials for this
couldn’t have been over $50 but it took a week to make The reason is
that my pieces are displayed in galleries alongside paintings and
sculpture and seen as “art.” I know this sounds a bit high fallutin’
but it’s the market that I work in. They are often named, have a
concept behind the design, are made to make the wearer think, move
differently, hold their body differently. The planning and execution
for an “important” piece can take up to two months.

My next exhibition is at the Lucky Street Gallery in Key West,
Florida in December. There will be 36 pieces on show at an average of
$2000 a piece.

I love working this way, I make less a year that a commercial
manufacturer but it’s a worthwhile difference for me. I don’t want a
group of unelected, self appointed people telling my clients that my
pieces are not up to standard because they don’t fit into their

I don’t want to put backs up (I know I will!) - but this forum
consists of people working in many different areas and I cannot see
how, apart from advising on metal content marks and stone
certificates, it’s at all possible to set out a buyers guide that
fits all of us.

Tony Konrath
Gold and Stone

If I understood the subject correctly, I believe the public needs to
be educated about quality so they can appreciate the work produced
by jewelers who care (like us! :wink: and therefore be willing to pay
for it. Quality meaning well made rather than style. It wouldn’t
be a committee to judge a style, it would be suggestions on details
such as porosity, weak prongs, thin shanks, overall shoddy
workmanship that customers do not always notice that would be
pointed out. Typically the mall jewelry that is massed produced
from a factory. I’ve been thinking a jewelry buying class would be
a great class to give through a community learning exchange if you
have one or at a school.

Marta in Sacramento

Dear Tony Konrath, Your recent post was tremendously heartening. “Yes,
Virginia, there are proper jewellers” to paraphrase. There are quite
a few of us doing our own, quiet, quality thing in Australia too.
Some of us have discovered and joined the Gold and Silversmiths Guild
of Australia which supports the ideals you so cogently expressed. It
is so reassuring to know that one is on the right track where the
innate integrity and craftship of the piece is what counts. It’s also
heartening that many of our clients recognise this too. 'Donya mate,
Kind regards, Rex Steele Merten

Dear Teresa, I completely understand your argument about who a
boycott harms but, I can’t get over the idea that we ( the US) as the
worlds largest market of damn near everything have allot of power.
How do we influence producers with out knocking prices up to America
levels? Labor is an issue I have been working on my entire career as
a smith. The cost of materials has been much more stable than the
price of labor. I do not want to and would not send my production
overseas. I think I side step the issue of an educational brochure
about quality of work by being in business for so long and repairing
what I make with out question and in most cases with out charge. I
have remade pieces to better suite the client and loose money doing
it in few cases but that would probably cost me as much to produce a
general brochure about "quality"as to take care of my own work. I
think my main rub about a brochure is that it is not aimed at my
client base but, at the general public who is more price conscious
than style or quality conscious. BUTwhen you get press , as in the
Florida emerald case or conflict diamond case or tanzanite you can
see how screwed up things get. And yet don’t we as the largest market
NEED to ask questions? Sam Patania, Tucson

Dear Ron, it has been my experience that most of my clients don’t
care how a piece is made ( I HATE that, I LOVE to talk about my work
but, it bores most customers) If they like it and trust me they buy.
The general public is not my client base and those who are stay long
enough to get to know me and trust me. They also know I’ll be around
to repair what ever they buy, free with “normal” use. Sam Patania,

Sam, I know you to be of high integrity, ability and talent.
Certainly your clients are with you for those very reasons. How you
extend yourself to meet their needs is part of your business sense.
The happening that may cost you at this time, in the future may have
a wedding in the family or 50th anniversary and they will be at your
shop post haste.

The brochure is an educational tool for hopefully future business. I
see young Marines either alone or with an equally young wife or
girlfriend staring hopefully in the mall showcases about to pay too
much for absurdly tiny fragile piece of jewelry. They walk away
smiling and happy with their investment. Oh to be able to speak with
them first, yes maybe give them a brochure so they can make an
informed purchase.

Yes we can ask questions, but what? are the conditions humane? can
you strike for toilet time? are you strip searched? have you pouches
cut into your cheeks to secret gems? is this money buying guns?
drugs? If we then have knowledge, what do we do with it?

How often do we get a days work for a days pay? what do we lose to
pilfering? is the money going to keep the boss’ mistress? drinks?

Honesty and integrity is not only property of the USA. We cannot
control labor costs in other locations as it is only a portion of
the overall economy. Were prices of staples to increase, labor would
also. Even here in the USA we have very different costs across the
states and regions. From a sleepy region when I bought here 11 years
ago, now i could not even rent, our costs have escalated so
teachers, police, fire, can no longer afford to live here.

I am happy I am old enough to know when a fine piece of jewelry felt
solid and had a bit of weight, now it is hollow and fragile and
costs too much. That is just how I feel and many can and will
disagree. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder if they had an even
chance to know what they are beholding. That is our job. Not to
malign the foreign worker, but to educate our buyers. It is the
very people who do not yet know the value of your work Sam that
deserve to.

IMHO Teresa -

Dear Teresa, I totally agree. Sometimes my cynicism masks my
meaning, I’ll admit to that. I use the term sweat shop mostly to
illustrate US snobbery and misunderstanding of how most of the world
runs. I believe the tendency in the US is to discount how damn hard
it is to “make it” here and I don’t mean make it big, I mean buy
groceries and house payment. I have been privileged to travel around
the world and live in the ‘third world’ for a time. Boy, no quicker
way to make a patriot for the US than to see how the most of the rest
of the planet struggles. I live close enough to Mexico to drive down
there and view life crushing poverty a few feet from the border. My
main concern for a quality brochure is that it can’t possibly
address the concerns we have about so called schlock jewelry in sound
bite style so that it would actually be of some use. I don’t chase
the mass market for that reason. I never understood the costume
jewelry industry until recently either. There is room for all these
parts of the market. I think to produce a brochure and think it will
point out how good jewelry should be made will not increase my or
yours sales. Unless we have mass marketing jewelry manufacturers
reading Orchid nobody but us will appreciate such standards. And by
nobody I mean a market share enough to make the production of such a
brochure cost effective. AHA, another side of me, practical
businessman that I have become. It all comes down to “what will it DO
for ME”??? -that I don’t already do for myself?

Sam Patania, Tucson