It has been said for many years that buying gemstones is more a matter of “whom to buy from” than “what to buy.” Quality in gemstones is difficult for the layperson to understand, and this maxim emphasizes the importance of buying from a trusted professional who understands gemstone quality. Who, then, is a trustworthy professional? Let’s try to get an idea of “whom to buy from” by explaining what king of seller can be trusted.

First, a trustworthy retailer can properly explain his product. A store that will clearly explain differences in quality and value as we have seen represented by terms such as gem quality, jewelry quality, and accessory quality is a safe one. People generally believe that “diamonds are exquisite,” wonderful words to those of us who deal in gemstones. However, note the rings shown in the photographs on the next page, all with the same design and set with the same total weight if genuine diamonds. The top ring, using gem-quality stones, costs $5,000, the middle, jewelry-quality, ring costs $2,500, and the bottom, accessory-quality, diamond ring costs $500, a difference of 10 times in price. If the best possible gem-quality diamonds were used and extra care was taken in the setting, the ring would cost even more than $5,000. On the other hand, if accessory-quality diamonds of even lower quality were used, the piece would be even less than $500. In this way, differences in the quality of materials and workmanship may, in extreme cases, result in price differences of more than 10 times, even in diamond rings of the same carat weight. Whether a price is expensive or cheap requires making sure of the “degree of beautiful brilliance,” or quality, of the gemstones, as well as how well the jewelry is made, and then deciding whether it matches the value of the piece. A store selling the top ring for $5,000 and the center ring for $2,500 is trustworthy. However, even if the bottom ring was being offered for its market value of $500, there is a problem in the fact that the store would even recommend such interior quality to its customers. After all, these are unattractive stones that are diamond in name only, with very little value as gemstones. Deciding what is best to choose in a gemstone purchase is easy if one judges quality based on a thorough explanation of the merchandise.

Second, trustworthy seller does not indiscriminately discount prices, while the stone that is constantly having sales or that over-emphasizes low prices is suspect. A diamond may have fine color and clarity, a nice cut, and be priced inexpensively, but still lack beautiful brilliance. As explained in the diamond section in Chapter 1, the “ beautiful brilliance” of a polished diamond depends on the quality on the rough, but by glossing over this important point and using an appraisal (more accurately, a grading report) to emphasize the color, clarity, and cut, a diamond like the one described above can be made to look very reasonably priced. A retailer who would do this is either not knowledgeable about gemstones, or is an unethical one taking advantage of loopholes in current grading reports.

It is important for the store manager or head buyer to personally take a look at each gemstone and judge its degree of quality, because there are some aspects of evaluating gemstones that cannot be standardized. A reputable store recognizes the fact that, unlike selling standardized industrial products at low prices merely confirms its inferior quality.

A third type of problem seller is the store or company that sells synthetic stones as gemstones. It is fine to sell synthetic materials as low-priced accessories, but giving the impression that these are gemstones is a problem. With the proper equipment, synthetic can be produced in large quantities, but these are entirely different from gemstones that are fortuitously created by nature in limited quantities. It is incorrect to assume that synthetics are gemstones just because they have identical chemical composition and crystal structure. Gemstones are beautiful, highly rare products of nature-the standardized, commonplace synthetic stones created by man are not true gemstones.

In recent years, ruby mining has started in Vietnam. This ruby production has potential, but it is said that many synthetic rubies are mixed in with the rough at the source. Consequently, traders are cautious, and purchases of ruby rough are being held back. We could identify these synthetics if each stone was individually examined, but dealing in rough at the source is a now-or-never proposition requiring immediate decision. I have also heard that synthetic rubies produced by Japanese enterprises are being exported in their rough state. This hinders the new industries of developing nations, ultimately with the same effect as interfering with them. I have great respect for the efforts of the technicians who have made the production of synthetic stones possible, but it is unethical to spread these around without considering the consequences, or to sell them under the impression that they are gemstones. I would hope that manufactures of synthetics would produce them with some type of property that would facilitate their separation from gemstones, and develop a new market for synthetic stones. As long as synthetic stones are marketed with an allusion to gemstones, they will be no better off than fakes and counterfeits.

What kind of store is trustworthy? One that does not use two-tiered pricing or heavy discounts. One that clearly explains quality and defines its obligation to the customer. Even when buying gemstones abroad, the reputation of the retailer is of key importance. No matter where you go, there are costs associated with operating a retail business, and even if prices are promoted as wholesale, they are actually retail prices. When buying loose gemstones, you must consider where the jewelry will be made, since the quality of the design and workmanship is also important. It is the same as choosing a reputable restaurant when planning to go out for a delicious meal. Gemstones are purchases to be enjoyed for a lifetime and passed on for generations, so the responsibility of the seller is a very serious one.