Ask The Expert

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • How rare is gold?

    Of the entire Earth’s crust only about 3.5 parts per billion are pure gold. (Silver is about 73 ppb.) Think of it this way: All of the gold ever mined in the history of mankind would fit in about two Olympic-size swimming pools. Today, it is rarer to find a one ounce nugget of gold than a five carat diamond.

  • What’s the difference between 10K/14K/18K gold?

    Gold is a very soft metal, you could bend it with your bare hands. To strengthen it and make it tough enough for jewelry, pure gold is melted with other base metals (usually copper, silver and zinc) to form a gold alloy (or mixture.) The alloy is measured in Karats (K or KT) that indicates the fineness and purity of the gold. 24K is considered to be 99.99% pure gold. 18K is 75% gold and 25% other metals. 14K, the most common alloy for jewelry is 58.3% gold and 10K is 41.7% gold. This is why you can’t simply weigh a gold bracelet and multiply its weight by the spot price of gold, to determine its value. You must first adjust the weight for the alloy metals (and subtract for labor.)

  • How does Mother Nature create diamonds?

    About 100 million years ago, at a depth of about 100 miles beneath the surface of Earth, Mother Nature started with one simple carbon atom. She put incredible pressure and tremendous heat (think of the Eiffel Tower upside-down on top of a seed, on the surface of the sun) onto that tiny carbon atom, forcing it to combine with other carbon atoms. There they sat for hundreds of millions of years while over time, a diamond was slowly born. Eventually tectonic plates shifted causing volcanic eruptions and forcing the diamond to the surface. (The last time this occurred was about 20 million years ago.) The pressure and temperature must be perfect and stay constant or instead of a diamond, the carbon atoms will turn into graphite, to be used in pencils. You can imagine how difficult creating a diamond actually is, when you compare its value to that of a pencil.

  • How old are diamonds?

    Most diamonds are about 3 billion years old. (That’s right, billion, with a “b”.) They began as a single carbon atom located about one mile beneath the Earth’s surface. Then, starting about 2.5 billion years ago, tectonic shifts and volcanic-like eruptions forced them upward. The most recent volcanic activity occurred about twenty million years ago. Since then, not a single new diamond has been pushed toward the surface. This is why diamonds are so very incredibly rare and someday the mines will be depleted.

  • How rare are diamonds?

    Diamonds are incredibly rare and there hasn’t been a substantial new discovery in over 25 years. A few facts:

    • Diamonds form 250 miles underground and are violently forced to the surface by volcanic eruption. (The most recent of which happened 100 million years ago.) Very few diamonds survive the trip from the Earth’s core to its crust.

    • It costs $10 million to simply identify a location for a mine and then $1 billion to open it. Fewer than 1% of all deposits located in the last 25 years have contained enough rough diamonds to make mining economically viable.

    • About one ton of ore must be mined to locate 0.5ct of rough diamond. And then, only 20% of recovered rough diamonds are suitable for jewelry. The rest are industrial grade used for cutting and grinding.

    • The process of turning one rough stone into a jewelry-ready gem, which includes planning, cutting and polishing often involves a dozen highly skilled specialists and can take four to six months.

    • Flawless diamonds are so extremely rare that most jewelers never see one, during their entire career.

    • Less than 1% of all of the women in the world will ever own a diamond weighing 1ct or more.

    • The record of $165,000 per carat was set in May, 1995 at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva by a private collector who paid $16.5 million for the “Star of the Season” a D-color, internally flawless 100.1ct diamond.

  • What are the 4Cs and why should I care?

    The 4Cs are the universally accepted method of grading and thus comparing diamonds. So, if you own, insure or are going to acquire a diamond, you should care. Created in the 1950s by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and understood worldwide, the 4Cs are: Cut: the proportions and finish of the diamond. Clarity: the internal and external characteristics of the diamond. Color: really the lack of color in a diamond. Carat: the weight of the diamond. When you know a diamond’s 4Cs, you can easily compare it to others and better determine its value.

  • Why is a colorless (the best) diamond graded as a “D”?

    Color along with clarity, cut and carat (weight) are the 4Cs of diamond grading. A diamond’s color is measured on an alphabetic scale from D-Z. A “D” grade is considered Colorless (as are E-F). Grades G-J are Near Colorless, K-M are Faint, N-R is Very Light and S-Z are Light in color. So, why start with a D?

    Up through the late 1940’s jewelers had all sorts of descriptions for the color of diamonds, including calling them: A or AA or AAA or B or C, etc. However, the letters didn’t correspond to anything because there was no uniform code or scale. When the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) created the 4C Diamond Grading System, it decided to start the color scale at “D” to differentiate itself from all of the miscellaneous names and descriptions used in the past. Thus “D” became the best color (colorless).

  • What are Champagne and Cognac diamonds?

    Short answer: A very successful marketing campaign. :-) In the 1970’s, diamonds were found in the remote north of Western Australia and mining begun. After about a decade the huge Argyle mine reached full production. Argyle produces the famous pink diamonds (only about 60 per year) which are valued at 6-7 figures each. However, most of Argyle’s production are very small brown and black diamonds, historically unsuitable for jewelry. Argyle’s owner, the Rio Tinto Group partnered with the Indian (country) diamond cutting/polishing industry and funded a substantial marketing campaign to re-brand brown, black and many-shades-of-gray commercial/industrial-grade diamonds to be called Champagne and Cognac. Viola! a new product category was born. Make no mistake, they are diamonds, chemically and scientifically, they just are not white/colorless.

  • What is the difference between Precious and Semi-Precious gemstones?

    The traditional classifications date back to the Ancient Greeks. The precious gemstones are: Diamond, Ruby, Emerald and Sapphire. All other gemstones are considered semi-precious. This distinction reflects the rarity of these gems, as well as their quality and translucency of fine color. Also, all four are very hard (a hardness of 8-10 out of 10, on the Mohs scale.)

    Gemologists identify gemstones first by using their chemical makeup. They are also classified into different groups, species and varieties. For example, ruby is the red variety of the species corundum, while all other colors of corundum are sapphire. Emerald is from the mineral species beryl.

  • How can you compare the values of colored gems?

    Value begins with rarity. The rarer the gem the more valuable it is. Ruby is the rarest gem, followed closely by diamond, emerald and sapphire. For color gemstones, “color” is always the next most important determining factor. A .50ct pigeon-blood red (yes, that’s what it’s called) ruby is rarer and more valuable then a pinkish-red .75ct ruby. Size/ct weight is the next consideration, so if the gem and color are identical, the larger one is usually more valuable. Cut and clarity are also important and differ depending on the specimen. For example, (just like diamonds) ruby and sapphire with fewer clarity characteristics are rarer. Emeralds (because they have a different chemical make-up) always have internal marks, (which identify them as natural and are used to distinguish them from others,) and thus can command a premium, based on their overall appearance.

  • Where and how did birthstones originate?

    The tradition of the birthstone is from the Old Testament. Aaron (the older brother of Moses,) the first High Priest of the Israelites wore a silver breastplate containing 12 different color gemstones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Each tribe was assigned one month in which it was their responsibility to clean and care for the Temple. Thus over time, one color of gem evolved to represent a particular month. Today it is common to wear your birthstone and those of your family members as a representation of your love and respect for them.

  • What does: “guaranteed to be appraised for double the purchase price” really mean?

    We’ve all seen the advertisements on TV for jewelry that is: “Guaranteed to be appraised for double the purchase price.”  Here’s what that means:

    • First, it means: read the fine print.  There is often a lot of it and you may not understand some of it, and the people who wrote it, know this.

    • Second, these “Guarantees” usually do NOT apply to: diamonds,  custom-made pieces and special orders.  However, that’s about 80% of all fine jewelry sales.  (Every engagement ring and wedding band, for example, is custom-made and sized.)

    • Thirdly, if an appraisal is provided, make certain that the appraisal was not completed by the retailer.  That’s like buying a house and accepting an appraisal from the seller… would you do that?  Retailers should not appraise the jewelry, diamonds or gemstones they sell, this is a direct conflict-of-interest.  So if that’s what is offered, consider going to a different jeweler.

  • Can I have my yellow gold jewelry turned white?

    Yes, the process is called Rhodium Plating. It’s common and affordable and most fine jewelers can do it in-house. In fact, most white gold jewelry sold today was rhodium plated by the designer or manufacturer.

    Gold is a yellow metal, there is no such thing in nature as “white gold.” Gold is also very soft, so when used in jewelry it is heated and mixed with other metals to strengthen it. Copper keeps gold yellow and nickel turns it white., but it is duller white. Jewelry dipped in rhodium will glisten a much brighter white. How long the plating lasts depends upon the piece, how often it comes in contact with other materials or skin and how it is cleaned. To keep rhodium plated rings a bright white, remove them before using: cleaning products like bleach and ammonia, washing your hands with harsh detergents and swimming in pools with chlorine.

  • How often should I “check the prongs” on a ring?

    The prongs are the claws that physically hold a diamond or gemstone to a ring or other piece of jewelry. They should fit completely over, and be snug and tight to the gem. The gem should NOT wiggle, nor should there be any space between the prong and the gem. (If there is, put the piece in a baggie immediately.) Unlike your teeth, a well made ring doesn’t need check-ups twice-a-year. (That’s an old jeweler’s line to get you to come back into the store.) Prongs do get banged around and can bend, and over time, they will wear-down and should be re-tipped. Under normal wear, have your ring checked every 2-3 years. Contact me if you’re unsure or would like a piece examined.

  • What is the best product to clean my jewelry?

    All gold, diamond and precious gem jewelry can be easily cleaned with warm water, mild soap and a soft brush. Be sure to first pull-up the sink stopper or cover the drain, and then carefully dry your jewelry after cleaning. Stay away from steam and ultrasonic cleaners which can damage many gems. These should only be used by trained jewelers.

  • What’s the best way to store fine jewelry?

    Diamonds are the hardest substance known to man and only a diamond can cut another diamond. Something else a diamond can do, is scratch another diamond. It can also, easily scratch all of the other gemstones and gold you own. That’s why the best place to store your jewelry is in a felt-lined jewelry box with multiple compartments, to keep your pieces separated and safe. Such boxes are available in many stores for as little as $20. If you’d like a unique jewelry chest with a veneer inlay or made of wood, leather or onyx, ask me to email pictures.

  • Do you repair or update jewelry?

    Yes, please feel free to contact me via my online contact form, email or phone (520)-382-9221 for details. I would be glad to go over any questions you have.

  • Can you tell me what’s my jewelry worth?

    Yes, I appraise fine jewelry for insurance and resale purposes.

    • A typical one page “re-valuation” is available when you have an out-dated appraisal, diamond certificate and original invoice: $99 per piece.

    • A complete 12-15 page appraisal is required when you have little or no documentation: $150 per piece.

    • Sorting genuine from costume (usually after an inheritance) is always free.

    • Appraisal meetings are by appointment only and held in my Sabino Canyon office.  

    • Turn-around time: 7-10 days.

Rules for Acquiring Fine Jewelry:

  • Acquiring jewelry internationally:

    Never acquire fine jewelry outside of the US.  Did you know, in Mexico you can buy 8K gold jewelry? That’s jewelry where the gold purity is only 33%. In the US, selling gold jewelry, with that little actual gold, is illegal. Our standards are set by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and our minimum purity is 10K, which is 42% gold. Every country in the world sets its own standards, so don’t run to Mexico or anywhere else and think you’re getting a bargain, you’re not. Be safe: acquire fine jewelry in the US only.

  • Acquiring jewelry while on vacation:

    Never acquire fine jewelry on vacation.  Resort destinations, border towns, islands, even cruise ship retailers (where space is leased to third parties) all know, you are visiting for a very short time, and likely, will never return. This invites ethical lapses and sometimes fraud. Even if you’ve made this mistake in the past, now that you know, be smart and spend your vacation dollars elsewhere.

  • Acquiring diamonds online:

    Professional jewelers are extremely particular when choosing exactly which diamonds to offer to their clients.  They select only the best and on average, reject ninety-nine out of every one hundred diamonds.  The rejects are then sold online.  Think twice before acquiring diamonds or jewelry that educated professionals rejected.

  • Diamond Certificates and Grading Laboratories:

    Accept only GIA Certified Diamonds.  GIA stands for the Gemological Institute of America, (where I am a graduate.) GIA is both a school and the world’s most respected diamond grading laboratory. GIA created the 4C system, the universal standard for grading and comparing diamonds. Wholesalers and retailers send diamonds to their lab. GIA examines and grades them, and issues a certificate detailing exactly where each diamond falls on the 4C scales. Plus, the certificate number can be laser inscribed on the side of the diamond thus identifying it forever. A GIA certification is very important for insurance and trade-in situations. It is also, simply the best way you can be certain of the characteristics of your diamond. (Note: Few diamonds under .75ct and very few under .50ct are lab graded.)

  • Documents to request when acquiring fine jewelry:

    When you acquire diamond and precious gem jewelry, always request three documents:

    • Statement (or invoice) that describes in detail your jewelry. This should include: number, size and weight of all gemstones and the type of gold or precious metals used and of course the value paid.

    • Guarantee: A written document that explains, that what you acquired is genuine. (In other words, that whatever the jeweler told you, was the truth and that he’s backing-up his statements in writing.)

    • Warranty: An explanation of what happens if the piece breaks or requires a repair.

    If your jeweler doesn’t offer these documents to you, ask for them. If he refuses, consider

    finding a new jeweler.

  • When to downgrade when selecting diamonds:

    The second most requested piece of jewelry (after an engagement ring) is a matched set of diamond stud earrings. Elegant, timeless and worn with everything, diamond studs are a staple of every woman’s jewelry collection. Unlike her engagement ring, which she’ll show-off and look at herself one million times during her lifetime, she will never see the diamonds in her ears. And no one else will closely examine those diamonds either. So it’s okay to downgrade the quality in exchange for a larger pair.

  • What should I consider when selecting a jeweler:

    • Always choose a jeweler who has graduated from a recognized educational institution (such as the Gemological Institute of America) and is a member of a professional trade association (such as Jewelers of America), that requires the highest  ethical standards of its members and provides them with ongoing education.  These are your first indications that this jeweler is a serious professional, worthy of your trust.

    • Never be afraid to ask any question and keep asking questions until you are fully satisfied.  Jewelers know that jewelry shopping can be intimidating.  A professional really does want you to make the right decisions.  A patient and supportive jeweler signifies honesty and integrity.