While there are still not as many people shopping in the malls even as the pandemic restrictions have somewhat eased, in reality people are continuing to shop. This has been true for fine jewelry brands, according to a shop owner.
“People don’t stop buying when there’s a crisis, but they think about their purchases more carefully,” says jewelry designer Tim Tam Ong.
There has been a lot less traffic in Ong’s eponymous boutique at Power Plant Mall in Makati, but her regular clients have been setting up one-on-one meetings with her. “Some buy off the floor, others have customized orders. Jewelry is also sent for redesigning, cleaning and polishing,” she says.
“These days, people have more time to really think of what they want and they have been buying more unique pieces with higher quality and value. This can translate to purchases being more of an investment.”
For this week’s Ask The Expert, Ong walks us through what people should know about buying fine jewelry now, whether for investment or for personal enjoyment.
“It begins with the material, since it will dictate the quality and durability of your purchase,” she says.
It pays to know the differences between 1) gold vermeil or gold-plated (base is 92.5 percent silver and is electroplated with pure gold to give the golden color, which can last years if maintained properly); 2) sterling silver (durable and can last a lifetime; discolors but a quick polish will give back its natural color and shine); 3) 14k gold (made of 14 parts gold and 10 parts other metals, and is very durable); and 4) 18k gold (made of 18 parts pure gold mixed with six parts other metals, is most practical and safe to use because it’s less likely to cause allergies).
“The difference between platinum and white gold, aside from price, is their composition,” Ong explains. “Platinum is purer with 95- to 98-percent platinum composition, while white gold has a mixture of copper, nickel and zinc. Platinum is more durable than gold. The color difference of platinum and white gold cannot be distinguished.”
She adds, “Yellow, rose and white gold have to be polished and replated, but not as often as platinum. Platinum scratches more and the upkeep cost is higher, since it has to be polished and cleaned regularly. Gold is the easiest to maintain because it does not corrode or rust.”
While white gold is more durable than yellow gold, the latter is better for people with allergies and is easier to maintain, Ong says.
“Make sure that you know the kind of gemstone that’s in the jewelry. Gemstones can be natural, synthetic and imitation. Natural gemstones are found in the Earth. Synthetic gemstones are lab-grown,” Ong explains.
She advises buying from established and reputable stores, to be sure of the quality. “Reputable brands won’t ruin their name by selling jewelry that is subpar. It also gives the customer a safe feeling that they have somewhere to have their jewelry cleaned or fixed.”
Ask for recommendations from people you trust, she adds, especially if you’re buying online, which is now very popular.
Read reviews of the brand. Reputable jewelers accept returns when there is a problem. “If it offers payment via credit card, it is a sign that it is an established brand. Credit card companies will protect your purchases.”
Ong, however, stresses that a high price doesn’t always guarantee quality. Conversely, “buying from an alahera may be less costly, mainly because they don’t have the overhead costs that reputable brands have to maintain—their operations, style, status and quality.” So, it’s a risk you have to take.
The 4 Cs—carat, clarity, cut, color—determine the price of gemstones, she says.
Buying from auctions is an exciting exercise, says Ong, “but first, one must know his objective—meaning, if it is for investing or for collecting. This will set your limit in spending.”
Buying local is an option she highly recommends, since there are many Filipino brands that make beautiful, one-of-a-kind jewelry.
Ultimately, make sure that you’re buying something that reflects who you are—something that speaks to you, Ong adds. “Jewelry is not an inexpensive purchase and can last you a lifetime. It should be something that makes your heart skip a beat.”
Ong notes that gemologists these days no longer use the terms “precious” and “semiprecious” to describe gemstones, since there are now stones whose prices don’t correspond to those categories. Precious stones used to refer to the “big four”: sapphires, rubies, diamonds and emeralds. The rest fell under semiprecious.
Lab-grown diamonds have become acceptable, and preferred by others for ethical reasons versus natural, mined stones. Ong explains the difference between the two.
Lab-grown diamonds are a lot less expensive that natural ones, she says. “They do not have the same value as natural ones. They cannot be resold to any jeweler. However, they are environmentally sustainable. This is the most important factor that convinces more people to buy lab-grown diamonds. You will have peace of mind that your diamonds are not ‘blood diamonds’ and there was no child labor involved.”
Ong notes that still very few jewelers carry lab-grown diamonds and gems. “Some of them don’t believe that they are diamonds. Some people also think that it is wrong to buy them since it is against tradition and they are not naturally grown. We still don’t know how these will be valued or treated in the future. Development in technology may either increase or decrease their value.”
If you’re unsure of what you’re buying, it’s a must to bring the stone to a professional gemological laboratory, since traditional diamond testers can’t detect the difference, she says.
The gold standard for stone certification is one by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), Ong adds. But how does one tell if a certification is authentic, since most sellers claim to have them?
“The best way to check if a stone certification is authentic is by going to GIA Report Check online,” Ong advises. “All GIA certificates have a Report Number. Input it in the GIA Report Check. The grading and very specific details of the stone will be sent you.”
Jewelry is quite personal, says Ong, that’s why people choose to buy pieces that speak to them. Some also still buy or have pieces made using their birthstones.
She also gets requests from clients to have their heirloom pieces reset or redesigned. She only advises them to keep in mind the reason they want it reset, because putting it back to its original design might not be achievable in the future. “There are jewelry techniques that were practiced before, but cannot be done now,” she says.
Her final advice: “Don’t be afraid to try new styles. There are no fixed rules. It is only you who knows best—which jewelry speaks to you. Enjoy, evolve and have fun!”