What girl doesn't thrill at the sight of a glittering diamond, sparkling radiantly with every twinkle of light it catches, especially when she's wearing it? A quality diamond captivates us with its endless brilliance, almost like a symphony of pure light trading moments of sheer exuberance as the myriad facets dance maniacally within its form. No matter how small or large, a quality diamond is a treasure.

While most diamonds possess a certain degree of glitz, not all are considered to be high quality diamonds. There is a distinct and measurable difference between gemstones that separates the pretty from the extraordinary. Knowing that difference is critical when purchasing a diamond, no matter the occasion.

All diamonds can be rated according to a professional grading system that all reputable and trustworthy jewelers routinely employ. Because the grading of a diamond is a matter of extensive knowledge and experience, consumers must rely heavily on their jewelers to guide and educate them in their purchase of quality gemstones. Larger gemstones, usually one-half carat or larger, can also be certified by a gemological laboratory for authenticity. Precisely because the purchase of quality gemstones is a matter of trust, it makes a strong case for buying from local jewelers.

There are four characteristics to consider when grading a diamond: color, clarity, cut, and carat weight. Diamonds range from flawless (G1 thru G3) to nearly perfect, (V1 thru V3) to slightly flawed (S1 thru S3) to imperfect (I1 thru I3), taking these four characteristics into account. Color refers to diamonds brightness. Clarity refers to its clearness, whether it bears inclusions, cloudiness or carbon spots, for example. The cut, which many jewelers believe is the cornerstone of a truly perfect diamond, refers to the structure of the stone. If the cut is not balanced correctly, is too shallow or deep, or not accurately proportioned as defined by industry standards, such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or the American Gem Society (AGS), then the diamond is considered to be of lesser quality. Finally, carat weight refers to the size of a diamond. Commonly, carats range from as small as a two-point diamond (.02 of one carat) to one carat to as large as five and six carats, and sometimes larger.

A common misconception is that the larger the carat weight, the higher the quality of the stone. While a larger carat weight is generally more expensive, it is not necessarily higher in quality. In fact, a smaller carat weight diamond that is flawless or nearly perfect could cost significantly more than a larger carat weight that has myriad flaws.

The question of value is a tricky one in the world of diamonds. 90 percent of the supply of diamonds comes from the DeBeer Corporation, which controls production of the majority of diamond mines in the world. DeBeer restricts and expands supply to control the value. In truth, there is an abundance of diamonds within the mines of the world, but DeBeer strictly controls access to them by controlling production and distribution.

Add to the literal value of a diamond the markup imposed on the stone as it makes it way from the mines to the mount to the jeweler to the consumer. In some cases, retail markup (from jeweler to consumer) can be as high as four times the stone's value. Often this is a sales strategy by the larger franchise retail stores and discount outlets in order to advertise fantastic markdowns on their inventories to entice buyers. What consumers need to be aware of is the quality of the merchandise they are buying at such incredibly low prices. It is against the law to claim a stone is rated at a specific grade if it is not. So an educated consumer can avoid any conflicts or disappointments by knowing his four Cs when purchasing gemstones. By holding jewelers to the established standard of quality, consumers can be assured that their purchase is a sound one.

The reality is that the purchase of a diamond, or any piece of jewelry for that matter, should not be done for investment purposes in the strictest sense. What consumers pay for a piece of jewelry will include some margin of profit for the jeweler, as well it should. Local jewelers traditionally have lower markups because their overhead and costs are not as high. They are able to pass more value on to their customers. Equally as important is that most local retailers are actual jewelers, versus salespeople who have little or no gemological training or in-depth knowledge. Generally speaking, the more expensive the stone, the lower the margin of profit. But once again, it inevitably comes down to trust. Jewelers who appreciate the business are more interested in satisfying their customers with quality and a fair price. Therefore, they will be eager to inform, educate, and guide customers in their purchases not so much for the immediate profit, as for building a lasting relationship that will generate future business based on trust and good will.

Roger Pete, partner of Expressions Jewelers, emphasizes the importance of building trust with his customers through education in purchasing gemstones. Expressions is retail and manufacturing jewelry store, offering all manner of fine jewelry, jewelry repair, custom design, and consultation. Roger and his partner Jim Turner have over 60 years of experience between them in the jewelry business. Roger is adamant about specific questions that he considers essential for consumers to ask when purchasing jewelry. They include : What kind of warranty are you receiving from whom, and who will do the warranty work? Did you closely inspect the piece under magnification? Who manufactured the piece? What is the quality of the assembly itself? What kind of service will you receive after the purchase? Was the color, clarity, and cut grade of the gemstone explained to you? Is the diamond closely graded to a GIA or AGS standard in writing? What is the return policy? Was the quality of the different precious metals explained to you? Do you fully understand the grading process? If the consumer will ask these questions each time, he or she will be confident in the value of their purchase. It is the jeweler's responsibility to adequately and comprehensively inform the customer about the piece, to guarantee the quality of the gemstone, and to service the customer during and after the transaction. This way, customers will feel infinitely better about their purchase."

Simon and Kim Cotran, owners of Simon's, underscore the importance of trust between customers and their jewelers as the essential ingredient to building a meaningful business. Simon's does repair work for retail jewelers all over the country. The Cotran's 37 years of experience have honed their skills enough to tackle the trickiest of design and repair challenges. Simon envisions someday using his skills to create works of art in the form of jewelry. Simon's offers a full range of gemstones, mounts, custom design and repair, and jewelry-making instruments and tools.

"I like to believe that my experience allows me to do the finest work available. Kim and I personally train all our staff and technicians to be thorough and relentless in their attention to detail. Someday, I would like to work with my hands to create beautiful and unique pieces. Our customers have great confidence that Simon's will perform all work expertly at a reasonable cost. We want our customers to return again and again. We try very hard to offer both service and quality merchandise at a fair cost so that customers realize the most value for their dollars. We appreciate the difficulty in purchasing jewelry in today's marketplace, so choosing a jeweler that is trustworthy and honorable, as well as competent and professional, is more important than ever."

Barb Schneff, representing the third generation of Schneff's Jewelers serving the Quad Cities for more than 85 years, advocates quality and value as part of what cements trust and confidence in customers. Schneffs Jewelers provides a large range of fine jewelry, custom design and repair, as well as the area's largest selection of fine china, crystal, silver, and art glass.

"Our strength is that we carry quality merchandise in all price ranges. Quality doesn't always have to be really expensive. We are very selective in who we choose as our manufacturers and designers. We don't buy en masse. We try to purchase truly unique pieces of jewelry that we don't offer over and over again, as well as exceptional one-of-a-kind pieces that can't be found elsewhere. There are some styles that are classics, of course, but even in those cases the stones are always different in some way; each has its own character. Another important distinction to note is that when we grade a diamond here, if it is on the borderline of being either a grade higher or lower, we rate it at the lower grade to be as honest and accurate as possible. It is important for consumers to comparison shop. But often, the comparisons are not apples to apples. Consumers must look at the jewelry under a microscope. A discount jeweler may refer to a gemstone using the same industry vernacular, such as color, cut, and clarity, but the quality relative to those characteristics could be night and day. We believe by strictly and conservatively adhering to a professional rating system, we consistently provide the highest value for our customers."

Mike Salter, an independent broker of jewelry, considers the trust factor the key to his business success, especially because he works by appointment only. Mike buys and sells mostly diamonds, including loose gemstones and a wide variety of mounts. He also buys and sells estate and antique jewelry, consults and appraises jewelry, resets and recuts diamonds, and offers custom design.

"I am uniquely able to offer many pieces of jewelry at much lower prices because I don't have the operational overhead that retail stores do. As a result, I am able to sell my merchandise closer to my cost. The most important thing for consumers to learn is how to compare apples to apples when comparing gemstones. Trust is a big part of it. Jewelers must stand behind what they grade a stone, and most will. Regardless, consumers must always compare. For instance, is color is off in a stone, a jeweler might not mention it, and only focus on the clarity. Value is also reflected in how contemporary the style of the mounting is. There is a lot to consider, so it is very important to understand what you are purchasing. Appraisals are based on full retail value, but no one could actually sell their piece at such a price. As a result, the appraisal does not reflect the precise value. Nor should it when you consider that jewelers are entitled to make a profit. Honesty is the best policy in this business. I am pleased to be in a position to offer high quality merchandise at lower prices."

Diann High, principal in GemVisions and Pancorri Jewelry Studios, stresses that local jewelers live in the community with their customers, so trust and respect is non-negotiable. GemVisions provides services and products to jewelers, such as photography, jewelry design software, and industry specific cameras, etc. Pancorri Jewelry Studios is a small retail jewelry shop that includes many one-of-a-kind pieces, designed both internally and by selected others. Because GemVisions and Pancorri are international, they are exposed to many variations of jewelry design and manufacturing otherwise not available that provides much inspiration.

"Some of my clients shop the Internet for gemstones and come back with a list of specifications, such as grade, cut percentage, color designation, etc. But when I ask them if they have actually seen the stone, and they confirm they haven't, I question how certain they are that they even like the stone, let alone want to own it. I believe you have to see the merchandise, scrutinize it under a microscope, and investigate it personally. Purchasing sight unseen is unnecessary, and customers can get too caught up in the technical aspects of it, forgetting the satisfaction of hands-on observation and analysis that generates the final measure; does it make them happy? We are expert graders and will take them through all of that. But it is the stone itself that will delight or disappoint. As for value, local retailers tend to operate with lower profit margins because they don't carry the heavy overhead or high rents of mall locations. Also, many of the salespeople are not trained jewelers, so there can be a disconnect in terms of relevant information about the jewelry. In the end, the more informed consumers are, the easier my job becomes in providing them with a satisfying product or service."

Support the River Cities' Reader

Get 12 Reader issues mailed monthly for $48/year.

Old School Subscription for Your Support

Get the printed Reader edition mailed to you (or anyone you want) first-class for 12 months for $48.
$24 goes to postage and handling, $24 goes to keeping the doors open!

Click this link to Old School Subscribe now.

Help Keep the Reader Alive and Free Since '93!


"We're the River Cities' Reader, and we've kept the Quad Cities' only independently owned newspaper alive and free since 1993.

So please help the Reader keep going with your one-time, monthly, or annual support. With your financial support the Reader can continue providing uncensored, non-scripted, and independent journalism alongside the Quad Cities' area's most comprehensive cultural coverage." - Todd McGreevy, Publisher