Is it real or is it not? The advent of expensive, precious metals (isn’t that why they call them precious?) has brought new technology that can mimic or be an alternative to buying actual fine jewelry. Today it’s hard to tell the difference between fine, looking fine and not-so-fine.
Okay, you ask, “What exactly is the definition of fine jewelry? This can be a touchy subject, especially to those of you out there who think that jewelry purchased from Walmart or K- Mart falls in that “Fine Jewelry” category. I can assure you, it does not.
It also rules out anything that is 10 karat gold or sterling silver, including gold and platinum plated sterling (Still no). I’ve seen some high priced, fancy-named designers try to pass off stainless steel or titanium pieces, even leather sometimes, adorned with real gold accents, as fine jewelry (Ah, big no again). I also hate to break the hearts of those who love the artsy crafty gold-plated, wire wrapped rocks found at most flea markets and art shows (A huge no!).
Maybe now many of you sort of get the point, or some now have hurt feelings. Better yet, many of you may have come to the conclusion that I’m a big fat obnoxious pompous jewelry snob… That would be correct.
I have been a practicing master goldsmith for the better part of forty years, and have had to endure either restoring, repairing, patching or pronouncing the demise of thousands upon thousands of pieces of jewelry. Back in the good old days (Before the 2000s) I rarely rated a broken piece of fine jewelry D.O.A. (Dead on arrival) or F.U.B.A.R. (My military brethren need no explanation to this term).
My fellow goldsmiths and bench jewelers all lament about the same thing; the junk we are called upon to repair is like working with a hand grenade with the pin pulled out, and you never know if it is going to fall apart or explode while you are working on it. It’s a pride thing to actually repair the un-fine stuff and if you can’t achieve absolute perfection at least give it back to the customer better than it was when it came in.
Fine jewelry has a quality and substance that even in the event that it breaks it can be easily (most times) repaired because it is made from solid precious metal, meaning 22 karat, 18 karat, 14 karat, platinum or even palladium. Anything else is not fine jewelry. The same thing holds true to what kind of supposed gems are incorporated in the piece itself. Non-gems, such as cubic zirconium and whatever cockamamie name late night boob tube shopping channels give them, such as “Russian Princess Ice,” are still an inexpensive, fake diamond look-alike. The same goes for moissanite, another diamond look-alike or substitute, only this one is expensive.
The top expensive gems are still diamond, emerald, ruby, sapphire, tanzanite, tourmaline and precious topaz, to name a few. One must also take into consideration that even these gems are available in poor and even junk quality, and when set in mediocre quality mountings can still never meet fine jewelry standards.
It’s a fact that only a small percentage of the population knows what fine jewelry really is, and I personally have hundreds of customers that belong to that special group.
The learning curve can come from poor purchasing habits when the bad choice soon became ugly, resulting in bad memories from the painful experience; or simply someone in your family taught you the difference between good and exceptional, then recommended who you should trust and where you should shop. Or who knows, maybe you learned something from reading my dribble about all that glitters for the last twenty years.
Fine jewelry doesn’t necessarily have to be purchased from high end jewelers with pretty blue boxes or stores with tuxedoed security guards flanking the doorway. One thing’s for sure, with the price you will pay there, the jewelry better be fine.
Now I’m not throwing all jewelry that isn’t fine under the bus here. I have been selling a fabulous line of alternative jewelry for several years now. The brand is called Le Fonn, and yes it is cubic zirconium, and yes it is sterling silver with a heavy layer of platinum overlay (plate). The result is stunning, and it looks like fine jewelry in every way. The specially created zirconium is harder and brighter, that means it resists scratching like ordinary cubic, and it is as bright and brilliant as the best quality diamond money can buy.
Folks love it, and it sells like hotcakes, but it still not fine jewelry and wearing it 24-7 for years on end will eventually show wear and tear and it will have to be replaced.
In fact, many of my clients have been wearing the pieces for years, and most of it, especially earrings and pendants held up quite well!
I have been so pleased this summer, my workshop is humming with activity from the many pieces of fine jewelry my son and I have been commissioned to create from a simple pencil counter sketch or a sophisticated 3-D computer rendered plastic model that can be physically seen and tried on before being finished in precious metal.
A lot of fine jewelry that enters my shop was made by hand over a hundred years ago or more. Some may need a prong here or there, or may require a shank rebuild or replacement. When done correctly it will look original in every way. Some older pieces only require a simple cleaning and polishing to restore its true beauty, and honor of being able to stand the test of time for years to come.
Standing the test of time is exactly what a piece of fine jewelry should be required to achieve, so it can be enjoyed for generation to come.
Richard Alan is a designer/master goldsmith and has been Marco’s Island jeweler for over 25 years. He is the owner of The Harbor Goldsmith at the newly renovated Island Plaza. He welcomes your questions or comments about all that glitters. Call 239-394-9275 and visit www.harborgoldsmith.com.