Recent advances in gem treatments and synthetic stones have made buying gemstones much more of a challenge. As a consequence, finding a dealer or shop you can trust is a crucial part of purchasing a gemstone. It is also important to see the stone in person rather than in a picture – a flat, static image will never give a true representation of the stone.

Guidelines for buying

Be Polite
Gemstone dealers are, on the whole, honest and do the job because they have a passion for gemstones. Most are not trying to dupe you, so please don’t try and get a price reduction by being rude about their stones. If you denigrate their goods you will lose their goodwill and any possible discount – courtesy works better! When looking at a gem dealer’s stock, don’t automatically take a stone out of a box without asking. Traders have invested a huge amount of money in their gemstones, so many prefer to handle the stones themselves. If you damage or break a stone when handling it you should offer to pay for it because the dealer will have lost the money on it.

Research market and local Pricing
Before you buy a valuable gemstone, try to do some homework. For instance, if you are planning to buy a quality ruby, get to know the carat prices of the different types and grades. Then you’ll know if the shop or dealer you’ve gone to is overcharging. Bear in mind that a shop will have to double or triple the cost price of a stone to cover overheads such as rent and staffing. A smaller independent dealer generally won’t have those overheads, so the prices should be lower.

Look out for “improved” gemstones
Be aware of the common gemstone treatments and get to know which gemstones are most frequently treated. Coral and jade are often dyed, while a great deal of lapis lazuli and turquoise is reconstructed. If buying a valuable gem, ask a laboratory to do a grading report on colour treatment. Get as much background information as possible from the dealer. If you don’t understand what the dealer says, ask for an explanation; don’t feel embarrassed.

Fools rush in
If you see a stone that you really like, try to camouflage your intentions and avoid becoming over eager. Wait for the dealer to offer the price first, and then wait a while before responding. It is sometimes helpful to take a disinterested third party with you when buying to make your decisions more measured. Don’t feel pressured or bullied into taking a gemstone if you’re not certain about it.

Some gem dealers and shops will allow you to take a stone “on appro”, in other words, to borrow the stone for a set period to show a customer or consider whether a gemstone is suitable for a design. If you take something on approval, you must return it within the specified time – don’t sit on it for weeks or you will lose the goodwill of the dealer. The goods are your responsibility while they are in your possession; you will have to pay for loss or damage.

Get a receipt and a valuation
When you purchase a gemstone, ensure that you get a detailed receipt stating exactly what the goods are: the type of material, the carat weight, whether the colour has been treated, details of the clarity or flaws, dimensions and cut. If a shop or dealer won’t do this (and guarantee the goods), you should seriously consider going elsewhere.

Buy on the internet
The Internet might provide us with a fast, easy and private means of purchasing basic goods, but in the case of gemstones, it’s far from ideal. Internet sales can lock you into a deal when you haven’t had the chance to see or compare the gem firsthand, and the returns policy will often only allow you a very short period of time to inspect the goods, or the vendor might insist on an exchange rather than a full refund of your money.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reported that information given in support of online gem sales is frequently inaccurate, incomplete or unreliable (bogus lab reports have been used to increase the buyer’s confidence). The goods tend to be overpriced and sometimes are never delivered. The main reason for these problems is that the vendors don’t usually have track records or reputations that they need or wish to maintain.

That said, if you overcome these issues by buying from a reputable dealer on the internet who can provde a trustworthy description, detailing all flaws and if relevant artifical colorings and also provide a valudation and a gurantee, then it might be worth rolling the dice. I know of one jeweller who has done this with great success – see www.byronbayfinejewelry.com.au

BUYING AT TRADE EVENTS
Trade shows tend to be noisy, short of space and packed with people, and they usually have appalling lighting – all of which make it very difficult to assess a stone accurately. Traders often return overseas after the event, making it difficult to return faulty or misrepresented goods. To get a good deal, you’ll need to be fast and accurate at assessing a stone and be able to stand your ground with some very persuasive dealers. Gems that have undergone diffusion or beryllium treatments can be hidden easily at events like these as on the spot testing is not possible

BUYING FROM A REPUTABLE DEALER OR SHOP
A shop or an established dealer will give you much greater peace of mind when you buy gemstones. You’ll be able to check their credentials and how long they’ve been in business, get recommendations from other customers and ensure that they have a fair and clear returns policy. Most importantly, a well-known shop or dealer will guarantee merchandise by stating exactly what the goods are on a receipt and will always agree to a lab report. You will likely pay more, but you should either get what you had though you were getting, or at least have remedy to get it if you did not.