What To Look For When Buying Quality Jewelry-Extended Part 2

Are you in the market to purchase a piece of fine jewelry with gems either for yourself or for that special someone?  Aside from the considerations of: design or look; gems of choice; and type of jewelry (Engagement Ring, Necklace, Pendant, Earrings, etc.), the quality of the craftsmanship should also be looked at carefully.  Some buyers prioritize on gem size and quality.  For those who do, I encourage you to review this article just so that you can understand some elements that will surround your gem of choice.  Some buyers prioritize the look of the jewelry: how blingy; how dainty; or how elegant, rather than the actual longevity of piece of jewelry.  For that special group that can afford that priority (Must be nice), I guess you can skip this article.  For all others who do want to prioritize quality but do not really know what to look for, this is the article to read.  Here are the 6 features or considerations to look for when buying quality fine jewelry with gems.

This article is part 2 of a longer article that will be posted at the completion of the all the parts.  For a summary, please see 6 Tips in What to Look For When Buying Quality Jewelry.  Please sign-up to receive the more detailed future posts.


2.  Look at the Brittleness of the Settings in Relation to Wear

Let's continue the conversation about the malleability or brittleness of jewelry.  When it comes to what is holding the precious gem/s of choice—known as the "setting," one should consider the malleability of the metal in relation to the wear.  Rings and bracelets (henceforth, "wear-heavy" jewelry) tend to wear more than pendant, necklaces, earrings, or brooches.  So the brittleness of settings become a factor in wear-heavy jewelry and less so in pendants, necklaces, earrings, or brooches (henceforth, "non-wear-heavy" jewelry).

I have been setting gems for 25 years.  I have set all sorts of setting styles: from center stone settings; to cluster prongs; to channel setting; bezel setting; pave setting; invisible setting; and now, the micro-pave fad.  One consistent observation that I notice in the long-term quality of jewelry is: 14k white gold and below (10K, 9K, etc) that have any kind of setting will have more problems holding its gems through time.  Most likely, one will need to visit your local jeweler to take care of noticeable loss of metal that is holding gemstones.

In order for gold to be "whitened" to make 14k white gold, hard, brittle alloys (mostly manganese and nickel) must be introduced to gold to make it more white.  14k rose and 14k yellow gold are not as brittle as 14k white gold because the alloys involved are more malleable (silver and copper), but are more brittle than 18k or platinum.

Whatever setting the jewelry is using to hold its gems, brittleness will significantly affect the strength and longevity of the setting.  The brittleness of the prong means that if a prong is caught on something and is being bent, it will more likely break or crack rather than bend.  Brittleness also causes the metal on the settings to lose metal much faster.  The less metal your setting contains, the more chances that your gems are in danger of being lost.

(Taken from our Esteemed Authorized Retailer and Jewelry Experts at Werkheiser Jewelers' Blog)

18k white gold is also a bit more brittle than 18k yellow and rose gold, but not enough to be a huge concern for reasons that I will explain below.

If you are thinking about buying non-wear heavy jewelry, the concern of wear decreases.  Therefore, your worry for your settings should be diminished (Wearing this kind of jewelry in physical activities, raves, or mosh pits are another thing altogether).

What I would recommend then, is that: If you are buying wear-heavy jewelry that have gems, avoid 14k white gold.

 If you have budget concerns and can only afford 14k gold, then stick with 14k yellow or rose gold  but also consider the "interesting phenomena" below.

Some might see the logic of brittleness and argue that malleability can also be a determent.  They would claim that if a setting is malleable then it is susceptible to being more easily bent or moved.  I would agree with this argument if we are talking purer platinum, and 22k or 24k wear-heavy jewelry with gems.  But 18k, 950 or 900 platinum have enough strength to hold a gem strongly and have less brittleness.  These parameters feel "just right" for me.

One interesting phenomena occurs with these "just right" parameters that not many people discuss online, or anywhere for that matter.  As the settings in this metal field go through wear and tear, these metals tend to "splatter" into the gem.  In other words, the type of wear that settings receive tend to be of the beating kind.  The metal gets beaten into the gems so much that the thickness of the setting gets reduced due to the fact that the metal gets "splattered" into the gem.  Although the setting metal is reduced, the metal is not lost, but rather splattered around the gem.  This splattering hugs the gem more, making the gems more secure, not less.  This special effect is more prevalent on platinum metal.  One reason that estate platinum jewelry looks so intact is due to this splattering/hugging effect.  For this reason, I value a more malleable combination than a more brittle one.  Especially on rings.

So this is the take-home point:

18k gold and 950 or 900 platinum settings hold the gemstones better than 14k, especially 14k white gold because as it wears the metal hugs gemstones wherein 14k white gold, gold is just lost.  This factor becomes more important in wear-heavy jewelry with settings holding gems such as rings.

That said, it is not enough to just buy jewelry that contain either of these preferable metals.  There is more to evaluate.  Stay tuned to the third installment.


October 11, 2016 by David Alvarado

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