Top 5 questions you should ask a jeweler before you drop off your jewelry for repair.
It’s time and you know it. You have to find a jeweler who can restore or repair the heirloom jewelry your Grandma gave you or the engagement ring with your specific diamond that was painstakingly selected so many years ago…
Should you bring it to a large well-known corporate jeweler or a small local jeweler? Do Google and Yelp reviews tell you enough to know the true skill-set of the jeweler working in the shop? How can you be sure the work is done correctly? How can you know the diamond you leave will be the same diamond you get back? Can you use the same method you use to choose other repair services? If you were to interview a jeweler, would you even know what to ask?
Here are the 5 best questions you should ask and the answers you should consider before you walk away from your precious jewelry:
1. Will my jewelry be sent out to a different location?
Right answer: “No” or “Only in special cases with your permission”
Even if a jewelry store has a repair shop on the premise, this does not insure that your jewelry won’t be sent to a different location to be repaired. Many jewelry stores have shops with beginning or mid-level jewelers who can size rings, solder chains and cracks in rings, and even do basic diamond setting. Unless you ask, you may not know that they typically send the difficult “special” work to an outside jeweler with higher skills. Within the week or two that they will have your ring, it may be shipped to another state or hand carried to another site. The risk you unknowingly face is the safety of your ring in transport and the honesty/security of the staff in the second shop. Every year, hundreds of packages are stolen from FedEx, post office, and UPS trucks that have been identified to be carrying packages from jewelry companies. These are easy targets for professional criminals who figure out that a jewelry store typically ships a package every week, at the same time, full of valuable jewelry. You should know if your jeweler is sending your jewelry out, where it will be sent, if it will be insured during transport, and if they vary their schedule so that would-be thieves cannot target the package with your precious jewelry.
2. Will the same jeweler who does the diamond setting work also do the sizing, polishing, and finish work?
Right Answer: Yes
Most jewelry shop owners hire mid-skilled and singularly skilled workers to do the easier repairs so that their highly skilled diamond setters and custom jewelers are not being paid top dollar to spend their time on jobs that could be done at a cheaper hourly rate. This seems logical on the surface, but consider the track that a custom ring or difficult setting job takes when it leaves the master jeweler’s bench.
The next stop for a ring will often be for sizing. The ring is now cut at the base and then bent to close the gap or opened to accept a new piece of gold. It is soldered closed and the shape is made round again using a jeweler’s hammer and file. The diamonds that were previously perfectly-set have had their seats (the metal that was custom cut and shaped to hold them perfectly in place) bent, distorting the metal that is necessary to hold the diamonds securely. [This does not even address the jewelers who “stretch” rings instead of adding gold, which can only be done in the case of heavy plain wedding bands and is a never to be done otherwise, but might be done to save money by a less-than-ethical jeweler].
Once the sizing work is finished, the ring often goes to a third worker who knows the singular skill of polishing jewelry. The job consists of removing scratches and metal marks using a high speed rotating wheel to get down to the layer of metal that can give the desired shine. This means that metal is removed from the very prongs that are holding the diamonds or gemstones in the ring. Removing too much metal can be a matter of a few too many seconds on the buff wheel which can equate to years of wear taken away from your ring. Because the diamonds may not be loosened by this process, the job moves onto cleaning and is sent back to the store from which it came. You are paying top-dollar for a quality repair, but you don’t know that the ring will need to have more gold added to the prongs in five years instead of ten, or that you may be bringing the ring back for tightening many times in the years ahead (each time your ring will be put through the polishing process again).
If your jewelry shop allows their master jewelers to both start and finish the same job, your diamonds will have their seats reshaped to fit their edges after sizing. The same jeweler who set the diamonds will also polish the prongs. This jeweler knows which seats were cut shallow and which seats were cut deep to fit the shape of the diamonds and knows where to polish freely and where to polish carefully to maintain the fine quality of the work that was done. The jeweler gets to inspect the final product and has the ability to correct any problems right away.
3. Will the jeweler take necessary measures to give you the ability to confirm that the diamond you drop off will be the same diamond you pick up?
Right Answer: Yes
An honest jeweler will be wiling to take the time to show you your diamond under a microscope or GEM CAM so that you can recognize the inclusions unique to your diamond. If using a GEM CAM, you will be able to take a picture with your phone to keep with you. You should also be shown the diamond that you are picking up so that you can leave the store with confidence and peace in the knowledge that your diamond has been safely returned to you. Though a jeweler may not initiate this conversation, a good jeweler will be more than willing to offer this service when it is requested. Thollot has a GEM CAM (see our blog: How Can I Know I Will Get My Original Diamond Back When my Ring is Repaired)
4. Can I really determine the skills of a jeweler before I leave my jewelry?
Right Answer: Maybe
As with any other service, you will get a better understanding by asking questions. When a jeweler responds to these questions, you should be able to detect whether he or she is comfortable or feels defensive, whether there is a willingness to explain the process or if you feel like you are being a bother, whether there is a thorough knowledge of the process or you are speaking to someone who is so disconnected from the actual people who do the work that there is no way to know. It is better to trust your instincts in this matter if you feel at all uncomfortable.
5. (This question is one you should ask yourself): Can Yelp and Google reviews tell the whole story on quality of workmanship?
Right Answer: No
Unlike appliance, auto, and most home repairs, it is difficult for a layperson to judge whether a jewelry problem has been fixed or if a repair has been done correctly. Your ring will look new when you pick it up simply because it has been polished and cleaned. The initial great feeling from a new looking ring can motivate a customer to write a good review and even report a wonderful experience with the store. It might not be until years down the road that a substandard repair reveals itself. Google, Yelp, and Consumer Affairs reviews can easily warn you which jewelers should be avoided, but you should know much more than this before you allow your valuable and irreplaceable jewelry to go “under the torch or hammer” of a jeweler without the first knowing the skill level of the jeweler who will be working on your ring. You should be allowed to speak to the actual person who will do the work on your complicated repair, even if only for a minute or two.
At the very least, a member of the jewelry store’s staff should be able to show you your jewelry under a loupe or microscope before it is repaired to verify that a problem exists. You should be told what will be done to your jewelry to correct the problem and what the exact price will be when it is picked up. If the exact price cannot be determined until a later time, you should be told that you will be able to approve an exact price before any work will be done. When the work is finished, a good jeweler will be happy to show you your jewelry under a microscope, loupe, or GEM CAM again so that you can confirm that the work was done according to the previous description. Again, you might need to ask for this service. This is a time consuming process and might not be standard with every customer, especially returning customers who have worked with the jeweler before or who have been referred by someone who has. If you ask for this service, a good jeweler will see it as an opportunity to shine.