The world of fine jewelry is not a simple one. There are many factors involved in determining jewelry value and the values can vary greatly within any given size of diamond or other gemstone. For example, a 1/2 carat diamond may vary from another by hundreds or even thousands of dollars because of the quality of cutting, color and clarity. Colored gemstones also vary greatly in quality and price.
Two other factors involved in jewelry pricing are design and workmanship. You would expect to pay more for a finely-made piece than for one poorly made. You must also expect to pay more for a hand-made or custom-designed item than for a mass-produced design.
The workmanship of a piece is important for both its beauty and your security. Well-balanced and interesting design and smooth polishing and finishing characterize the well-made item. Stones must be properly set with prongs that are secure yet small and uniform. Safety catches, pin stems, clips and earring backings must work well. Chain links must be firmly closed or soldered.
Since jewelry is not all the same, you are safest in patronizing a retail jeweler that is well established and has highly trained associates on staff. A skilled jeweler or gemologist understands the safety factors necessary to protect you, the customer. Not only can you rely on such a jeweler for securely made items, but you can also trust in his or her judgment on the nature and quality of gems and metals used in a jewelry piece.
The making of fine jewelry is truly an art from concept to execution of the design. After the initial sketches and models are made, one of the following processes is used to create an enduring piece of jewelry who's beauty will give continuous pleasure.
This is the term used for the fashioning of an item of jewelry entirely by hand, including melting the metal in a crucible, hammering and bending it to the desired shape, boring and sawing the necessary holes, using special tools to engrave texture on the metal, welding and soldering parts together, and burnishing and polishing the metal.
For most fine jewelry pieces that are to be made in quantity, the lost wax, or centrifugal casting, method is employed. Here, the model is carefully sculptured in wax, then placed in a flask into which plaster is poured. The plaster investment is placed in a vacuum to remove bubbles, then allowed to harden. The wax is burned out in an oven (lost), leaving behind a cavity which duplicates the original model in all its detail. The flask is then placed in a centrifugal casting machine which throws molten metal into the cavity. If many castings are desired from one model, the first casting is carefully finished, and a flexible rubber mold is made from it. Then, as many wax replicas as desired are made in the rubber mold and reproduced in metal like the original. Large molds may be made by placing many wax replicas together in the same flask and casting them at one time. A hundred or more pieces may be made by this process, allowing for large production of a quality product.
Finely machined dies are made to the desired design and shape from a piece of unhardened steel to form a hub. The hub is then hardened and forced into another piece of unhardened steel to make a sunken die. Bar metal is shaped between the two dies by tremendous pressure or a drop hammer. This type of manufacture is used for fine quality, mass-produced items such as basic ring mountings and standard designs.
Prong - Six and four-prong settings are the most popular for ladies' rings. A tiffany setting is a six-prong setting using long, slender prongs. (The term is sometimes used to describe four-prong settings.)
Bezel - The stone is set within a wall of metal. This is usually used for cabochon-cut (dome-shaped) stones.
Gypsy - The metal contains a groove to hold the lower portion of the stone.
Bead - The stone is dropped into the setting and held securely by added beads of metal.
Pavé - This is a form of bead set in which many very small diamonds are set closely together, preferable in white gold or platinum, to give the impression of a continuous diamond surface.
The Well-Made Jewelry Item
Classic examples of beautiful settings that enhance gemstones in rings are bezel set, pavé set, and a combination of prong and head set.
Mountings must be sturdy enough for wear yet not clumsy looking. Settings for stones must be smoothly drilled, round, with the underside of the ring shank polished to give a finished look. Prongs must be pushed up close to the stone to hold it securely and must be smoothly rounded. Stones must be set flat, not tilted.
Holes in beads must be smoothly drilled and accurately centered. Links must be firmly closed and of good quality metal to withstand wear. Clasps should be relatively easy to open and close, yet secure. The best have some type of safety attachment to prevent loss.
Both earrings must match closely in design, be neatly constructed, well balanced and comfortable to wear. Earring findings - screw back, clip, pierced ear wires, threaded post, or friction back - must be sturdy and in good working order.
Joints must be arranged so they do not rub or interfere with stones. Hinged bracelets must be very well machined so as to function smoothly. Catches and clasps also must be well made and strong enough to hold up under usage.
Settings must be periodically checked by a jeweler for security. Clasps must be repaired or replaced at the first sign of trouble. Pearls must be restrung occasionally to avoid weakened string.
In earliest Egyptian and Greco-Roman eras, the jeweler's art was a revered vocation. Modern jewelers, craftsmen and manufacturers continue the same fine traditions. The personal joy and pride derived from the possession of jeweled works of art have also been carried down through the generations. To aid you in selecting the highest quality fine jewelry, rely on the advice of our professionally trained jewelers at Ben Bridge.
(Information provided in cooperation with the American Gem Society.)