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Monday, November 15, 2004

Gems, jewels or baubles

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Ask the pros

Originally published WHAT-TO-DO - FREEPORT/LUCAYA & GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND - JAN 2004 © Etienne Dupuch Jr Publications Ltd
Freeport and Lucaya are blessed with a host of outlets for quality gems, jewels and jewellery. They also have a tax, pricing structure and distribution system that makes buying them in Grand Bahama financially rewarding.

But how do you tell the gems from the baubles?

"The average person can't tell a diamond from a cubic zirconia," says Wayne Chee-A-Tow, CEO of Hillside Investments, which owns and operates The Colombian stores at the International Bazaar and Port Lucaya Marketplace.

"The layman has to depend on the reputation of the jewellery store and you can tell that by the brands that it carries."

The four "Cs"

The quality of gems and jewels - the terms are interchangeable - is based on their "cut, colour, clarity and carat (weight)." Their value is based on a combination of rarity, clarity and weight.

Subtle variations in any of the factors can make a considerable difference in the beauty and value of a gem.

Precious stones - diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires - are weighed in carats. A carat is a fifth of a gram (200mg) or about 1?142 of an ounce. A carat is divided into 100 points, so a ruby that weighs 78 points is called a 78 pointer. Size and carat weight are not identical. A shallow cut stone that weighs one carat will seem much bigger than a deep cut stone of the same weight.

Specific gravity

Stones of a different specific gravity are different in size. A one-ct emerald, for instance, with a specific gravity of 2.7 will be larger than a one-ct sapphire with a specific gravity of four.

Specific gravity is the ratio of the weight of a substance to water. A ruby, for instance, has a specific gravity of four. This means it is four times heavier than the same volume of water.

The demand for jewellery changes with fashion, according to Chee-A-Tow. "Emeralds go up and down in popularity. Ten years ago emeralds were the number one seller. At the moment diamonds are strongest, with the semi-precious tanzanite second and emeralds third."

The number one rule in buying jewellery is know who you're buying from, and trusting their judgement, say the experts.

You should also know what recourse you have and the store's policy on repairs and returns. All reputable jewellery stores stand behind everything they sell.

Vivien Johnson, gemologist and manager for Colombian Emeralds International, says "the branded image" and dealing with stores with more than one location and a long reputation are a shopper's best guarantee of quality merchandise.

An organization's recognition and affiliation with the Gemological Institute of America is further assurance of quality jewellery, gems and service.

Colombian Emeralds International operates two stores at the International Bazaar and two at Port Lucaya Marketplace.

Never out of style

Chris Payne, who owns Paradise Jewels in the International Bazaar, says all quality stores offer a certified appraisal of precious gems they sell, and an exchange policy in the event of "purchaser remorse."

"Americans are pretty savvy consumers, and they look at products and compare them with what they might get back home. The key is they can shop around and compare and they reach a comfort level. There is such a huge selection here, and all the good stores guarantee the quality of their merchandise.

"Hottest thing now, throughout the islands and the whole Caribbean is tanzanite and some inlay jewellery with tanzanite and Australian opals," says Payne.

"Of course diamonds, like love, are never out of style."

Goldylocks Jewelery owner and president, Frances Gee, says buyers "have to know and have confidence in the people they're dealing with. And we, as dealers, have to know and trust our suppliers."

Goldylocks, with outlets at the International Bazaar and Port Lucaya Marketplace, relies heavily on the local residential market. "We're really not into gems, other than birthstones," says Gee. "The local people buy those and silver."

Hot item

Johnson says tanzanite is now among the hottest selling gems.

Displaying vibrant shades of blue and purple, the rarity of tanzanite has made it one of the most sought after categories of fine jewellery. Its rarity is attributed to its limited source. Tanzania, on the west coast of Africa, is the only country where it is mined.

Tanzanite is a variety of zoisite. Some stones appear more violet, and most will display both colours depending on whether it's seen in natural or artificial light.

Tanzanite is not a particularly durable stone and must be protected from knocks that could cause chipping.

All that glitters

All gold items sold at the quality shops are stamped. Pure gold is 24kt. The usual jewellery grades of 18kt and 14kt represent alloys containing 750 and 5831?3 thousandths of fine gold, respectively. The word is also spelled "carat," but is not to be confused with the carat used as a unit of weight for a gemstone (200mg).

Rings are stamped on the inside, and the marking 18kt or 750/14kt or 5831?3 should be readily visible. Other gold items, like charms, have similar stamps. In Grand Bahama shops

14kt is a common weight sold at good stores, while 18kt is standard for high-end jewellery stores. Bargains are plentiful.

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