Purchasing jewelry abroad is a touchy subject, because individual motivation varies so widely. You may find yourself in the most wonderful place on earth and in the company of a significant other where it is justifiable to want a memento. Then there is the scenario where perhaps you saw exactly what you have been looking for on a previous trip. Regrettably, you were unable to find anything like it back home, and you’ve marked it on your to-do list for the next time you’re at that specific destination.
Perhaps you discover a specific local style that is as though it were custom-made for you, and you’re absolutely certain there’s nothing even close to it where you live. Maybe you’ve been hunting and identify a studio that not only has “the style,” but also claims it works with organic materials such as bones or teeth.
Every jeweler can tell you the story of the pre-meditating customer who came in for advice on what they should know when purchasing gems and jewelry abroad. The concern of losing business to the competition in another part of the world aside, it is safe to assume that this otherwise most rational customer has already entered a kind of parallel universe where the expectation of making the bargain of a lifetime overrides all other considerations.
Richard Hughes, a leading gemologist and author of the classic Ruby & Sapphire, among others, is one of the world’s undisputed authorities on the subject. In his essay Buying at the Source he develops what he calls “Dick’s Law.” It states that the closer you get
to a mining area, the more man-made gems (synthetics), look-alikes (imitations) and treated gems (those that have undergone a procedure of some sort or another to enhance their appearance) will be floating around in direct response to the demand created by visitors who stand out among the underprivileged locals. Unlike regular professional dealers who blend in and whose business entire clans depend upon year after year, it’s easy for locals to spot the one-timers, and may feel less restraint in adjusting their business practices accordingly.
Even if you are in an urban gem and jewelry center, you are well advised to be on your guard. Many people have established lasting and rewarding business relations with vendors of all sorts abroad, including jewelers and gem dealers, but what if you have purchased an item and after a few weeks a manufacturing fault begins to show? You contact the vendor and he/she may be most apologetic. Even if they invite you to return the item for repair or exchange, your situation is not unlike an online purchase. The return postage, insurance and customs arrangements are likely to be your responsibility. Your alternative is to take the item to a local jeweler and you may have to accept that they cannot take responsibility for another studio’s quality issues.
You may live in a cooler climate than where you bought that fabulous ring a few weeks ago. As a result, your fingers are less bloated and sure enough: come winter you need to have the ring sized down. After all, you don’t want to have to go through life with
one fist perpetually clenched in order to avoid losing your ring. Even an everyday service item like a sizing can turn out to be an expense that might well tarnish the pride of your acquisition.
It is almost standard practice for people to have their jewelry purchases from abroad appraised first thing when they return home. If you were overcharged by the jeweler across town, it is up to you to go back and see what might be done, or take the necessary steps. But what are your options when you are dealing with a seller from another jurisdiction after the appraiser back home has informed you that you overpaid for damaged, returned, even rejected goods—even by the most generous domestic standards? What if the goods were downright misrepresented?
At one point in its journey, your purchase will be entering your country of residence, which means that you will have to declare it. Acquiring gemstones or a piece of fine jewelry for the benefit of the bargain alone is the worst justification for purchasing abroad. A purchase for purely personal reasons such as style preference, sentimental value or from a referral make a lot more sense. But don’t ignore your good sense of practicality. Depending on your country of residence, expect the unexpected in terms of additional expenses. They may range from the common risk in dealing with unknown vendors to such standard servicing options as maintenance and repair. And if you are considering non-declaration at customs, your approach should be straightforward. Don’t—it’s a bad idea.–Robert Ackermann G.G.