Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Jewelry Repair Game

“I never do anything with my hands” and other myths of the jewelry repair game.

by Richard W. Wise, G.G.


If one more client comes in and tells me her ring should not need repair because “I never do anything with my hands”, I think I am going to spit-up. You know, just after you mention a price to do the repair she bristles like a porcupine then exclaims: “I don’t understand it! Why did it break? I always take the ring off before I do dishes.”

The suppressed premise here is that jewelry is or should be indestructible. Apparently at least 20% of the American public believes this to be true. Jewelry should not break and if it does it must be defective and therefore the fault of the jeweler.

I guess I just don’t get it! If you buy a new car, drive it off the lot and run into a light pole, the dealer is going to charge you to remove the dent. Most expensive items we buy come with a 90 day to 1 year limited warranty. Yet some consumers seem to expect that a piece of jewelry should come with an all risk warranty. Name me another consumer item that comes with the expectation of free maintenance for life?

I have had clients approach me as much as a decade after a piece was made. Case in point; Mrs. D, an active sportswoman (tennis, skiing, golf) in her middle years: we had made her a handmade 18k yellow gold solitaire engagement ring with a 5 carat blue sapphire sitting right on top of it. The ring had been worn all day, every day for a dozen years and the prongs were quite worn and the setting required a rebuild. The client didn’t understand. How could this be? Why should she pay to have the work done? After all, we had made the ring. Only after a half hour of explanation did she calm down and agree to have the work done and pay for it.

Jewelry, like all material things, is subject to wear and tear and requires occasional maintenance. Gold is a beautiful material but it is soft. Platinum is more durable but it too will wear over time. The fact is that in our post-industrial world almost anything, doorknobs, washing machines, butter knives, golf clubs, can scratch, dent or otherwise damage precious materials. Gemstones, even diamond, the hardest substance on earth, can be chipped and broken.

Diamonds or how you can break the hardest substance on earth:

I recall selling a high quality carat size princess cut diamond to a client. Six months later she returned. The diamond was broken in half and she was very upset; in her mind the diamond must have been defective. “I hit it hard but I didn’t think it could break.” I tried to explain the difference between hardness and toughness and pointed out that even diamond can break. The client looked at me like I had three heads. Many people, even jewelers, don’t understand the difference between hardness and toughness. Hardness is simply a measure of scratch-ability. Diamond, the hardest substance, is 10 on the Mohs hardness scale meaning that it cannot be scratched by any other substance but it can still break. Ruby/Sapphire, is rated 9 and is the second hardest substance; it will not scratch a diamond but it is tougher and more resistant to breakage. A crisis was averted when the client’s insurance company replaced the diamond with barely a murmur.

Some jewelry items are damaged more easily than others. Rings are number one followed by bracelets, earrings and pendants. Fine handmade pieces may be more susceptible to certain kinds of damage due to the fact that they are joined together with solder rather than being cast in one piece. After all, a Maserati requires more tune-ups than a Ford. Conversely, some handmade pieces are actually tougher due to hand forging and temper. One piece castings can cause real problems. Remember that bargain priced ruby ring that you bought in India? Remember how it began losing stones, like rain falling from the sky, as soon as you cleared customs?

Buying Antique Jewelry, the Inheritance can be taxing:

When purchasing antique or vintage jewelry bear in mind that this is a piece of jewelry that has been around for awhile. Antique jewelry is normally sold as is! You are buying a piece of history which means you are inheriting any and all problems that come with it. You can hardly expect the dealer to be responsible for re-doing a wonky repair that comes apart 50 years later.

Choose the right materials for the job:

Today we have a lot of choices and some precious materials are more durable than others. Pure gold is 2.5-3.0 on Moh’s scale of hardness, platinum is 4-4.5.0. So if you want that wedding ring to last for fifty years, platinum is your best choice.

Common dust is composed mainly of quartz which rates 7.0 on the scale. Leaving aside toughness, gemstones below this level of hardness are a poor choice for everyday wear because simple cleaning will cause minute scratching that will gradually become visible. Think about that opal that just seems to stay foggy no matter how often you rub it.

The Victorian age ended a century ago. Most of us do not wear white gloves or attend afternoon tea parties and we cannot afford a footman to open our doors or a maid to do our dishes and we use our hands all day, every day. We wear our jewelry and yes that jewelry is subject to wear and tear and may perhaps lose a stone or even break. If you are looking for an all risk warranty against all the vicissitudes of modern life don’t look to your jeweler, I suggest you contact your spiritual advisor or perhaps, more to the point, your insurance agent.

Please don't send me your repairs....

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Anonymous said...

SO TRUE! I always say to people "it's the hardest substance on Earth, but it's not a force-field..."

Mithun said...

I can relate so much to this article as I have been so many times faced the same problem with my clients. Good one.

Virgilio Elcullada Luib Jr. said...

I had bought my Mother a ruby and diamond ring for about $100 + and within just a year the ruby was lost. It was such a nice colored large ruby.

And Mr. Richard W. Wise you made me laugh about your comment "consult your spiritual adviser". What made you say that?

bill tuss said...

SO TRUE! I always say to people "it's the hardest substance on Earth, but it's not a force-field..." jewelry repair north wales pa

James Douglas said...

I have had my wedding ring fixed so many times, and have had some great jewelry repair experiences. But, I wish I could just find a better ring in the first place.

James and Kim | jewelry repair

Claudia Rosenburg said...

I think this is a really really interesting article! I also didn't know that diamonds could break. It makes sense that there's a difference between that ability to be scratched and the ability to break. I also liked the car analogy. I'm not sure why people look at jewelry differently. Jewelry also needs maintenance.
Claudia Rosenburg |

Michael Williams said...

My wife just had her birthday the other day, and she got this really pretty necklace I gave her, and we were out for dinner and as she was giving one or out good friends a hug goodbye it got snagged on their shirt. We tried to get it off but it would have ripped our guests shirt, so we had to break the necklace in order to get it off of her. I hope that I can get it fixed for her soon.

Helen Lund said...

Thank you for putting the jewelry repair issue to rest so concisely! Jewelry can, and does, break just like everything else. It's heartbreaking when it happens to something as important as a wedding ring, like mine, but repairs can be made. Some of my pieces do have lifetime warranties, but for the others repairs are just part of the cost of ownership.

Helen Lund | http:/ /

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Mary Jane Princton said...

I had no idea that so many people believed that jewelry is practically indestructible. Jewelery is definitely something that needs to be taken care of just like anything else you would buy. That is why it is so important to have your jewelry fitted properly. By doing that you can definitely prevent a lot of problems.