Something about traveling brings out the gold bug.
I just had lunch with my GF C., who wore ornate Indian earrings her husband brought back from a business trip to Mumbai.
"I never thought I liked gold all that much, but now I do!" she chirped. I guessed the reason: C. had owned a few pieces in 14k; DH's gift was 22k. She was enchanted by her new earrings' deep glow.
(Shown above, 22k gold earrings from Gold Palace, $340.)
C. and DH are planning a Mediterranean cruise and she's hoping to buy more jewelry at ports. She asked for some pointers.
The price of gold jewelry is based on four factors: karatage, gram weight, design and craftsmanship. The karatage and gram weight tell you how much gold is in a piece, but other crucial factors determine price: the piece's construction and design. You will also pay a premium for branded goods or creations by recognized artisans. Two important weights to consider:
1. Karat weight refers to the purity of the gold. (The word is spelled carat, abbreviated ct in some parts of the world, and karat, abbreviated k in the US, Canada and Germany.)
Do not be misled by the term "pure gold": In the US, 10k and up is considered pure gold, but a 10k and 18k bracelet will look very different. In Europe (and in parts of Asia) a number indicating percentage of gold is usually stamped, instead of karat: 10k= 417 (41.7% gold) 14k= 585 (58.5% gold) 18k=750 (75% gold)
The higher the karat, the higher the gold purity is in the piece.
Sometimes they also stamp 18K on a 14K piece. In China, the literal translation of platinum is "white gold", which is confusing.
The most popular alloys are, Europe: 18k and 14k; USA and Canada: 14k; UK and Australia:18k and 9k; India, Middle East and South East Asia and China: 22k. In Hong Kong you can buy 23.76k (almost pure gold), if you wish.
(Shown, 23k Thai Dragon bracelet, Goldbaht.)
Pure gold is always yellow but gold is rarely used in its pure form (24k) for jewelry because it is just too soft; it scratches and dents easily. If you are buying a ring with prong-set stone, the prongs may be 14k, which is harder, or platinum, far stronger than any gold alloy.
The addition of other metals to gold creates the different karatages, colours and changes in hardness, strength and malleability.
(Shown left, a sublime retro pearl bypass ring, ca. 1945 in 14k; $695 from Beladora.)
For example, yellow gold is created by alloying the gold with copper and silver; using copper only creates pink gold; white gold contains platinum or palladium, zinc and copper; green gold contains silver, copper and zinc.
2. Gram weight indicates how much the item weighs or how much gold was used in the piece. This is an important detail, since the higher the gram weight, the stronger the piece.
Pay special attention to fasteners or clasps, making sure catches work easily and are secure. After losing one necklace, I now add a security chain or upgrade to a heavier clasp, which can often be done while you wait. Clasps are a typical place where vendors to tourists cut corners.
The backs of pins and earring posts should be strong and firmly attached to the piece with no soldering marks visible. With gold chain, lay it flat and make sure the links don't kink or bend; broken gold chains are tricky to repair.
(The 22k Textured Gold Dome earrings, above left, are $1,350 from Beladora. Ahhhhh.)
There's no on-site test to ensure the karatage stamp on the piece is honest, or that the piece isn't plated, but in general, workmanship is a clue. If the clasp is flimsy, the edges rough, or the soldering is lumpy, walk away. The best "insurance" is to build your eye by visiting reputable jewelers before your trip. You could also carry an earring or ring whose karatage you know as a comparison- but this is not perfect as alloys are not the same even when karatage is.
Be sure to inspect your piece of gold jewelry carefully. Make sure the piece wrapped for you is the one you inspected. Check that the carat stamp on the piece matches the description on your receipt. Ask about a shop's exchange policy and repair service. (Some items can be repaired only by the shop where made.)
If you buy an item and leave it with the vendor for pick up later, check the contents before you leave. A friend visiting a pearl farm in China bought several strands with elegant 22k gold clasps, and found, back on the tour bus, that they had been swapped for far inferior goods. Fortunately, the tour operator was willing to send someone back to deal with the vendor.
Credit card shopping
A friend was relieved that Visa paid for a replacement of the bracelet he bought for his DF when it broke shortly after he returned home.
If you have Visa or AmEx cards, check with your bank for your card's purchase protection coverage for damage and theft. Many market vendors won't take cards, but most shipboard boutiques and many local shops will. If you pay with a card, make sure you keep both the shop and card receipts, and have the vendor record serial numbers or a thorough description of the item on both.
Make sure the vendor's name on the receipt matches the name of the shop. (I am not paranoid, this happened to a friend who bought silver jewelry in Mexico.)
A note on buying while traveling in East
Friends have returned from trips to the East saying "gold is so much cheaper there". Since gold is internationally priced, the material is not cheaper, but the workmanship is.
If you live in a city with an ethnic neighbourhood that matches your destination, go to check prices. If that's not available, research on the net. Study styles and techniques too, so you'll appreciate fine craftsmanship and make better choices. I did this before going to India; though I didn't buy gold, I helped my travel companions.
If you like antique jewelry, research prices before you go via online dealers. Don't be swayed by the atmospheric flea market, where I have seen shockingly overpriced pieces. Just because you are there does not make the piece a decent buy.
(Shown: French Victorian 18k ring with two tiny old mine diamonds, from Ruby Lane sellers Tania And Francois Adin, $1,816.)
To find vendors at your destination, research before you go, ask a local contact to take you to a reputable vendor, or talk to the concierge at a five-star hotel.
In Asia the amount of gold you are buying, indicated by weight, is the key factor in setting a price, unlike in the North America and Europe where the value of the gold itself is usually much less than half of retail price. Gold is also sold in Thailand by the bhat, one bhat=15.1 grams.
If shopping in a place like the gold souk of Dubai (Deira), be prepared to haggle and know the international price for gold by the gram, which changes daily. If you pay in cash, you can save significantly on a bigger purchase.
Beware of ports of call discount shops; it's easy to get buyer's fever, sinking into the shopping daze I call, "I'm here, it's here, I want it."
Picture yourself wearing the piece at home with your usual wardrobe. Thanks to online shops, a great deal of ethnic jewelry can be bought once you return, like this Egyptian cartouche, $315, from King Tut Shop. It's worth paying a small premium for shipping to save yourself from an impetously-chosen mistake.
Ask yourself, is it really one of a kind?
But whether in souk, shipboard or boutique, if the piece and price are right, indulge! Gold jewelry provides generations of delight.