Buying jewelry, part two: What is 'overpriced'?

What is 'overpriced'?

'Overpriced' means that, given all components of value, the item is too costly.

'Overpriced' is a subjective judgment, and a call you must make unless money is no object. But even if you're a billionaire, getting an appraisal for considerably less than what you paid for your necklace, which happened to Oprah at Bulgari, takes the charm off your purchase.

Is the Skyscraper ring by Harry Winston, shown above, overpriced at more than $350,000, or just the price of poker in certain leagues?

y jewelry is not necessarily overpriced

You may be stunned by the price of rare opals or a conch pearl, but just because the price is higher than you expect, don't assume it's overpriced. Shown, rare natural 4-carat conch pearl, $3,582 from Pearl Paradise. (Not overpriced in my opinion.)

Some novice buyers compare everything to diamonds, a baseless comparison. Only compare diamonds to diamonds.
(Some maintain that all diamonds, because of the diamond cartel's maintenance of artificial scarcity, are overpriced. But that's not going to stop women who love the gem from buying it, so again, know the value factors including price of different cuts.)

Another newbie mistake is setting a budget, then simply buying a piece that corresponds, regardless of value.

Less expensive pieces can be more overpriced
than higher-priced jewelry.

I've seen mass-produced glass beads strung on tiger tail– not even knotted–selling for three-digit sums at craft shows, incredibly overpriced.

Women go kind of crazy at craft shows, and they see us coming.

Naming names

If you're mad for the brand or a specific piece, you will not agree, and lord knows the stuff sells: David Yurman, Pomellato, a lot of current Tiffany, Cartier, Mikimoto, Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arpels production pieces.

Are those VC&A Alhambra clovers, a dozen or so mother of pearl stations on gold chain, worth over $10,000? Not only do I say overpriced, do I want something so ubiquitously knocked off?

Judith Ripka, Roberto Coin, Gucci.

In short, many of the "fine jewelry" brands like those you'll find at Saks are overpriced.
I'm not saying these aren't pretty baubles, and if you're not dipping into your savings, you may not care. If you're value-conscious, check your local artisans and vintage dealers before shopping the big names.

For prestigious
luxury brands, the quality is very high but you are still paying a hefty 'brand tax'. For example, Verdura, whew, stunning, but worth it?

I'd have to wear some for awhile, and after you resuscitate me from the thrill, would probably decide yes even though part of me knows I'm paying a huge premium for the name.
Starting price for the Maltese cross cuff is around $12,000, and the one shown isn't a starter, honeybunch.

There are other jewelers not named here, both
famous and lesser-known, whose prices do not remotely correspond to materials and workmanship. Perhaps they think highly of their reputations or are confident of our gullibility.

What jewelry brands or designers do you think are overpriced? And who is not?

Signed pieces

Signed pieces by renowned designers will command a premium, and there is a resale argument for them. On the other hand, not all pieces created by the same house are equally valuable. A look at vintage jewelry sites like Beladora, 1st Dibs or Ruby Lane will be instructive; some designers hold their value more than others.

Just like other fine artists, there are unknown jewelers who make beautiful things.
Anyone can sign their work, so "signed piece" alone should not be a selling point.

The brand premium

When you see full page ads, look out. You are paying for them.

A friend recently visited Mikimoto's Hong Kong boutique to buy a pair of pearl studs for his daughter's graduation. He admired their exquisite Akoyas, then visited a well-regarded Hong Kong jeweler without an internationally-known name, from whom he bought pearls of the same quality for over one-third less.

Finding good value

Build your eye by haunting the best vintage jewelery shops and museums; consult books. (Shown, "7000 Years of Jewelry: An International History and Illustrated Survey from the Collections of the British Museum", by Hugh Tait.)

Look for specials and sales. Jewelry is often an impulse purchase. The items I look at ruefully in my jewel box fit this (hefty) bill. Barney's after lunch with wine, oops.

But with some patience you can find good buys. Pearl Paradise, for example, offer monthly specials. This 35 inch 8-9mm, pink to peach AA+ freshwater pearl necklace is currently a $306 special, and I'd say, given their 90-day money back guarantee, an excellent buy if you long to be in the pink.

It is unwise to pay an inflated price for a generic design. Inversely, if the design quality is high, the price will reflect it.

Negotiating price in a shop is an art. I sometimes ask (if speaking with someone I don't know), "Does the boutique have a sale at a given time of the year?" This lets the vendor know that I am price-conscious and willing to wait. She might offer a discount or at very least say, "We always have a sale in August."

When your heart and bankbook are at odds

Because jewelry is usually a luxury item, the price receives more scrutiny than clothing. (Especially from men, I cannot help adding.)

Think of a dress that enchanted you. You probably didn't factor in the cost of materials and production when you looked at the price. You thought instead of how you feel in it, and how often you'll wear it: whether it complements or extends the rest of your wardrobe and fits your lifestyle.

The same "cost per wear" principle applies to jewelry.

A piece might be well-priced and still an unwise purchase if you don't wear it. And the major reason women do not wear their fine jewelry is "What if I lose this?" Get a safety clasp and enjoy!

Linda passed up the lemon quartz honker and is still hunting for her big ring. The more
she looks, the more she's learned. Her choice will be not only a wise purchase, but an enduring delight.


Vix said…
This series is a great resource.

In terms of consumer education, I highly recommend (primarily diamond-related, but there's a colored stone section as well).

Between the consumers-turned-experts and those in the diamond industry, one can get a wealth of general or highly technical information about price and performance for branded and unbranded jewels. [Including info about old-cut (vintage) diamonds, which is why I read.]

The eye candy is somethin' else, too...these women (and men) are definitely *wearing* their pieces. And it's a pretty friendly place...I mean my only bling is a 0.5 carat old cut diamond so it's not like you have to have a minimum amout of bling to play!

Another resource for those interested in resale value is (haven't bought from them, but many Pricescopers have). The pre-owned Tiffany and Cartier tend to go fast.
LPC said…
I think it's key to separate design and brand, as you have. For designers like David Yurman, the two have become inextricably linked. You may love the design and be willing to pay for it, but not be willing to pay extra for the brand he has built. Then there's always John Hardy, right?
Anonymous said…
This is a wonderful article. I encourage everyone to shop estate and vintage dealers. My first experience shopping vintage was with Beladora. I have purchased many unique pieces from them as well as from other dealers. A good dealer will educate you about vintage jewelry, will give you the best price possible and will allow you to return their merchandise within a reasonable time frame. (Be wary of those dealers who charge an outrageous restocking fee!) I have bought vintage jewelry on E-Bay with less success and I will not purchase from E-Bay dealers now.
materfamilias said…
If I were shopping for jewelry, this would be my guide, Duchesse -- so helpful. Even though I'm not, I'm glad to be a bit more informed even in my window-shopping -- and to get a better idea of what windows to shop . . . thanks.
Shelley said…
I was interested in the idea of applying cost per wear to jewelry. Makes sense. Also, the idea that someone might not wear jewelry for fear of loosing it, which is a waste. One thing that occurs to me which may or may not influence a buyer is the idea that, unlike most dresses, jewelry can be passed down. I say this because I inherited a lot of pieces from my Aunt Rita and love wearing them and remembering her.
Anonymous said…
Excellent guide -- thank you!

I would add Temple St. Clair to the overpriced list. Beautiful pieces but way too expensive, some of them, for what they are.

metscan said…
Thank you for a thorough post. A very fine post, giving advice, I should keep in mind, when looking at jewelry. I´m a very impulsive buyer and make my picks fast. Luckily I have a family friend as a jeweler, and I know I can trust him. The price is always negotiable. I am not interested in antiques, maybe it is because I, myself, am soon antique too. Neither am I interested in ultra modern jewelry.
Belle de Ville said…
Thank you for writing on this topic. As you know it is dear to my heart.

I've never heard the term "brand tax" but it is the perfect description of what you pay to wear specific brand.

VCA "Alhambra", I do sell it because it is iconic Van Cleef and in demand, but I wonder how such little intrinsic value could demand such high prices. And don't even get me started on Verdura.

When you buy a piece new piece of jewelry at full retail it is like buying a new car. It depreciates the minute you walk out of the store just like a car depreciates the minute you drive it off the lot.

So, whenever you can, consider buying that same piece of jewlery used as an estate piece. If the piece is in great condition, you get what you want, at the right price.

Anonymous, thank you for your comments. How a store handles returns is very important.

For the record, Beladora stands behind all of its estate jewelry and will issue a full refund, including shipping charges, for all returns.

And Duchesse, the price of that pearl is totally correct.
Duchesse said…
Vix: I read Pricescope occasionally. Am amused by how some (they seem to be men) get obsessed with diamond cutting ratios. I find a lot of those huge ERs people post big... and that's all. A style very popular with Americans of our time.

LPC: Hardy is a bit more gently- priced but all of this Balinese silver work has been knocked off to death.

Anonymous: Beladora has marvelous things, lucky you! I've bought very successfully on eBay but then not looking for brands, which are susceptible to counterfeiting.

materfamilias: Sooner or later, pent up demand strikes- thanks!

Shelley: It can be passed down though styles change and taste may not be different. One of my GFs took apart a Cartier ring her aunt left her, had a boring pin made by only competent jeweler. She did not even save the mount. I wept!

Anonymous-Christine: Agree! Temple St Clair is pretty in its genre but materials do not warrant the often 5-figure prices.

metscan: Sounds like you deal primarily with one jeweler, which has advantages. My jeweler asked how I was enjoying a pair of earrings, a year after I'd bought them. When I said I had worn them only once she insisted I exchange for something I loved.

Belle: Maybe we should write a book?

And to all: If there's a piece that interests you, it's wise to contact a dealer to say "if you ever get this, let me know."

How a store handles returns is a flag for its integrity.

I love your "new car' analogy. (And just try to resell that, then you get a shock.)

Think of the treasure(s) someone could have from Beladora for the price of a new VCA Alhambra chain.
Belle de Ville said…
I just wanted to let you know that Beladora has recommended your website on the Beladora Press page.
Duchesse said…
Belle: That Pdesp is on the same page as Patti Smith is one of life's surprise delights, thank you!
Mardel said…
This series is full of great information, and inspiration too, I might add. Although I am not shopping right now, there is much good information to inform my looking, and for when I am ready, including something on Beladora that might still be available when I am ready.

I am finding that value is an interesting concept also at different stages of life, or perhaps I am just getting more selective with age, and acceptance of the fact that I too long accepted the imposition of other people's taste on my own. Once I sort out the pieces I own that are truly mine, your fabulous information can help me see through to what I actually want and "need".
Anonymous said…
Ah... value. I'd love to read more about this subject.
Duchesse said…
Anonymous: You might be interested in the new book, "The Value of Nothing" by Raj Patel. You can view a short summary on You Tube.
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