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Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware)
Your trip will provide you with memories that will last a lifetime. If you decide to purchase gems or jewelry as a more tangible reminder, there are some things you should keep in mind. When you leave the U.S., you leave behind the consumer protection laws and legal recourse that we all take for granted. For centuries throughout the world the basic rule of commerce has been that it is the buyers’ responsibility to know what they’re buying and how much it is worth; and so it is today. The intrinsic value of gems and jewelry crosses international borders, so be suspicious of any unbelievable deals and huge discounts; but, bargains do exist for the astute shopper. Make sure that you have and understand your return privileges through the cruise line or your credit card company.  If necessary, we can provide the independent appraisal that is usually required.  ALWAYS READ THE REFUND POLICY ON THE BACK OF THE RECEIPT BEFORE YOU PURCHASE. 

Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Your stay in port will be temporary. Any merchant you deal with doesn’t expect to ever see you again and they are not trying to build a long-term relationship like your jeweler back home. Returns or exchanges are unlikely or difficult at best. The cruise line, the on-ship "adviser", the store manager, and the sales person will all be paid a commission on your purchase so don’t expect unbiased, accurate answers to your questions. It’s your job to know if they're telling the truth about quality and value and to protect yourself.  If you know that you'll be shopping for gems or jewelry on your trip it might be wise to schedule a CONSULTATION with us to learn the realities you'll be facing.

A Gem & Jewelry Primer

Precious Metals
Gold, platinum and silver are considered the “precious metals”. All are too malleable in their pure state to function very well as jewelry; although, in some parts of the world they are used as pure or nearly pure metals.  In most parts of the world they are alloyed with other metals to give them strength and/or alter the color.  Since pure gold is "24 karat", the term karat when used with gold refers to how many 24ths pure gold is present in the alloy, by weight.  Sometimes the purity is expressed in 3 digit numbers representing decimals.  It might be 18K (18/24ths pure gold), sometimes stamped “750”, 14K or “585” or 10K or “416”. Platinum can be marked “PLAT” or “PT950 which indicates 95% purity, “PLAT 900”, or “10% Irid. Plat.” Silver can be “STERLING” also stamped “925”, or “900” silver (called “coin” silver). Without these fineness marks the jewelry may or may not be made of precious metals. Even if present, outside the U.S. there may be no legal assurance that they are accurate. The U.S. also requires that a “maker’s mark” to identify the manufacturer is stamped on precious metal jewelry along with the fineness mark.  Look for both stamps on the jewelry before you buy.

Synthetic and Fake Gemstones
There have been fake gemstones sold as natural for thousands of years. They haven’t gone away; in fact, the technology has gotten much better. Synthetic gems differ from imitations ("fakes") by possessing the same gemological properties as the natural gem, making them much harder to detect. Many jewelers are fooled and many more never test the gemstones they sell. With that in mind, always ask directly if the stone is genuine and natural; never assume anything. Gems and jewelry are very, very rarely good “investments” for making money; but, they are often great emotional investments in love and beauty. Remember, it’s your job to know and always get everything the seller is claiming in writing on the receipt.

Popular Gems

Emerald: The finest are a vibrant, medium-dark, pure, to slightly bluish-green color with very few eye-visible inclusions.  Eye-visible inclusions in emerald are very common and are sometimes called “jardín” which is pronounced "har deen".  As one of the most treasured gems in the world, true bargains on fine emeralds are as rare as the stones themselves. Laboratory grown emeralds are VERY common and often difficult to detect since they can also have eye-visible inclusions. Nearly all emeralds have been “oiled”; meaning the surface-reaching fractures have been filled with something to improve the apparent clarity. Ask the seller how much oiling is present.  It usually isn't permanent and you'll need to use caution when wearing emeralds.

Tanzanite: The finest are vivid, deep shades of pure blue to violet-blue and free of eye-visible inclusions. They will often look bluer in sunlight and more violet under incandescent lights. Fine stones will be expensive, but the medium blue, lavender and pastel shades are much more common and inexpensive.  Don't be fooled into believing that tanzanite is a good financial investment.  It is very easily damaged so consider that fact if you decide to wear it as a ring. Very convincing imitations are fairly common and not easy to identify.

Alexandrite: The finest change from vivid, medium-dark green in in-direct daylight to vivid medium-dark red in candlelight. Brazilian stones are more bluish-green and purplish-red. Stones with weak, incomplete or muddy color change will have little value. Most natural alexandrite will have some minor eye-visible inclusions. Lab grown alexandrite can be difficult to detect and is very common. Imitations are also very common. Fine quality, inexpensive stones are not likely to be natural.  Fine quality natural alexandrite in sizes larger than 3 carats are very rare and very expensive.

Topaz: Fine “Imperial” topaz is very rare and expensive, paler shades are more common, much less expensive and called “precious topaz”. The finest are vivid, medium, golden orange with red or pink over-tones and are free of eye-visible inclusions. It looks very little like inexpensive Citrine, which is sometimes called “Brazilian topaz,” “smoky topaz” or “Madeira topaz”. Blue topaz is cheap because the blue color is created by irradiation. U.S. law requires testing for residual radioactivity before it’s sold; other countries may not require testing.

Aquamarine: Sometimes confused with blue topaz, except in fine qualities. The best are vivid, medium, slightly greenish blue and free of inclusions. They can be quite large, 20-carat stones aren't unusual.  Laboratory grown aquamarine is available; but not common.  It is often imitated by synthetic spinel, glass and blue topaz.

Diamond: The value of diamonds transcends borders. Finding a bargain on a diamond may mean that something is being misrepresented. Subtle variations in even one quality aspect of a diamond can mean huge differences in value.  Always insist on a grading report from either GIA Lab or AGS Lab because many of the other laboratories have very different standards that tend to favor the seller.  Always be sure the stone has a laser inscription of the report number (it will say so in the report) and that the report is less than 5 years old.  Laboratory grown diamonds are becoming much more common and can be much less expensive.  Be aware that as with any manufactured gemstone, lab grown diamonds are unlikely to have any long term value and since their recent introduction retail prices have been steadily falling.  There are also several difficult to detect treatments to improve the color or clarity of a diamond. In the U.S. disclosure of these alterations is required; that may not be the case in your port of call.  ALWAYS READ THE REFUND POLICY ON THE BACK OF THE RECEIPT BEFORE YOU PURCHASE. 

As you shop for sparkling treasures on your travels, the more you know, the better your chances of success; but the real treasures are the joyful memories.

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More in this category: « Insuring Your Jewelry
American Gem Society
Gemological Institute of America Inc.
American Society of Appraisers
National Association of Jewelry Appraisers
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