When buying finished jewelry, components, or gemstones, you want to be certain you’re getting the quality you paid for. Each item should be carefully checked for problems affecting function, durability, stone security, appearance, and overall quality. Some companies have their own inspection routines. In case yours doesn’t, the checklist below provides a guide to common imperfections in workmanship and materials.
Beads: Is the bead work clean and each bead well-defined? Is bright cutting straight, smooth, crisp, and bright?
Chains: Is the chain strong enough for the purpose? Are all links intact? (Breaks usually are the result of poor crystallization or insufficient solder.) Are links twisted? All links should be evenly attached and the chain should lie flat.
Clasps: Do they match the piece in color, texture, and design? Does the clasp open, snap, and stay closed? Does the tongue fit properly into the box? Is there insufficient solder connecting the clasp to the jewelry?
Connecting Rings: Are they secure and sturdy enough?
Earring Posts/Backs: Are any posts bent? Are they the proper thickness? If threaded, has the thread been stripped or otherwise damaged? Does the back fit tightly?
Finish: Is the item well-polished in all areas? Look for uneven, rough, flat, or scaly surfaces. Have all nicks or file and tool marks been removed? Is the piece free of porosity? If it has a special finish, is it uniform and unmarred? Has any tarnish been removed?
Flashing: Has the mounting been cleaned after casting to completely remove any metal that is not inherent to the design?
Gemstone Cut: A round or brilliant cut diamond should have a truly circular girdle outline. Other cuts should be symmetrical. All should have the right proportions. An extremely thick girdle is distracting to the eye, adds unnecessary weight, and can cause setting and security problems. A too-thin girdle is susceptible to damage.
Does the diamond have the proper number of facets for the cut? An extra facet will affect appearance and symmetry. So will a too-large natural (a portion of a diamond’s original surface sometimes left on the girdle to indicate maximum yield was obtained).
A poor cut in a colored gemstone can result in dark spots (too deep and narrow) or washed-out areas (too shallow and wide). You’re more likely to notice if you look at several similar stones next to each other.
Gemstone Clarity: Under 10x magnification, look for bubbles, cracks, and inclusions, including dangerous feathers (breaks that reach the surface), that can make the stone vulnerable to breakage. Check facet edges, table, and planes for chips, cracks, and scratches.
Glue: Glue should not be visible on metal or the gemstone or pearl. Also, is the bond intact?
Mounting: Is it free of cracks? If a piece is supposed to be square, is it? If it’s supposed to be symmetrical, is it?
Plating: Inspect the surface under 10X magnification. It should be smooth, uniform, and free of spots or matting. If 200X magnification is available, check for micro-cracks (they’ll look like dried mud), voids, inclusions, or other flaws. Their presence indicates the plating process was faulty and the metal likely will wear off more quickly than it should. If buying large quantities of plated jewelry, you may want to check the thickness by sending samples out for analysis under X-ray fluorescence spectrometry. Otherwise, ask the plating company to give you the thickness. If it doesn’t know, you may not be getting what you paid for.
Prongs: Are prongs in full contact with stone(s)? Are they uniformly spaced and thick enough to hold the stone securely? Have all sharp edges or corners been smoothed? Do the prongs cover too much or too little of the stone? (Prongs should never exceed 75 percent of the height of the stone and should not cover more than 50 percent of the crown angle. Too-tall prongs are more likely to catch, snag, and bend.)
Also note whether any prongs are missing, bent, cracked, or broken. Breaks usually occur at the seat or lower, and can be attributed to poor crystallization, the use of excessive force when they were bent, or over-cutting. When a seat is cut, no more than one-third to one-half of a prong’s thickness should be removed. In addition, the height of each seat should be uniform.
Quality Marks/Trademarks: Are the mark stamped correctly? If a piece has been stamped with a quality mark, does it also contain a trademark?
Rivets: Do they show? Are they sufficient in size for their purpose, or are they thicker than necessary?
Shank: Is it round and symmetrical? Is it thick enough to withstand the stress of wear?
Settings: Are all stones tight within the setting? If in a channel, are stones aligned properly? Do they touch or overlap?
Note: For more about how to evaluate a setting, go to "All Set: A Guide to Evaluating Gemstone Settings," by Arthur Anton Skuratowicz.
Solder: Does solder show? Are there gaps in the solder flow? Does color match the piece? Has any tarnish been removed?