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Avoiding Fool's Gold - How to Buy Jewelry

Buying jewelry when you don’t have a trusted jeweler can be tricky. Not Buying-a-Used-Car tricky, but there are still a bunch of ways you can trip up. Do you buy 14K gold, or 24K? What exactly is “sterling silver”? And most importantly, how do you know if what you’re buying is quality merchandise?

Here are some tips from the master jewelers at the Independent Jewelers Organization (IJO) to make sure what you give her this Valentine’s Day isn’t fool’s gold.

• The “K” in 14K or 24K stands for "karat", and it's the percentage of pure gold in a piece. 24K gold is pure gold. 18K contains 18 parts gold and six parts of alloys, making it 75% gold. 14K contains 14 parts gold and 10 parts alloy, making it 58.3% gold.
• Some people have allergies to the alloys used in gold jewelry, the gold itself is rarely a problem. The higher the gold content in the jewelry, the less likely her allergies will act up. (And hives don't mix well with Valentine's Night activities. So spring for the good stuff.)
• White gold is an alloy of yellow gold and some white metals such as silver and palladium. To make white gold look whiter, it is frequently plated with rhodium, another white metal.

• Pure silver is too soft to be used for jewelry so it is mixed with alloys to make it more durable. (As any aging 80's hair-band rocker will tell you, it needs to be durable.)
• Sterling Silver is 92.5% (925 parts) pure silver and 7.5% alloy metal and is the primary material used for silver jewelry.
• Only jewelry that is 92.5% pure silver can be called or labeled “silver”, “solid silver”, or “sterling silver”. (The rest is spray painted yellow and sold to Kevin Federline.)

• Platinum is a white metal, but unlike gold it is used in jewelry in almost (90-95%) pure form.
• Platinum is extremely long-wearing, very white, very dense and significantly more expensive than gold.
• Platinum is normally not used in the full range of jewelry products due to its higher price.

• Gemstones can be naturally mined, laboratory-created (synthetic) or imitation (simulated).
• Synthetic stones look identical to stones mined from the earth, but are much less expensive. Imitation stones resemble naturally mined stones but are usually made of glass or plastic. (Perfect for you, Big Spender.)
• If you are buying a naturally mined stone, ask if it has been treated. Gemstone treatments - such as heating, dyeing or bleaching - can improve a stone's appearance or durability, and may affect the stone's value.

Semi-Precious Gems
• Traditionally, semi-precious refers to gemstones other than the big three – ruby, emerald and sapphire.
• There are varieties of gems, though, that are equally precious, so the term semi-precious can be misleading.
• With all colored gemstones, quality rules price. Better color costs more - a lot more. Better clarity costs more. Better cut may cost a little more, and it's worth it. The bigger the stone, the more it is per carat.
• Within each variety of gemstone, prices are based on the four Cs, (color, cut, clarity and carat) with color being the most important factor.

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