jewelry box

Q: How can I tell if something is really gold?

A: You can’t— at least not without proper equipment, and a karat stamp is not absolute proof, although if you’ve purchased an item from a retail jeweler, the chances are slim to none that the item will be anything other than what is indicated, but if you were to buy something at a flea market or other questionable source, “You pays your money, and you takes your chances.” (From my manufacturing days, I own “14kt” and “18kt” steel stamps, and could stamp a paper clip if I had a mind to.) If you have a relationship with a local jeweler, chances are they can test something for you free of charge— but don’t expect to walk in with a box full of Grandma’s old jewelry or your collection of tag sale finds, and expect a jeweler to spend time testing everything for no compensation.

Q: What do you think about the use of man-made artificial diamonds?

A: These all have their place, but please bear in mind that once you have purchased something containing an artificial diamond, the value of the “diamond” drops to zero, because there is virtually no market for pre-owned artificial diamonds. As a result, few buyers will consider purchasing these if you ever have occasion to re-sell them. Of course, most people who purchase inexpensive cubic zirconia (“CZ”) do not expect lasting value, but for those who have bought artificial silicon carbide (generally marketed under the trade name “Moissanite” in this country) it’s another story, because the perception of these is different. Regardless of the fact that Moissanite is relatively pricey, these artificial diamonds also become nearly impossible to re-sell to most buyers if need be — but unlike CZ, they are very durable, and will stand up to many years of wear & tear. Natural diamonds, on the other hand, are the most durable of all gemstones, and retain much of their value (especially in larger sizes of good quality), which normally tends to increase over time. The bottom line is that nothing beats “the real McCoy.”  

Joe Brandt

Q:  Can I use toothpaste to clean gold jewelry?

A: Yes and no. Toothpaste (a mild abrasive) is OK to use on plain gold items, where the application (with a soft cloth and a little elbow grease) can sometimes work well on smooth surfaces. The trouble starts when a user manages to get toothpaste into a clasp, catch, or underneath stones, where it may be difficult to remove. It’s also a no-no to use it with in conjunction with certain colored stones or pearls. (If you’re not sure, ask your jeweler.)

Q: How can I know the true value of my engagement ring?

A: This is a question that is impossible to answer without knowing background. “Value” to whom, and in what context? There is no single “true” value for jewelry of any kind; the value depends on the situation. For example: What is the “value” for an insurance replacement appraisal?  What “value” is a piece to a jeweler, if the jeweler was to buy it from you? What is the “value” of something that needs to be appraised for purpose of an estate that had to go through probate? What is the “value” of a piece if it were to be sold at auction? And of course, what would you have to pay for an identical piece if you were to find it in a jewelry store? All are “true” values, but the numbers for each of these may vary dramatically, depending on the circumstances and the item itself.


Joe Brandt is a local resident, and President of J.L. Brandt Company, offering diversified fine jewelry advisory services to the general public since 1928. Readers are invited to submit questions or comments to [email protected]. Names or contact information will not be used for publication, and all inquiries will be answered promptly.