Is jewelry really expensive? And what do we mean by the word jewellery? What are the factors that determine the value – and as a result the price – of a precious jewellery piece?
Reasons why jewellery has a high value
If we look at the greek etymology of the word κόσμημα (kosmima), it refers to anything that adorns or otherwise embellishes our appearance. Of course, from the beginning of the history of jewelry, the choice of raw materials for creating jewelry was the rarest and most unusual materials that possessed some inherent beauty and value.
Over the years and with the evolution of jewellery making techniques, the term jewellery, in addition to precious materials, has been extended to include the style, i.e. the art of jewellery making. Therefore, the word jewellery refers to an object which is made of precious materials (precious stones and precious metals), and the fact that for its creation, arts such as design, metalworking, which processes precious metals and creates metal alloys, have been used, jewellery making, which, with the expert hands of the goldsmith, the use of fire and other means, transforms these alloys into small works of art; gem cutting and the science involved in it; diamond setting, the scientific knowledge and application of the selection and analysis of the ‘building materials’ of the jewel, with particular attention to the evaluation of the gemstones, etc.
The well-known saying ‘what you give is what you get’ applies to jewellery. Of course, we are referring to ethical jewellery buying and dealing with reputable and properly qualified jewellers. Consequently, there are clear reasons why one piece of jewellery costs more than another, the main ones being:
The quantity, quality and type of precious metal
The quantity, quality and type of gemstones
The quality and type of manufacturing
The quantity, quality and type of precious metal
Precious metals used for jewellery making, such as gold, are natural mineral ores. This means that in order for them to reach our hands, they have to go through the process of prospecting for deposits, mining from specific mines in the world, and refining so that the precious metal can be separated from the other minerals together with which it grows in the earth.
It then has to go through various types of governmental inspections, be analyzed and certified for purity, and then exported to various countries around the world where it will be tested again. There, it will be stamped with special markings so that it can be purchased by certain licensed professionals so that it can eventually be used by manufacturers to create luxury jewellery. So, to the rarity of the mineral metal – which explains part of its cost – we must add the cost of the extraction and separation process described above. Likewise, the other two precious metals, platinum and silver, have a similar path from the earth to our laboratories, with silver remaining the most economical of the three, as it is more abundant in the earth and less complicated to extract.
The type of gold used affects the cost of the jewellery
In addition to the intrinsic value of gold as a metal, the type of gold used in a piece of jewellery affects the final cost of the jewellery. Solid gold, which translates to 24 karats, must be mixed with different metals to create an alloy that can be used to make jewelry. By creating a gold alloy, we change the properties of the metal such as its color and hardness by replacing a percentage of the gold with another metal, usually silver, copper, palladium, etc. In this way, we create 18 karat or 14 karat, but also white gold or rose gold. In terms of cost, the higher the karat, the higher the value of the metal, so if we compare two identical pieces of gold, we should expect that the 18K one will have a higher cost than the 14K one.
Of course, it is now readily apparent that the amount of gold used for a piece of jewellery also affects the cost of the jewellery. Greater weight in gold means higher cost.
In contrast, base metals – which share none of the properties of precious metals – are a class of metals that includes common metals such as iron, steel, aluminium, zinc, nickel, tin and lead, among others. These have no place in fine jewellery but are used in so-called mass-produced faux bijoux and are plated to obtain, only superficially, the silver or gold colour that mimics the appearance of real and precious gold. Therefore these objects should not be called gold or white gold, as they are gold-plated or silver-plated base metals.
The quantity, quality and type of precious stones
The subject of gemstones is multifaceted and complex as the term “gemstones” refers to hundreds of different natural mineral materials, which by definition must share certain qualities such as rarity, durability and beauty in order to be included in this category. We must also consider that each gemstone has its own particular properties and quality characteristics that vary from one specimen to another. So we are not just comparing amethyst to diamond, but amethyst to another amethyst and diamonds to each other.
Gemstones are natural minerals, meaning that they grow freely in the earth without any human intervention. Being natural minerals, each one requires a specific geological environment with particular conditions of pressure and temperature to grow, as well as specific chemical components in abundance, but also stability in the growth environment as well as an extremely long time that far exceeds human measures.
The extraction of gemstones is an arduous, time-consuming and very expensive process. For example, diamond mining starts with the search for deposits using aerial means (special airplanes and drones), radars, robots, but also specialized scientists and other special equipment created for this purpose. The search and analysis of the ground can take years, and by the time a mine is finally developed tens of millions of dollars may have been spent. Mining – especially from primary sources – requires heavy equipment, and the separation of the mineral from the others is done in huge structures built near the mines for this purpose and equipped with special machinery and technicians.
This is followed by analysis and evaluation of the minerals, after which the crystals are transported to special laboratories for cutting. These laboratories are equipped with special machinery of great value and specialized technicians who handle the gemstones, which continue their journey to the gemologists who will analyze their quality. Of course, the geological environment in which each mineral grows and the physical properties of the mineral itself determine how the extraction is managed.
Extra info: See our other articles for more information on specific gemstones or contact our experts to find out more about other gemstones.
The correct evaluation of gemstones
The science of gemology, the grading and identification of gemstones and diamonds, is a specialization necessary for the proper selection of gemstones to be used for each piece of jewelry. This is because each gem has its own unique combination of optical and physical properties that makes it more or less suitable, depending on what kind of jewellery we are referring to and what use we want to make of the jewellery.
In terms of the cost of gemstones, there are some that are generally more affordable than others. This depends on the rarity of the gemstone, the chemical composition of the mineral, the environment in which it was created in the earth, and the difficulty in mining it. Other factors that affect the cost of gemstones are their quality, i.e. their clarity, colour, size and cut quality. Also, the cost of the jewelry is naturally affected by the amount of gemstones it will carry.
It should be mentioned that rhinestones and plastic or glass stones cannot be considered gemstones, they are not used in precious jewellery and do not share any of their properties.
The quality and technique of jewellery making
Frequently, precious jewellery is one-of-a-kind pieces, that is, projects that are completed by creating a single piece of jewellery. This means that the study, design, selection of materials, carving of the mould, casting of the metal, creation of the jewellery, setting of the gemstones and finally the finishing are all dedicated to one piece.
In general, precious jewelry is characterized by the quality of its materials as described above, which is accompanied by the quality of workmanship, where every detail must be perfect. There is certainly no room in this category for mass-produced items, but it is about handmade jewellery made by experienced jewellers, using hand tools, or a combination of techniques that always need the expertise and control of the experienced jeweller.
Of course, metalworking is essential for the preparation of the metal to be used. Typically, a team of experienced professionals, each with their own specialization – designer, goldsmith, CAD technician, gemologist, diamond setter – work together to create a luxurious piece of jewelry. The time, care and expertise of all the professionals contribute to the successful creation of a precious jewel, worthy to symbolize and crown the most important events of our lives.
Reconstruction of precious jewellery
It is also good to mention that jewellery made of precious metals has the possibility of reconstruction, that is, changing the design by using the same material, or else recycling the gold and precious stones by using them in a new piece of jewellery. This adds even more value to a piece of jewellery and of course is something that is not possible with items made from base metals and rhinestones.
So when we buy a Jewel, its price is explained by its value. It is about rare and precious materials, about the expertise of the professionals involved in creating the jewelry, about works of art that we wear on our bodies, about a powerful symbol that must be precious to have the power to carry the meaning we give it, about an object that becomes part of our personal and family history, and about quality that lasts through time.
Eva Kountourakis GG, AJP, JBM
Gemology Instructor, Jewellery Consultant