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Insights: Indulgence

Once the soul domain of local jewelers, precious stones can now be purchased wholesale online
Matt Kramer
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

Sooner or later, most men have to buy precious stones. Almost invariably, the first such experience is a diamond ring for you-know-what. You're young, you're poor (soon to be much poorer) and you're baffled. Actually, bamboozled would be a better word.

Now for the good news: you don't have to take it anymore. Sure, now you've got a lot more money. But equally as important, you know more.

I know a bit about this, as I've been buying precious stones for years. And I'm here to tell you that you'll never have to pay retail again. The whole world of buying precious stones -- diamonds, rubies, sapphires, you name it -- has turned upside down. Access to wholesale prices is no longer a matter of who you know. Today, it's a matter of a mouse click.

What changed? For starters, a not-so-minor thing called eBay. This vast Internet flea market has not just created a conduit for you to reach gem dealers, but for them to find you as well.

Take John Drummond, for example. He's a gem dealer in Virginia who freely admits, "My storefront is the Internet. I don't have rent to pay. I don't pay high insurance fees for security. I don't have any of the overhead of a conventional jewelry store. And guess what? I don't have to charge anything like conventional store owners, either."

Drummond, who sells both on eBay and through his Web site, www.operagems.com, acknowledges that buying precious stones on the Internet can seem daunting. "I understand that a certain measure of trust is involved. And, sure, I've read the same stories about scam artists that you have. Hell, I've been scammed. So believe me, I know what some people might think.

"But I've got to tell you, this is really the way for people to buy the best precious stones you'll ever see at effectively the same prices your jeweler pays. And I -- and a lot of other dealers like me -- go out of our way to make sure you're satisfied. If you don't like what you've bought or it's just not what you thought it would be, I take it right back. Everyone who's good does that."

Drummond is right about the pricing. I ask Cal Brockman, owner of Goldmark Jewelers in Portland, Oregon, whom I've worked with for years, about his actual prices. Because I've known Cal so long, I knew he'd give me the skinny on his real costs.

"You know, the traditional jeweler's markup used to be as much as 300 percent over our cost," he confesses. "That's gone now, but even so, most jewelers still charge at least 50 percent over cost and often more. I can tell you frankly that my diamond business is down dramatically. People are buying their diamonds direct. It's so easy, what with the grading system used for diamonds. Colored stones, inevitably, are trickier, but it's not that hard to spot good ones."

I suggest tanzanite as a colored stone you ought to consider. The best versions are a deep, saturated royal blue, especially when the stones are large. A violet or neon cast adds dimension to the mesmerizing blue of the best jewels. The stone was first discovered in 1967 in what is now Tanzania.


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