By Carol Clarke
This is one of the most common questions I get asked by clients when I am valuing their branded jewellery. At the moment, there are so many different types of branded jewellery, with more brands springing up every month. In my opinion, there is an important distinction to be made. On the one hand, there is “true” branded jewellery and on the other, “new” branded jewellery, as I prefer to call it. Hopefully this blog will give you more insight into my professional opinion on different types of branded jewellery and whether they are worth the price tag.
When I started in the jewellery trade about forty years ago, there were a few jewellery brands that had been around for many years. I consider these to be true “brands” in every sense of the word. These were companies that were well established. Most have been in business for over a hundred years or so, and many for over two hundred years — companies like Tiffany (founded in 1837), Cartier (1847), Boucheron (1858), Asprey (1781) and R & S Garrard (1802).
It took a very long time to become a truly iconic brand, built on hard work, commitment and excellent workmanship to establish a name that would last the test of time. Many of their pieces of jewellery were and are handmade, by very skilled goldsmiths who spend many years perfecting their craft — be it goldsmithing, setting or polishing. These brands know a lot about gemmology (the study of gemstones) and use this knowledge to source high quality gems for their pieces. Many of these brands are quite expensive in comparison to a “generic” item of the same merit, but they do carry the “brand” name on them. You are paying for this name and legacy in the fact that they have stood the test of time, due to the high quality of their workmanship and gemstones. Most true “branded” jewellery is very well made. With care, it will generally last a lifetime without needing a lot of repair work. Long term, I believe it is worth the price. Another benefit to buying true “branded” jewellery is that it can be resold for a good price. Many unique or limited edition pieces can actually increase in value, especially if they have any providence attached to them.
Now, on the other hand, we have “new” branded jewellery. This jewellery is generally designed by people who know nothing about making jewellery. Usually the people involved are already famous and / or know how to use social media to their advantage to market their “designs.” It seems now anyone can become a “jewellery designer” overnight. We have footballers’ wives, singers, models, social media influencers, accountants and more making their own new brand today. Once you have fans or the ability to use social media well, you can be seen as “fashionable” or “cool” — and then people will follow without checking any credentials!
As a jewellery valuer, I have seen a lot of this jewellery up close and have been asked to value it. Most of it I was not able to value as the value I would put on the item would be a lot less than what was actually paid for the item. This would not be of much help to the client. Most of this jewellery is very badly cast with many manufacturing faults and full of porosity (tiny holes due to bad casting). It is often very badly finished with sharp edges sticking out, not filed nor polished correctly. The metal used for these pieces is of such bad quality that it requires a lot of work in the future to repair them (if it is even possible). Many of the pieces are set with diamonds full of carbon and fractures that any good jewellery maker would never use. This is why they have not been “fashionable” before now — because they lack quality. The gemstones used are of a bad quality and their lasting power is nothing compared to a Tiffany or Cartier piece of jewellery. Often these bad gemstones are so full of fractures that they could fall to pieces from a small bang at a certain angle. They will certainly not last the test of time like a “true” branded item.
As these pieces of jewellery were “designed” and “made” by people who know nothing about gemmology nor the manufacturing of jewellery, then they have no idea about how long this jewellery will last — or perhaps they don’t even care? However, many of these “new” branded pieces of jewellery are sold at astronomical prices just because they have some unknow or obscure name on them. Many of these brands sell a lot of engagement rings, which I find quite astonishing that someone would pay €10,000 for such a low quality product. Many of these so-called “brands” use literally anything that they find on the ground and give it to a caster to cast — they don’t even sit down and make their first original piece of jewellery by hand. And yet, they market this as an amazing, unique piece of handmade jewellery… I think that many people who buy this type of “new” branded jewellery are just following the crowd, unaware of the money they are spending on inflated prices. I think if people knew how low quality the designs, gemstones and craftsmanship involved are, then they would think twice about what they were buying.
In my opinion as a goldsmith and a gemmologist, I would most definitely advise someone to spend their €10,000 on “true” branded ring, rather than on a “new” branded ring from someone who does not know anything about good jewellery making. Today, there are very few people who want to spend years and years doing proper studies in gemmology or an apprenticeship in goldsmithing. They would rather take a short cut, like most of these “new” branded jewellery designers. I predict that many of these “brands” will not be around in another ten years, as all their appalling work will backfire on them. I have seen this happen many times in the past forty years. Only the excellent survive this trade, so you can be sure if a company has been around for one or two hundred years, they are really good at what they do. I hope I have thoroughly answered this question now.