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Purchasing Jewelry Abroad
How to shop in a foreign marketplace
It’s easy to get swept away in the glamour and exoticism of being in a foreign land, especially when it comes to shopping. The feeling that something you see in a shop overseas will never present itself to you again, coupled with the hedonism of vacation and what seem like outlandishly low prices, can be a powerful seducer. Before you take the plunge and buy something as precious as jewelry overseas, it’s important to keep a few key factors in mind.
Buying jewelry abroad is not the same as impulse buying clothing or souvenirs—the stakes are higher, the market is more saturated, and quality of goods is harder to find. You want the jewelry bought abroad to last in the same way the jewelry you buy at home does. It should be of excellent quality, suitably priced, beautiful and useful, but hitting every one of those marks can sometimes be difficult.
If you’re hoping to buy jewelry while abroad, it is well worth your while to do a little homework first and make sure that the whole process, from browsing to customs, is conducted smartly and ethically. Read on for our tips on how to keep your foreign jewelry shopping experience as pleasant and rewarding as possible.
Before you head to the airport, spend some time digging up information on the shopping landscape of your destination. Are there large chain stores in the area, with prices similar to where you are now? Is there a thriving vintage market? Do the stores in the region have websites, and if so, what are their prices? You may find that the selection of where you’re going is similar to what you can find at home, or that the price markup is too steep to be reasonable.
Also be sure to self-educate on the global market for precious stones and metals—you should have a good idea what a diamond’s standard price is, for example, before you judge something a bargain. Your local jeweler can be a valued resource, but online gemology guides also help provide a clue.
A good rule of thumb when shopping for jewelry in a foreign place is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Signs promising deals in bold letters and self-interested salespeople want you to spend your money in their shops regardless of the quality of their products. It’s better to rely on the opinions of those without agenda in the transaction, like staff or fellow shoppers, to give you perspective on the products.
Beyond outside opinions, it’s up to you to judge whether what you’re looking at is of high quality. A visual inspection with an eye to discoloration, quality stamps, and (heaven forbid) visible glue can give you a clue, but there are other quick tests you can perform that point out fakes. Try exhaling onto what a jeweler would have you believe is a diamond—if it fogs up, it’s probably false, as a real diamond’s texture disperses the heat evenly.
WAIT IT OUT
A lot of the problem with jewelry shopping abroad is the pressure that comes with it. Every little thing you do feels like the last time you’ll ever do it, and when you see a stunning piece of jewelry calling your name, it seems as though if you don’t snap it up immediately, it’ll be gone forever—but this is simply not the case. If you’re not entirely sure about a piece of jewelry you’re considering buying, simply walk away and come back a few hours (or days, if your time budget allows) later if the thought of it continues to plague you. It’s not worth rushing into the purchase and regretting it later on, and if indeed your chance to buy it is past, it probably wasn’t meant to be anyway.
You might not feel comfortable haggling in, say, a 5th Avenue glass-counter jewelry megaplex, but in foreign markets, bargaining is the order of the day. Chances are that many of the stores you visit display markups in their listed prices with the expectation that customers will attempt to get the price down. Therefore, learning to haggle with politeness and finesse is well worth your while.
Always politely ask for discounts, and, if you’ve done your research, compare the listed price with what you’ve come to understand is the standard price point. Roll with the turns of the negotiation, always being polite and kind, and you’re likely to end up with a more compelling price than you started with—plus, you’ll enjoy the rewarding feeling of transcending the tourist sucker stereotype.
It might sound like a crime fit for an old-timey pirate, but smuggling is a real issue, and it is never worth it. Though it may be an expensive pain to go through customs with highly valuable items to declare, the cost of smuggling can be exorbitant if you get caught. Customs and Excise will determine the value of your goods based on the goods themselves (not your purchase price) and fine you accordingly if you do not follow the rules and declare your valuables—this means that you could end up paying triple or quadruple what you paid for the jewelry in the first place, or, worse, that the jewelry will be permanently confiscated. Though convenience is king, trust that it’s never worth your while to add an inkblot to your permanent record for something so avoidable as smuggling.
We wish you luck on all your travels, but if you do decide to stay domestic in your jewelry shopping, our wide-ranging selection of gems and jewels can satisfy just about any aesthetic impulse.