Jewelry Shopping


    Where do you most enjoy shopping for jewelry (outside of North America and the Caribbean)? That’s the question we presented in a previous issue. We asked you to be specific about where you bought favorite pieces of jewelry, whether in a store or from hawkers on the street, for instance, and to include when you made a specific purchase and how much it cost. We welcomed any helpful tips as well, plus pictures (with captions).

    Following are responses we received. If you have something to add, write to Jewelry Shopping, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com (please include the address at which you receive ITN).

I like to bring home unique, handmade jewelry crafted from local materials. One of my favorites is a 16-inch necklace carved from a coconut that I purchased in the fortification ruins of Portobello, Panama. A unique face is carved into the central bead. My find cost a mere $5 in December ’03 and was purchased from one of three men roaming inside and on the fortress walls.

CYNTHIA RIGNANESE
LAKE WALES, FL

On an Elderhostel trip to Honduras, Belize and Guatemala two or three years ago, I found a jewelry store where they manufactured jewelry made with jade from Guatemala. The name is Jades, S.A. (4a Calle Oriente, No. 34, P.O. Box 213, Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala, C.A.; phone [502] 832-3841 [through 3845], fax 832-2755 or visit www.jademaya.com), which advertises itself as “the original jade factory and archaeology museum.”

I do not remember prices, but I found a beautiful jade necklace for my wife and purchased a set of dark-green jade dice.

JOHN HOLLJE
SAN ANTONIO, TX

Shopping should be a pleasure on any vacation or business trip, and the most pleasurable place in the world to shop for jewelry is Turkey. The wonderful thing about Turkish jewelry is how it reflects their rich cultural heritage, especially since the origins of jewelry go back to the Neolithic Age in Anatolia.

What captivated me were the historic replications from all of the various civilizations that inhabited Anatolia: Hittites, Lydians, Selcuks and Ottomans, to name a few. But what especially captured my heart, mind and soul were the Bronze Age replications.

My most favorite purchase was one I made in May ’05 from Eller Art Gallery/Jewelry Designers (Istiklal Cad., Postacilar Sok. 12, 80050 Istanbul, Turkey; phone 0212 249 23 64 or fax 0212 249 93 92), located across from the Dutch Consulate visa office. The owner/artist is Nurcan Bey.

The necklace is composed of 251 intact bronze beads, octagonal in shape, with a tubular perforation threaded over wire. The beads are small, varying slightly in size, with the width of each bead averaging 0.2cm. This necklace is 18 inches in length and cost less than $100. It is a replica of a necklace dated to the middle of the third millennium B.C.

This simple necklace gives one a glimpse into the richness and complexity of the early Bronze Age. It has no romantic imagery and no whimsicality, just solid workmanship and simple yet elegant design. It makes a definite statement by the sheer uncomplicated force of its beauty.

Turkey’s long jewelry-making tradition is still very much alive throughout the country, and I’d put these craftsmen with their creative artistry and skills up against jewelers from all over the world. The added plus is that, due to cheaper labor, jewelry there is much more reasonable in price than it is elsewhere, which makes Turkey the best place to purchase handmade jewelry, especially historic replications.

By the way, in New York I saw a similar necklace made by H. Stern, famous for giving modern twists to period inspirations. It was made out of 18k gold with a smoky quartz pendant and was priced at $5,300, making my piece a steal!

PEGGY LONG
PORTLAND, OR

All that glitters is not gold nor silver nor diamonds nor rubies. Most of us know the best emeralds come from Brazil, with rubies from Myanmar (Burma) and diamonds from South Africa, but do you know a natural stone from a synthetic or even know what questions to ask when purchasing jewelry in far-off lands?

You found a fabulous gem in Hong Kong and you KNOW you have a bargain. Think again. The jeweler you’re dealing with in that nice little shop is smarter than you. Bargaining is his way of life and livelihood.

You have traveled to the exotic destination of India and found a beautiful “golden topaz” ring, tawny and glowing with color. When you return home, your local jeweler tells you it’s a citrine. What’s a citrine? My point is that to become a gemologist, you need to go to school. So where’s your GIA diploma?

This is not to say you shouldn’t buy jewelry abroad. I have been traveling overseas since 1962. Jewelry doesn’t take up much room in my luggage, and I love to buy ethnic jewelry that reflects the people or their lifestyle. A colorful Zulu necklace or bracelet would cause more of a stir at your next bridge club than any diamond everyone else has on her finger.

Why not enjoy a silver-and-gold antique Bedouin necklace that jingles when you walk and holds a secret place for your prayers? How about a big silver coin pendant that was bought in a bazaar in Yemen. That antique carnelian butterfly pendant from China might have many stories to tell.

To me, this type of jewelry holds more mystery than any cold diamond of poor cut and color that was such a “good deal.” (Though, I must admit, I do have a secret yearning for that pink diamond I saw in a window in Adelaide.)

A banana leaf necklace, a Russian amber pendant, a rope necklace of carnelian from India and a small, real gold scarab from Egypt: each one cost me less than $50.

Finally, in reality, it’s your money, so happy jewelry shopping!

NORMA OSBORNE
ELKHART, IN

I like jewelry as a souvenir if it’s unique and tied to the area I’m visiting. Jewelry is easy to fit in my carry-on. (I never pack it in checked luggage. Even if it’s not very valuable, it still could be stolen if the thief just grabs anything that looks promising.) I can get good use out of it, it’s a great conversation starter, it doesn’t take up much room at home and I don’t have to dust it!

I live in Madison, home of the University of Wisconsin. Through their Memorial Union they offer mini-courses to their members (which I am), faculty and students. One of their mini-courses is offered by a local jewelry store owner who specializes in custom designs. I took advantage of it several years ago and found it to be most helpful.

One session covered diamonds and the other, colored gems, including pearls. We were taught what to look for as well as what to avoid when purchasing various gems; the advantages and disadvantages of various setting designs, and so on. We looked at gems under a simple microscope and also using a jeweler’s loupe.

We learned that setting a stone in a high setting doesn’t improve the sparkle, for instance, plus it can be easily snagged, thus loosening the prongs. We also talked about buying loose stones versus those already set. We discussed some of the common “scams,” such as dying or tinting gems to pass them off as something they are not. We learned the various weights of gold and, of course, how to look for the “925” hallmark on sterling silver.

The information gave me confidence to know what questions to ask and what to look for, though I am surely not an expert. I also ended up feeling more secure in knowing what to avoid, what the “red flags” were. Perhaps, too, being able to ask a few key questions might alert the person I am dealing with to be cautious with me. Of course, that is no help with unscrupulous businessmen, but every little bit helps.

While I realize that not every town has such an offering, ITN travel clubs or other groups might ask a local jeweler to speak to them. If there is a college or university near you, check to see if there is an art department faculty member who makes jewelry and might be a resource. If you regularly do business with a particular jeweler, perhaps one of the staff would spend some time with you individually or in a small group.

The mini-course I took focused on a wide variety of gems, but sessions could be tailored according to your interest or where you will be traveling. For instance, if you’re going to Thailand and are interested in sapphires, that could be the focus. For those traveling to Israel or Belgium, diamonds could be the topic.

If you’re going to an area where the jewelry is more of the folk art type, look on the Internet to see what the style is. You can also find out about semiprecious stones and things like onyx or quartz. Look around your home area to see if there are examples and to get an idea of what to look for and what to avoid.

Another general suggestion is to take advantage of “guarantees” offered by some countries’ tourist organizations. For instance, the Hong Kong Tourist Association (now the Hong Kong Tourism Board) used to back up items purchased at their members’ businesses. If you got it home and it wasn’t what it was advertised to be, the HKTA would intervene and “make it right.” If there is such insurance, be sure to use it!

When I have purchased things abroad, I’ve gone to my jeweler back home shortly after returning to have the pieces examined and the settings checked — to see if I got a good value or not. I’ve been careful about what I buy and where I buy it, and I feel fortunate that I have not been seriously ripped off abroad. I think I can credit that to a little knowledge and some care.

LYNN BORESON
MADISON, WI

I’ve purchased jewelry all over the world, and in my opinion Bangkok is the best place to buy jewelry. I get to Bangkok every year or two and always take the opportunity to shop.

As with buying jewelry anywhere, you must know what you are doing to get the best deals. I have found sapphires and rubies to be the best deals in Bangkok. I find I can consistently buy sapphires and rubies as loose stones or have them made up into jewelry for one-fourth or less of the U.S. retail price (one-half of the U.S. wholesale price).

I have a jeweler in Bangkok I’ve been buying from for 20 years or so: S.J. International (125/8 Sawankhalok Road, Dusit, Bangkok, Thailand; phone 02-2432446 or 02-2432447 or 02-2411875). As with other jewelers in Bangkok, you can call them for free transportation to their store.

In November ’03, I had them duplicate a ruby earring jacket for me, matching the stones in the remaining jacket. I’d dropped one down the drain, and my own jeweler in the U.S. quoted me $540 to replace it. They custom-made the jacket and apologized that it was so expensive to duplicate. They charged me $120.

KATHIE LARSEN
SEATTLE, WA

I worked in Ireland for five years (1994-1999), during which I wanted a Claddagh ring. This is the famous ring with two hands holding a crowned heart. Stateside, it is often known as an Irish friendship ring. It is a traditional wedding band named for the rocky shores of the fishing village Claddagh, just along the Corrib River in Galway.

There were tons of the rings available to me as I made my way through Ireland as a tour guide; they were in gift shops, duty-free shops and tourist stops from Dingle to Donegal. But I wanted my ring from the “Makers of the Claddagh Ring” since 1879: Fallers Jewelers (Williamsgate St., Galway, Ireland; phone +353 91-561 226 or visit www.fallers.com, or from the U.S. call 800/229-3892).

Every time I led a group through Galway, I visited Fallers. I asked for a special drawer of men’s 18-karat rings. Now, a tour guide’s pay is small at the best of times, so I could not afford the ring priced at £250. Still, I stopped and tried it on.

No one knew of my obession, or so I thought, but just before my 10th wedding anniversary my husband flew to Ireland to see me between tours. He brought me to Fallers and said to the clerk, “Drawer number nine, please.” And there was my ring. He knew!

I wear that ring today, with the heart pointing toward my heart just as custom requires.

JENNIFER EISENLAU
BOULDER, CO

The best place for bargains that I have ever been to is the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic. In October ’04 I found beautiful, unique things for hardly any money.

KATIE COATH
WINNETKA, IL

In my travels, I have always bought jewelry as a way to remember a country by the original designs in its arts and crafts. Because I buy sterling or gold jewelry of intrinsic value, when I returned home with my purchases my brother used to tell me, “You still have your money.”

While my pieces from Peru and Thailand were bought some years ago, Bangkok (especially) is still a place for value and bargains. On a shopping stint in Lima, I bought three pieces — all three of silver, gold and some malachite. The large piece was very heavy, and the Customs man wanted to examine it. He said, “Be sure to wear and enjoy it.”

Of course, Baltic amber is a bargain in Russia and also is sold everywhere in Prague, Czech Republic. The best pieces in Prague are sold on side streets off the square in small jewelry shops. I bought a piece there in fall 2003 on Wenceslas Square. Prices ranged from $25 to the hundreds, according to the silverwork and the amount of amber.

It is best not to buy in street markets, as it can be fake amber made of plastic or resin.

Each piece of jewelry is a reminder of a great trip.

JUNE L. GRIFFIN
LEWISTON, ME