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Ten things you should know before you go shopping for that special ring

Rings symbolize lasting love, but there are so many choices to navigate - gold or platinum? An original design or an antique? - that it's difficult to know how to pick the best ring. Learn the criteria for purchasing a top-notch ring, and like your relationship, if it is a quality ring, it should grow richer and more beautiful with age.

If you don't know the product, know your jeweler. What you don't want is a pretty face in a pin-striped suit. Ask questions, and if you don't like the answers, move on. If you are shopping for gems, seek out a Graduate Gemologist with a diploma from the Gemological Institute of America.

Today's wedding rings are available in a variety of finishes: polished, buff and sandblasted. Will they last? In a word, no. Precious metals are relatively soft. If you buy polished and she wants buff, they will both look about the same in a couple of years.

Gold or platinum?

Manufacturers are required to label gold according to its purity. Karat is an old standard that divides into 24 parts; 10k is 39% pure, 14k is 58% pure, 18k is 75% pure, 22k is 90% pure and 24k is 100% pure gold. 18k is the aristocrat of gold. Some U. S. jewelers will often tell you it is too soft. Though an 18k ring is a tad softer than 14k, over the years it will develop a rich, buttery patina.

Platinum is not labeled in Karats but by percentage of purity. In the United States the percentage of metal must be at least 90% before a ring can be legally labeled platinum.

A platinum ring costs at least twice the price of the same ring in 14k gold. Why? Platinum has greater density; a one-inch cube of platinum weighs 40% more than an identical cube of pure gold. Platinum is currently priced at about twice the gold price because it is used 90% pure and it is more difficult to work with.

Gold is the most plastic of metals, but platinum is the more durable. However, a heavy, high-quality ring made of either metal should last for many years.

Gem set, unique design or antique?

Be careful when buying gem set rings. Many of this type are manufactured offshore. They are cast all in one piece and the prongs that hold the stones are soft. Ask your jeweler about the manufacturing process. A yellow gold ring with yellow prongs set with white diamonds should be viewed with suspicion. High-quality rings are made in two parts with tempered die-struck prongs soldered in place. For diamonds, the prongs should be white. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true. After you replace a few stones, your great deal may turn into your worst nightmare.

If you want a unique design to symbolize your unique relationship, consider a handmade original design. Think they're too expensive? Not necessarily. Most handmade rings are made by a goldsmith and sold directly to the consumer. Most commercially-made rings pass through several hands before reaching yours, gathering mark-ups along the way. Therefore, a handmade ring may be a better value for your money and often the craftsman will do the design work for free.

Should you buy an antique ring? By definition, an antique has been around a long time. Art-Deco period rings made in the 1920's are very popular today. When you buy an antique you become its custodian. Jewelers will usually not warranty antique pieces so be sure to check before purchasing an antique ring. And these rings were made for women who lived a less active lifestyle. Be practical! That delicate lacy design will not last long on a woman whose hobby is rock climbing!

Most of all, these rings will be the single most enduring symbol of your love. You will wear them for many years while the wedding gown gathers mothballs in your closet. Whatever rings you choose, make sure you love them!

About the author:

Richard W. Wise is a Graduate Gemologist and President of R.W. Wise, Goldsmiths, Inc. His early interest in gemstones led him to write extensively about precious stones. For more information visit his website at http://www.secretsofthegemtrade.com

Written by: Richard W. Wise, G.G.

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