Gemstone Etiquette 101: Ten Gem Buying Tips

Yes, there are rules when you buy gems.  And if you don’t know what they are, you can easily offend or, much to your disadvantage, drive up the price at which you buy.  These ten tips will save you some grief, and hopefully also some $$$ at your next gem buying spree.  Remember also that strict rules are established because it is easy to cheat in the gem business.  Trust, therefore, is everything.
1. Gems are priced by the parcel or individually.  Large and uneven parcels are the cheapest, small and well matched parcels cost more.  Individually priced gems cost the most.  If you have the time, you can save by selecting from parcels, but be sure to communicate that you intend to select by asking for per carat price for selection first (unless, that is, the trays are openly displayed for you to pick from them).  And yes, prices are usually quoted per carat.
2. You can ask for a loupe, most gem dealers carry them.  Check the table and back for scratches, and rest the stone between your index and middle fingers to look for window.  Move it away from the dealer’s light source to see how it looks under darker lighting conditions.  For expensive stones, ask if you can take the gem into standard daylight, i.e. near the window.  If you drop the stone, look at listen: don’t take your eye off it and listen to where it bounces and how often.  The little buggers have a way of vanishing.  And don’t leave the booth while the dealer is looking.  You dropped it, so you have to help him find it!  You may also have to pay for it.
3. Don’t give the store away: if you’re asked for your budget, hedge or say you don’t know yet.  If you’re asked to name your price, ask the dealer for his price instead.  Gem buying can be like playing poker, where you don’t show your hand.
4. If you like a stone, don’t jump up and down with joy, especially if you forgot to ask for the price ahead of time.  And if you hate the stone, don’t insult the merchandize by saying it is not good.  Dealers are proud of their inventory and can think you don’t know what you’re talking about (and just maybe, you actually don’t).  Just say “not for me."   
5. Bargaining is tricky.  Many prices are fixed.  But you can say that a gem is a little out of your budget or more than what you were hoping to spend.  Then let the dealer come down in price if he thinks he can, or wants to.  You could ask if there’s anything the dealer can do on the price.  Personally I don’t.  I just say it doesn’t work for me, that I might have trouble selling the merchandize at my markup.  Then it’s the dealer’s turn to see if he can make a better offer.
6.     If you can’t estimate weight by stone size, have each gem you are considering weighed and priced before you make your final choice.  I have seen hasty gem buyers annoy dealers by piling lots gems onto their selection trays to buy and then putting most of them back when they hit the scale.  This wastes considerable time and if the gem show is busy, other potential buyers have to wait for you.  It is best if you memorize some standard sizes and weights before you start shopping (you can use a diamond table and add 20-30% for extra weight and bulky cutting).  Or ask the dealer to estimate, many can do that very well by just looking at your tray.
7.      Not all treatments are identified, in fact, many gems are loose on trays or in bags and just have an ID tag that tells the dealer how to price the gems.  For emeralds, sapphires and rubies, always ask about treatment.  The word “natural” is not helpful in this context, since it is used to distinguish synthetic and lab created material from the genuine article.  So a natural gem can be treated.  Some gems are always treated (i.e. London blue topaz).  You should be familiar with some of the basic ways in which gems are treated, but you can always ask, “is it treated”?  This obligates the dealer to disclose.
8.      Neither a price quote nor the agreement to buy should be retracted.  That’s why it’s important that the dealer knows what he is quoting you and how many carats.  His (or her) quote is good once it is made.  When you agree to buy, that counts as a verbal contract.
9.      In the gem buying world, there are no refunds or exchanges unless they are agreed upon ahead of time.  Buyers can switch out gems and return a fake, or they can scratch a stone, i.e. by trying it in a setting, and then return it scratched.  Sellers protect themselves against this with strict no return policies.  If the seller knows and trusts you, you can memo out a stone, either against deposit or for free.  During this time you are fully responsible for the stone, and if you lose it, you have to pay for it.  If you do not return it within the agreed upon time period, you can lose the future privilege to memo out a gem.
10.   For good pricing and to establish trust, introduction by another buyer or gem dealer is helpful.  If someone sent you, mention their name.  You can also recommend someone, but remember not to recommend people you don’t trust or know, because if an expensive deal goes south after you have introduced the respective parties, you can get blamed. 
Selection of Trays at a Gem Show