By Chelsea Eddy
Growing up I spent my summers exploring the various island communities dotting central Maine’s rocky coastline. Monhegan was always my favorite – an artists’ colony of dirt roads and seaglass wind chimes. Before moving to landlocked Chicago, I made one last visit to Monhegan, where I purchased a ring crafted by an island artisan to remind me of my home by the ocean.
Jewelry is often more than just metal and gemstones – it raises memories of auspicious moments in life, special places and loved ones – and a unique piece from a local artisan or jeweler can help keep those memories alive. Besides sentimentally, consider other reasons why you might choose a local jeweler first.
Local Jewelry ≠ Expensive Jewelry
Chains and online giants do not necessarily have greater purchasing power when it comes to certain pieces of jewelry. Says Jennifer Bornholdt, owner of Hub Jewelers in Richmond, Minnesota, “Diamonds and gold are internationally valued products, which means it will cost the same price per ounce to buy one ounce of gold as it does to buy 100 ounces. The same with diamonds.”
So why the cheaper price tags? Chain stores often stress lesser quality product at lower prices, so consumers need to be aware of the actual value of the item rather than focusing solely on price. Many chain jewelers will also inflate the list price to levels few people would pay just to artificially create “sales” prices.
Higher Quality Pieces & Customer Service
Passionate for their trade and for maintaining an outstanding business reputation – often one that is generations old – Independent jeweler tend to do business with quality rather than price-point-oriented manufacturers, handpicking their selection from sources they trust.
Cec Johnson, Manager at Miller’s Jewelry in Bozeman, MT and Gemological Institute of America (GIA) Graduate Gemologist, says one big difference between chain jewelry stores and independents is most chain diamonds are not GIA certified, meaning a customer must trust the salesperson’s word that the diamond is the quality and value they say it is.
Local jewelers also offer longer-term guidance for their customers – helping to choose, design and appraise the piece and ensuring it will last for years to come through regular repairs and cleanings. Staff, gemologists or artisans themselves, receive proper training and tend to be more knowledgeable about their products than chain employees.
Unique & Ethically Sourced
Independent jewelers are more likely to carry one-of-a-kind pieces or small collections made by local artisans. These pieces frequently incorporate gemstones, styles or inspiration unique to the local area. Miller’s Jewelry, for example, works directly with small Montana miners. My Monhegan ring was clearly influenced by the island’s coastal environment.
Babs Noelle, owner of Alara Jewelry in Bozeman, MT, writes that what brings her customers back is “the fact that our offerings are seen in few other places due to the small production, artisan designs we carry.” Noelle says 30% of sales are in-house creations and another 20% are exclusive to their store.
Although not all independents view or define ethically sourced jewelry the same, Noelle believes that “far more independent jewelers are ethically – and environmentally – driven.” Ethically sourced jewelry encompasses a broad set of considerations, including whether the diamonds and gems were mined in a conflict-free zone, if child labor was used and miners were paid and treated fairly and the piece’s overall environmental impact. “To our thinking,” says Noelle, “the utmost in ethical jewelry is crafted from recycled precious metal; and that crafting cannot occur in a country that turns a blind eye to the use of child labor.”
The Pitfalls of Online Jewelers
Although online retailers can offer quality products, the purchaser is relying on his/her own (usually limited) knowledge when choosing a piece. Expensive, quality pieces of jewelry are nuanced and complex, making an informed decision challenging for anyone other than a professional.
Online shoppers must also rely exclusively on photographs, which can be misleading. Photos may be of a “similar” piece but not the exact item that will be shipped. And although statistics about the gem or diamond may be provided, something that comes out of the earth – cut, polished and formed – is greater than just numbers.
Making a jewelry purchase frequently is about more than just the piece itself – perhaps celebrating a life event such as birthdays, graduations, births or engagements. Having the support of an independent professional can help ensure you make an informed choice that will endure for the sake of memories, as well as value.
Chelsea Eddy is the Engagement Coordinator at the American Independent Business Alliance
Additional resources on jewelry
- Custom Made elaborates on the advantages of buying custom made jewelry
- Search for independent jewelers in your community
- More great reasons to buy local (with accompanying graphics and studies)
- The local multiplier effect of spending locally
- Buying Flowers? Don’t Get Duped! Find a Real Florist!
- See our collection of many non-material gift ideas: Great Gifts Don’t Have to Be “Stuff”