It’s been a while since I’ve written about some of the more confusing aspects of our industry that many of our newest members don’t understand. Here are a few of the most common questions I get asked to explain.
The holes under the diamonds means it’s real
Many people think that’s how you can tell if something is real or fake because it has the holes underneath. Most real jewelry has the holes, and most costume jewelry doesn’t. But things are a changing.
Many pieces of fine jewelry (that term is subjective) manufactured today don’t have them. So, what the heck are those holes there for anyway? And no, it’s not to let the light through the diamond so it sparkles more. To get to the bottom of this, you have to go way back to the early 1900s.
There was a large manufacturer that made thousands of rings a day. One day, one of their employees made an observation that if they drilled the hole all the way through the mounting, they could recover the gold shavings to the tune of something like one half of 1%.
If you’re making a thousand rings a day, one half of 1% adds up to real money real quick. They could deliver the same ring, for the same price, but at a lower cost, and no one noticed or complained. I wonder if that person ever got a pat on the back, for that discovery. Pretty soon everyone started doing it and it just became the industry standard.
There was never a need for it with costume jewelry because they use non-precious metals. So back in the day, that was a pretty good way to tell the real from the fakes.
But, there is an urban legend that the holes were there to let the light in and make the diamonds sparkle, which is not true. In a properly cut diamond, the light goes in the top, bounces around a while, then pops right back out the top in a different spot, causing it to sparkle and shine. The hole in the bottom of the mounting doesn’t come into play in this equation. Also, if the ring is tight against your finger, and it’s all gunked up with years of whatever that is we all see every day, how is any light supposed to get in or out of there anyway?
Today’s trend is to ‘not drill’ holes all the way through the mounting any more. Why, you ask? Because if you have 135 diamonds in the incredibly thin shank of your micro-pavé engagement ring, then you will have 135 holes in the already thin shank of your ring. Those 135 holes remove a tremendous amount of structural support and leave you with practically nothing holding your ring together. Bump it on something, ever so slightly, and it’ll break in 5 places and you’ll lose 17 diamonds in an instant.
So nowadays the trend is to not drill all the way through to keep the structural integrity intact. So, now you can’t tell if it’s real or fake simply by looking for the holes beneath the gemstones.
Karats vs. Carats
Carats, measures the weight of a gemstone, whereas Karats, measures the percentage of precious metal in a piece of jewelry. I can only assume that long ago, in the dark ages, someone in one part of the world made up the term carats, and someone in another part of the world made up the term karats. Imagine their surprise when they finally met?
Let’s discuss ‘karat’ first. We seldom spell the word karat in our industry. We simply use a capital ‘K’. 14 karat white gold is 14KWG. If it’s 14 karat yellow gold, its 14KYG. But, what exactly does ‘karat gold’ mean? The easiest way to explain it is to think about it using 24 BBs. And remember, you always have to have 24 BBs! 24 is the magic number.
If you put 24 pure gold BB’s in a crucible and melt them together, you’ll have 24K gold. If you take one pure gold BB away, and replace it with a BB of another metal (remember, you always have to have 24), and melt them together, you’ll have 23K. So in a nutshell, 18K gold is 18 pure gold BBs and 6 BBs of another metal. 14K gold is 14 pure gold BBs and 10 BBs of another metal. If that other metal is nickel, you’ll have 14KWG.
Now let’s talk about carats, which is how we weigh gemstones. A carat was originally the weight of a carob seed, which was thought to be the most consistent weight. If you look up ‘carob seeds’ on the internet, you’ll see how wrong they were about that.
When we’re discussing the weight of a gemstone, we’ll either say it’s a half a carat or its 50 points. The easiest way to understand carats and points is to compare it to our dollar bill. A one dollar bill is made up of 100 pennies. A one carat gemstone is made up of 100 points. Half a dollar is 50 cents, half a carat is 50 points. But, since gemstones are rarely exactly 50, 75, or 100 points, when we’re discussing them as carats, we generalize. If a stone weighs between 42 and 56 points, we’ll just say it’s a half carat. Whereas with points, we’ll say exactly how many points it weighs, such as 42 or 56 points. Confused yet? Let’s keep going.
Grams vs Pennyweights and the Troy Ounce
The origins of the pennyweight goes back to the Middle Ages, while grams came into play in the late 1700s. Both essentially do the same thing, which is to weigh precious metals. Both originated in the old world across the pond, and both are increments of a Troy Ounce.
Pennyweights, abbreviated ‘dwts’, are used by about half of the world, and grams are used by the other half of the world. Most pawn shops and gold buyers deal in grams, while most jewelry businesses deal in dwts. But, regardless of whether or not you deal in grams or dwts, they are both based upon the Troy ounce. There are 20 dwts to a Troy ounce, and there are 31.1 grams to a Troy ounce. That ‘.1’ is the single reason why I work exclusively in dwts.
Okay then, what the heck is a Troy ounce? There are basically two systems to measure weights above an ounce. One is the Troy ounce, and the other is the avoirdupois ounce. What, you’ve never heard of an avoirdupois ounce? The basic difference is one is used to weigh precious metals and pharmaceuticals, and one is used to weigh everything else.
For the most part, in today’s world, the only people that use Troy weights are people like us that buy and sell precious metals, everyone else uses that other one that’s hard to spell and even harder to pronounce. The post office, FedEx, and UPS all use avoirdupois. Heck, even your average pot dealer on the corner uses avoirdupois.
The scale you’ve got on your counter is a Troy scale, or at least it better be. Okay, be honest, who just went and looked to see if your scale is Troy or avoirdupois? Hah. I actually use both at my store. I use one to weigh metals, and one to weigh packages for shipping.
I hope that helps clear up some of the confusion that we’ve brought upon ourselves. Happy Valentine’s everyone.