I recently attended the GIA Jewellery Forensics seminar. As a gemmologist, it is important to participate in continuous education in order to keep up to speed with new technologies, such as being able to identify a lab-grown diamond versus a natural one. As a jewellery appraiser, I need to understand how a piece of jewellery is made in order to assess the workmanship and quality of it as well as determine value for insurance purposes.
Working with a designer/goldsmith does give me an inside advantage for some pieces of jewellery, but the manufacturing process can be quite different than what we do instore. Through hands-on practice, I learned how to identify indicators of manufacturing processes in order to better assess jewellery quality. Design and engineering affect jewellery quality and can predict jewellery failure. It was interesting to see high-end jewellery pieces made by very well-known brands have poor design and engineering factors. The quality and characteristics of precious metals compliment good design and engineering. I also benefitted from handling a vast quantity of jewellery pieces from various time periods, using a variety of manufacturing processes.
There are twelve qualifying questions used in order to forensically identify a piece of jewellery. These twelve questions are referred to by GIA as Quality Assurance Benchmarks (QAB), which is a methodology to help assess workmanship and establish standards of quality in jewellery.
The questions start with observing the metal (fineness stamps, heft consistent with fineness, surface condition, etc.) to manufacturing method (resin/wax cast, die-cut, handmade, etc.) and observing the quality and durability of solder joints and previous repairs. Settings are also verified for the size and security of the stone settings. Lastly, any mechanical components such as hinges, clasps, etc, will be verified to make sure they work properly and are structurally sound.
During the forensic identification process, we also question what market the piece was made for. This may seem a little odd if you are not in the jewellery industry, but it actually helps in understanding why short cuts were made during manufacturing, if any.
The next time you drop off a piece of jewellery for repair with us and I start looking at it with a loupe or under the microscope, you may have a better idea of what I am looking for. Please be sure to ask if you are uncertain of what I am doing. This is your jewellery and you should know everything about it. The jewellery business is a transparent one … at least it should be … and you should be comfortable doing business with people who handle your precious belongings.