How to buy jewellery and diamonds abroad
"If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is," says gemmologist Hallvar.
"This costs NOK 1.8 million," says Hallvar S. Sagøy with a smile.
Our photographer was about to take a picture of the necklace but instead puts it down very gently when he hears the price tag.
"We designed that necklace not too long ago. It's full of diamonds. And it's unique, so there's only one of these," says Hallvar. He is a gemmologist at the jewellery firm David-Andersen in Oslo.
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Gemmologists study, assess, and identify gemstones and minerals, and can also advise on their quality, value, and origin. We've come to visit the expert to learn what to look for if you're buying jewellery on holiday abroad.
"When you buy jewellery, no matter where, you should go to a serious dealer. If you feel like the deal is too good to be true, it probably is," says Hallvar.
He adds that there are stable prices for diamonds around the world, so if you get a diamond at a very good price, then there is often something wrong with it that an ordinary buyer cannot see.
We'll return to the rest of his tips later. First, we have to visit some royal gold and glitter around the world, and Italian ladies that ooze 'oomph'.
Playing with treasure chests as a child
When Hallvar was a kid, he was allowed to play with his grandmothers' jewellery boxes. He remembers that one box was dark red and rose-painted, while another box was covered with lots of shells. For Hallvar, the boxes were like exciting treasure chests.
"I remember always being so fascinated that when my grandmothers dressed up they were so much nicer than in everyday life. And the jewellery boxes were amazing. They were treasure chests that I got to open and play with!"
His recollections lead Hallvar to believe his interest in gems, pearls and stones is almost innate. After working in banking for many years, he decided to take his interest seriously as an adult. He moved to New York and London and began his training as a gemmologist.
Buying diamonds at trade shows
Today, Hallvar works with jewellery on a daily basis and travels to countries such as the US, Germany, and China to visit trade fairs. There, he buys gems, diamonds, pearls and precious stones, making sure that what is purchased is of the right quality.
On other occasions, Hallvar is looking for something very particular, perhaps a specific sapphire, for a customer who has ordered a "one of a kind" piece of jewellery. He knows the size and price in advance and is hunts with determination. Hallvar is also responsible for the workshop at David-Andersen, where jewellery is adapted, and new products and designs are developed from scratch.
"I've always had two passions. One is, as you know, gems, pearls and stones... And the other is royalty. It was an easier path to getting a job in jewellery than to become a member of the royal family!
Royal jewellery and heritage
A lot of the inspiration for both his purchases and designs comes from fairs as well as his interest in royalty.
"Sadly, my favourite royal, Queen Elizabeth, passed away in 2022. There aren't that many royals in the whole world, but on the jewellery front we have Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. She is a favourite, because she uses the big jewellery box that they have at the palace there."
"The same with Queen Sirikit of Thailand. She's the Dowager Queen and her son has taken over, which is why we don't see much of her now. But when she's dressed up for a gala, she wears sapphires and rubies that are really big. These are huge stones, and that's great for a gemmologist to see."
Hallvar gets excited and tells us about an interview in which Queen Silvia of Sweden said that the royals add history to each piece of jewellery when they wear it on different occasions.
"When Crown Princess Victoria got married and the Queen chose to wear the Braganza tiara, it was written into history that is was worn on the occasion. And that's exactly what's fascinating about jewellery. They endure for generations, and when they last for generations, they bring with them a lot of history, and that's one of the things I find the most fascinating."
The gemmologist points out that this is exactly why you should go for quality when buying a piece of jewellery, carefully selecting something that matters to both you and future generations.
"You will have a lot of memories attached to this necklace. I think that's important, instead of buying something that is used little and thrown away."
Italian ladies with oomph
But where do you find these pieces that will be passed down to your children and grandchildren? And where should you go to buy your wedding ring?
"Most major cities in the world have serious players. London is a mecca for buying jewellery, as is France, especially Paris. The latter is known for having toned down and classic and big brands in the jewellery industry, including French houses like Cartier, while London is again in a more conservative country that has long traditions and great craftsmanship. The funny thing about England is that you can find classic, fine jewellery and a lot of vintage. It is a mecca for browsing antique jewellery and good English craftsmanship."
If you are looking for something more exciting to wear, Hallvar recommends heading to Milan. Italians are more daring in terms of design and colours and have more yellow gold.
"Italian women wear jewellery in a completely different way. They wear it in everyday life and often wear genuine and nice things – they actually wear their jewellery. When I go to trade shows, it's clear that Italian brands are more colourful and have more "oomph".
Tips for buying jewellery abroad
Whether you go to France or Italy to buy jewellery, it's hard for most people to know what's a good buy — unless you've been trained to do so, like a gemmologist has.
"It takes a lot of experience, and you have to look carefully at the magnified jewellery and look for the quality of the gold and how the jewellery is made, among other things. It is extremely difficult for an ordinary person to nab a "bargain" on jewellery. So, the first rule, as mentioned, is not to buy jewellery in so-called tourist shops, but to go to serious players."
"I can compare it to if I were to buy a car. I have to go to a serious dealer, because I don't have a clue, and then it's easy to get duped. The same is true with gold. There are good replicas, which are also stamped correctly and look good, but the jewellery might only have a thick coating of gold on the outside with only copper or brass inside."
"If you go to a serious dealership, you won't be fooled," Hallvar reiterates.
If you follow this rule, and the pointers below, you can safely buy jewellery abroad – which may also remain in a box decorated with seashells for generations:
Hallvar's top five jewellery tips
1. Go to a serious dealer.
Research the jewellery shop and market in advance. Read recommendations from locals or other travellers.
Before buying jewellery abroad, research the customs regulations and local laws for both the country of purchase and your country of residence.
3. Is the diamond real?
Remember that you should have the proper documentation, which means receipts, invoices or certificates of authenticity – especially if the piece is valuable.
4. Exchange rates
Pay attention to the exchange rate when converting money to purchase jewellery, as this may affect the final price.
5. And last but not least: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!
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