Avoiding Diamond Rip-offs

Before purchasing a diamond, consumers often navigate a minefield of dazzling discount offers, diamond imitators, unfamiliar lingo and if they're not careful, slippery diamond sellers.

Good Morning America's Consumer Correspondent Greg Hunter ran right into a diamond ripoff when he headed to New York's fabled 47th Street Diamond District with a hidden camera and a well-known jewelry expert disguised as a buyer. They wound up with a fracture-filled diamond that should have cost about a third of the $3,220 they paid for it.

And the experience is not uncommon.

"Wholesale districts are not a good place for the unknowing and the unsuspecting," said Antoinette Matlins, the jewelry expert who worked with Hunter, and the author of Jewelry and Gems, The Buying Guide. "You're hoping to find something much cheaper, but when the price is much lower, beware: there is something you do not see."

Learn the 4 C's of Diamond Buying A diamond engagement ring in the size range of 1.25 to 2.5 carats can run anywhere from about $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the quality.

Matlin's advice: before you make this (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime purchase, know your 4 C's (cut, color, clarity and carat), exercise caution and deal with people who have recognized credentials. Any important diamond should be purchased unmounted, and it should be mounted in a setting only after all of the facts about that diamond have been verified.

"Know what questions to ask and get the answers to those questions in writing on the sales sheet," Matlins said. "In my experience, whenever a seller is not willing to do that, walk away. Either they are dishonest, or they are not knowledgeable. Either way, walk away."

Though some jewelers will sell diamonds with simply a sales certificate, most diamonds over one carat are sold accompanied by diamond grading certificates from gemological laboratories. The most widely used laboratory in the United States is the Gemological Institute of America's Gem Trade Laboratory. Two other highly respected labs: American Gemological Laboratory and the European Gemological Laboratory.

The jewelry industry is primarily made up of independent, mom and pop-style retailers, in business for generations. But they will be the first to acknowledge that ripoff artists exist in their midst, and that the dishonest jewelers are often the ones hiding behind the discount offers.

After purchasing a diamond, Matlins suggests getting the diamond independently appraised by a lab or individual who is certified by the American Society of Appraisers the American Gem Society, or the Independent Gemologist Appraisers.

The Jewelers Vigilance Committee in New York keeps tabs on jewelers all over the country, and is happy to steer consumers toward ethical retailers and appraisers.

"If they refuse to put the color, the clarity, the cut and the cost in writing, walk out," said Jo-Ann Sperano, of the JVC. "Take it to an independent appraiser. Tell your jeweler you're going to call the JVC and get a gemologist appraiser to look at the diamond. This will only make a thief upset — a legitimate jeweler will be glad."

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