Jewellery Buying Guide to Shopping Channels
Bargains galore? Or a complete rip-off?
Let me open by saying that I have a stock answer when asked for an opinion on Jewellery Shopping Channels - ‘I am one of their greatest fans but one of their biggest critics’.
I have publicly praised shopping channels but also lodged official complaints to The Advertising Standards Authority and The Office of Fair Trading. The jewellery trade's view of Shopping Channels is at best dismissive and at worst scathing. Some of their views are wholly justified, while others are not, and have more to do with a reaction to a prolific competitor than anything else.
So, what's the truth of the situation?
What follows is an objective view of buying jewellery from shopping channels in general, no particular channel is singled out for praise or criticism so some of the following points may not all apply to all Shopping Channels.
Typically, items of jewellery are sold on a falling price basis, often referred to as a Reverse Auction. The start-price is high and keeps falling until the number of buyers match the number of items being sold. The bid price ruling at the point at which the last buyer enters the bidding dictates the final selling price to all the bidders in that auction.
The jewellery is mass-produced in the Far East in large factories employing hundreds of workers. The TV companies very often own these plants and may also own or have a stake in some gemstone mines and cutting centres. Their access to cheap labour, stones at source and the sheer size of their operations enable them to sell at low prices.
The Good Things About Jewellery Shopping Channels
The mainstream jewellery trade has a lot to thank shopping channels for. They have brought a wonderful spectra of nature's unusual gemstones to the public eye, where as the jewellery trade has relied heavily on the ‘big four’ (diamond, ruby, emerald and sapphire). Consumers are now aware of these gemstones and the benefits ownership can bring. The normal retail jeweller now has a new market that has been created and developed by the channels, although few seem to have embraced this opportunity despite the hard bit having already been done for them.
The TV stations are masters at marketing and the normal trade could benefit greatly from emulating some of their approaches to getting the consumer really involved in the products they sell. The majority of the jewellery they sell are good value items in a wearable style that cannot usually be found in a retailers window, either by virtue of design, construction or gemstone type.
Some viewers see the Shopping Channels as entertainment and, to a degree, an education. Many have short educational film clips that are interesting and well done (although some I have seen are blatantly misleading).
With the exception of one channel that was forced to liquidate after being being found guilty of fraud, to date, I have never seen an item of jewellery where the weight of the gemstones, diamonds or metal fell below that stated by the Shopping Channel on their sales documentation, in fact most have been about 10% more.
The Bad Things About Shopping Channels
My main criticisms lie in their use of terminology. I am not talking about small pedantic errors but descriptions that spectacularly mislead consumers. Some of these channels must have large highly experienced legal departments because they seem to sanction wording that just about keeps them on the right side of the letter-of-the-law... but only just.
The one that upsets me the most is ‘hand-crafted’. The exact definition of this phrase is Debatable in Law, which presumably is why so many many channels use it. Irrespective of the strict legal meaning, it is not unreasonable for a consumer to imagine this means crafted-by-hand. Some channels go one step further and claim an item to be hand-made which simply is not the case. I feel that using these terms belittles the experience and skills of real crafts men and women who make a truly hand made product. The hand work on TV jewellery is usually the final polishing and sometimes setting of the stones. I liken their claim that items are handmade to suggesting that a Ford car is hand-crafted because fitting of the wheels and the final wax polishing was done by hand prior to dispatch to the new owner.
The jewellery sold by these channels is mass-produced and don't let anyone convince you otherwise. Usually they are single-piece castings with the gemstones either being set by machines or in some cases the items are cast with the gemstones already in place, if they are of a type that can survive the necessary heat.
Any videos you see of a craftsman at the bench soldering and sawing metal is the Modelmaker, he/she is not making the jewellery that is sold to the public. The Modelmaker makes the original item from which hundreds of pieces are subsequently cast.
Misrepresentation of gemstones is commonplace with superlatives being used in almost every sentence. Only this morning (see Addendum below) I saw a loose 9.00ct ruby being a described as ‘top quality ruby of a stunning colour and amazing clarity’. It was anything but. It was extremely poor quality material from Thailand that was originally brown and opaque that had undergone a treatment to fill the fractures with glass and improve its colour and clarity. It sold for less than £10 per carat. Please do not confuse this with a similarly coloured ruby in a county style jewellers selling for thousands of pounds, they are not the same animal.
Chinese freshwater cultured pearls being sold as ‘pearls’ is another favourite. By definition, the word ‘pearl’, without any modality, refers to natural seawater and freshwater pearls. There is a world of difference between these types of pearls... and the price they fetch.
Now, I know it may seem that I am being pedantic here and it is easy to say ‘yes, but you know what they mean’ but if a High Street Jeweller did this, the Trading Standards Officers would be down on them like a ton of bricks. Do I sound a little bitter? Well, yes I am. The vast majority of retail jewellers spend time, effort and money ensuring that they stay within the law, properly represent their products, operate a disclosure policy and generally conduct business in the spirit of fairness.
There are instances, too numerous to mention here, of jiggery-pokery with gemmological nomenclature, with some channels in the past actually inventing their own names for standard gemstones that have undergone extraordinary treatments. Some channels have regularly accused the normal retail jewellery trade of not having even heard of some of these gemstones. Whilst ignorance of the existence of some gemstones could be levied at certain sectors of the jewellery trade, the names that the Shopping Channels have coined, do not of course, appear in any gemmological reference material outside that proffered by the shopping channel and are not recognised as gem names by any of the Gemmological Authorities.
Repairs and alterations to Shopping Channel jewellery can be problematic, for four reasons:
- The method of construction and sometimes light weight of the mountings can cause difficulties in the workshops and the jeweller can spend longer trying to correct problems that have occurred than carrying out the originally requested job.
- Sometimes the treatments applied to the gemstones used in this jewellery are not stable and disasters can occur under heat or during the oxidisation removal and cleaning processes.
- You may find your local jeweller reluctant to carry out repairs for all the above practical reasons but also they fear being ‘married for life’ to an item that is generally not intended to last a lifetime. If your Shopping Channel ring was altered in finger size by a local jeweller and then a week later a stone came out, who would you complain to? Of course, the jeweller. You see my point?
- There are some retailers that are inclined to hold a very negative attitude towards shopping channel jewellery, purely because the customer has chosen to spend the money with a TV company rather than their own business. A thoroughly short-sighted view in my opinion but when encountered, makes repairs and alterations impossible with that particular jeweller.
All shopping channel jewellery valued for Insurance Replacement Purposes by me will be valued at New Replacement Value at Shopping Channel Market Level. Simply put, the value I place on a Shopping Channel item will be equal to the likely cost to replace the item with a one of similar a style, construction, quality, content and of equal merit from a similar source, not necessarily the same channel from which it was purchased.
In short, the value will most likely come out at approximately what you had paid for the item. That statement shouldn't surprise you, since if you wanted to buy a similar item again it would need to be sourced from a Jewellery Shopping Channel and it would cost approximately what you paid the first time around.
Some valuers place a value equal to the nearest equivalent item from a High Street jeweller. This is incorrect and will mean you pay excessive insurance premiums as a result.
Is a Shopping Channel the Best Way to Buy Jewellery?
So how does a Shopping Channel purchase fit into a sensible list of buying criteria?
Definition: Quality of construction, durability, quality of design, grade of metals, gemstones and diamonds etc.
There is a low score in this area. The only caveat I would add is that all precious metals that are required by law to be hallmarked, are of course, up to the minimum standard required.
Definition: Low-ness of the price compared with the same item or an item of equal merit, from another source.
There is a high score under this heading. Its a little difficult to compare a item of equal merit from another source as another source doesn't really exist for most of the items sold. The prices are good, relative to what you are receiving.
Definition: Quality of the buying experience, after-sales service, guarantees etc.
Again there is a high score in this area too. The no-questions-asked money back option that is in place for a limited period of time after purchase adds significantly to the service score. Many clients that I discuss this subject with, speak highly of the buying experience which is quite unique to this method of buying jewellery.
Note: Bear in mind that I am referring here to the vast majority of items that are sold through Shopping Channels and a generalised snap-shot of the experiences that my clients have had buying through this source. As with all things, there are exceptions to the rule.
Buying from shopping channels can be fun, indeed some channels promote the auctions as ‘games’. Many of my clients who choose to buy from TV channels often refer to the entertainment element of the buying experience. They offer good value, lower quality products in a fun and educational environment.
Following a series of fairly high-profile court cases, TV Shopping Channels seem to be currently going through a bit of a clean-up process. The price comparisons that some of the Channels used in the past, would fall into the ‘unfair to outrageous’ category. This grossly unfair marketing ploy seems to be disappearing of late.
Things to Bear in Mind
- Ignore the superlatives used in the sales patter.
- The start price has nothing to do with the true worth of the item.
- You can rely on the stated gemstone and metal weights as being accurate and are often exceeded.
- Don't buy for any other reason that you like the item and will enjoy wearing it.
- Remember that some gemstones are not commonly seen in jewellery for a reason, they are not always very durable. Restrict softer stones to earrings and pendants only or to rings and bracelets that are worn only occasionally for dress occasions.
- Accept that repair and alteration may present problems.
- Be suspicious of valuations or claims that the jewellery is worth several times the purchase price.
Common sense will serve you well. For instance, counter the claim that they sell way below trade prices by asking yourself the common sense question - ‘Why would they sell to me for £xx if they could sell into the trade for more?’
My hope is that this article has given a slightly more unbiased view of the situation than is currently being promoted (or damned) on the internet.
This article was written and previously published on the AIJV Blog in 2011. Since that time there has been some changes. Any prices quoted in this piece will have altered. The clean-up that I referred to, seems to have continued but the overall situation is still largely the same as is the advice given. Misrepresentations now seem to be mainly verbal rather than appearing as text and graphics on screen. Allowances must be made for the presenter's enthusiasm to get the number of buyers up as soon as possible. This sometimes renders as misleading claims of quality, price or rarity.
- Adrian Smith FGA, FJVA, PJDip
- Independent Jewellery Valuer
- Perth, UK
- Adrian S SMith FGA
- Buyer's Guide (primary)
- Gems / Gemmology
- Consumers (primary)
- Gemmology Students
- June 2020
- 9.5 mins reading time
- Dale-Chall readability level:
Easily understood by an average College Student
- 15 mins speaking time
- 0 Comments
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Consumer advice can be found in the Consumer Resources section, this contains information to assist the jewellery-buying public, for example: Types of Jewelry Appraisals and Jewelry Trade Asociations etc.