Whether you are hoping to find that perfect engagement ring or a nice pair of diamond earrings, the Los Angeles Jewelry District can cater to those needs.
With approximately 5,000 wholesale and retail jewelry shops and nearly 30 multistory buildings all within a six-block area on Hill Street, Olive Street and Broadway between Fifth and Eighth streets, the Los Angeles Jewelry District is the largest in the United States. Because of this, it threatens to turn the most exciting shopping trip of one’s life – buying an engagement ring – into the biggest headache of all time.
“Downtown is a great place to shop … if you know what you are doing,” said Sol Dunst of Sol Jewelry Designs. “It is very competitive down here, so you must become an educated consumer.”
With the right guidance, however, customers can learn to take advantage of the district and become successful, satisfied – and even returning – customers.
Research, Research, Research
Researching both diamonds and diamond stores prior to venturing downtown should be the first step. Use Web sites like bluenile.com to understand pricing. Visit retail stores outside of the Jewelry District to see what is already on the market. Also, read reviews on Yelp and similar user-review sites to learn about the vendors within the district.
Learn the Four Cs – Color, Cut, Clarity and Carat Weight
In your research, you will probably come across the standard method of shopping for diamonds, the Four Cs. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) created this concept to facilitate communication between the jeweler and the customer.
Also, try and figure out — either beforehand or at the stores — what is your preference for each of the Cs and which C is most important for you.
Understand the Difference Between GIA and ECL Certifications
Ernie Goldberger of Ernie Goldberger & Co. says his golden rule is to only buy certified diamonds.
There are two main certifications available for diamonds, GIA and the European Gemological Laboratory (EGL). Of the two, most jewelers recommend GIA certification for its strictness and accuracy. GIA-certified diamonds tend to be more expensive than non-GIA-certified diamonds. Buyers should note that among EGL laboratories, EGL USA is considered the strictest.
When comparing diamonds, keep in mind the different certifications. Only compare GIA-certified diamonds with GIA-certified diamonds or EGL USA diamonds with EGL USA diamonds.
Goldberger recommends getting diamonds appraised independently after purchase as an extra security measure.
Establish a Budget
Engagement diamonds can range in price from $500 to $1 million. Setting a price limit increases efficiency when shopping in the Jewelry District. Keep in mind, though, how much of the overall budget to allocate for the stone and how much for the ring.
Jay Hariz of Bridal Rings Co. notes that consumers can save money by opting for a lower-clarity diamond, as, in his opinion, that has the least impact on a diamond’s visual effect.
“The most important thing is to get a referral or a recommendation from someone,” said Mervyn Hahn of Los Angeles Diamond Factory. “There is a lot of dishonesty in this business, which leads to misrepresentation. And that’s why it helps if you are referred.”
The sheer number of vendors in the district makes it impossible to speak with every retailer; thus, recommendations from friends and family gives shoppers a place to start and improves the chance of finding a vendor that you trust and feel comfortable around.
Both Hahn and Sol Jewelry Designs’ Dunst explain that the majority of their customers make appointments. Rarely do first-time customers simply wander in by chance, they said.
“Ninety-nine percent of our customers are sent by other customers. It’s tough if you don’t have a recommendation because a lot of people can talk a good talk, but that’s not enough. You need to have confidence in the people you are dealing with,” Dunst said.
Scope It Out
With your research and recommendations in hand, you can head to the jewelry mart. Don’t be overwhelmed. Use the amount of vendors to your advantage. Roam around. Compare vendors, products and prices. Speak with several jewelers.
“Often, customers come in again and again and again,” Hahn said. “That way you can compare several options, and you also feel comfortable and confident with the jeweler you selected. It is so important that you feel comfortable with your jeweler.”
Asking questions allows you to assess the vendor and determine whether you feel comfortable enough to trust him and to ensure that you become educated and can make a knowledgeable decision before purchasing.
“You don’t need to come in knowing anything, but you should leave with an educated idea of diamonds,” Bridal Rings Co.’s Hariz said. “A jeweler really should be making you knowledgeable enough to make a decision. The first rule of a good jeweler is to get the customer to know what he or she wants, not what the jewelers wants to sell.”
Some questions, as suggested by jewelers:
• How long have you been in business?
• What are the store’s policies? (See below.)
• If a ring is not certified or has a low grade, ask why.
Learn the Store’s Policies
Unfortunately, problems can arise. Therefore, it is important to ask the seller: Does this store give money back or store credit for returns? Does it provide service, repair and upkeep free of charge? Does it have an upgrade policy? What is the warranty?