Every so often I have a customer walk into my store with a piece of jewelry and ask me the same question, “We just came back from a cruise and bought this jewelry. It was originally $XXX but we got it for $XX. Is it worth the money we paid?” I am an experienced jeweler and a cruiser. On a recent cruise I decided to investigate this topic: What can you buy on the islands? What makes sense and what doesn’t? Four major categories seem to be purchased on vacations: souvenirs, liquor, fragrances, and jewelry. I am not an expert in the first three but as a jeweler, I would like to comment.

Every time I visit an island I always visit a few jewelry stores, not as a customer but because I want to see if there’s anything new and exciting in a foreign place. I want to compare prices and quality, see the services these stores provide, and find out their return policies. All this will enable me to better answer the many questions people ask me after buying jewelry abroad. And, if I do see new products and nice service, to possibly implement them here and improve my business.

Let’s start with watches. If you are in the market for a high end watch, do your homework first. Shop the local stores which carry the brand you want, find the model and style you desire, and ask for the best price; then check the island shops. Most likely you will be disappointed: the watch is not cheaper; they don’t have the same watch but something similar – last year’s model and only a few dollars less; or they have it and it is several hundred dollars less. However, don’t rush to spend your money; it may well be a “gray market” watch. “Grey Market” merchandise is new and “real” but not sold by the manufacturer’s authorized dealer. It does not come with the manufacturer’s warranty. In many cases there will be no problem, but if there is, how will you know if a qualified watchmaker will work on your watch, and how much will you have to pay to have it repaired without a warranty?

As for jewelry, most stores carry several major brands and non-branded merchandise. Most major brand name merchandise does not vary in price from different stores. It’s all in the selling technique. The sales people work on pure commission, they know you are in town for only a few hours, and they “latch” on to you the second you enter the store. Before you agree to buy anything, stop and ask: Can you size this ring for me? If something goes wrong, can I get this bracelet repaired? Repair quality is not guaranteed and not always expert, and, since you’ve already paid for the piece, their job is done. Can you return it? No, and it is nearly impossible to get your money back.

What about price? Branded products do not vary much in price; they “get” you with non-branded jewelry. The quality of these pieces is usually low and the tag prices high. The truth is, for the same money or even less you could buy the same piece at your local jeweler or pay slightly more for a much higher quality piece. And what about quality? This is always a “shady” area and, when it comes to diamonds, a confusing one. Many larger diamonds will come with a “certificate,” but often from gem organizations you never heard of and almost never from GIA or AGS (the two most respected names in the jewelry industry).

So, with summer vacations coming, go on your cruise and enjoy yourself! And if you didn’t do it yet, stop in at your local jewelry store to pick up the genuine sparkling ring and that good watch to wear and enjoy on your cruise! Bon Voyage!