Friday, August 19, 2011

Tooling At The Gem Show

This is what I see at a gem show.

I really must be a simple creature. All around me, I'm surrounded by gold, jade, emeralds, rubies, gold, silver, Rolexes, Breitlings and diamonds galore - all I can see are tools.

Every few months or so, my mom enlists me to drive her to a gem show somewhere. Today, we're in Chantilly, Virginia - just a few minutes from Dulles airport and a nearly two hour drive (damn that NoVa/DC traffic) from home.

For me, it's a non-issue but the array and selection of jewelry is amazing. Everything and more that you've never seen at Zales or Jared. If there's some kind of jewelry that you want, they probably have it here. Need to find the perfect engagement ring and wreck yourself of $15,000? They are only too happy to help. Want to find that right estate (read:used) watch (preferably a gold and platinum, diamond encrusted Rolex Daytona)? They've got plenty.

What you don't have (read:I) is the experience and knowledge to take advantage of the situation. It reminds me of antiquing - that honored practice of going out on weekends on antique furniture hunts only to be taken by the smarmy dealer with the pencil moustache whose studio artists have demonstrated their mastery of distressing techniques.

Color, cut, clarity - who the hell knows and understands these things??? To pass the time, I ask a vendor to show me a 1.15 carat diamond. He tells me it's $6,500. Huh? Are you serious? He encourages me to look at it through a 10x loupe and I see flaws. Nothing too dramatic but flaws nonetheless.

In the parlance of diamonds (and I presume emeralds, sapphires and tanzanite), they're called inclusions and those, along with color, clarity and weight determine just how much the diamond will cost you. To me, these prices are outrageous and a total extortion.

Diamond lovers (and their sellers) will tell you that it's one of the world's most rare and exotic gems. Complete and total hogwash. Diamonds are a dime a dozen. If that weren't true, you wouldn't be able to buy a diamond encrusted saw blade on the internet for thirty bucks. It would cost you thousands.

Let's face it. Diamonds are everywhere and the psychosis that is DeBeers has invaded our mindset. The saying goes that you should be able to afford two months salary. That's 24% of your yearly pay. Does that sound reasonable?

But I digress.

Bewildered by the prices of diamonds, I walk around the show and find a booth that I haven't seen before: the jeweler's tool vendor. This guy has it all - anything and everything you need to work on jewelry. Mini anvils, tiny pliers and tweezers, the cool-looking loupe that diamond dealer was using to show me the flaws. I like this place. It brings me comfort in a sea of over-priced diamonds and bead-crazed women.

Like Home Depot, I want to go nuts here. All sorts of weird and exotic tools that I could use in the kitchen. Take that ultrasonic bath - how can I use that? It's only $150. Or that weird contraption that I don't even know what it is. I want to use it. Heck, I need to use it.

In the end, I leave with a bag of goodies. A couple of close out gram scales that were downright cheap, a loupe so I can posture like I know what I'm taking about when I talk about H color, and a couple of other items that will make a fine addition to my tool kit.

I leave the show for the long drive home with a bag of tools from a gem show. About right.