goldsmiths • jewelers • gemologists

The Jewelry Repair Game

by Richard W. Wise, G.G.


“I never do anything with my hands”
and other myths of the jewelry repair game.

If one more client comes in and tells me her ring should not need repair because “I never do anything with my hands”, I think I am going to spit-up. You know, just after you mention a price to do the repair she bristles like a porcupine then exclaims: “I don’t understand it! Why did it break? I always take the ring off before I do dishes.”

The suppressed premise here is that jewelry is or should be indestructible. Apparently at least 20% of the American public believes this to be true. Jewelry should not break and if it does it must be defective and therefore the fault of the jeweler.

I guess I just don’t get it! If you buy a new car, drive it off the lot and run into a light pole, the dealer is going to charge you to remove the dent. Most expensive items we buy come with a 90 day to 1 year limited warranty. Yet some consumers seem to expect that a piece of jewelry should come with an all risk warranty. Name me another consumer item that comes with the expectation of free maintenance for life?

I have had clients approach me as much as a decade after a piece was made. Case in point; Mrs. D, an active sportswoman (tennis, skiing, golf) in her middle years: we had made her a handmade 18k yellow gold solitaire engagement ring with a 5 carat blue sapphire sitting right on top of it. The ring had been worn all day, every day for a dozen years and the prongs were quite worn and the setting required a rebuild. The client didn’t understand. How could this be? Why should she pay to have the work done? After all, we had made the ring. Only after a half hour of explanation did she calm down and agree to have the work done and pay for it.

Jewelry, like all material things, is subject to wear and tear and requires occasional maintenance. Gold is a beautiful material but it is soft. Platinum is more durable but it too will wear over time. The fact is that in our post-industrial world almost anything, doorknobs, washing machines, butter knives, golf clubs, can scratch, dent or otherwise damage precious materials. Gemstones, even diamond, the hardest substance on earth, can be chipped and broken.

Diamonds or how you can break the hardest substance on earth:

I recall selling a high quality carat size princess cut diamond to a client. Six months later she returned. The diamond was broken in half and she was very upset; in her mind the diamond must have been defective. “I hit it hard but I didn’t think it could break.” I tried to explain the difference between hardness and toughness and pointed out that even diamond can break. The client looked at me like I had three heads. Many people, even jewelers, don’t understand the difference between hardness and toughness. Hardness is simply a measure of scratch-ability. Diamond, the hardest substance, is 10 on the Mohs hardness scale meaning that it cannot be scratched by any other substance but it can still break. Ruby/Sapphire, is rated 9 and is the second hardest substance; it will not scratch a diamond but it is tougher and more resistant to breakage. A crisis was averted when the client’s insurance company replaced the diamond with barely a murmur.

Some jewelry items are damaged more easily than others. Rings are number one followed by bracelets, earrings and pendants. Fine handmade pieces may be more susceptible to certain kinds of damage due to the fact that they are joined together with solder rather than being cast in one piece. After all, a Maserati requires more tune-ups than a Ford. Conversely, some handmade pieces are actually tougher due to hand forging and temper. One piece castings can cause real problems. Remember that bargain priced ruby ring that you bought in India? Remember how it began losing stones, like rain falling from the sky, as soon as you cleared customs?

Buying Antique Jewelry, the Inheritance can be taxing:

When purchasing antique or vintage jewelry bear in mind that this is a piece of jewelry that has been around for awhile. Antique jewelry is normally sold as is! You are buying a piece of history which means you are inheriting any and all problems that come with it. You can hardly expect the dealer to be responsible for re-doing a wonky repair that comes apart 50 years later.

Choose the right materials for the job:

Today we have a lot of choices and some precious materials are more durable than others. Pure gold is 2.5-3.0 on Moh’s scale of hardness, platinum is 4-4.5.0. So if you want that wedding ring to last for fifty years, platinum is your best choice.

Common dust is composed mainly of quartz which rates 7.0 on the scale. Leaving aside toughness, gemstones below this level of hardness are a poor choice for everyday wear because simple cleaning will cause minute scratching that will gradually become visible. Think about that opal that just seems to stay foggy no matter how often you rub it.


The Victorian age ended a century ago. Most of us do not wear white gloves or attend afternoon tea parties and we cannot afford a footman to open our doors or a maid to do our dishes and we use our hands all day, every day. We wear our jewelry and yes that jewelry is subject to wear and tear and may perhaps lose a stone or even break. If you are looking for an all risk warranty against all the vicissitudes of modern life don’t look to your jeweler, I suggest you contact your spiritual advisor or perhaps, more to the point, your insurance agent.

Please don't send me your repairs....





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