Smart Shopping When Traveling Abroad

April 7, 2023

The do's and don'ts of buying gems and jewelry away from home.

By Juanita Addeo, ASA, Master Gemologist Appraiser® and Barry Block, ASA, Master Gemologist Appraiser®

As appraisers, we see many clients with items of jewelry bought while on destination vacations, including quite a few from cruise ship vacations. More often than not, the story does not have a happy ending. For our vacationing friends (as well as others traveling on business), our advice is simple: If you want to buy gems or jewelry away from home, especially on a cruise, do so because you've fallen in love with the piece or as a memento of your vacation, but never buy jewelry for the purpose of "investment."

The cruise ship travel industry is vast. According to Cruise Industry News, cruise ships carried an estimated 27.8 million passengers and that number is expected to increase to a whopping 38.7 million by 2027. The industry revenue for 2023 is expected to be $25.14 billion and will rise to 35.87 billion by 2027 - that is 'b' as in Billion. These statistics present a titanic (if you will excuse the pun) opportunity for deception and puffery from jewelry stores affiliated with the travel business, and vacationers looking to be "entertained." The numbers suggest that the cases we hear about may only be the tip of the iceberg (again, excuse our reference!).

Do Your Research Before You Go

Even if you aren't planning on buying gems or jewelry, arm yourself with some information regarding the establishments that you are likely to see at your ports of call. Find out if there have been any problems for previous travelers. Below is a partial list of helpful consumer sites and blogs that should be reviewed before you go. Some of these sites were started by travelers themselves who, unfortunately, learned the hard way.

When You Are There

Disregard the claimed "values" expressed by the seller - they want to sell you something after all, and they know you won't be back anytime soon! Use logic and common-sense guidelines. Common sense, as in RED FLAG: a salesperson claims the item is valued (or should appraise) at $15,000 but is going to sacrifice it to you for just $5,000. Think about it, if it is 'worth' $15,000, why would they sell it for $5,000? It's just not logical.

It's not "value" if it's overpriced to begin with! Some sales people are trained to lure you with sizzle, rarity or exclusivity, perhaps to meet a quota and to close the sale despite whatever objection or resistance you may voice. They are expecting you to haggle, and if you don't, they win-if-you buy.

Don't be tempted to trade in your older pieces of jewelry unless you're prepared to do so. Your guard is usually a bit more relaxed while on vacation. (Save the Mai-Tais for after the shopping trip!) You might be lulled into doing things you wouldn't normally do. Get a current appraisal of items you want to trade before going on your trip. Odds are you can get more for your old jewelry at home. An American Society of Appraisers (ASA) Gems and Jewelry appraiser can advise you as to how much you should expect to get for your trade. Know before you go!

Exclusive Or In-Store Branded Jewelry

Unless it is a brand that you recognize that is sold in well-known stores around the world, beware. These ports-of-call stores pay for exclusive branding rights so they can charge whatever they like, and their products usually prove to be a poor value in other markets.

Seek the advice of an Accredited Jewelry Appraiser before you go. Finding an accredited, independent jewelry appraiser is simple: go to ASA's website, and do a "Find An Appraiser search in the Gems and Jewelry Discipline using your zip code.

Read The Fine (Faded, Light, Tiny, Copious) Print

Read the "guarantees" and "return" policies! Particularly if they are conditional. Be careful here; Some sellers will offer a "guarantee" that states something like; "If the item appraises for less than we sold it for, we'll give you your money back." What if the diamond appraises for what you paid for it or a even little more, but the quality grades are not as stated? For instance, the 'I' color diamond you thought you purchased grades as 'K' color? You won't be able to get your money back because the condition on the back of your receipt states that there are no returns for diamonds unless they grade at least 2 color grades different. These are conditions! Don't buy unless all conditions are removed! If you can't get an unconditional guarantee from a would-be seller, make a purchase from someone who will.

Check the back of the sales receipt for a contract before signing a sales receipt. Ask yourself-why would I be asked to sign a sales receipt in the first place? Turn the receipt over and see if you are agreeing to the seller's "sales contract" at the same time.

Such a seller will not make it easy for you to make a return. It is not unusual for large stores to throw up smokescreens in order to discourage you from returning an item. They might state that they won't take it back because they won't know if the item is the same as what they've sold. Or, if you've had an appraisal, they might say that the appraiser is not "independent.'' They won't return your calls, or they might insist that you get another laboratory report or yet another appraisal. This will not only cost you money, but also valuable time, effort, and energy.

Tip: Your local jewelers and online sites will usually give you unconditional money back guarantees.

If You Buy

Insist these items be included in writing on your receipt:

  • You are able to get a full refund for any reason, that is, an unconditional money back guarantee. Make that a condition of sale.
  • Insist on specific quality information; for example, G color, VS-2 clarity, NOT "superfine white" or "eye-clean" or other non-standard language.
  • Do not rely solely on your cruise line lists of recommended jewelry stores. Many stores are owned by the same corporation, and if one doesn't get you to buy, the other one will. Like Area 51, the fact that the cruise line companies actually partly own these companies might not be urban legend!
  • If a lab report does accompany a diamond or gemstone, insist on one from a reputable independent laboratory, such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or American Gemological Society (AGS).

How To Pay for Your Purchase

How you pay makes a great deal of difference. Always pay with your credit card! Utilizing your credit card will give you an advantage if a problem should arise and you want to make a return. In-store financing does not give you any leverage (refund) in case of disputes.

Points To Remember

  • Get your guarantee in writing
  • Never sign their sales slips, you might be signing a contract.
  • Schedule a consultation with your ASA Gems and Jewelry appraiser before traveling
  • Think clearly and unemotionally, don't be pressured into the "once in a lifetime deal."
  • As one of billions of travelers these stores see a year, if you purchase the item, it is not "wholesale.''
  • You will not be able to profit from your purchase.

Having said all this, we want to add that it's not always a bad experience. Markets are becoming more global, especially with mass-produced jewelry.  If you visit such local places as boutiques, cultural centers and artisan shops, you just might find something you wouldn't be able to get at home.

With these simple guidelines and tips, you will enjoy your vacation, and return safely with many wonderful memories!