Trying to buy significant pieces of heirloom-quality jewelry today can be daunting. With an overabundance of mass-produced designs and new brands from stars or heiresses-turned-jewelers popping up every month, how does one identify true craftsmanship, quality and value in fine jewelry?
Philip Press, a master platinumsmith who designs and makes extraordinary platinum and diamond jewelry for the Hollywood elite, recommends asking three questions when evaluating a potential couture jewelry purchase: 1) What is the quality of the gemstones and precious metal used? 2) Is the piece handcrafted with flawless workmanship? 3) Is the design timeless and functional, as well as beautiful?
Platinum: The King of Metals
Superior quality is important in both the precious metal and gemstones. Platinum is the king of metals, offering the highest standard of quality. When a piece is stamped PLAT 950 or Pt 950, it is made from a metal alloy that contains 95% platinum. Press suggests forgoing PLAT 900, which often contains low-quality fillers. Press mixes his own proprietary PLAT 950 alloy, PLATIMO™, which he created with the help of a world-renowned metallurgist, to ensure his platinum pieces are the brightest and the whitest on the market. Press also notes that platinum is hypoallergenic and its natural white color makes diamonds look incredibly white. Platinum is 60 percent denser than 14k gold and more substantial. Platinum does not wear away like gold, making it perfect for holding precious gems in place.
Philip Press Master Platinumsmith
Ancient Coveted Metal
Since the time of the ancient Egyptians and Incas, platinum has been the most coveted and prized metal, used in royalty’s jewelry for centuries. Press adds, “Today, platinum is not just a status symbol, but pure, durable and the ideal metal for heirloom-quality jewelry.”
Fourteen-karat white gold, on the other hand, is an alloy of 58.5% gold and at least one white metal, such as nickel, manganese, or zinc. 18k white gold is 75% pure, but it is never truly white and must be plated with usually rhodium to become similar in color to platinum. However, this plating wears-off over time, requiring re-plating every few years.
The Expert Recommends
Press strongly recommends 950 PLAT for any jewelry piece that is worn frequently, such as bridal and right-hand rings, earrings and pendants. Yet, he cautions that platinum may be too heavy for certain types of jewelry pieces such as chandelier earrings or large necklaces. Since these pieces aren’t worn every day, 18-karat white gold, as well as yellow or rose gold, may be an acceptable alternative on occasion. Press mixes a small amount of rose or yellow gold into a few of his platinum designs, especially when he uses colored diamonds.
Regarding gemstones, Press recommends diamonds that are ideally cut and certified by a recognized diamond-grading organization. Smaller stones within a piece also should be ideally cut and of similar quality to the main stones. Colored stones should be richly saturated in hue and contain no eye-visible flaws. Color enhancement of gemstones is a common and accepted practice, but treated gems are worth less than untreated ones so be aware of any treatments. Fancy colored diamonds can be a tricky purchase. Intensity and saturation of color determine value. If gemstones that are non-conflict or “recycled” from an estate collection are a priority, ask for them. As for black pearls, he prefers Avaiki™ pearls, which are sustainably farmed only in the Cook Islands.
What to Look For for Longevity
Fine craftsmanship is the most essential ingredient to a piece of jewelry that will last for generations. Press suggests asking several questions about the workmanship of a piece:
1) Is it made by hand, partially handcrafted or caste and mass produced?
2) Where is the piece made, and what are the skills and experience of the artisans creating it?
3) Does the designer have his or her own workshop? Is the designer a trained jewelry craftsman and is he or she directly involved in the process of making the piece?
4) If platinum is chosen, are the designer and manufacturer masters at working in platinum, which requires additional talents and different tools than goldsmithing?
5) What is the reputation of the designer/manufacturer for quality, consistency and originality?
Press urges consumers to understand the level of craftsmanship in a piece and assess value based on the quality of the materials and workmanship, not just a designer brand name.
Finally, the design chosen as an heirloom should not only be a reflection of one’s individuality and personal tastes, but should be classic as well. A piece shouldn’t look dated in just 10 years. For the ultimate in personalization and luxury, consider working with a jewelry designer to custom-make a one-of-a-kind piece. Press warns that functionality is a critical part of the design process, not just beauty. While Press’ designs are frequently seen on the Red carpet, he once had to rescue a celebrity stylist and his A-list client whose platinum and diamond necklace from another designer broke just hours before the star was to attend a Hollywood premiere. “We were able to repair the necklace, but it was a valuable lesson for the stylist to pay attention to functionality and craftsmanship when choosing Red carpet jewels,” Press commented.
As a closing note, caring for your fine jewelry properly will help to prolong its life. Press counsels his clients to soak their platinum and gemstone baubles in ammonia overnight and scrub them with a toothbrush in the morning. If an organic cleaner is preferred, several brands are available online. Every few months, Press recommends a professional ultrasonic and steam cleaning. Black pearls, which Press likes to mix with platinum and diamonds, should not be soaked in a cleaner, but wiped with a soft, damp cloth. Storing pieces in separate jewelry pouches or felt-lined compartments is also crucial. “Diamonds and other gemstones will scratch each other so keep each piece apart from others,” Press concludes.
BY PHILIP PRESS