Saturday, April 25, 2009

Jewelry shopping at the Oak Tree Road

When you go out to the Oak tree road in NJ to buy jewelry, you will be confused, apprehensive, doubtful and yet, above all, tempted to buy. What is the reality behind those gorgeous jewels from that Indian illaka? Read further to get gyaan (information) about shopping for jewelry at the Oak tree road.

Material quality:
The jewelers who are jewelry educated are the ones who present the best options.are the only ones you can trust. They know for sure if their stones are synthetic, treated, untreated, imitations or natural. They know the difference between better and worse quality of manufacturing, stones and metals.
Once you know that the jeweler is educated, then you would move on to determine whether or not he is giving out the truth to his client. That is the trickier part.
For the most part, and I may be wrong, but Sona Jewelers, Raj Jewelers, Neena and RK all held high standards of quality. Each of them had educated staff and experienced owners. Some of the others such as Abhushan despite the label of a "good brand" carried some stones which despite being clearly synthetic were declared as natural. This may be the error of uneducated staff, shrewd marketing tactic, or for those who care, my own misunderstanding, but either ways, the consumer would have to bear the loss.

Manufacturing quality:
Most jewelers small and big retained a variety of goods with various manufacturing quality. Good quality is determined by wearability, accessories, detailing, finish, durability, symmetry, appeal and of course design. The product should fit well on the wearers body, it should be wearable without any pricks and unnecessary stick outs which would catch the fabric.
The earring post (stems) should be of comfortable length. They should have easy to wear but secure clasps. The weight should be well balanced and any additional chain (kanauti etc) should be suggested when required.
The chain of neck pieces should be comfortable and smooth. Rings should be comfortable to wear. Bangles should have secure locks which are easy to operate single handed.
The pieces should look visually symmetrical when required and otherwise go along with the design.
The locks and clasps of various ornaments should compliment the design, be secure, not take up too much material value and easy to operate. The stones set in a design should be evenly matched by color and cut. They should be set securely with proportionate amount of metal showing out of the design.
The product should be flexible or else the movement in the product should follow the design.
At the Oak tree road, the jewelry as I mentioned, showed me varying trends of quality. At some places the stones were great, but the setting not that great. At others, you could see too much metal or negative space. But for the most part, Indian handcrafted jewelry is the best in the world, and that sure reflected in the jewelry at the Oak tree road.

Design choice:
Some of the best choices in Indian jewelry designs are available at the Oak tree road. My favorites happened to be at the Neena Jewelers and the Sona Jewelers. The others did have a few interesting 'almost- there' concepts but really missed on getting me to write about them. What I liked the most at the Neena was their polki collection and at Sona was the diamond and colored stone collection.

Engagement rings and loose diamonds:
The classic American engagement rings at any of the Indian jewelry stores are pretty much the same to look at as any other American jewelry store such as Walmart, Kay, Zales etc. The difference is the prices. I had expected some out of the world difference in the prices but unfortunately the only difference I noticed was that the Indian store carried the same diamond quality in higher prices if not the competitive as most other chain jewelry stores. Walmart, Blueniles and Zales all had cheaper stones than did ANY of the Indian stores.
Logic: The Indian stores sell to you at the Rappaport price minus 300 to 400 $ per carat of stone which is negligible. The chain stores have a HUGE variety with numerous number of discounts which makes them more competitive. All you need is basic diamond education to buy the stone and you should be good to go.

Colored Stones and Birthstones:
Pukhraj, Mani, Neelam, Moonga, Rudraksh etc would have been difficult stones to buy had it not been for the jewelers at the Oak tree road. It is still tough to buy these stones since they are expensive and there is so much that you can get swindled because of that you cannot be sure enough of what you buy at the Oak tree road as well. There is always this option of getting the stones from India (which I would highly suggest if you have reliable sources in India). The best looking stones that I saw were at the RK jewelers and Sona jewelers. Not only were their stones good to look at but also the jewelers at least KNEW what they were talking about. They charge you a BOMB but that I think is the price for getting the honest ethical information about the stones that you buy. Especially for pukhraj, since the market is so weak, without competition from any of the angreji brands, it is easy to hike the prices.
Just an interesting place to visit in case you are looking for COMPLETE declaration of the stone that you are buying, visit http://www.thenaturalsapphirecompany.com/ It is one of my favorite companies and though expensive their products and information both are genuine and very welcoming.

Price:
Now this is the BIGGEST question that I'm sure all of you have. So here are some answers that I hope will help you make a decision:
As compared to similar jewelry bought from India, the prices are VERY HIGH. Unless you have reason to buy immediately, you simply LOVE something or have no source of buying from India, I would say do NOT buy Indian jewelry from America. The reason is simple, the designs are same, the material is evaluated, but the manufacturing is from India.
You must keep in mind that in buying from the Oak tree road, you are actually paying for the maintenance of that high priced real estate, the high paid sales staff, the high overhead charges, the money spent on taxes, inventory maintenance, export duty and other charges and MOST of all, you are paying for that middle man (or the number of middle men) who make it possible for this jewelry to reach you in NJ.
As compared to similar Indian looking handcrafted jewelry bought in US from an American store such as the Fords Jeweler, the prices are really reasonable. The reason is because here in US the labor cost for a hand manufacturer often exceed the cost of material. Indian stores as I may have mentioned buy jewelry from the Indian manufacturers and can afford to give better prices than at least the American stores.
Loose Diamonds and contemporary/western jewelry as compared to the American stores is comparable if not cheaper at the AMERICAN chain jewelry stores. The reason is simple, you can compare at stores where you get good discounts on good buying days such as Thanks giving, Mothers day etc or on special sale events. This jewelry is usually mass manufactured and comes from China and India. The over head costs are divided and what you get can be as I mentioned, comparable if not cheaper than the Indian stores. You must keep in mind the added benefits of buying from Macys, Walmart, Bluenile etc... the benefit of being able to return, exchange, upgrade or sue.

Policies:
One of the biggest advantage of buying product in US is the consumer friendly environment. You buy a diamond from Costco today and a year later you simply "feel" it is not right... you can return it with no hard feelings, no questions asked and no obligation of buying another product instead. In short, you have complete freedom of buying a product, getting comfortable with it, comparing it for prices, living with it and really OWNING it. When buying from an Indian store, you have no way of getting a product evaluated before paying for it. You have this immense responsibility of making a decision in the store under those beautiful lights which make every stone sparkle like a diamond and worst of all, if after your purchase, you take it to another jeweler and he tells you it is not half the value of what you paid, you will have to live with the worst feeling of either having to live with that wasted money or else the guilt of returning it to the jeweler who will definitely not make it easy for you to return the piece.

IN SHORT:
The product design on the Oak tree road at various jewelers is unmatched by many others in US. The prices are exorbitant if you can manage to buy directly from India, but if not then these are very competitively priced beautiful goods. The quality of material is not something that you can blindly buy even from the Indian stores in US, you HAVE to rely on your own instincts and education to buy safely. It is better to buy Indian designs from the Indian stores but buy the Western designs (common ones especially) from the chain jewelry US stores. Buy loose stones online with a proper GIA certificate or else from a well known chain store but definitely NOT from the Indian stores and not from India unless your immediate kin in India polishes diamonds.

Best advise:
You can always write to me at surbhi.s.gupta@gmail.com to ask more about buying jewelry from ANY store in NJ especially if it is from the Oak tree road. I would love to hear your comments and some more about your own experience at buying jewelry from the Oak tree road.
To listen to my radio show, tune in to 1170 am EBC Radio Tuesdays 10-12 noon. Or else log on to www.ebcmusic.com on Tuesdays 10-12 noon.
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