I had a coffee with a good friend whom I respect dearly last week. It’s a rare treat because he is an extremely busy man. He runs a family business selling slate all over the world and was telling me about his last business trip to Vietnam.

He was beginning to tell me how some of his business meetings went, then he stopped mid-sentence and looked at my right hand. I felt self- conscious because I thought he noticed the state of my nails - my golden nail polish was on my nails was chipped and peeling away looked like somebody was scratching a scratch card on my nails. This is something you have to live with if you make handmade jewellery, although I don’t think the male goldsmiths seem to care so much.

He said to me:

“l like your ring, can I have look at it?”.

I took it off and showed him. It was a Rose Gold Vermeil cocktail ring with a huge oval 12x16mm Rock Crystal. As he was inspecting it, he mentioned that his wife might like it. Then asked he asked me

 “What type of stone was it?” I said a Rock Crystal.

“Oh it’s a Swarovski crystal,” he said.

I politely said no. It’s different. This is a precious gemstone which is natural.

Then he said “but Swarovski is good, I see them on the high street and everyone loves them.” “Yes,” I replied. “Swarovski crystals are good and an amazing crystal brand.” I felt embarrassed again, not sure if I should I explain myself or if he saw and value in my ring.

In my head I was shouting, “It is not a Swarovski crystal!” reacting to the type of thing that is important to a jeweller but not to someone who doesn’t wear much jewellery. I had to remember he is not a gemologist, gemstone merchant, or a jeweller. He is a man who’s wife might like my ring.

He continued examining my ring.

While I was still miles away, talking myself around in my mind, he caught me off-guard with a surprise question.

“How much would you charge for your ring.”

I was put on the spot. Nobody had ever tried to buy jewellery off my hand before. I made this ring just for myself. It was personal. I told him that I made this as a one-off for myself and was not intending to sell it.

He pressed me for a price. I gave in, at least so he would understand what a similar piece would cost, including design, precious metal, stone and labour.

I said “Around £300-400.” Then he spurted out in disbelief

“What, for a Swarovski crystal?!”

I took a deep breath, drank the rest of my tea and explained.

“Just as in your business there are different types of slate and roofing materials, in the jewellery business there are different types of crystals. You don’t consider all slate the same but I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I am a goldsmith, so I am more inclined to prefer to work with more precious gemstones”.

He ordered another coffee and I ordered another breakfast tea with soya milk.

“First all a lot of things are called crystals in the jewellery industry, but they are not necessarily organically ‘true’ crystals. The gemstone which I’m wearing was obtained naturally from the earth (organically), a gemstone.

“Swarovski crystals are manmade crystals and often made of glass and lead. Rock crystals have to be mined before being cut and polished. They are mainly used in fine jewellery designs and have higher prices due to their astonishing fineness, sparkle, and colour.”

I was looking at him to see if he believed me that there was a difference between my rock crystal and Swarovski crystals. I could tell that he was not convinced. I explained that that rock crystals like the one I was wearing could have the colourless clarity of pure water, unlike glass and manmade lead crystals which could have a hint of pale green. Also, I asked him if he knew what an Amethyst gemstone was.

He answered,

“Yes a purple gemstone”

“Ok, so the rock crystal comes from the gemstone family of quartz. Amethyst is a purple crystal and rock crystal is similar to amethyst, but is just a colourless stone”.


An ‘ah-ha’ moment blossomed before my eyes. Just by comparing the amethyst to the rock crystal. He appreciated the ring even more and was grateful for the knowledge. I’m sure he is pretty confident to relay this information to someone else. He said he is going to find out his wife’s ring size and wanted me to make a rock crystal cocktail ring for his wife for Christmas.

Who knew I’d be doing a bit of jewellery consulting with my tea? It made me think though. I have a website but a website cannot tell you everything you need to know about a piece of jewellery. Asking a sales assistant about the complexities of fine jewellery is goes further but if they are not a jeweller and not involved in the production of the jewellery, it may not be enough.

A face-to-face conversation is always better because the specialist can get you from where you are, in your current understanding, much closer to where they are with their specialist knowledge or where you want to go with specific requests and concerns.

It’s a lot like having an electrician or a plumber over who has the time and experience to answer all your questions and thoroughly explain exactly what is going on and what your options are.

You’re left understanding your own place better, which helps you make better, more informed choices.

If you are buying something special in precious metal and materials it is best to have a face-to-face conversation with someone who knows how to make jewellery with their bare hands and know what they are doing. Making bespoke jewellery for someone is more than the materials. Fine jewellery making is still an industry based on personal connections and reputation. It’s about trust and building a relationship with the client.

I don’t think I could explain and convince my friend about the difference between rock crystal and Swarovski crystals over an email or a phone call.

So now I think you can’t beat face-to-face communication for bespoke jewellery.

It is better to talk face-to-face over something very important, personal and sentimental like jewellery. Investing up to an hour of your time to speak to someone to answer all of your queries, explain the design process and precious materials, it will give you a better peace of mind and much better results.

And the hour has a great return when you consider how long you will keep and wear the jewellery.

The other good thing, of course, is you get to have some delicious tea.




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