Fine Print

Are You Really Getting What You’re Getting?

They say that the devil is in the details.  If they are referring to the fine print found in contracts, grading reports, catalogs and bills of sale, they are right.  Recently, ABC News did a week long special on how consumers are literally signing away their rights when they acquire a new product.  Look at the fine print in the stack of papers you sign when you buy a new car; or a catalog you receive in the mail.  Fine print is everywhere!  TV commercials that last 60 seconds give us one second to read the tiny print at the bottom of the screen.  Lifetime warranties may have an expiration date (it’s in the fine print).  Many of us don’t read the fine print and if we do read the teeny weenie sentences, they don’t necessarily make any sense to a layman.  They are written with such legalese that even a lawyer could not pin down the meaning.

In sum, people buying products are not getting what they think they’re getting.  When they eventually figure out they’ve been bamboozled, there isn’t anything they can do about it.  You didn’t send in the registration card so there is no warranty, or if you did they have no record of it, or there is a catch-all phrase that leaves them hold harmless and you holding the bag.

The following 13 fine print sentences are the most prevalent and destructive to your rights as a consumer in the world of jewelry, lab reports and jewelry insurance.  If any item you contemplate buying is saddled with one or more of these fine print “viruses”, then the potential purchase and subsequent enjoyment of that purchase will likely be compromised.



1. “Original prices may not have resulted in actual sales.”

This one kills me!  You almost have to read it a few times to understand what they are actually saying.  This fine print statement shows up in many consolidators’ websites and in brick-and-mortar store catalogs.  It means the price listed as the original price is bogus!  Nobody on this planet or any other one ever paid sticker!  The price exists to give you a sense of savings when you compare the “sale” price to the “original” price.  This is how stores run those fake 50-75% off sales and still make a nice profit.  Anytime someone says you are getting a sale price, ask them to put in writing the fact that someone in this universe actually paid the original price.  If they won’t, the asking price is the real price; there isn’t a real sale going on and you need to take your business elsewhere.

2 and 3.  “Diamond carat weights (ct) represent the approximate total weight of all the diamonds in the setting and MAY vary no more than .07 below the stated weights.”  Or “All total carat weights are approximate.”

While the law (Federal Trade Commission) says that any diamond piece of jewelry sold has to weigh within .005 ct of its actual weight, there is an exception.  The exception is when stated otherwise.  Translation:  Any jeweler can tell you a diamond weighs any amount regardless of whether it weighs that amount if and only if this fine print virus is posted on their website, in their catalog or in any paperwork they give you!  If you see it or ask if the weights they sell are approximate and they reply affirmatively– RUN!

4.  The genuine gemstones in this catalog may have been treated or enhanced by heating.”

This one is sneaky!  Usually this paragraph is followed by “Generally, diffusion (sapphires), oiling or waxing (emeralds and opals), irradiation (blue topaz), or surface enhanced (mystic or twilight topaz).”  The key here is GENERALLY.  By using “generally” it means they can treat their diamonds with no further acknowledgement than this statement.  Translation:  You could spend thousands of dollars on a diamond that has actually been baked and is brittle!  If you’re after quality, stay away from any jeweler that alters their gemstones and hides the fact in the fine print!

5, 6, 7 and 8.  “This report is not a guarantee, valuation or appraisal and ______has    

 made no representation or warranty regarding this report, the article(s) described herein or any inscription described in this report.”   Or

“_____Lab and its employees and agents shall not be liable for any loss, damage or expense for any error in or omission from this document or for its issuance or use even if caused by or resulting from the negligence or other fault of _____Lab and its employees.”  Or

“The client declared and accepts that a certificate, drawn up in accordance with the scientific methods applied by _____, cannot as such be disputed before _____, and _____, its appointees or _____ are on no account responsible for possible dissimilarities and/or differences that could appear from repeated examinations or as a result of other methods applied.”  Or

“All clarity characteristics may not be shown.” 

These fine print viruses were all taken directly from lab grading reports.  Lab names have been deleted to protect the guilty.  The purpose of a lab grading report is to offer declarative objective information that the purchaser can rely on in order to make an informed decision.  As consumers, we’re looking for guarantees.  If we are told it’s “X”, it should be “X”.  We shouldn’t be told it’s “X” and then in the fine print find out it might be “X” and if it’s not, the vendor cannot be held liable.  Any lab report that has these slimy small print viruses should be disregarded as nothing more than propaganda.  Any lab report whose opening sentence is “This report is not a guarantee, valuation or appraisal,” is as useful as a college degree purchased on the internet.  A lab unwilling to stake their reputation on what they say in their document serves no purpose.  This is why the guild stores like Tiffany, Cartier and Harry Winston are all using internal labs where the grading can be quadruple checked in order to guarantee your purchase.  If the labs don’t clean up their act and lay down some hard and fast guarantees with their reports, the steroid baseball scandal will seem minor in comparison when tens of thousands of clients realize their diamond doesn’t really match the report and their rock is worth less than 20% of what they paid.

9.  “Diamond grades may vary”

I saw this little ditty in many department store (jewelry department) catalogs and mall jeweler catalogs.  “Diamond grades” can refer to the clarity, color and class of cut, so this little number can create a pandemic of problems!  This statement literally allows the vendor to call the diamond any type of quality they want!  “Vary” is so subjective that the deceptive jeweler could argue that “vary” means any number of grades off in any direction.  Very simple solution here—tell the jeweler to put in writing that they guarantee every single characteristic they are telling you about or giving you in a lab grading report and if it is disputed by any accredited appraiser that you can get your money back or a replacement—no questions asked!  If they blush or hem and haw, get walkin’!

10.  “Some styles may contain single cut diamonds.”

Single cut diamonds only have 16-17 facets (these are usually small diamonds) instead of the standard 58.  Little diamonds that don’t have enough facets flatten out and fog out very quickly when they get a little bit dirty.  No brand new ring should come with single cut diamonds.  If sparkle is important to you in your rocks, avoid these.

11.  “Gemstone products are often treated to enhance their beauty.  Some treatments may not be permanent and require special care.”

This one is horrendous!  They are saying that anything under the sun might have been done to your rock (baking, laser drilling, bleaching, etc.) and any side-effects are not their responsibility!  Not only that, they are stating their “enhancements” might not be permanent (the rock could fall apart) if you aren’t careful.  Any diamond, I repeat, any diamond that may have been treated needs to be avoided!  Period.

12.  “Photos may be enlarged and/or enhanced.”

OK, I get the enlarged part, so I can see what I’m buying better.  But the enhanced part crosses the line!  The whole point of enlarging is to see the fine detail.  If the true detail has been altered to look better, then how do I know what I’m getting?  Look, if I’m in a chat room and someone emails me a picture of Christy Brinkley (supermodel) and tells me it’s them, aren’t I going to be a little disappointed when I meet them in person?

13.  “If the merchandise is lost, stolen or damaged, it will be replaced with ‘like’ merchandise or what it costs us to replace it.”

This is known in the industry as the “Like Clause.”  Mid-cap insurance companies place it in the fine print so they don’t have to match exactly what you originally had.  With some insurance companies “like” means within one clarity grade, one color grade, ten points of carat weight and no provisions for class of cut, treatment or fluorescence.  Your half million dollar home burned down and they want to give you a tent to live in, arguing that it is “like” merchandise because it also provides shelter!  Any insurance policy with “the like clause” is practically worthless.  Premium policies from Lloyds of London or Chubb do not have “like” clauses. 

Knowledge is power.  Now that you are aware of these fine print viruses they’ll be easier to find and recognize.

Related Video: Baked Diamonds, Shattered Dreams

by Fred Cuellar, author of the best-selling book “How to Buy a Diamond.” More questions? Ask the Diamond Guy®
The founder and president of Diamond Cutters International, Fred Cuellar is one of the top diamond experts in the world, as well as a three-time Guinness Book record holder in jewelry design.
Fred Cuellar
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