From only one place in the world, mined by hand, Larimar is one of natures’ rarest treasures. The blue gemstone was virtually unheard of until Marahlago started using it in their jewelry and brought it to the world’s stage.
As Larimar grows in popularity, so does the list of imitators and gimmicky stone sellers. With over 20 years of expertise in gemstone jewelry, and more specifically on high quality Larimar gemstone jewelry, we created a how-to guide to buying Gemstone Jewelry to help you navigate jewelry stores and online jewelers like a pro.
Want to learn more about Larimar, the rare Caribbean gemstone, only found in one remote mountain of the Dominican Republic?
Many factors define a piece of jewelry besides the actual gemstone. From the weight of silver, to the way the stone is set, every detail is important and it can be hard to know what to look for. This is especially true when trying to evaluate pictures online, but after reading this you should have a much better idea of what is important and how to spot what to look for…
Let's get started with some key details.
Each piece of jewelry starts off with an inspiration, and is brought to life with a design process that requires knowledge of metallurgy, design elements and characteristics of each of the gemstones used. Many Larimar designs we see in the marketplace are created for other materials and adapted for Larimar.
At Marahlago, we have worked exclusively with Larimar for over 20 years, so all designs are created just for Larimar and take into account some of the unique features of the stone. For example Larimar is slightly translucent, so inlay channels made for opal or onyx are not going to work well at all. The way the stone is set is one of the most important features of any jewelry design and the thickness of the silver is critical to protect the Larimar from accidental bangs and scrapes.
Most fine jewelry is made with gold or sterling silver. Gold is stronger than silver, but substantially more expensive. Pure silver is very soft, so Sterling silver (which is always stamped .925) is the standard used for Jewelry. It is an alloy of 92.5% pure silver mixed with 7.5% other metals to make an alloy that is harder or has other desired characteristics. The exact mix used varies from company to company.
We prefer a nickel free alloy with a high copper content to give the silver a “warmer’ luster and make the finished pieces harder and less prone to bend or scratch. It is more expensive and harder to work with, but we feel that it gives a better finished product that will better stand up to the rigors of daily wear.
Most people are unaware of the importance of the Jewelry manufacturing process and how that impacts the quality of your finished piece. There is an eternal debate in the Jewelry industry about which is better and the answer really comes down to the price of the piece and the skill of the craftsperson.
Handmade Jewelry usually involves a master craftsman working for weeks on a single piece. Obviously that very intensive labour is not possible for lower priced silver jewelry, so a majority of silver pieces are rushed and use off the shelf components all soldered together. For Sterling silver, use casting because of the precise control and consistency of every piece. We stand behind every piece with a 3-year warranty on each and every piece.
The weight and thickness of the finished jewelry is important, we have all picked up gold or costume pieces that are surprisingly light and hollow. You want your silver jewelry to have a good weight to it. The weight indicates thickness which in turn indicates quality and strength. It is possible to work silver to be almost paper thin, which is of course going to save a lot of money, but it may not be strong enough to last upto prolonged daily wear.
Unplated silver will naturally tarnish ; if left unchecked, it can eventually turn black, so a quality plate is far superior and essential to long term durability. However, the problem with electroplating is that the chemicals used are very acidic and will eat away the surface of the stone, so most companies that offer plated Larimar jewelry do so before they set the stone. That means the stones have to be glued in place, which can cause a mountain of issues down the line.
At Marahlago, we learnt the hard way that glue settings aren’t suitable for Larimar. They are perfectly normal for some porous materials such as pearls or turquoise, but Larimar is too “glassy” and the glue just does not stick well. Glue settings are very common because they are the cheapest and fastest way to set Larimar, but if you lose the stone, it is very difficult to find someone qualified and equipped to cut a replacement.
Many years ago, we chose to take a different path and instead developed a rather complicated multi-layer finish that involves alternating layers of plating and polishing built up over a period of several days. We use a combination of Silver, Rhodium and Palladium to give a great luster and long term anti tarnish finish.
A question often asked is if Larimar is a precious or a semi-precious gemstone. Traditionally, only four gemstones were considered “precious”, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires. Other than the value and rarity there was no scientific reasoning behind that classification. We are also asked if Larimar is a stone or Gemstone? To help answer that, here is the official definition of gemstone:
A precious or semiprecious stone, especially one cut, polished, and used in a piece of jewelry. Historically, the grading system for gemstones was established for diamonds: color, clarity, cut and carat, and no official equivalent exists for colored stones like Larimar. There is a great deal of hyperbole about AAA+ and AAA++, but we would recommend being cautious about getting sucked into an arbitrary grading system created by the people selling you the stone.
Inclusions aren’t necessarily a negative point as they can sometimes be really unusual and interesting, but in the higher grades of jewelry quality, they are always rejected. Larimar is formed in a tectonic boundary zone so the raw material has lots of cracks and fractures that are also removed from finished jewelry. One of the best aspects of Larimar is the unique patterns, but these are sometimes hard to differentiate from cracks. The easiest way is to run a fingernail over the stone. Do you feel a dent on your nail? Then it is a crack. Do you feel the smooth stone throughout? Then it is part of the pattern.
To read more about Larimar, how it formed, how it is mined and how to spot real VS fake, read our guide All you Need to Know about Larimar.
The cut of the Larimar is the foundation of its overall appearance and ability to be held within the setting. The majority of Larimar stones are cut into a cabochon which is the term for any gemstone that has been shaped and polished, as opposed to faceted. Each stone has its own characteristics and Cabochon cuts vary in depth and proportions. We feel that a rounded, high domed gemstone highlights the natural beauty and patterns of Larimar far more than a flatter style with a shallow dome.
Stone setting simply means the way the stone is held in the jewelry. There are many ways to set gemstones: prongs hold gemstones in place by clutching them with tiny talons whereas bezels frame the gemstone with a continuous rim of silver to form a collar around the stone. Other common settings are half bezels, inlay and glue.
You need to make sure the most important part of your jewelry (the Larimar) is set securely. A vast majority of Larimar jewelry has a stone that is held in place with glue. These are incredibly economical and easy because the silver is cast, polished, finished and then a stone is quite simply glued into the appropriate spot. Superficially, they “look” fine, but the slightest tap can easily break that bond and cause the stone to drop off.
To determine the type of setting used, look at the edges, where the stone meets the silver. If the silver forms a tight ring that covers the edge of the stone, then it is bezel-set. If you see gaps, then it is most likely a glue setting. When the stone is set level with the silver and they are both flat and smooth on top then it is probably an inlay setting.
A bezel setting is considered the most secure of all setting types because instead of using a claw to secure the stone, the bezel uses a ring of metal around the entire circumference of the gemstone. In addition to holding the gem in place it also l protects it from potential damage.
Sterling silver is far too malleable to use prong settings, especially on a larger stone such as Larimar. Quite simply, the silver is not strong enough to securely hold the stone in place. Most silver designs using prongs seem to have been designed for use with gold and other gemstones.
Setting gemstone jewelry with a bezel is very secure but requires highly skilled workers to cut the right shape of a stone and silversmiths to actually “roll” the bezel. Bezel setting is very time consuming, so many companies offer a lower priced alternative that is known as a “fake Bezel”.
To make a fake bezel, silver wire is rolled into an “L” shape. Then the stone is placed in the bottom and the sides are then pushed against the stone to try and hug it as much as possible. Glue is often added to keep it more secure. These settings resemble a bezel, but because the silver is not actually folded over the top of the stone, they are not as secure. It is usually pretty easy to push the stone from the back and pop it out.
A common telltale sign of a fake bezel is an open back where the back of the piece is just a thin strip of silver around the edge. At Marahlago, we prefer to use closed backs to make sure the stone is protected on all sides.
Some people might specifically want open backs for Metaphysical purposes; however, generally speaking, in the jewelry industry, this is a cost cutting measure and is indicative of low-cost workmanship.
Gemstones are carefully secured in place in jewelry that has been designed in a specific size. Resizing any gemstone jewelry after the gemstone has been set has risks, the main one being that the silver holding the stone will be stretched and distorted, potentially causing the setting to fail.
It is never ideal to purchase jewelry in the wrong size to have it resized afterwards. But this is particularly true of Larimar set in sterling silver. Even a skilled craftsman with a laser welder can easily generate too much heat and burn the stone or not use enough heat to fuse the silver securely.
In an effort to be inclusive to all shapes and sizes, Marahlago offers to make you a custom size on most rings and bracelets at no extra charge.
When unsure of your size, we recommend purchasing a ‘ring sizer tool’ (about $5 on amazon). This is the surest way to know your finger size. Most cord and printable ring sizers aren’t as reliable as this measuring tool.
To measure your wrist, use a measuring tape around your wrist, without squeezing the skin or leaving extra space. Your measuring tape should gently be wrapped around your wrist.
The perfect length of a necklace is the length that you love. Standard chains run 16” or 18” in length, but ultimately depends on the size of your neck and your desired look. You might want to match a blouse neckline, wear multiple necklaces elegantly, or you might simply not be able to open and close the clasp on your chain every time you want to put it on.
This is why Marahlago offers different styles of adjustable chains up to 21 inches on most pendants. Extra-long chains up to 30 inches are also available and can be put on over the head without needing to open and close the clasp. All marahlago chains are Italian-made with 100% nickel-free sterling silver.
You should now have a better idea of what you are looking for in terms of finished jewelry, so the next step is to decide where to purchase it from.
Research the company. Read online reviews, look at their social media, read comments from other customers. Any company in business for the long term should look coherent and cohesive with an easy to see history.
Inquire about shipping and return policies. If the piece is not up to your standard or liking, can you return it? If so, how much would it cost? Where are they located?
Look at their warranty. Does the company offer a warranty to cover manufacturing defects? Does it cover the stone setting? How long does this warranty last? What are the conditions?
Always look for “https://“ in the url when placing an order online, as it implies the website is safe to process sensitive information.
Trust your gut. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. You would never expect an authentic high quality diamond ring for $15! The same is true for Larimar - The pictures you see are often not what you actually receive, but the prices are often so low that few complain. And those that try often stumble up against the roadblock of exactly who to file their complaint with.
You can find Larimar throughout the world, but it is mostly sold in the Caribbean, especially in the Dominican Republic, the only place on Earth where the stone is found and mined. At Marahlago, we wholeheartedly recommend anyone going to the Dominican Republic to buy a piece from a local artisan. There are small workshops all over the island and because of their proximity to the source you are virtually guaranteed that the stone will be natural and Genuine.
Finally, a shameless plug about the Marahlago Signature logo on every piece!
You may come across images that look like marahlago designs being offered at very low prices. A lot of times those foreign companies are using marahlago pictures on their site. This does not mean you are getting a Marahlago piece, it just means they copied our pictures to sell you a $10 piece of costume jewelry with blue plastic. To ensure Genuine Larimar in high quality sterling silver settings, look for the Marahlago trademarked signature flower on every piece. Feel free to reach out with any questions at any time, we are always happy to help.