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The Caribbean has earned its reputation for having some of the finest duty-free shopping in the world, and when it comes to jewelry and precious stones, Jamaica is a standout. The resort towns of Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios are a paradise for shoppers looking for bargains on everything from diamonds to emeralds, and Rolexes to engagement rings.
What makes Jamaica such an attractive shopping destination?
The answer is simple: selection and price.
Jamaica's duty-free shops carry an extensive collection of gemstones, jewelry and watches designed to cater to the 3.2 million visitors who come to Jamaica each year. Whether tourists are staying in a villa or a hotel for the week, hopping onto the island for the day from a cruise ship; they have a limited shopping window and cannot wait around for items to be special-ordered. Not to mention, the majority of the clientele visiting Jamaica's high-end duty-free stores are searching for instant-gratification, so stores must stock a wide selection of items catering to every taste.
Since thousands of customers walk through their doors every week, duty free merchants can justify their large inventories and are able to generate volume business. With this purchasing power coupled with low overhead, plus the duty-free status, prices can be as much as 20-40% below the full retail price you'd find in the United States or in Europe. Some shoppers have even paid for their Caribbean vacation with the savings they have made on big-ticket duty-free purchases. This positive shopping experience accounts for the large percentage of customers who come back year after year.
What are some of the best buys?
Gemstones are top quality in the Jamaican duty-free stores. These come directly from mines in Brazil and Colombia. Another duty-free best buy are the brand-name watches and jewelry. The Caribbean is one of the prime locations in the world where you can shop for every watch brand, from the big names to smaller ones you may have never even heard of. You can even find watches in the Caribbean that have never been sold in the United States or are extremely rare. A trip to Jamaica could mean you'll leave with a unique timepiece at bargain prices.
Buy with confidence.
You can feel secure with Jamaica's duty-free merchants who have represented some of the world's leading luxury brands for decades on end, and have established a reputation for quality and integrity. It's important to buy from an authorized dealer when looking for brand-name watches or jewelry to ensure authenticity. In addition, you'll also get a manufacturer's warranty, should anything happen. Individual gemstones should also come documented and graded by a reputable certifying entity.
To qualify as duty-free, you must purchase your goods in foreign currency, such as U.S. dollars, but even travelers checks are accepted in most stores, as well as major credit cards. If you pay by card, you're usually protected by the individual issuer and program.
The 4 C's of gemstone buying
When it comes to buying gemstones, there are a variety of factors involved in determining their value. If you're looking to buy, then you should become familiar with the terms used to buy diamonds and other precious stones.
Carat- All gemstones are sold by weight expressed in carats. One carat equals 200 milligrams.
Color- Diamond color is graded across a scale from perfect colorless D to the obviously colored Z. Colorless diamonds are extremely rare in nature and most will show a slight trace of color, but often this is imperceptible to the naked eye. In the case of colored gemstones, like ruby or sapphires, the purer and more intense the color, the higher the stone's value. If you find a stone with even color saturation, then it's valued at a premium.
Clarity- This includes visible objects within a gemstone that are not part of its original crystal structure. In the case of diamonds, even the smallest inclusion can lower its value. Although in colored gemstones, small inclusions are common and will not significantly affect the value, provided they do not interfere with the passage of light through the stone.
Cut-This refers to the shape and proportions of the stone. Diamonds and colored gems should be cut in a manner to accentuate the stone's color and clarity.