Cozumel Gem Shopping

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"75% Off Today Only"-- An Insider's Guide to Cozumel Jewelry Shopping

Part I: Precious & Semi Precious Gems.

If you’re thinking of purchasing loose gemstones or fine, gem-studded jewelry while you’re on Cozumel island, there’s a near-dizzying display from which to choose.

Left, a mouth-watering display in the window of a Diamond's International Store on Cozumel.

Cozumel Emeralds

Mega-jeweler companies like Goodmark, Diamond’s International, Romero and Arpel and more are arrayed along a 10-block stretch of Rafael Melgar, San Miguel’s waterfront drag.

In one way, Cozumel is a jewelry shopper’s dream. There is such plentitude, such variety. And you can eyeball it personally, try it on and perhaps end up with a wonderful memento of your vacation.

But buying jewelry here – or anywhere in the Caribbean, for that matter-- can also be a recipe for a rip off. Unless you understand the unspoken rules

"Percentage discounting is a game within the jewelry business," says Charles Stearns a Chiapan amber expert, jeweler and long-time observer of merchandizing in Cozumel, Alaska and the Caribbean.

Some jewelry stores, mark their prices up ridiculously high so they can offer giant discounts, Stearns explains

Cozumel Store

"A sales tactic that appeals to suckers and/or dim wits is the sign that says ‘75% off today only!’ Cruise ship passengers only!!!!. Well, if it’s today only, why is the sign so sun bleached it’s hard to read."

Other companies keep list prices closer to reality but typically offer much more modest discounts.

So how do you tell which kind of store you’re dealing with?

"There’s no short cut. To get a good deal, you need to educate yourself about prices in advance," advises Stearns (pictured below left), "particularly if you’re considering a purchase much over a couple hundred dollars."


He suggests checking with your hometown jewelery stores before you leave on your trip. However, unless you live in a major jewelry-trade city like Manhattan, you will see nothing to compare to the huge variety of gems and jewelry you’ll find on Cozumel’s waterfront.

The internet is also an excellent place to check for price comparisons – particularly if you’re in the market for rare or expensive gems. For diamonds, our experts suggest looking at big internet retailers like Seattle-based http:///


"I had a Turkish man come in last week,’ says Viola Gazzara, a veteran Cozumel diamond saleswoman who regularly garners top seller of the month awards wherever she works.

"The gentleman was very knowledgeable about gems. He’d been pricing stones on bluenile and wanted to know if we could do better."

Gazzara got out the store laptop and they looked at the blue nile prices together.

"Online they were offering what I consider to be a pretty good deal, actually," admits Gazzara.

"But we were able to beat it."

To make a sale like that, however, a salesman has to be willing to forfeit a sizeable percentage off the commission, points out Mr. Stearns.

"What many people don’t realize is that as the price goes down here, so does the commission percentage". A seller might, for example, make a 7-10% commission off a high sales price. But as the price goes down, commissions drop also—to as low as 2 or even 1%."

Which goes a long way to explaining why Cozumel has a tarnished reputation for jewelry sales.

There are plenty of disreputable people in the business here," says Phillie-born Gazzara who stands behind glass jewelry counters 6 days a week and has seen it all.

Cozumel Jewelry Sign


"These are guys who think they should make the highest commission they can no matter what they have to do to get it."

So how do you recognize one of these sharks when you see him or her?

Take a look at the eyes, Gazzara advises.

"With that kind of salesman? You'll see the eyes go dead at a certain point. That’s when they decide that either you don’t have enough money to be worth their time or you aren’t going to buy at a price that gets them that big commission. So they're gonna drop you like a hot potato."


Both experts agree that it’s a trade-off. And every salesman has the choice: lower commission but higher sales volume or high commissions but far fewer sales.

It’s a no-brainer which is better for the customer.