Zombie Rings: How to Tell A Good Ring From a Bad Ring

“I feel that some jewelry retailers are racing to see who can have the cheapest goods in their store. It is a race to the bottom. I do not see this ending well for them.” – Paul Levin Owner of Tairona Co. at the American Gem Trade Association Jewelry Show.

Bitten by Zombie Jewelry

Don’t you just hate jewelry that lets you down? I do. Nothing breaks the public’s trust in jewelers more than thin, crappy, poorly constructed, underweight jewelry. The jewelry I just described is known in our industry as knockoffs. I call it zombie jewelry.

Good ring vs bad ring

Notice the Difference in Gold Used in Each of These Engagement Rings. Click on image to enlarge.

Knockoff  Jewelry

Thin is Pretty, but it isn’t Sturdy

What exactly is a knockoff? A knockoff is an inferior “copy” of an original. Instead of creating a ring with twelve grams of gold like was used for the original ring, a manufacturer saves money and makes a hundred knock-offs using only nine grams per ring.

The result is a weak knockoff that won’t stand up to a hard, physical universe. It is a zombie ring. It’s a ring destined to turn to dust.

Zombie Rings: the Scourge of the Jewelry Industry

All it takes is purchasing one lightweight, knockoff ring from some late night off-channel, skanky TV show to dissuade a woman from ever buying another piece of jewelry. Common lament: “But the ring looked so good on TV. And the ruby was so shiny.”

Under the professional, million watt lights that are used in a TV studio, a lump of coal mounted on a twisted paperclip would gleam and sparkle. Under those same lights, that cloudy, saw-blade-quality diamond looks like it somehow came from the Raja of India’s imperial collection. Even zombies look good under studio lighting smoke and mirrors.

Corporate Sales Sharks vs Real Jewelers

This isn’t to say that I—or most reputable jewelers on the planet—have never let a ring or pendant out of the shop that didn’t have to come back for a little remedial work. We do the best job we can.

The difference is, we aren’t trying to save money by skimping on the amount of gold used to create your ring. Or purposely cutting corners by shortening the length of the prongs holding the gemstones in place. Or by substituting lessor quality sapphires for better ones.

Bent engagement ring

Combining a Fairly Thin Ring Shank with Diamonds Spells Trouble Long Term

Not only are these practices deceptive, unethical, and wrong, they discourage people from buying more jewelry in the future.

There are bad business people who just want to sell jewelry and figure if they can cut costs on manufacturing to make the pieces achieve and attractive price point, then they can really sell a lot of jewelry. Unfortunately they are right.

Real Jewelers Care About the Structure of a Ring

Black diamond engagement ring - Gothic - Calla Gold Jewelry

Stephie’s Jeweler Made her Ring to Last.
Yeah, I Made it.

An unethical jeweler uses inferior gemstones in rings that will scratch, cloud-up and become dull over time.  A good jeweler will select a finer quality gemstone that retains its beauty longer.

A good jeweler wants the ring you wear daily to be sturdy, and an integral and beautiful part of your life. Maybe that ring stands for the love you feel for your partner. Maybe that ring commemorates your graduation. Maybe it is a gift from your grandmother. Jewelry is a powerful symbol. As a jeweler I love that jewelry has meaning and is loved. 

Mr. “Non-jeweler-make-a-buck” businessman may intentionally create rings that are lighter and won’t hold up to the rigors of daily wear. For profit. Because they aren’t about making wonderful jewelry to be passed down to children. They are about making a buck. Maybe they think that built in obsolescence, like with appliances that never last past eight years of use, causing people to have to buy a new washer every eight years is ‘just good business.’ Well it’s not. Having to buy a new washing machine is financially inconvenient. Having your engagement ring break down in five years is an epic disaster emotionally and it’s not supposed to happen. If it does, that is a zombie ring.

Wedding rings must be strong and should made to last for the long haul. Jewelry is an emotional purchase, whether as a gift, a promise of love or purchased for yourself because you connected to it. It’s quality matters.

Zombie Rings Create False Truths


Zombie ring

This Unfortunate Wedding Set Came to Me For Repair Repeatedly Dropping Diamonds. The Mismatched Diamonds are From the Original Mall Jewelry Store. Total Zombie Ring.

A zombie ring can make a woman feel like she’s too hard on her jewelry. As if it’s her fault the gem fell out, or the shank cracked. In truth, the breakage is due to its light weight, poor construction. Many women give up wearing nice jewelry for this very reason. Living through the experience of a poorly designed piece of jewelry can leave a lingering bad taste for fine jewelry, and keep a Zombie victim from wearing the jewelry she loves.

A Zombie Ring Nightmare

A number of years ago—when I was a young and naïve jeweler—I was approached by a man who wanted to buy a ruby ring for his girlfriend. Unfortunately, none of the rings I showed him fell within his price range. So I shopped around for similar designs until I found a few that met his financial criteria. They were lighter, with thinner shanks  and wispy prongs, and the rubies were a grade lower in quality from the first set of rings I’d shown him. But he could afford them!

It's Sure Pretty, But Those Tiny Prongs Aren't up to the Task of Daily Wear.

It’s Sure Pretty, But Those Tiny Prongs Aren’t up to the Task of Daily Wear.

You can probably imagine what happened next. He bought—I sold him!—one of the inferior rings and over the next two years the piece came back multiple times for repairs.  If a prong hadn’t broken, the shank had bent. If the shank hadn’t bent, a prong had broken and the stone had fallen out.

To add insult to injury, after repairing the ring for the third time, (free of charge or course) the girlfriend told me I’d sold her boyfriend a “substandard” ring! Needless to say, I never saw either of them again.

At first, I thought the fault lay firmly on the shoulders of the boyfriend. He was the one, after all, who’d chosen the cheaper, lower-grade ring. Wrong! I was the one who’d sold him the ring without full disclosure. The responsibility was all mine!

Not only did this sordid tale reflect badly on me, it reflected badly on the whole industry. How did I ever live down selling that zombie ring? I took it one day at a time.

The Dream: Your Perfect Engagement Ring

Mort and Sally are a couple in-love who bought what looked like a classic engagement ring. A halo of sparkling diamonds surrounded a gleaming center gemstone. Sally was counting on wearing this ring for the rest of her life. Why wouldn’t she? The ring looked beautiful.

Unbeknownst to our lovey-dovey couple, they had purchased a zombie ring. No way would it ever stand up to a lifetime of wear. Sally was lucky to get five years out it before the ring began raining diamonds on the floors of her kitchen and car.

Mort and Sally were forced to repair that zombie ring over and over again. They didn’t get the blood sucked out of their bodies, but they did get many of their precious dollars sucked out of their wallets. That is so wrong!

When we met so they could have a new design for their center diamond and what was left of their side diamonds, we started out with the Four Pillars of a Daily Wear Design, an important foundation for a successful daily wear ring.

The Four Pillars of a Daily Wear Ring

I shared The Four Pillars of a Daily Wear Ring in an earlier blog. These characteristics are the building blocks of a well-made ring. I’ll share them with you again.

crown1. A wide, strong shank that won’t bend and that will properly support the crown portion of the ring.
2. Thick, strong settings: prongs, channels, and bezels.
3. Gemstones set in such a way that they won’t get knocked out of their settings.
4. Strong, well-constructed design features.

Lastly, good rings will look beautiful in a variety of lighting situations. Even in the kitchen after you’ve put the last pot in the drainboard. Zombie rings only sparkle under million-watt bulbs, and only when completely clean.

Mort and Sally’s Silver Lining

Mort and Sally had such fun creating their new design, they decided to renew their vows to bring it into the family. I’ve seen them to check their prongs, but not for repairs. Their ring is going strong just like their marriage.

Walk Away From that Screen

Personal Jeweler showing client to use a loupe

Jewelry Designer Calla Gold and Client Lisa. We Made Her Beautiful Custom Wedding Ring.

Next time you fall in love with that sparkling ruby solitaire on TV or online, and the price seems too good to be true, know that you may be looking at a classic zombie ring.

Step away from the TV screen or computer, and instead, find a good jeweler. Find one who works with designers or designs themselves. They’ll know the difference between good jewelry and zombie jewelry and steer you in the right direction.

Your Personal, Non-Zombie, Jeweler,
Calla Gold

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About Calla Gold

Calla Gold is a Personal Jeweler and Author who takes pride in working with clients one-on-one to integrate their personal sense of style and taste into custom designed jewelry and repaired jewelry pieces.   Unlike typical Santa Barbara jewelry businesses, Calla Gold has no brick-and-mortar location. Calla Gold comes to you, bringing you the jewelry collection you want to see and collaborating with you to create unique custom jewelry. Calla also works with at-a-distance clients.

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8 years ago

Calla, you have done it again! You truly know your stuff. I love visualizing badly made jewelry as zombie jewelry. I have a couple of those and now I can have a sense of humor about their tendency to break. Your clients are so lucky to have you as their jeweler!

Amy Marie Orozco
8 years ago

Zombie jewelry! Great euphemism. And, ouch! the woman claiming you sold her boyfriend a sub-par ring. That must have really stung. Sounds like you appreciate the lesson learned early in your career.

Tracey B
Tracey B
8 years ago

Zombie rings. Like a stuck song in my brain I’ll never see one without thinking frickin zombie ring.
That’s good though, I feel like my zombie ring radar has been activated. Thanks for deploying my zombie spotting skills!

5 years ago

Excellent read Calla. The dreaded poorly made zombie jewelry – ROFL too funny. Agreed, we can not put a price on the quality of a fine piece of jewelry.

4 years ago

Does this look like a zombie ring? I’m having it customized with a cushion. Thank you!
https://www.etsy(details removed)

Jason S Blaylock
Jason S Blaylock
4 years ago

Thank you so much for posting this article. I’m in the process of learning the art of making jewelry and found your page in a google search. I have now spent the past few hours reading some excellent content that you have produced. I’m currently having to rebuild part of a ring that has fallen into this category.
Thank you for your efforts in educating the public about quality craftsmanship and maybe one day if I ever get out west, I can swing by and see your excellent work in person.