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Newbie Question - buying first stone from online vendor


Oct 26, 2016
Hi all,

I am so happy I found this forum to help me find a sapphire for a custom anniversary ring.

I am in touch with some recommended vendors found on the forum list and I don't doubt I will be able to find something that seems to fit the bill. My question is, what next?

Is it advisable to have several sent to me to choose among them in person?
Once they arrive do I need to take them to an expert to verify/advise?
What kinds of paperwork should I be looking for?
I am located in Canada, how much duty should I expect to pay?

Anything else I should keep in mind during this process?

Thanks in advance.


Jul 22, 2016
I'm still quite a beginner when it comes to buying stones but I did purchase a sapphire for my engagement ring and I recently got a garnet for a project for my mom (although I ended up returning it). I'm also located in Canada so I can give some insight into shipping costs and duties.

I think if you're comparing stones of a similar color and shape, it'd probably be nice to have several sent to you so you can directly compare them and make a decision. It can get pricy though and you'd have to deal with shipping back the ones you don't end up choosing. For my last return, I paid about $16 for a tracked small packet to the US.

In terms of paperwork, since you're looking into getting a sapphire, you should make sure it comes with a certificate. If it comes with a certificate, you probably don't have to get it checked by an expert locally. From my brief experience, the vendors recommended here are generally quite helpful and honest. For the certificates, I think AGS provides the most thorough analysis for coloured stones. I'm not sure how other places rank among each other but I think you just want to make sure they list any treatments done to the stone. Heating is very common to improve colour so you have to decide yourself if you're okay with that since it does decrease the value. I don't know much more about other treatments like beryllium diffusion.

For duties, if the value is over $60 (or $100-$200 if you're lucky), you can expect to pay GST/HST (13% for me since I'm in Ontario) and then a $9.95 handling fee if the package is shipped via USPS (which gets passed on to Canada Post once it crosses the border). I think standard shipping methods from UPS and Fedex can charge up to around $40 just for brokerage fees on top of the GST/HST so I'd say to stick with USPS if you can. However, UPS and Fedex do have other shipping methods that actually include the brokerage fees for free so you might have to do some research if a particular vendor only ships with a certain carrier.

I hope that helps! I hope I didn't type too much haha...


May 18, 2015
Look at lots of pictures; if the vendor doesn't already have them, ask about the possibility of seeing stones in different light (indoor, outdoor, etc). If there are multiple interesting stones from a vendor, see if they'll take a "line up" photo with them all so you can compare them side by side. Ask if your interpertation of the photos lines up with what the vendor sees by eye. Sometimes stones can be tricky to photograph accureatly.

Some vendors will probably be more open to providing additional media than others, and some may even be willing to provide video. They know how challenging it can be to accureatly judge a stone over the internet, so I'd say don't be shy about asking questions!

If you can whittle it down to a short list from photos, that should help with shipping costs and duty, though ultimatly the best way to judge them is in person. Is there a 'shipping and duty budget' you would be comfortable with?

ETA: I'm in the us, but is there a "duty refund" that could be had for returned items? Surely this is something people shopping (and returning) have hit before. It seems unfair to have to pay duty on returned items..
Jul 25, 2016
chroman|1477782747|4091887 said:
ETA: I'm in the us, but is there a "duty refund" that could be had for returned items? Surely this is something people shopping (and returning) have hit before. It seems unfair to have to pay duty on returned items..

We, in Europe, also have a Duty refund, but the process is ridiculously complex, starting with the fact that you must 'import' and 'export' the gem 100% by the custom-book (a heavy book that is) with all paperwork and a half dozen stamps and forms to fill. If the vendor ships the stone to you with anything less than perfect documentation, your 'export duty refund' will be refused because the 'import' was not 100% proper. I have yet to find an Asian vendor who can promise and I trust to deliver a gem according to our import laws. If we talk a few hundred $, it perhaps doesn't matter much, but in the thousands this is impossible. I can only hope that more and better trade agreements make all this BS go away some day, even if politics doesn't look like it these days. The US, as always clever and business friendly, has beautiful high cut-off rates (3000$?) and low sales tax, so shipping into the US is easy, but in Europe the max value that can be imported free is around 20 bucks including transport cost, so that is totally useless. My USA-based aunt send me a self knitted sweater last Christmas (a terrible piece of textile I never wore; my aunty does not use a PC so I can speak freely) but I spend 2 days and 150 to get it out of customs, though it was a worthless if loving present!
Sorry, I got carried away....
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