Ornamentation: Jewelry and Its Cost

Hope Diamond, By David Bjorgen

Hope Diamond, By David Bjorgen

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about gems, including how to increase their value (or not) and alternate means of determining their value. Now it’s time to look at jewelry and other items made of precious metal. This will necessarily be greatly simplified; in the real world this is horribly complex.

Let’s look at simple jewelry first: a pretty piece of metal.

Simple Jewelry

Assuming pure metal such as 24kt gold, the absolute minimum value of the piece would be based on its weight. If a gold ring is worth 1/50 of a pound (probably not a horrible guess[1]) and there are fifty coins to a pound, this should be worth a minimum of 1 gp, for metal value alone.

My model of pricing gems doesn’t exactly fit here, because this explicitly accounts for metal weight. However, there are still two factors to consider, the purity of the metal and the quality of the work. I’ll try adapting the table I used for gems. I initially had purity stop at +0 (you can’t be more pure than pure,right?) but if instead we assume most jewelry and the like is alloyed we have some room for a ‘more pure’ version.

d10 Value Purity Quality Alternate Value
<1 -3 Nominal ? not yet named -3 + roll
1 -2 Adulterated Flawed -2
2-3 -1 Impure Poor -1
4-7 +0 Standard Average +0
8-9 +1 Fine Good +1
10 +2 Very Fine Excellent +2
>10 +3 Pure Fabulous +2 + roll – 10

So, a basic man’s silver ring might be 1/50 of a pound of alloyed silver. If you melted it down for its metal value, it’s worth 1 sp. A gold ring of similar nature would be 1 gp, and a copper ring would be 1 cp.

Normally crafting an item, per the rules for the Craft skill, requires raw materials equal to one-third the item’s value. Given that probably not all the raw materials are the metal being used, and that there would be some waste, I’m going to go with a base value of crafted jewelry being five times the value of the metal involved. If you somehow manage to get a -8 penalty to the item’s value (very poor quality, heavily adulterated metal, or general damage) it is scrap worth only the base metal value.

Mixed and Multiple Metals

The above assumed more or less homogeneous construction, even if the metal is not pure. If a piece consists of more than one type of metal, simply add the values together by percentage and assume the quality modifier handles how well that is done. For instance, a silver and gold ring (75% silver and 25% gold) weight 1/50 of a pound would have a metal worth of 0.75sp + 0.25gp = 3.25sp.

Metal Value per Coin Weight Value (sp)
Copper 1 cp 0.10
Silver 1 sp 1.00
Silver+Gold (75%/25%) 3.25 sp 3.25
Silver+Gold (50%/50%) 5.5 sp 5.50
Silver+Gold (25%/75%) 7.75 sp 7.75
Gold 1 gp 10.00
Gold+Platinum (75%/25%) 3.25 gp 32.50
Gold+Platinum (50%/50%) 5.5 gp 55.00
Gold+Platinum (25%/75%) 7.75 gp 77.50
Platinum 1 pp 100.00

I am tempted to give a bonus to crafting checks for the more valuable metals, especially when it comes to composite pieces (metal and gems). This is partly because the more precious metals tend to be easier to work, and partly to encourage their use in higher-end jewelry — a gold fitting for a sapphire should be worth more than a copper fitting.

A signet ring from the equipment list is worth 5 gp. This is exactly in line with a standard 1-coin-weight ring made of gold, of standard construction and quality. Close enough for now.

This does reveal, though, that even a large ring (heavy as two coins), made of platinum, will have a base value of only 100 gp. (Incidentally, I had cause to check, and right now the spot rate on platinum is about $200 less than for gold!)

Jewelry with Gems

The simplest way to increase the value of jewelry at this point is to add gems. Take a simple but very nice gold ring (5 gp value — 1/50 of a pound of gold) and put a sapphire (lesser precious gem) in it. At a minimum it should be worth the sum of its parts, so 1,000 gp + 5 gp = 1,005 gp… which presumably would be rounded to 1,000 gp.

Knowing my players, they’d immediately pop the sapphire out and keep the scrap for metal value. Every gp counts!

However, this should be a workable minimum.

The easiest way to keep the piece worth more if it’s kept together is to have the workmanship apply to the piece as a whole. That is, apply the ‘Quality value’ above to the piece after adding gems to the metal.

  • A very nice (+2) gold ring (pure gold, +3) is worth 10 gp, by itself.
  • A sapphire (1,000 gp, assuming +0) is worth 1,000 gp, by itself.
  • Put together per the ‘minimum value’ rule, this is 1,010 gp.
  • Put together applying quality after, this is worth (1,006.5 gp * 1.2) = 1,207.8 gp.

At this point I’d round it to 1,200 gp. The gold ring itself isn’t worth much, but the piece as a whole is worth quite a bit more because it is there. Though by this reasoning a silver or even a copper ring would have the same effect.

I thought about doing something about this, such as saying that only the cheapest gems are thus augmented by copper (or better), middling gems by silver (or better), and precious only by gold (or better)… then decided I don’t actually care. This is in part because it interferes with rule of cool, but mostly because the difference, at the 1,000 gp level, between a gold ring and a copper ring is pretty meaningless.

There is an even simpler method: multiply the value of the entire piece by the combined ‘jewelry modifier’:

  • Put together applying the ‘ring bonus’ to the whole, this is worth (1,000 * 1.5) = 1,500 gp.

Unless the value of precious metal is significant compared to the gems involved, I think I’m going to consider just the ‘jewelry modifier’ as a modifier to the gem value. The sapphire ring is worth 1,500 gp (the purity of the gold just makes the entire piece nicer).

At this point the players could separate the two, but there are reasons (500… erm, 490 of them!) for keeping them together.

Very Poor Jewelry

The final result above — multiply the combined component value by the modifier of the metal value — means that a piece could have a market value less than the component value, if the piece is poorly crafted. I’m pretty okay with this: a poor fitting hides the value of the stone, and if it’s recognized the stone could be removed from the setting and be worth more than where it is presented now. I expect this is a rarely-happen event anyway, since the crafter should have a good idea what happened and simply tear it apart himself (or this is where the ‘spoiled materials’ clause of the Craft skill comes in).

Closing Comments

Sometimes looking at something too closely can introduce levels of detail that aren’t needed. In this case I was pretty happy with the rules for gems, and for simple jewelry, but trying to be too precise with combination pieces wasn’t worth the trouble.

It is evident that unless there is a lot of precious metal involved, much of the value of jewelry comes from the gems in it. This aligns pretty well with real life expectations, so I’m okay with it.

Changing Jewelry Modifiers

I think I might change the modifiers to be plus or minus 20% per point, for jewelry. A total of -4 thus reduces a piece to its metal value, and — more importantly to me right now — gets rid of an annoying intermediate decimal value. One coin worth of metal is worth five coins when crafted, plus or minus 20% per point of modifier means it stays whole numbers. If I have a composite piece that applies the quality and metal purity modifiers separately I could get the decimal back in, but it doesn’t annoy me as much at the end.

So the sample sapphire ring above could be

  • 1 gp * 5 = 5 gp base, plus 60% = 8 gp, plus 1,000 gp = 1008 gp, plus 40% = 1,411.2 gp; or
  • 1,000 gp * 100% = 2,000 gp

Different metals (silver and platinum) might be

  • silver: 1 sp * 5 = 5 sp base, plus 60% = 8sp, plus 1,000 gp (10,000 sp) = 10,008 sp, plus 40% = 14,011.2 sp;
  • platinum: 1 pp * 5 = 5 pp base (50 gp), plus 60% = 80 gp, plus 1,000 gp = 1,080 gp, plus 40% = 1,512 gp.


[1] google shows many men’s rings to be in the 9-11 gram range. To double check, two Canadian quarters together weigh 8.8gm, two US quarters together weigh 11.34gm… which is a pretty good-sized man’s ring. For simplicity and alignment with the coin system, I’ll say a ‘typical’ man’s ring here has the same weight as a coin, so 1/50 of a pound.

[2] google again, modern signet rings appear to range from half the weight to twice the weight I’d assigned to “men’s rings”, so I’ll assume the ‘signet ring’ from the book is relatively large.

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