A class ring is a pricey rite of passage

09/20/2013 8:00 AM

09/20/2013 11:16 AM

To hear some parents tell it, you’re going to need a year-end bonus from your boss to afford a class ring for your high school senior this year.

The base price alone for a keepsake gold ring can be $300 to $400, which doesn’t include any special inscriptions or decorative stones, which can drive the final price to the same neighborhood as a semester’s worth of college textbooks.

Even for something that commemorates a teenager’s rite of passage, that’s a lot to shell out for parents on a tight budget or a student working part time.

Blame the cost of gold and other precious metals, which has climbed substantially over the past few years. The volatile price of gold is actually down about 20 percent this year but still is more than $1,300 an ounce.

David Chivers understands what many parents are going through. He is the chief digital officer at Minneapolis-based Jostens Inc., which has been selling class rings since 1906. The company, also known for products such as school yearbooks and caps and gowns, annually sells about 600,000 rings to commemorate graduations, sports championships and other milestones.

“We recognize that class rings are a discretionary purchase for our customers,” Chivers said, “and we work very hard to keep our prices affordable.”

The last few years have been challenging for Jostens and other specialty jewelry companies that rely on gold and other precious metals. Jostens reviews its jewelry prices annually, Chivers said, and tries to lock in the cost of gold and other materials up to 18 months in advance.

The strategy worked from 2010 through 2012. Jostens said it was able to keep the base price on its gold rings flat. However, the volatility in the commodities markets forced the company to boost prices in 2013.

Jostens would not detail its pricing information except to say in a statement that it “applied an increase to the prices of gold rings that reflects the change in the gold market.”

This fall, a ladies gold class ring starts at $299.99. The men’s version starts at $399.99. Then there’s the customized work — the color and karat of the gold, engraving, stone colors, cuts and more.

Does that break your budget?

To help stretch your dollars, Jostens offers ring options besides gold and installment plans for making the payments.

Jostens said its best-selling rings are actually made from silver and non-precious metals such as silver lustrium and yellow lustrium.

Silver rings start at $209.99, which is about 5 percent higher than two years ago. Rings made from non-precious metals have a base price of $69.99. Jostens said it had held the line on those prices the past five years.

Of course, Jostens and other companies that contract with high schools and colleges are not the only option for buying a class ring. Retailers such as Wal-Mart sell rings, so it pays to shop around.

Before writing the check, make sure your high school senior really plans to wear that cool bling after graduation. It’s a lot of money to pay for something that could wind up collecting dust in a dresser drawer.

And if the gold ring loses some of its luster a few years from now, there’s always a way out. Gold buyers will pay you something, depending on the karats, condition of the gold and the commodity price at the time you sell it.


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