With all due respect, DO NOT take QED’s advice.
I work in the jewelry industry and the markup at jewelry stores (even on a “good deal”) is INSANE. Those super-low, lowest-of-the-year sale prices… Still 100% markup from their cost. The “regular” price (known as the “idiot” price in the industry) is often 250% markup from cost. Most jewelry stores will readily give you 30% off regular price if you ask: called the “discretionary discount”… But you’re still getting raped.
Having said that, you have to know your stuff to buy at a pawn shop. Assuming you’re looking for diamond jewelry (otherwise ignore), you need to know how to examine a diamond under a loupe and know the different characteristics. One of the most important is the quality of the cut, which is the hardest to determine without a GIA report…
You should know stuff like this:
The clarity grades of diamonds are:
IF (internally flawless)
VVS1 (very, very slight inclusions)
VS1 (very slight inclusions)
SI1 (slight inclusions)
Here’s the key thing: by definition, NONE of the grades above have any eye-visible flaws. The “inclusions” (flaws) mentioned above are using a 10x loupe. Below these are the “I” (included) grades where you can see flaws. My advice is generally to buy an SI1 or SI2 stone. If you can’t see the difference with your naked eye, why pay for it.
Below these grades are the “I” grades (included). You don’t want these. They belong in the end of an oil-drill bit, not in jewelry.
So here’s the MOST COMMON scam… Someone shows you an “SI1” diamond in which you can see some spots with your naked eye. THEY ARE LYING TO YOU.
Of course, cut quality is far more important than clarity… But I’m not going to write a novel here. Check out jewelry.com and similar sites which have TONS of info.
Bottom line: You can get GREAT deals at pawn shops! If I wasn’t in a position to buy jewelry at the source, that’s probably where I’d go. You can also get royally screwed. The difference is simply knowing what you’re talking about…