Last updateTue, 17 Jul 2018 10pm

The Retailer's Perspective: The State of the Union (except we don't have a union)


I was asked recently to speak at the Atlanta Jewelry Show. It was just an informal gathering of a couple of dozen industry folks from all areas of our industry. We had a nice conversation about what's happening in the here and now, and I thought I'd give everyone a rundown of what's on the minds of your colleagues.

What about those synthetic diamonds?

Yes, what about them apples? Whether you like them or hate them, they are here to stay. I've been investigating this topic for quite some time behind the scenes. The scuttlebutt that I keep hearing over and over is this; lab grown diamonds have been around longer than you think they have. Synthetic melee has been slipping into the supply chain for several years undetected. Unfortunately, widespread industry policing has been less than aggressive. These lab grown diamonds test as a genuine diamond because they have the same chemical, physical, and optical properties as their natural counterparts. But the main concerns were not about the melee.

The larger stones are just starting to hit the new stock engagement ring market. These young couples are still 'so in love' that he could tell her anything and she'd believe it. You know, like, "I bought you the most perfect 'natural diamond' in the whole entire universe." If you wonder why he chose to interject the word 'natural' into his description, it's because he knew he had a choice. He just didn't tell her that he loved his money just a wee bit more than he loved her.

Now, let's fast forward a few years and these 'labbies' (lab grown diamonds) are going to be everywhere in the supply chain. Right now the supply chain is from the oven, to the distributor, to the retailer, to the lucky woman. What's going to happen once it's been to the pawn shop, and resold to a new customer, who then sells it to another pawn shop, or a jewelry wholesaler, or your store? We were all wondering what that nightmare was going to look like in 5 or 6 years? Stay tuned, we'll have video at 11:00.

On the other hand, when it came to the topic of 'sell/don't sell', the audience was mixed. Kristin Freeman, of Darling Gem Imports had this to say, "Although we don't sell diamonds or synthetic diamonds, we do sell synthetic colored gems. If your customer wants lab grown, sell them lab grown. They've already read all about it on the internet, and they've already made their decision, so sell them what they came in to buy."

Back about a million years ago when clarity enhanced came on the scene, most jewelers took a hard stance on one side of the line or the other. I see that happening again with lab grown diamonds, but I think I'm going to straddle the line this time around. I haven't had a call for a labbie yet, but I will check my bank account before I say no.

How did you become a writer?

Following a night of heavy drinking and bad decision making, I think I drunk dialed a newspaper by mistake. The rest is history, just not very important history.

How do we find a bench jeweler for our shop?

We also discussed the 'next-to-impossible' task of finding a bench jeweler for your business. Some of these people have been looking for over a year to hire someone  My long time shop assistant, Sidekick Nic (who leaves for jewelry school in 6 months), was in the audience passing out his contact information during my presentation. But, over the course of the weekend I had the pleasure of sharing booth space with the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology (TIJT) that I wrote about recently. We talked at length about the struggles of the 'trade school' side of the industry.

I don't know about all of the other jewelry schools, but I can only assume that their struggles are similar. The main thing that hampers their very existence is getting the word out that they even exist. TIJT is a state college, so they get their marketing pennies from the state of Texas. Thus, they have almost a zero dollar budget to market and advertise their program. It had never occurred to me that they have the same difficulty that many of us have in marketing our products and services to potential customers.

With the industry's ever growing need for trained professionals, coupled with the ever shrinking marketing dollars available at the schools, we need to create a new group on social media. We'll call it 'Jewelers Making Jewelers'. It's going to be a place where everyone in the industry can funnel some of your charitable contributions to the jewelry school of your choosing to assist them in marketing to the next generation of jewelers. In all my years, I've never really seen our industry reach out to recruit the next generation. That needs to change quickly, because our long term industry health depends on it. Oh, and someone tell Nic to sit down.

What are my thoughts on the gold market and economy?

Before I answer, let me just clarify that I'm a bench jeweler/gemologist/store owner, etc., like so many of you reading this. I'm not a market analyst, but I play one on TV. Being a business journalist for so many years, I've had to follow market trends in order to write accurately about the current state of our industry and consumer confidence. That being said, here's my answer - from a jewelry store owner's perspective.

With the current administration in Washington, I see the economy staying strong and growing for the foreseeable future. I feel that job growth will remain stable, meaning that disposable income will remain stable. I feel that people will be less hesitant to spend money on luxury goods like jewelry. Whoop, Whoop!

Our President is bringing manufacturing back to America, and he is making the trades, and trade schools, cool again. I think that a lot of the overseas manufacturing of our products will start to trend back to US manufacturing operations. Thus, we'll need to make way more bench jewelers than we are making right now. That means we need these schools to start ramping up their student counts to put these skilled workers into the industry. Someone help me figure out how to do that.

Gold, on the other hand, I have no idea. Gold is like that crazy uncle you only see at weddings and funerals. You know something is going to happen, but you have no idea what it's going to be. But it will be epic!

How do I handle all of the fame?

I thought about that for a second, and said, "Being the longest running monthly print columnist in the jewelry industry sure has its perks and benefits. I try not to let it go to my head, but sometimes the cards and letters, the fan mail, the marriage proposals, the…"

Everyone was looking at me all funny, so I stopped and asked what was wrong.

"Dude, we were asking Brad Pitt. He's standing right behind you."

Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. If you would like to contact Chuck or need a speaker or instructor for your next conference/event he can be reached at 615-354-6361, www.CMKcompany.com or send e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..