Last updateWed, 19 Feb 2020 12am

The Retailer’s Perspective: Come in, have a seat, we need to talk

With the evolution of computer and internet technology, things in our industry have changed tremendously. Some good, some bad. Some I like, some I hate, and some I’m indifferent about.

But, you want to know what hasn’t changed? The basics of bench work in the jewelry industry. Sure, it’s changed a little, but I still set diamonds the same as I did in the ‘80s. Although nowadays I’m using way too little metal holding in way too many and too little diamonds. But, I still size rings the same, polish the same, and throw temper tantrums the same. So what’s really changed? Fewer bench jewelers!

With fewer and fewer bench jewelers in the industry, stores are sending more and more work to trade shops. This means that trade shops are dealing with more and more accounts. More accounts mean more management problems. More management problems mean more problems with the end user (your customer) because things get missed, mostly on your end (according to every bench jeweler I interviewed).

When your customer is not happy, who do they yell at? You! Now you’re mad and who do you yell at? Your bench jeweler. Now your bench jeweler is mad and who do they yell at? You. Now you’re double mad and who do you yell at? The bench jeweler again. It’s a vicious cycle that has no end in sight until you and your shop sever ties. I’ve seen it happen too many times to count. It’s the same sad ending to a problem with one very common denominator - that piece of jewelry your customer bought off of the internet.

At my store, if you could hear the amount of disclaimers I tell customers every day before taking in a piece of jewelry or a watch for repair, you’d think I was crazy. But, I do, and I’m not.

There was a time in the not too distant past when jewelry was made with real craftsmanship and real quality. The internet and computers have changed all that. I saw a quote from a bench jeweler recently that said; ‘respect the jewelry and do it right.’ My first thought was, ‘why is it my responsibility to be the first person to do that to this piece of jewelry. It’s a piece of garbage now, and it’s going to be a piece of garbage when I’m done. The only difference is it will be a size 7 piece of garbage instead of a size 6 piece of garbage. But it will still be a piece of garbage when I send it back to you.’

So much jewelry that bench jewelers and trade shops see every day isn’t worth the time to work on. Whoever made it knew that when it fell apart it was never going to end up on their bench for repair. You know, being as they are on the other side of the world and everything. They didn’t respect it then, so why should I respect it now? Why does it fall on my shoulders to fix something (for free) that I didn’t break, build, sell or warrant? I’ve said for decades; “I’ve never been yelled at for shoddy work on a nice piece of jewelry. But I’ve been yelled at many times for doing nice work on a shoddy piece of jewelry.”

I interviewed several trade shops about the problems we face in today’s environment. Oddly enough, the top 3 gripes were not about what I thought they’d be about, you know, working on cheap crap and getting blamed for screwing it up (but complaints 4 through 595 were exactly that). No, the top complaints were about the same things that we’ve been complaining about since the beginning of time. So today I’m going to go over a few of the things that stores either need to start doing or stop doing.

Before I start though, let me say I also interviewed several jewelry store owners that send their work to trade shops to get their take as well. They all came back with the exact same concern; communication.

“We need our jewelers to talk to us,” they said.

Okay, let’s just stop right here. That’s not gonna happen. We’re talking about bench jewelers here. We don’t like people. We don’t like to talk to people. Heck, for the most part, we don’t like you either. But, we kinda need you as much as you need us. That’s why we’re bench jewelers and not salespeople. If you think you’re going to turn us into a bunch of Chatty Cathy’s and spend all day on the phone with you, I think I can speak for all my fellow bench jewelers out there and say, unequivocally, that ain’t gonna happen.

When I talked to the trade shops, the #1 complaint that I heard was no due dates on job envelopes. The biggest source of contention between a shop and a store is the work not being delivered by the due dates. If you promise a customer that you will have a job ready for them at a certain time, just let us know (in writing - please don’t call us, see above). Most of us are used to shuffling a thousand things every day, what’s one more?  

The second most common complaint is jobs with no contact info whatsoever. For bench jewelers, it’s kind of a blessing, kind of a curse. If I don’t know who sent it, I can’t call you…BONUS! But, if I can’t call you, I probably can’t return it either.

In today’s environment, most trade shops get lots of “one-off’ jobs from an account that we don’t see every day. We cannot stress enough how important it is that your name and phone number is on every.single.job.envelope. Over the course of a day, jobs move from point A to point Z and all of your work will get split up. If I need to talk to you about the job I’m currently holding in my hand, I need to be able to dial the phone number that is on the job envelope that is in my hand. Not the phone number written on a piece of paper somewhere else. Remember, we don’t want to talk to you anyway, don’t make it that easy on us!

This next complaint is one that confronts this brave new world of technology. Be sure, when writing your instructions, if you refer to a previous communication that we had in reference to this job, tell me where to find those notes. Did you text me, e-mail me, leave me a voice mail on my store phone or on my cell phone? Is it an Instagram message or a Facebook message? If you e-mailed me, which e-mail, I have like 17.  

Another complaint that was high on the list was stop missing obvious things that need attention. You know, like re-shanks and re-tips. If you send it to me and say ‘size to a 7’, I’m going to size it to a 7 and send it back. I’m not going call you (see above) and point out that it needs 17 tips and a new shank for $300. 

Since we’re all professionals here, we’re going to assume that you saw it, you pointed it out to the customer, they said no. They only wanted it sized, and didn’t want to spend the money. It would be nice if you made a note on the job envelope that you know it needs other work but the customer declined.

Don’t call and yell at us a week later because the customer was mad because their shank was thin and a side diamond fell out the next day. You’re a professional, I’m a professional. If I know it needs to be retipped, then YOU know it needs to be retipped.  

And lastly, please look this stuff over carefully and point out to your customer all of the problems with the ring that they bought off of eBay before you send it to us. Nobody scrutinizes their jewelry when they buy it. No, they scrutinize it after we work on it, and then notice the problems. Don’t yell at us because your customer noticed the center stone is off center and crooked after I sized the ring. That problem occurred in the Szechuan province, not in the American Midwest.

Next month, we’re going to delve into problem #4 through problem #595. That’s going to be way more interesting.

And, a side note for bench jewelers that use a laser. There will be an advanced laser training seminar here in Nashville, TN on July 27th and 28th. Bring the family and make a vacation out of it. Nashville is a great town for a summer vacation. Contact info is 615-423-7214, Scott.E.Isaacs@gmail, or google ‘jewelers laser training workshop Nashville’. I look forward to seeing my fellow bench peeps for some new complaint ammo for my next column.

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.