Last updateTue, 14 Jan 2020 10pm

The Retailer’s Perspective: Things I wish I’d learned earlier

It’s been a few years since I’ve written a column geared to the newest members of our industry. A few days ago, I met a young woman at another jewelry store who was just starting her second week in the jewelry business. I asked her what it was she wanted to learn the most. She said she was so new that she didn’t even know what she needed to learn. So I thought I’d write to the newest members of our industry today.

What I wish I would have learned first

I wish I would have learned to say “no” a lot sooner, and a lot more often. You know, like when I was offered my first job in the jewelry business. I wish I would have said no then. Haha, just kidding. But seriously, saying no is an art that I still haven’t mastered. Learning how to say no would have saved me a million headaches over the years. Saying no would have kept a whole lot of people from being mad at me. And saying no would have saved me a whole lot of sleepless nights.

If a customer brings in a well-made ring that they just inherited to be sized, I’m not going to say no. That’d be crazy. But if they bring in a ring they bought on a cruise 8 months ago, and it’s missing 6 of the 482 multi-color teeny-tiny stones, in black gold, I think it’s a safe bet that I’m not saying yes. There was a time I thought I was invincible and I’d take in that repair. Those repairs didn’t prove I was invincible, they proved I was stupid. They proved I didn’t know how to say no.

Saying no to a problem, when it’s still someone else’s problem, is a talent that took me decades to grasp. If I say no on the front end, people are only mildly disappointed in me because I couldn’t solve their problem. They’re not actually mad at me. And, it’s still their problem, not mine. But, on a positive note, I will give them a referral to that store across town that I don’t like. I assure them that they specialize in just this very kind of repair, but don’t use me as a reference because they’ll charge you more if they know they were referred by another store. Hah! Take that other store.  

Saying ‘I don’t know’ more often

When I was also new at this, I was positive that I knew it all. I’d just graduated from the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology, and knew everything about everything. Well, except the opposite sex. I still don’t know anything about the opposite sex. But, since you are new, and you don’t know a lot of the answers yet, get in the habit of saying, “I don’t know.” Of course, you need to follow that up by saying something about finding the answer for them. But, that’s how you learn - by asking questions about things you don’t know. This also makes someone else responsible on the off chance the information they give you is incorrect. See what I’m doing there? Distract and divert. Make it someone else’s problem!

Take a stroll through any mall store on a busy Saturday afternoon and pay attention to everything the sales staff is saying to their customers. Then forget you ever heard any of it, because it’s all wrong. They don’t teach them to say I don’t know. They teach them to say, “Would you like to sign up for our zero percent interest for 36 months financing offer?”

Nobody there cares if the information they convey to the customer is correct or not. The only correct information they care about is the information on the finance application. They teach them to get that right every time.

Study Gemology

I’m very fortunate that I went to jewelry school for 2 ½ years at the beginning of my career. Understanding metallurgy is important. Understanding the principles of thermal dynamics and thermal transfer is important. But customers never ask me questions about those topics. I only discuss those topics with other bench jewelers. Customers, on the other hand, ask gemology related questions every single day. The more you know, the more you’ll sell.

Do Not Sight Identify Jewelry and Gemstones

This scam is an oldie but a goody, but a lot of new people still fall for it regularly. A customer comes in with a diamond solitaire to be sized, that she just inherited from her great auntie Gertrude, God bless her soul, followed by the sign of the cross. Gertrude’s third husband gave her this diamond for their anniversary. This diamond was the diamond his mother wore. This diamond has been in the family for generations. This diamond this, this diamond that. See where I’m going with this? That must be a real diamond because your customer called it a diamond about 40 times, right?

You pull out your sizing accoutrements, and start writing up the job. On the front of the envelope, you write, ladies diamond solitaire, white gold, size from 6 to 7. You hand her the receipt and everyone lives happily ever after. Until she comes back the next day to pick it up. That’s when you have to tell her that the ring she dropped off was not a diamond. Good thing your bench jeweler caught it and you’re off the hook, right? Nope.

Laws vary in different states, but most courts have sided with the customers in these cases. Here’s the basic legal principal that will jump up and bite you; if it’s written on the front of the envelope, which is usually the receipt the customer receives, then it has legal standing. You can write notes all over the envelope once she’s gone, and that is fine. Those notes are not legal documents. But if she has a receipt for a diamond ring, then she dropped off a diamond ring according to the courts. So, how do you avoid getting caught in this scam?

It’s easy, you never sight identify anything. That item is a white metal, approx. 6mm round, white stone. If they’re bringing in an emerald ring, it’s a ring with a green stone. Rubies are simply red stones. Sapphires are blue/yellow/purple/orange/pink/green/or white stones. The best practice is this; if you don’t know what it is, don’t create a legal document stating it as fact. Just because your customer tells you what they think it is, they’re probably wrong too. To you, it’s just a white metal ring with a white stone.

And lastly

Don’t believe the internet. The internet is wrong more than the mall stores. Seek out professionals that you can trust, buy them alcohol and cigarettes, and pick their brains whenever you get the chance. Sure, a lot of things have changed in the last 10-15 years, but the textbooks that were written before the internet are still valid for 99% of what you need to know. And have fun - doing this job beats the hell out of working for a living!

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.