As we go into our busy season, I’ve been thinking about how Christmas in the jewelry business has changed over the decades. Whether you’ve been in this business 5 years or 50 years, you’ve witnessed lots of changes. Some changes you’ve liked; some changes you’ve hated. But one thing that always holds true, change is going to happen and there’s not a lot you can do about it. You either accept it or get left in the wake of progress. Here are some of my observations of our industry through the decades.
I began my career in this industry in 1978. I remember the big thing that Christmas was the quartz watch. They were all the rage. I got an after school job working at a catalog showroom called Best Products. They were selling hundreds of quartz watches a day. The showcases were stacked 3 and 4 people deep, shoulder to shoulder, lined up to buy the newfangled, battery powered watch.
It wasn’t until around a year later that we found out about the other benefit of the quartz watch - watch battery replacement sales. To this day, the biggest single traffic driver in my store is watch battery sales. Another thing I remember about the ‘70s was triple key pricing.
“You got any of them nugget rings I’ve been seeing on the TV?”
Oh man, nugget jewelry was the bomb. We couldn’t keep it in stock. Nugget rings, nugget bracelets, nugget pendants, nugget earrings. Throw in some Black Hills Gold jewelry and you’ve pretty much just summed up the entire decade called the ‘80s.
Another thing I vividly remember about the ‘80s was the process involved in selling said nugget jewelry. Credit cards were around back then, but not as prolific as they are today. Back then, most people paid by check. Once they spent 12 minutes filling the check out, you then had to spend 22 minutes on the phone with the bank ‘verifying’ the funds and placing a hold on them.
If a customer did pay by credit card, we would have to manually fill out the form in triplicate. Then we’d place the form and the credit card in a contraption that would imprint all the info from the card on the form. In case you didn’t know, that’s why credit card numbers are raised up on the card, so they can still be manually imprinted in the case of a zombie apocalypse.
You would then spend another 20 minutes on hold calling the credit card company to get an authorization code before you could complete the transaction. With customers lined up to buy, this was a problem. I even had a few ‘call the police’ situations back then when a card had been reported stolen.
Back then, the credit card money didn’t just automatically show up in your bank account. You had to actually take that form you imprinted to your bank and deposit it like a check, and then wait ten days for the funds to clear. Aww, good times. But, at least we were still getting triple key, so the wait was worth it.
This was the decade of free-form jewelry. During the ‘90s, everyone was melting down their ugly nugget jewelry and having it recast into all kinds of weird shapes, and then randomly sprinkling and re-setting their diamonds all over it. I worked for a traveling remount company for a while, and free form pieces were just about the only thing we sold. Whenever I’d finish setting a piece, my manager would look at it and say, “That looks good.” I’d always reply with, “No. No it doesn’t.” But then he’d pay me and I’d shut up.
Another thing that made its debut during the ‘90s was the personal computer. The internet wasn’t around yet, but I remember the transition to computer databases because of the JBT. Before we had computers, when you would call up a new supplier, you could hear them flipping through the 1,200 pages of the JBT book, as they looked you up. In the ‘90s, you would now hear the clicking of a keyboard instead. It wasn’t until the end of the ‘90s that the internet invaded the scene. Triple key pricing was now the exception, not the norm.
This was when everything ran off the rails. The year before, in 1999, Blue Nile jumped into the fray. The diamond industry has never been the same since. To this day, I’ll never understand how people can buy expensive diamonds on the internet and still sleep at night. This was the decade where customers would come into our stores carrying a handful of printouts; all of them showing you that they can get a better deal online. This was also the decade of questionable ‘certs’ showing up everywhere.
During this decade, we saw a steady stream of strangers walking into our stores asking us to confirm that they didn’t get ripped off online. You know, I really trust your professional opinion, but I’m going to buy it from a stranger online anyway. Ugh. And triple key price was now just a distant memory. If you could still get keystone you were lucky.
Ah, the era of the smart phone. Gone were the good old days of customers bringing in reams of paper they printed out of something cheaper online. Now they could show you what it cost in Uzbekistan right there on their iPhone - with the cracked screen so you can’t even see what they are trying to show you. If you want to freak someone out, when they hand you their phone to show you a picture, start swiping left and right on their phone and watch how quickly they snatch it back out of your hands.
This is also the decade where nobody carries cash, and everyone pays with plastic. Well, everyone except Mrs. Charles Willingham Higginbotham, III who still writes checks and takes 35 minutes just to sign her name. This is the decade where online jewelry sales began to overtake brick and mortar sales. Ugh. This is also the decade of the 3D printer, where every.single.piece.of.jewelry is just one slight variation of the previous 12,000 CAD/CAM versions of the same thing. Thank you Pinterest!
This is also the decade of the Great American Recession. It was a tough decade for many of us. Gold hitting $2,000 an ounce, along with the economy and the housing markets crashing. Unemployment skyrocketed, coupled with general fear of spending any money on anything frivolous like jewelry. But, here we are, a decade later, and many of us are still standing. And now, just like the keyless entry into our cars and homes, our profit margins are pretty keyless as well.
Don’t you dare try and puff that damned e-cig in my store!
Merry Christmas, and happy New Year to everyone. I hope you have a good and profitable season and I’ll see everyone in 2020.