As a card carrying member of the jewelry industry, I speak from experience when I say “we need to talk” to my customers. In all reality though, I’m just trying to save them from a very costly lawsuit against me. Because, if we don’t have ‘the talk’ first, they may be foolishly thinking that the thingy they are trying to hand me is actually worth something. Because, when it all goes to hell on my bench, they may actually try to sue me for negligence which is hardly ever true. In most cases, the problem they are bringing to me today started in a faraway land several years ago.
I confess that I have messed up and broken some things through the years. I’ve melted gold, and I’ve chipped gemstones. I know all too well the unmistakable, gut wrenching, sound a diamond makes when it breaks. And yes, sometimes this happened because I wasn’t paying attention, or I was trying to do something above my pay grade. But usually that’s not the case. Let me give you some examples.
Certain department store watches
Every.single.time. someone hands me a particular department store watch, I have ‘the talk’. BEFORE I leave their sight with the watch, we have this conversation; “Ma’am, this is a XYZ watch, and it’s the only watch that we have a disclaimer with. If anything (and I really emphasize the word anything) happens to this watch while I’m working on it, I’m going to stop right there and hand it back to you broken.”
Of course that always leads to the whole discussion about all of the ways that this certain department store watch has broken on me through the years, from breaking in half, to the crystals flying across the room, or the hands popping off when you’re using a 10 ton steel press to try and get the back snapped back into place.
Then, we have the whole ‘how likely is any of that to happen?’ conversation. To which I answer, “It’s happened enough that we’re talking about it before I work on it.” Then, there is the “but I heard it’s a good watch” speech. Which is always followed by, “I’ve never broken one because I didn’t know what I was doing. I’ve only broken them because the people that made it didn’t know what they were doing.”
About 10% of the people say they’ll just take it back to the kiosk in the mall because that high school kid probably knows more than me. But, about 90% of the people say something like, “it’s not doing me any good as it is, so go ahead,” always followed by, “just be careful.” And I swear, if one more person tells me to be careful, I’m gonna hit their stupid watch with a hammer and blame it on the high school kid they bought it from.
Invisible set diamonds
This is also the only disclaimer that I have on my wholesale trade shop price list. That’s how serious I am about this. Now don’t get me wrong, I will size and repair jewelry with invisible set diamonds, but I will take NO responsibility for those square rocks that are in it. My ‘talk’ is usually something like:
“When one, or more, of the diamonds in this ring continue to fall out over time, it will not be connected in any way, shape, form, or fashion, to the sizing that I’m doing for you today. They are known to fall out on a regular basis and we do not have the equipment to reset them. You’ll have to take it back to the pawn shop that you bought it from and let them send it off for you.”
This is usually followed by, “Well, just be careful.”
Where is my hammer?
Sterling silver rings
I size a ton of silver rings throughout the year. I know that a lot of jewelers don’t like to do them, but I actually do. It’s just mindless entertainment to me, and people pay me to do something so easy, even a caveman can do it. But, I don’t take in silver jewelry without ‘the talk’. Let me explain; not all, but a lot of silver jewelry has this weird plating stuff on it. The overseas manufacturers put this plating on the piece so it doesn’t tarnish between the time they make it, and the time you sell it, which could be years. And, since most of that stuff is made in China, it’s plated to withstand tarnishing on the slow boat from China.
A lot of times you can’t really tell if it’s plated until you’ve already screwed it up. Then, you spend the next two weeks trying to fix a $19.95 ring from TJ Maxx so your customer won’t sue you for negligence. But, if you have ‘the talk’ first, about how it’s probably plated, and you can’t predict what will happen, then you’re good to go. Most of the time my work on these pieces is invisible. Some of the time my work can be seen if you look hard enough. And sometimes you can tell I worked on it by the big, ugly, gray bubbles that are all over the ring.
I always tell them during our ‘talk’ that most of the time, any issues will be down on the bottom and out of sight. And about 90% of the time they say, “Go ahead, it was only $20, but I really like it.” Trust me, if you don’t have ‘the talk’ first, that $20 ring suddenly becomes a $2,000 ring when you spend 80 hours trying to fix it! Then, of course, I’m grabbing my hammer, just in case they tell me to be careful.
Silver jewelry with marcasites
‘Nuff said. See EVERY disclaimer above about things falling out and falling apart and multiply by 10.
Home Shopping TV
It usually starts with a customer I’ve never seen before, standing in front of me with a ring with 100 ‘what-ever-ites’ in it and 12 are missing. The gallery wires underneath are broken and the ‘how in the hell did they cast this so thin’ shank is broken in three places. And, she wants you to size it up 5 sizes and “make it look like new again.” Then she tells you, “Mamma died, and I got all her good jewelry’s.” In these instances, my ‘talk’ is usually based on how to get out of touching that gross thing she’s trying to hand me.
Whenever I get one of those ultra-high quality pieces from the Home Shopping Network, I have to think fast-on-my-feet about what I want to say in my ‘talk’. Or, more accurately, what NOT to say. Like for instance, I don’t want to say, “take it somewhere else,” or “stop talking to me,” or “HAH! That’s probably what it looked like when they shipped it to your dearly departed mamma.”
But, my point is this – not everything that someone brings in for repair is an expensive, well made, well cared for piece of jewelry. A lot of time it’s just a piece of crap that fell apart because it’s a piece of crap. Or, more likely, that it’s going to fall apart on YOU because it’s a piece of crap. If you have ‘the talk’ up front, then you’re covered when the inevitable happens. Then, you just pack it all up in a plastic baggie, and hand it back to the customer and shake your head like they do on TV when the doctor lets you know that actor lying on that gurney over there isn’t going to be back for next week’s episode.
But, that brings me to my next ‘talk’ that I always have on these pieces up front. I’ve had enough of these things disintegrate after I’ve already spent an hour or more of my time on it. I always feel bad when I’m handing them their piece back in a polyurethane coffin and asking them for money. Nowadays, after we’ve had ‘the talk’ and they still agree to leave it for repair I have ‘this talk’, “will that be cash or charge?”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.