Reprinted from June 1992
“Can you tell me if these are real diamonds?”
An anxious customer shifted uneasily as he brought forth a man’s ring from his pocket. His furtive behavior implied that his ring might be “hot.” He glanced over his shoulder repeatedly as though he half expected the local vice squad to burst through the door and arrest him.
RB took the ring and checked it quickly. “No,” he said in a flat tone.
“No, they’re not diamonds or no, you can’t tell me?” the customer asked.
“No, they are not diamonds!”
The customer reclaimed his ring reluctantly and held it under a counter light, rotating it back and forth to observe its scintillation.
“How can you be so sure so blasted quick?” His disappointment and suspicion were obvious. “It’s stamped 14 karat. That means it’s gold. And it sure looks like a diamond to me. Are you sure you’re right?”
“Well,” said RB, “the stones are mounted over a solid back. They are chipped and broken. There are no prongs, and if you look closely, you can see the foil backs showing. The ring is stamped 14K, but the gold finish is wearing off and the brass is showing through. The stones are large and gaudy. It isn’t likely anyone would ever mount diamonds in such a manner.
RB smiled, rather pleased with himself, but the customer would have none of it.
“Look here,” he persisted. “It’s stamped14 karat gold. See?” He pointed at the ring.
RB’s patience was wearing thin.
“Here,” he said, snatching up a karat marker from the bench, “here’s a marker – anyone can buy one.” He was looking a little fiendish. “Tell you what – you put your foot up here and we’ll stamp your heel 14 karat, or better still, we’ll stamp it twice and then it’ll be 28 karat.”
The customer seemed shocked. “But that wouldn’t make it gold.”
“No, of course not,” RB replied, “and that marking inside the ring doesn’t make it gold either.”
The customer studied the ring for a few minutes and then decided to tell us about it. “I went to Mexico and a couple of guys came up to me in an alley – I didn’t pay much for it!’
“They told me it was a real diamond. Do you know what really sold me?”
Sensing that RB wasn’t really interested, I smiled and asked, “No, what was it?”
“They showed me it would scratch glass, and you know only a diamond can scratch glass.”
(Oh no, I thought! Jeweler’s Excedrin Headache Number 9000.)
“Mister,” I said, “I want you to look at my showcases. See that big gouge? That was put there by a little old lady who put a pair of hobnail boots on the counter so she could get a better look at the Timex display. Here’s another scratch. I can’t remember just how it got there, but I think RB did it. He was probably cutting a page out of Playboy with a razor and got carried away.”
The man was listening attentively, so I went on. “Have you ever seen a glass cutter in a hardware store? They are made of steel, not diamonds. Did you ever consider that?”
“No,” he confessed. “I didn’t know that. Maybe you’re right.”
Still scrutinizing his ring, he headed for the door.
The Diamond Ring Gimmick is quite common here in El Paso where unsuspecting tourists visit Mexico every day, expecting to find fantastic bargains.
Mexican authorities do not relish this kind of propaganda and do everything in their power to stop it. But somehow the con artists continue to operate. It is easy to understand why the game flourishes. There is no base of operation, no large investment and the operator can shift from street to street, from town to town, undetected, his only investment a 25 cent ring.
Jewelers in El Paso see one or two of these bargain rings a month, the usual target for the sale is a young, unsuspecting man – often a soldier – who has a few extra dollars.
Believe me, this problem is not confined to our good neighbors across the border. A while back, a fellow brought in a Longines watch for an appraisal. At first glance, it did appear to be a legitimate Longines, lavishly adorned with diamond baguettes on the dial. The heft and feel of the watch gave it away immediately – a fake Longines with rhinestones on the dial.
RB always said, “For Pete’s sake Martha, look at the hands. The hands give it away every time.”
This particular man paid 175 hard earned dollars for his fake. He purchased it in a service station from some seedy character that had been lurking in the shadows. Just goes to show you – he should have taken his green stamps, free road map, and complimentary glass and been satisfied.
The M/O is always the same. A con artist approaches a “mark” stealthily, takes a reputedly valuable piece of jewelry from his pocket and offers it to the mark for quick sale – a real bargain!
Perhaps his conscience bothers him a little, but he rationalizes, “If I hadn’t bought it, someone else would have.”
The mark will not have long to gloat over his “lucky” purchase. His first trip to a jewelry store will puncture his balloon.
He’s been stuck! He’s a sucker! (Sorry about that.) The con artist is unknown to the mark, but even if he could be identified, it would do little good. Charges are seldom brought against these operators.
Next time you encounter one of these “bargain” rings or watches, your first impression could be the same as RB’s – “Let’s stamp your heel and you can be a 28 karat heel!”
This approach might help your ego, but it won’t put dollars in the till. After you’ve flattened your customer with the facts, he’s plenty upset and shaken. Be sympathetic. Could be he might remember to use your knowledge next time he decides to make a jewelry purchase.
Be a pal! Alert your customers to the painful pitfalls of the back alley bargain, and remember not to scold him. Like our citizen who visited Mexico, just rejoice that a bargain is all he picked up there!