Jewelry store owners are much like parents. They have relationships with many fine customers that are to be treated equally, with no favorites. No exceptions. But as Holly Wesche, owner of Wesche Jewelers will attest, like a parent even the most rule-abiding jeweler has a favorite. For the Melbourne, FL-based jeweler one of her all-time favorite customers was a woman named Susan (not her real name), whose regal taste in fine jewelry earned her the moniker of “The Duchess.”
“Both Susan and her husband liked and appreciated fine jewelry,” says Holly. “It was one of her passions. Her husband is a talented artist and jewelry was art to her.”
Twenty years ago, Susan and her husband came to Holly’s jewelry store for a repair. Based on the store’s work and service, Holly and her staff earned the couple’s trust and eventually their business. A knowledgeable staff on all things gems and jewelry, a fine jeweler that is locally owned, along with a high level of perceived integrity turned a basic repair into a customer-jeweler relationship that lasted two decades.
During that span of time, Susan and her husband purchased more than 500 pieces of mostly fine jewelry valued at more than $1 million, with some affordable pieces ($500 and under) sprinkled in for good measure. According to Holly, Susan really loved “spectacular” colored gemstones - especially blues, greens and purples.
But the customer’s passion for high-end jewelry was more than just an appreciation for finer things and the ability to afford and collect them. Susan always brought many questions to her sales presentations and placed a high value on solid product knowledge from sales associates.
“Susan was a highly intelligent woman and she enjoyed learning all about jewelry and gemstones,” says Holly. “She also liked the story behind the gemstones or jewelry.”
Although Susan purchased many finished pieces of jewelry, she would often buy fine loose colored gemstones and then work with Carrie Williams, Wesche’s jewelry designer and the couple’s main contact at the store, to create custom pieces of jewelry using the beautiful loose gems. Participating in the custom design process was a way for her to express her creativity.
The last project Susan and Carrie worked on was a stunning pair of earrings. Susan had a collection of unique gemstones (blue zircons, sphenes, opals and orange sapphires) that she hadn’t done anything with so she sat down with Carrie to “play.” The result was a truly beautiful pair of colored gemstone earrings featuring her favorite colors.
But Susan’s delight in learning about jewelry, purchasing and wearing these pieces wasn’t always about large, impressive, gemstones and their opulent settings. “She had fun with her jewelry and could appreciate a $500 small seed pearl estate pin or a $1,200 strand of uniquely facetted beads,” says Holly.
According to Holly, Susan was a professional woman and held significant positions in business and government. She worked in a presidential administration and was a strong advocate for women. She and her husband had no children. Some couples travel, some constantly remodel their house, but Susan and her husband collected beautiful, interesting jewelry.
For Holly and her staff, it was a storybook customer relationship. But like many relationships the story takes many turns. Susan, for most of her adult life, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. And, for most of her long and happy life, she was able to work with her doctors to manage her condition.
But during the last few years, her condition became more challenging and in mid-December of 2017, she unexpectedly passed away quietly in her sleep. As a side note: The gorgeous colored gemstone earrings that she had helped design had been picked up by her husband and were wrapped in a box under their Christmas tree so she never got to see the finished product.
The couple had no heirs. And, although Susan was dedicated to certain organizations and some charities, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) was her chief cause.
“Years before her passing, Susan and her husband asked me if I would handle the sale of her jewelry collection,” says Holly. “And they shared with me that a portion of the money from the sale would be donated to the JDRF.”
Selling a collection of fine jewelry that was amassed over 20 years was a huge undertaking for Holly and her staff. The total collection was almost 800 pieces. Each piece had to be inspected and polished. A majority of the jewelry was in very good condition, but some items required minor repairs, which Holly’s goldsmith handled.
Of the almost 800 pieces, Holly estimated that about 95 percent of the fine jewelry items came from her store. Arriving at item descriptions, images and the store’s history with each piece was fairly straightforward given Holly’s stringent store policies on record keeping. However, there were still many items that were not purchased at Wesche’s so research had to be done on those pieces.
Establishing retail prices for the sales event was the next critical step. “We calculated what the replacement value of the item would be today and took into account the salability of the item and the fact that it was a pre-owned piece,” says Holly. “Clients that came to the event and purchased items received real savings of anywhere from 25 to 60 percent.”
With her vast and detailed customer database, Holly decided to invite 5,000 of her leading customers plus those she and her staff knew would appreciate the person and the products of this special estate jewelry event. The invited customers were sent a lengthy two-page letter written by Holly detailing the uniqueness of the private estate sale. And, in order to enter the sales event at Holly’s store, invited customers had to present the letter they received in the mail.
The four-day estate jewelry sales event had an “amazing” turnout for Holly and her staff. “Most people wanted to know more about Susan,” says Holly. “We did encourage the staff to share fond memories about Susan, but they were under strict orders not to reveal her true identity.”
The event was a huge success and was well attended, but not all pieces sold at the June 2018 estate jewelry sales event. Pieces that didn’t sell then were placed in the estate case in Holly’s store showroom with a small number of pieces still unsold.
“Her pieces came with good karma,” says Holly. “I think Susan would have been pleased with the event, especially knowing her beloved jewelry found good homes.”
This event didn’t just connect jewelry with customers. It also gave some of Holly’s other customers with large collections of jewelry a way to handle estate planning. “Some customers did approach me privately about doing such an estate jewelry event for them, when the time comes,” says Holly.