Even Unintentional Deception is Still Fraud

The other day I was talking to a man who has visited the public sections at the big winter gem show in Tucson. While I was chatting with him, his wife wandered over and when she discovered the topic of the conversation announced that she wouldn’t buy anything at the gem show because she would be afraid of being cheated.

I was surprised how annoyed I was at that assertion – that her very real expectation was that she would be cheated. It didn’t occur to her that most people in our trade wouldn’t risk putting their livelihoods in jeopardy to make a deceptive sale. Bottom line – it’s just not worth it.

But the comment does bring up a very real issue for jewelers – and here I include pearl and bead stringers. Too many in the trade fail to learn about the materials they work with, either the gemstones or the metal. In all innocence, a metalsmith, for example, could sell a blue topaz as an aquamarine or even a tanzanite because he or she hasn’t taken the time to learn how to identify them.

In another example, many people, jewelers, bead stringers and metalsmiths, confuse reconstituted amber with untreated amber when it’s really simple to identify the difference.

In other words, it’s all too easy for customers to buy from ignorant sellers and then feel cheated and deceived when they discover the product is not as it was presented. In these situations, I believe that the seller, however, well-intentioned, is at fault and is perpetrating fraud.

There are far too many resources and organizations that provide information to people who sell gems either as a part of a finished product or as unfinished goods. It’s our job to take advantage of them so that if we have a question about the materials we’re using we can answer it – for ourselves and our clients.

When I ran the gallery, I would automatically reject jewelers and beadstringers who didn’t take the time to learn about the materials they were using. I found it unacceptably sloppy (and lazy). It was one of the few rules I had, but it was an inflexible one.

Please take the time to learn about the materials you’re using in a piece of work. It’s not hard to find the information. There will always be people like the woman referenced above who believe that given the chance, the trade will cheat a customer. But, by increasing the level of knowledge we bring to sales, we not only reduce that chance, we heighten our personal reputations – and presumably our own pleasure since we’re in the business because we love it. Right?

Posted in Business, Jewelry Design, Sales | Tagged ,

Natural Pearls & Jewelry Designers

I was reviewing my gmail account today for various notifications and a number of pre-Christmas articles reminded me of one of my pet peeves. Jewelry designers are always hungry for publicity and rightly so. After all, we can’t evaluate, search for or learn about emerging designers without exposure.

But with exposure, jewelry designers ought to make their work publicly available. I seriously dislike being presented with an article about a new designer with a single photo of him or her bent over the bench. I want to see the jewelry, not the jeweler at work. Tell me why I should make an effort to read an article written by a layperson who more often than not can’t describe the work accurately? Tell me why I should spend that time when a couple of images will tell me whether I want to pass or learn more?

I know from first-hand experience that a significant degree of this reticence derives from the fact that designers, particularly in the early stages of their careers, fear that people will steal their designs.

My advice: Get over it.

Your unique design vision will manifest in the body of your work. Rip-off designers can’t sustain your vision because they don’t have it. Moreover, you need a public record of your work. I know one designer – one of the most creative pearl and bead stringers who ever lived – who refuses to make images of her work public. When she departs, her work, in large part, will depart with her. This sickens and saddens me.

Yes, designers swap ideas. Notice the proliferation today of oxidized silver, a trend that began a decade ago with prominent German designers. But, your vision is your own. That’s what’s sustainable and that’s where your reputation will stand or fall.


Natural PearlsChristie’s is auctioning a 19th century natural pearl necklace owned by Queen Isabella II of Spain today in London.

I mention this because it is entirely possible that a professional can spend their entire working career in the trade and never see a natural pearl – that’s how rare they are.

First, a little background on Isabella. She was born in Madrid in 1830. Her father, Ferdinand VII of Spain originally collected the pearls for his wife, Marie Christina of Bourbon.

Notice the word “collected.” We’re so used to looking at matched pearls on strands and hanks, we sometimes forget that before the advent of cultured pearls – that is pearls cultivated by mankind – natural pearls were collected one pearl at a time and then laboriously matched to form a strand, an effort that often took years. Pearls, of course, are still matched by hand by technicians working on pearl farms or elsewhere on the supply chain. But, scarcity of cultured pearls isn’t an issue today.

The necklace was originally sold at auction in 1878 after Isabella was deposed in the “Glorious Revolution.” It was sold again in 1960.

Pearl and bead stringers, notice the knots between the beads.

Posted in Jewelry Design, Jewelry History, Pearls | Tagged , ,

New and More Affordable DVDs

Four Volume DVD SetYears ago when we developed our first and flagship product, the two-volume Professional Pearl and Bead Stringing DVD, compression technologies weren’t as accessible as they are today. The choice we had back then was to ignore information we regarded as important or to create a two-volume set. We opted for the latter.

Although we made every effort to keep costs down, the result — at $39 — was a relatively expensive product.

We were and are proud of that effort. It enjoyed tremendous success and hundreds of students took the course and went on to create beautiful and beautifully manufactured jewelry.

Recently, though, we reorganized and updated the material and compressed it onto one disc. The result, at $19.99, is a far more affordable DVD. In addition, we’ve “bundled” that DVD with a second one which contains information we developed over twenty-five years in the gem trade. Finally, we’ve priced the entire set — that is, the four DVDs in our suite of products — at $39, the price of the original DVD. Learning the material on these discs enables the student to master all the jewelry making skills in these niches. The next step would be learning how to solder.

The second change we’ve made is to eliminate free shipping. Our margins are just too small not to include a minimal shipping charge. We do understand that many internet marketers have used shipping as a profit center and as a result have made consumers wary of them. However, we do not. Our shipping costs are straightforward and are explained here.

Learning how to string pearls and beads and how to manipulate wire are life-changing and life-enhancing skills. We hope you’ll enjoy our new product and business model.


Posted in Uncategorized

“Natural” Baltic Amber Teething Necklaces

I am re-printing material here I developed in connection with another project. You may be approached for an opinion on the necklaces and/or you may be asked to manufacture one. I’m also posting the following as a downloadable pdf if you wish to keep a copy for reference.

I believe the issue is an important one and one which our community should be knowledgeable about. The following is a little long, but I  hope you’ll at least skim through it.

Rethinking Natural Baltic Amber Teething Necklaces for Infants and Toddlers

"Baltic Amber" Teething NecklaceI recently became aware of the apparently growing practice of parents providing infants and toddlers with amber necklaces for help with teething discomfort. I discovered this while researching another product for Unicorn Station, a company with which I am associated – and in the spirit of full disclosure, Unicorn Station offers a teething necklace.
I wish to emphasize that the following is my own opinion, informed by nearly 30 years in the gem trade. I intend for this to offer parents and gift-buyers solid advice, and hope it will add value to your decision whether or not to buy an amber teething necklace for your infant or toddler.
Fleury Sommers

Is it Really Amber?

Amber ChipsI recently became aware of the volume of amber chips being sold on Amazon — and I assume other platforms — as teething necklaces for babies. The chips are described as anti-inflammatory and as providing a “natural remedy” for drooling and teething pain.
Most of the marketers also make some kind of claim about the necklaces being made of the highest quality certified Baltic amber.

As someone who loves amber, studies it and collects it, I was stunned just as I was a number of years ago, when as a young gemologist, I overheard a dealer tell a client that the “cherry” amber the client was considering buying was natural.

Whether these sellers are deliberating distorting the truth or are as credulous as their buyers, they do a disservice to the gem industry. In my opinion, they are selling a product that in all probability is mislabeled, but one that could pose a real danger to teething infants.

First, it’s important to understand that even among professionals amber is one of the least understood of all the gemstones. That’s because it can be imitated so easily and, unlike diamonds or colored gemstones, there is no consistent demand for it. That is, demand goes up or down depending upon various marketplace trends or fads. As a result, amber is not studied as carefully by professionals as other stones which are more consistently in demand.

So assessing sellers’ claims is a little imprecise, but it can be done, usually with destructive tests. My objective here isn’t to describe those tests, which can be found on-line and which are destructive to the amber being tested. My objective is to give you a glimpse of how gemologists think about gemstones and whether they are as described by sellers.

Let’s begin with the easiest and perhaps most important clue first: price.
Most of the teething necklaces sold on Amazon are priced between fourteen and twenty dollars and are accompanied by some sort of “certification” from sellers. Even if you know nothing else about amber except that it is considered an important organic gemstone, do these prices make sense? Of course they don’t.

Now, consider that genuine natural Baltic amber chips sell on the wholesale gem market for at least double the retail prices asked on Amazon.

That fact in itself does not inspire confidence that customers are getting the “genuine natural Baltic amber chips” described in the promotional materials. So, of course, the question is what are they getting?

There are other clues. But, first a little background.

At the lower end of the amber market, there are three major types of amber imitations and/or synthetics.

First, a colorized plastic is heated and pressed or tumbled into various forms including beads. I own a “cherry” amber necklace from the 1920s. The necklace is interesting. Some might consider it beautiful. But it’s not amber because cherry amber does not exist in nature. It’s a polymer that has been pressed into beads. Plastic is the easiest material to use in imitating amber. But remember, amber is a resin, not a polymer. Plastic also presents with a uniform color, unlike the different colors you will find in a single piece of amber.

Second, manufacturers take the shavings and other leftovers from the tumbling and polishing process, heat them to a high temperature, and form them into beads, chips and other forms. This is called reconstituted amber. Reconstituted amber might or might not contain materials such as oils and other resins. The processes used and the materials in them are kept secret for obvious competitive reasons. The image below is of reconstituted amber. Note the uniformity in color. Also, note the “spangles” in the amber. These are gas bubbles that have burst in the heating process, but which mimic the inclusions for which amber is famous.

Reconstituted Amber

Third, copal is a young or semi-fossilized amber from the Dominican Republic and elsewhere. Copal is young only in comparison with genuine amber which is 40 million years old. Copal can range in age between fifty and 1.6 million years. In addition, copal is the product of different trees. So, copal is similar to, but is not amber.
To the untrained eye, copal can look very much like amber as this image from Wikipedia demonstrates.


Without resorting to destructive tests, one clue is the number of inclusions in the copal which will not present in amber at the same price points. Another is the fact that the surface of copal will be subject to small cracks as it gets older.

So, uniform color, star bursts or spangles in the beads and an abundance of inclusions suggest that the material is not amber. Couple this with the price points described earlier and then compare them with the wholesale costs of genuine natural Baltic amber chips, and I think most people would conclude that most of the products offered as “genuine Baltic amber teething necklaces” are either plastic imitations, reconstituted amber or copal. Now, please remember that nothing is wrong with imitations, reconstituted gemstones or copal as long as those facts are disclosed to the buyer.

If you conclude as I do that in this context the buyer is at risk of purchasing something other than that which is being described by the seller, you must also conclude that you don’t want your infant or toddler chewing these products. You need to know what going into your baby’s mouth.

It’s important to say that if you find the necklaces beautiful, by all means buy and wear them. You’re not going to chew on them.

In the next section, I’ll review the health claims made by these sellers that I believe should be viewed with deep skepticism.

You’re Kidding, Right? Health Claims Made for Amber

Gemstones have been associated with myth and legend since mankind began to adorn itself. Early Chinese myths told of pearls falling from the sky when dragons fought. Pearls are said to offer the power of love, money, protection and luck. Hematite was worn by Roman soldiers who associated it with Mars, the god of war. They believed hematite would protect them in battle. Lapis Lazuli, a gemstone often associated with royalty, is believed to strengthen awareness, increase creativity and cure insomnia.

Do soldiers believe hematite shields them from danger? No, of course not. Do we really believe lapis cures insomnia? I don’t. Do we believe that pearls bring us happiness, money, protection from danger and good luck? No, but it’s fun to know these associations. They increase our appreciation of the gemstones and their histories.

Through the centuries, amber has been used primarily as adornment. It has also been used for healing by societies that relied on primitive medicine. The Romans, for example, used amber to protect from madness. They ground it into powder for use in curing throat, ear, eye and stomach disease. In the Middle Ages, it was used to treat jaundice and in alchemy experiments. In tsarist Russia it was used as a protection for nannies and babies.

All of this – and much more – would be simply fun and interesting information if amber advocates were not using this history to promote the notion that amber’s “healing” properties actually reduce mild pain, including the pain involved in teething.

The supposed “science” cited to support healing claims can sound serious enough to be credible. Baltic amber contains succinic acid. The theory advanced is that amber is heated via contact with the baby, releasing the acid from the beads into baby’s skin. This in turn has an analgesic effect that reduces the pain of teething.

There are a few things wrong with this:

First, it is extremely unlikely that your baby’s skin is warm enough to cause amber to release succinic acid into his or her body. Remember that Baltic amber becomes softer at about 150 degrees centigrade or 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and melts at 300 degrees centigrade and 570 degree Fahrenheit.

Second, as I described, I do not believe that the majority of necklaces sold as natural Baltic amber are indeed Baltic amber or even natural. This means that if your amber necklace is releasing some substance onto your baby’s skin, you can’t be sure what it is. But remember, even if the necklace is natural Baltic Amber and in the extremely unlikely event your baby is hot enough to cause the amber to sweat succinic acid, you still don’t know how much acid your baby is absorbing. Does this sound like good or smart parenting?

Finally, there is no evidence that succinic acid is effective as an anti-inflammatory or general analgesic. There are no studies small or large in any scientific publications that support the claims that succinic acid, via amber, is a pain remedy.

Next, more safety issues.

Teether Guidelines from the Consumer Product Safety Commission

Consumer Product Safety CommissionIn the U.S., the Consumer Product Safety Commission is responsible for monitoring the safety of rattles, squeeze toys and teethers. The commission also issues regulations and safety tips concerning the usage of these products.

Like many safety tips, from government and elsewhere, these guidelines are mostly a matter of common sense. But in this context, they’re worth repeating since amber teething necklaces violate two of the CPSC’s three applicable safety guidelines for pacifiers and teethers.

First, the commission advises consumers to “check all rattles, squeeze toys and teethers for small ends that could extend into the back of the baby’s mouth.” If the item is too small, the commission suggests throwing it out.

The commission posts the template reproduced below and advises that “anything that fits inside this template is a choking hazard.” Amber chips are only a few millimeters in size. Entire necklaces can even fit into this template.

CPSC TemplateThe Commission also advises that “Teethers, like pacifiers, should never be fastened around a baby’s neck.”

Teethers fastened around a baby’s neck present a manifest choking hazard, yet there are a multitude of images online with babies wearing these necklaces. I’ve removed the baby’s face from the image below, but it is an example of the type of image you’ll see.
Baby with Amber NecklaceIt is appalling to me that retailers suggest directly or by implication that a baby should wear anything around the neck.

I do believe that the vast majority of these sellers offer the product with no ill intent. I also believe they are naive in the extreme if they actually believe the product claims they’re making.

Finally, I’d like to add a word on the manufacture of these necklaces. Marketers will tell you that knots placed between chips reduce the possibility that baby will swallow a chip if the necklace breaks. The knots can prevent all the beads downstream from the point of the break – except the one set free by the break — from scattering. Of course, and with respect, they don’t mention the possibility that baby will put that one chip in his or her mouth.

But there is more. As the name suggests, “chips” are small fragments of a gemstone or imitation gemstone. The drillhole through which the chips are strung therefore is proportionately larger than in other, larger gemstones. The very size of the drillhole increases the possibility of the chip breaking and of chips being swallowed by baby. These chips can have sharp edges and as I’ve mentioned, in all probability we don’t know exactly what the material is.

In sum, we don’t know exactly what is being sold as “Natural Baltic Amber.” The so-called healing properties of Baltic Amber are based on ancient reports of primitive medical practices, and on unrealistic and illogical temperature and chemical-release scenarios. And, finally, the usage of amber teething necklaces violates safety guidelines from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

As a responsible parent, do you really want to take that risk?


Posted in Business | Tagged , , , ,

Know Your Materials

Rob Bates, the news director of JCK, a leading trade publication recently wrote an article entitled “Jewelry is About Craft. We should tell Consumers.”

His point is that manufacturers should take the time to tell retailers what goes into the manufacture of a product, including interesting and important information about the gemstones.

This echoes a point I’ve tried to make for years. When I owned the gallery, I was consistently amazed that otherwise competent craftspeople would bring in items and yet be unable to describe the gemstones. They put hours of work into the piece, may have used multiple and sophisticated techniques in assembling it, yet didn’t have the curiosity to look up the gemstones.

This kind of omission (laziness in some, although not all cases) is also a nuisance for any sales intermediary. When this happened to me, I was frequently able to identify the gemstones, but I couldn’t identify all of them, particularly those I didn’t use in my own work. How on earth did they expect me to sell a product if I didn’t know what it was? I remember one of the most arrogant craftspeople responded to my question by lecturing me to “sell the design, not the materials.” This was a mistake.

It’s true that none of us can be experts on everything. In fact, that’s one the enduring appeals of working in the industry…there is always something new to learn.

But when we’re trying to sell our work, it’s important to understand exactly what we’re offering. If the raw material appeals to you, but is unfamiliar, ask the dealer what it is before you buy it. Then, write it down or have him write it on the sales receipt. Often we buy materials that we don’t immediately use, so keep your notes…maybe in a zip lock bag where you store the gemstones. Keep your sales receipts where you can easily refer to them. Then, when you incorporate it into a design, look up the material, so you can describe it to your clients or your gallery reps.

Many craftspeople don’t take the time to understand or familiarize themselves with the sales process. But, the best – and most successful ones – do. Remember, most people, particularly buyers of one-of-a-kind jewelry, love knowing about their purchases. It’s up to you to provide them with that information.

Posted in Business, Jewelry Design, Sales | Tagged , , ,

Stretching Silk for Stringing

Pearls showing dirtOne of the issues confronted by all professional pearl and bead stringers is that most thread, including silk, stretches. Despite our best efforts and the best efforts of manufacturers, over time, the stretching results in gaps between beads and pearls, not, obviously, an attractive look. (Recognition of this normally occurring stretching is the reason GIA recommends pearl necklaces be restrung every six months and is clear in the dirty and stretched thread of the pearl necklace pictured above.)

I’ve developed a DVD, a bonus that accompanies Vol. I and Vol. II of the Professional Pearl and Bead Stringing course, that details my own approach to the issue. However, I recently saw these tips, one of which makes a lot of sense, and one of which doesn’t.

Both tips were reported in the February, 2015 edition of MJSA Journal in an article called “Stretch it Out.”

  • Kimberly Ingersoll in Viola, Wisconsin, wrote in to suggest that pearl and bead stringers immerse the silk thread in water and then hang it with a weight to dry. She suggests using fishermen lead weights. An alternative might be a hammer. I haven’t tried this technique – frankly, it was new to me. My only concern is potential damage to the thread in the same way that water can damage silk clothing. I may be wrong, though, and this definitely sounds worth trying.
  • Another reader, a Judy Willingham from Manhattan, Kansas, suggests attaching the clasp and dipping the exposed silk in ordinary rubbing alcohol to wet the string. Then she shifts the pearls back toward the clasp and suspends the whole thing to let the silk dry. Willingham claims this straightens the silk and stretches it a little before knotting.

I would strongly recommend against this method. In fact, I’m a little surprised MJSA Journal printed it without a discussion. I wouldn’t knowingly expose pearls to rubbing alcohol any more than I’d knowingly expose them to acetone or perfume. The risk of nacre damage is too great.

However, the first recommendation makes sense. If you try it, let me know. I’d be interested in your results.


Posted in Gemstones, Jewelry Design, Manufacturing Tips | Tagged , ,

Your Imagination and the New Year

Although I know that starting the New Year isn’t really a clean slate, it always feels like one, and it’s a good time to set goals and plan for a productive year.

As a manufacturer of jewelry, you should have two overarching goals: ensuring you’re getting the creative stimuli you need to keep the ideas coming and, just as important, trying to get out before potential clients. In this blog and in the next, I’ll suggest ways of doing that for the New Year. First, your needs.

Creative Stimulus

A very well-known studio jeweler once told me that “we all borrow ideas from each other.” In no way was she suggesting that jewelers plagiarize work. What she meant was that new techniques can appear and reappear and artists often incorporate those techniques into their work in different ways.  In this case, she was talking about fusing different metals together which many artists are doing to save on money and to achieve different visual effects. More generally, she meant that artists learn from each other.

The remark gets to the point of this column: you must ensure you keep a steady flow of visual input coming your way. And, equally important, be sure that most if not all of that input is from artists who are at the top of their game. It doesn’t do you any good to look at work that is sloppy and/or poorly conceived. You’ve got to look at work that challenges and inspires you; work that has the “wow” factor.

Here are ways I stay interested and challenged:

  • Magazine subscriptions – If I were to discontinue all my subscriptions, save one, I’d keep “Ornament” magazine. Devoted to wearable art, including jewelry, the magazine covers the best of contemporary work, but also looks back at ancient and ethnic work, including beads. The magazine itself is beautifully executed with stunning photographs. It will challenge, inspire and teach you.
  • Museum shows – Many museums have caught on to craft, including wearable art, as worthy of notice. Here in Houston, the Center for Contemporary Craft was founded some years ago. In addition, the Art Museum of Houston bought the Helen Drutt collection five or six years ago. (Helen Drutt was a pioneer in recognizing the beauty and value of post-WWII studio jewelry.) Check exhibition schedules in your area and put them in your tickler file. Don’t neglect shows that may seem off-point such as gold of Roman or Greece-type shows. Those designs are more relevant than you might think. Also, if you’re planning trips outside your area this year, be sure to check museum shows in those locales and try to schedule trips to catch those that might be of interest.
  • Trade Shows – Trade show promoters publish dates of shows at least a year ahead of time. Check their schedules. If you live in a big city, one or more of them are likely to have a show during the calendar year. Some of the biggest are the International Gem and Jewelry show and G&LW (Gem and Lapidary Wholesalers.) If possible, go out to Tucson for the big gem and jewelry at the end of January and beginning of February. Dealers from around the world come and it’s a terrific place to discover new gem finds and new trends in handling them. Best if you have your wholesale license, however, many of the shows are open to the public.
  • Craft Shows – Unfortunately there are fewer of these. The best are SOFA, American Craft Show and the American Made Show by the Rosen Group. The Philadelphia Craft Show is good and I hear Art Basel in Miami Beach is fabulous although I haven’t been. Here is a link to a list of shows, however, be sure to also google your area, I don’t think this list is complete.
  • Books – Lark Crafts does a good job covering the jewelry making scene with books. Be sure to browse their website, you may discover something you can’t live without. Books, especially art books, are expensive, so don’t neglect the possibilities of local second hand book stores.

The point of all this is to nurture and nourish your imagination. Frankly, it’s critical for your well-being as an artist and jewelry manufacturer.

Posted in Business, Jewelry Design, Reference | Tagged , , ,

Technology and Organic Gemstones: An Uneasy Marriage?

Technology and Organic GemstonesI’m all for new technology. I may be dating myself, but when I went to graduate school, I was considered lucky because I owned an electric typewriter.

Obviously, I don’t embrace all the new systems and platforms available to us…who can? But I use some and I enjoy them.

The above is by way of saying I don’t have a knee jerk negative reaction to new technologies…at least I don’t think I do.

Still, I’m a little confused about what to make of Galatea’s new line of “Momento” jewelry products which imbed NFC (Near Field Communications) technology in cultured pearls. This allows a user to “create a tailored voice message that can be played when the pearl is tapped against a compatible mobile device. The smart jewelry also stores digital content…images, messages and videos.”

OK. So if I understand this correctly, the giver of the jewelry (or the owner) records a message or some kind of communication which is accessed by tapping the pearl to a NFC-enabled device such as a mobile phone. The user then listens to the message, views the images or listens to the tape.

But why would you want to listen to private messages when you’re wearing jewelry in a public venue? (That is, I usually wear jewelry when I’m dressed up and going someplace or meeting people, certainly not when I’m working around the house or slopped on the couch. I think this is generally true of most of us.)

Also, a ring can easily tap a mobile device, a pendant and earrings cannot. So, unless you’re wearing a pendant on a long, long chain, you have to either take off the necklace to tap the device or bring the device awkwardly to your collar. A similar issue obtains with earrings.

Finally, and this may be a little old fashioned, but pearls are a member of the group of gemstones we call “organic.” (Organic gemstones also include amber, coral, jet and ivory.) The distinction we make between other gemstones and organics is that they result from biological processes. So, to me, the marriage of a gemstone we love because of its organic beauty and modern communications technology seems a little odd because it changes the nature of the gemstone.

I admit, I may be missing something…Below is a video from Galatea describing the Momento line. See for yourself.

Posted in Business, Fashion, Jewelry Design, Pearls | Tagged , , ,

Protect Yourself & Your Client

A young relative of mine became engaged recently. Her mother, my sister, gave her an eternity band which had belonged to her husband’s mother.

I’m not trying to confuse you with relatives. I looked at the ring years ago under a loop and recall that the diamonds were about 35 pointers and fairly clean. I don’t remember much more than that, so I was no help at all when my sister called and said that the national chain to which my niece had taken the ring for cleaning had lost it.

As described by my niece, the take-in procedures at this chain – and believe me, you’d recognize the name – were shoddy, at the least. She did receive a receipt for the ring, but there was no real description. The number of diamonds or the size of the diamonds weren’t listed. The type of setting wasn’t described. All my niece had was a receipt.

The store acknowledges it lost her ring and offered her $4,000 to settle the claim. But, upon what basis does it arrive at that value? They lost the ring and the receipt doesn’t describe it. The $4000 is just as apt to be too much for the ring as it is apt to be too little. That’s because the store can’t prove or even suggest its value.
It’s nuts. And, for my niece and sister, just beyond frustrating.

sample receipt formI really doubt the clerk who took in the ring stole it. The ring is beautiful, but certainly not worth the risk of jail time. I suspect the clerk was just sloppy and allowed an accident to occur such as carelessly tossing the envelope containing the ring into a wastebasket.

Accidents do happen. They shouldn’t. But they do. When they do, though, the client should be protected and you should be protected. That means you should have an accurate description of the item.

So, the real grievance here is the laziness of the take-in clerk who provided a receipt without details.

My niece’s fiancé is a lawyer and they’ve already filed a law suit against the chain.

As professional pearl and bead stringers, we are often asked to repair necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry. Please protect yourself and provide your client with a detailed receipt and keep a copy for your own records.

Please understand, it’s important that you NOT accept customer claims about the piece. For example, you should not describe the piece as “antique amber beads.” You should describe the piece as  “Client says beads are antique amber.”

If the client objects, tell her you haven’t identified the stones, so can’t accept that they’re whatever she says they are. Tell her you don’t doubt that they are what she says they are, but that you cannot issue a receipt certifying this without additional tests and/or study. Most people will accept this. Then be sure to include a good description, including size, color and whether they’re graduated.

Back when I was running the gallery, digital wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. Today, I’d take a quick picture of the jewelry and keep it with the receipt which I would get the client to sign.

Whatever procedure you decide upon, please be sure to protect yourself. Also, be sure to follow the procedures you’ve decided upon. No one wants a lawsuit, but they can happen and often are the result of carelessness.

(There are plenty of forms available such as the one I’ve posted. You can pick up packages of these at office and jewelry supply stores. Using a pre-printed form, of course, is a signal of your professionalism.)


Posted in Business, Gemstones | Tagged , , ,

A Happy Ending

Natural Saltwater PearlMore than once I’ve mentioned that one of the reasons for my continued fascination with jewelry is the history that can be associated with it.

Here is a present-day story involving an important antique brooch with a happy ending. It’s always nice to see a story like this, but perhaps particularly affecting as it occurred so close to the holidays.

A family of modest means, living in New Jersey, was reeling from the costs of caring for an ill mother. In addition, the family has a child on the cusp of college and the huge costs associated with that. They family decided to sell an antique brooch to help with the expenses.

Fortunately, they knew or were told not to break up the piece which some might have been tempted to do. It features a large center pearl and is surrounded by diamonds. The pearl could have gone into a brooch as a stand-alone; the diamonds could have been re-set as “eternity” bands, currently popular as wedding and anniversary bands.

Instead, they took it to Rago arts, a Pennsylvania auction house, which identified it as the “Putilov brooch,” once part of the Russian crown jewels and the setting for the world’s largest known near-round natural saltwater pearl. The pearl, a lustrous white, measures 19.08 x 16.50 mm and is set in platinum.

The brooch itself measures 2” x 1 5/8” and is framed by 16 old mine cut diamonds. According to the Rago specialists who reconstructed the history of the piece, it was owned by Alexei Putilov, a Russian financier and industrialist, who fled Russia in the spring of 1918. The family member consigning the piece is his great grandchild.

Rago asked $100,000 for the brooch. It sold for more than $800,00.

Rago spokespeople said the family was in tears at the conclusion of the auction.

A happy ending, indeed.

Posted in Gemstones, Jewelry History, Pearls | Tagged , , ,