Editor’s Farewell

We know life has its transitions, but sometimes they come upon us with surprising speed. That’s happening to me. After only 26 months at JCK, I’m taking an irresistible new job in the dot-com economy and turning over the reins as editor-in-chief to my able colleague, Hedda Schupak. Before I depart, though, I want to share a few observations I’ve collected about the jewelry industry. I think I’ve found a few ways you can satisfy more customers and improve your public image.

These recommendations stem from visiting jewelry stores, attending trade shows, and sitting in on educational sessions all over the country. My perspective was really that of an outsider, because before joining JCK in 1998 I knew practically nothing about jewelry—I’d spent nearly all my career in medical journalism.

My most lasting impression—and my main disappointment—is how hard jewelers make shoppers work to obtain information. Most stores neither show their prices nor identify their gemstones. I believe this is a big marketing mistake. Shopping has become a form of entertainment, and part of the fun is both learning about new things and seeing what they cost. Moreover, with so many Web sites selling jewelry these days, the consumer has grown accustomed to being fully informed. The Web sites not only post prices but also offer solid gemological information.

Besides, every consumer is fully aware of the unspoken reason for price shyness—to force him to engage a salesperson. Each time this coy ploy irritates or discourages a shopper, though, it backfires. And each time a consumer learns your goods are priced beyond his budget, you’ve wasted your time.

Also too hard to come by are reliable facts about treatments. Too many stores still disclose inadequate or misleading information—if they disclose any at all. This hurts the industry’s credibility more than any other factor. Thanks to the Internet and the media, the public is more aware of treatments than it has ever been and is looking to jewelers for clarity and guidance on this troubling subject. And woe to the jeweler whose customer learns from an outside source that the gem she bought isn’t the “natural” stone she assumed it was.

The irony is that treatments can be a selling point—and a strong one. As Eve Alfillé has shown in her Illinois store (see my Editor’s Page, JCK, April 2000, p. 196), customers react positively, even enthusiastically, to being educated about everything that’s done to a gem. Information inspires interest, trust, and a willingness to buy.

I realize part of the problem is that jewelers themselves often lack the facts about treatments. The American Gem Trade Association requires its 300-odd member dealers to disclose treatments, but something more far-reaching is needed. All the big jewelry associations should join forces to compel full disclosure by everyone in the production chain, all the way back to the mines. With the United States consuming a hugely disproportionate amount of the world’s gems, the jeweler groups could exercise tremendous collective clout if they really tried.

My final cautionary observation is that jewelers tend to view the media as a villain, as if reporters and TV producers were thirsting after retailers’ ruin. If a network airs an exposé about retailers who mislead customers, the reaction should be one of outrage—but not toward the network. The proper target is those jewelers who conceal treatments, promote synthetic gems as real ones, hold phony sales, or use other tricks to cheat consumers. Take away these kinds of unethical behaviors and you take away the threat of any more Dateline embarrassments.

Actually, the media, with their insatiable need for compelling stories, could be one of the jewelry industry’s best friends. Another thing I’ve learned over the past two years is that every gem comes with a fascinating story about its origin. Share those stories with your local paper and TV station and watch your business grow. It would be a lot more rewarding than using journalists as a scapegoat for the industry’s self-inflicted credibility problems.