When we asked the JCK Retail Panel to tell us their favorite stories “from the trenches,” we got dozens of responses. Space considerations prevent us from using them all, but the following memorable moments remind us that there’s more to selling jewelry than keystone and karats.
Jewelry and remembrance. A woman came into Myers & Pugh Designers in Newark, Ohio, with a slide bracelet and asked Mike Myers if he remembered making it. He did, and he also recalled the gentleman who had purchased it the year before. After choosing two more slides, the woman revealed that her husband had died in October but had saved money in a Christmas club to purchase additional slides. She wanted to carry out his final wishes.
When she picked up the finished piece, she was overcome with emotion. Says Myers, “People like that make you happy to have a profession that inspires such joy and hope.”
In Rockford, Ill., a customer of Clodius & Co. Jewelers wanted her late husband’s service pin stones reset into a modern style. The store designed a ring with a simple floral pattern and a wide band, to be flush set with the stones. But when Mark Clodius delivered it, the woman burst into tears. “I tried to console her,” recalls Clodius, who thought she didn’t like the ring. But as she caught her breath, she thanked the jeweler and said, “I can’t believe how beautiful it is.” For Clodius the experience was “more pleasing than any sale I can remember, regardless of dollar value.”
The lighter side. A regular customer of Arthur’s Jewelry in Reidsville, N.C., always visited the store on Christmas Eve—after a few drinks—to buy a Christmas present for his wife. For three years in a row he bought .50-ct. diamond stud earrings. The second year, his wife returned them. The third year, she (jokingly) threatened violence if Arthur’s ever sold him that item again.
That was the last the store saw of the customer for a few years. Meanwhile, he and his wife separated. Then, last Christmas, he showed up again—to buy .50-ct. diamond stud earrings for his new girlfriend.
After sending a customer to Moray’s Jewelers in Miami, a competitor called and told the proprietor to “just give him anything for a few thousand dollars.” The customer—who was “drunk as a skunk”—had gone to pick up a large emerald necklace, and the other jeweler had been afraid to give it to him in his inebriated condition.
Several days later, the man wandered into Moray’s asking if he owed them money. He apologized for taking so long—he had checked with every jeweler in the area because he couldn’t remember what store he had been to.
Bruce Gumer of Gumer & Co. Inc. in Louisville, Ky., remembers a woman who visited the store in 1985. His father, a retired attorney who helped out in the store, showed her a fancy gold chain marked $1,100. She was interested, but a “fancier jewelry store” had a similar one for $1,900—and it was handmade. That’s when Gumer approached the woman and showed her the manufacturer’s hallmark on the catch. “I weighed the necklace and suggested she go back down to the ‘fancier jewelers’ and have them weigh the necklace and take a glass and look at the hallmark,” he recalls. “It wasn’t handmade.”
She left and returned an hour later. “They weighed the same and have the same hallmark,” she said. “But if I buy yours I can’t tell my friends that I bought the piece of jewelry at that fancier jewelry store.”
At that point Gumer’s father said to the woman, “Madam, if I were you, I would save the $800 and tell my friends I bought it at the fancier jewelry store.” She agreed with the former lawyer’s Solomonic logic and bought the chain.
Customer service. A client went to Traditional Jewelers Inc. in Newport Beach, Calif., to pick up a custom-designed ring and threw a tantrum when he discovered it wasn’t finished. The ring was ready by 6 p.m., so jeweler Marion Halfacre delivered it to the client’s home—with flowers—just as he was pulling out of the driveway to go to his anniversary dinner. “He was embarrassed and appreciative, all at the same time,” Halfacre remembers. “This was 20 years ago. He and his family have since been great, great clients.”
In Wilmington, Del., a customer asked David Mazer of Foley Jewelers to create the perfect birthday gift for his wife. Unfortunately, the man knew nothing about her taste in jewelry. Luckily, the woman was a friend of Mazer’s, so the jeweler devised a plan. He told her he was developing a questionnaire for a panel of customers and asked her to help him with it. The woman, who had known Mazer for 20 years, agreed.
“With each question … I would kibitz with my friend about her personal thoughts and how they compared to what we thought our customers’ responses would be,” Mazer recalls. “This ‘session’ lasted an hour or two and resulted in a magnificent suite of natural iolite jewelry. It was only a few weeks later that she realized what we had done.”
The element of surprise. The man who tottered into Lane Jewelers in Beaver Falls, Pa., in November 2001 was drunk and disheveled, and he wanted a large oval emerald and diamond ring. Jeweler Paul Rowe, assuming he couldn’t afford it, told him a substantial deposit was required. “He reached in his pocket and pulled out a paper bundle with wrapped stacks of money,” Rowe recalls. “He opened them up and counted off $4,000, then asked if that was enough.” It was, and for Lane Jewelers it also helped make the difference between a good holiday selling season and a mediocre one.
An elegant gentleman who had purchased earrings from Eve J. Alfille Ltd. in Evanston, Ill., returned a few weeks later and began yelling. “Why did you tell her?” he demanded of the bewildered staff. “Why?” He slammed the door on his way out.
Six months later, he returned to apologize. His wife, who was divorcing him, had found the invoice for the earrings—which had been for someone else.
William Miller Jr. of Granada Jewelers in Ormond Beach, Fla., ordered a 5.46-ct. diamond for a customer and sold it to him in a platinum mounting with two baguettes. While Miller was building the ring, the customer called and said he would not be giving the ring to his intended but would buy it anyway.
Three months later he called to say the woman in question wanted to buy the ring—which she believed had belonged to his mother—but she wanted “her jeweler” to examine it first. Miller was her jeweler. “They haggled a little,” Miller recalls, and finally settled on a price. “To this day she does not know that it was bought to be given to her.”
A couple inherited several bags and boxes full of jewelry and took them to Carol Willis at Carol of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, Colo., for a “verbal appraisal.” As curious customers gathered to watch, the pieces—hundreds of them—were examined one by one, but the verdict never changed: nothing of monetary value. When the last box was opened, the disappointment was complete—the box was empty. A closer look, however, revealed a false bottom, which concealed an emerald and diamond ring valued at about $32,000.
David Keeling, David Keeling Fine Jewellery, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, remembers a certain ring. An Asian gentleman and his wheelchair-bound daughter, who was in her early twenties, visited the store in which Keeling worked 10 years ago and spoke to the owner about a custom piece. The daughter had consulted a holistic practitioner to halt the progress of her multiple sclerosis, and he had advised her to have a ring made using the purest materials. He recommended a platinum ring set with a diamond of exceptional quality. The diamond should have as much contact with her finger as possible.
“We worked on the design, settling on a half-carat, princess cut, VVS, D, which was to be set flush into the ring and angled so that one full face of the pavilion was exposed to the finger from the inside of the ring,” Keeling recalls. “The ring was the subject of much discussion because it looked stunning, but the purpose for which it was designed generated ample amounts of amusement.”
About nine months later, the father and daughter visited the store again. The owner went to wait on the pair but didn’t recognize them at first. The daughter, smiling broadly, thanked him for what he had done for her, but it wasn’t until she reached out to shake his hand and he saw the ring that he made the connection. He hadn’t recognized her without her wheelchair.