Letters

Early Disclosure

I agree wholeheartedly with your editorial (“Taking Disclosure to the Next Level,” JCK, April 2000, p. 196) that full disclosure should begin with gem treaters and importers. Without disclosure at the start of the chain, all of us are at increased risk every time we sell any gemstone. There is always lag time between a new treatment and the gemological community’s becoming aware of it and determining how to detect it. During that time, any one of us can sell something that is not as we represented it. It happened to me with a pair of cabochon rubies and a pair of cabochon sapphires.

The dealer told me they were “heated” stones, and three of the four showed indications of heat when examined with the loupe. I didn’t feel the need to examine them with the microscope (a mistake I won’t make again), and I sold them with what I thought was full disclosure. About a year later, prior to setting the stones (which had been in my safe), my client and I both noticed an iridescent inclusion (interference colors from a fracture) that we hadn’t seen previously. I examined all the stones again and noticed that the clarity of the rubies was lower than I had noted earlier.

I couldn’t understand why the appearance of three stones had changed; heating is “permanent,” and the stones had not been damaged in any way. I took them to a respected New York laboratory and learned that one sapphire was heated, one sapphire and one ruby were heated and oiled, and one ruby was oiled only. When the lab director showed me the oiled stone under the microscope, it was instantly obvious, but this was the first oiled ruby I had ever seen, and I had never checked corundum for oiling up to that moment. It was apparent that some of the oil had leaked out, changing the stone’s appearance.

This is a perfect example of why disclosure needs to start earlier in the chain and why buyers need to start getting more specific information on their sales receipts. A dealer had sold stones without “full disclosure,” and I, albeit unknowingly, failed to properly represent the stones to my client because they were treated by a technique I

didn’t even know was being used on sapphire and ruby! In this case, the Federal Trade Commission also requires the seller to advise the buyer that the treatment is not permanent and that the stone’s appearance might change at some future time. I was mortified.

My advice to any jeweler buying colored gems: Know your source, check what is on the sales receipt, and if the stone is treated, insist that the exact nature of the treatment be indicated. This way, if a stone you purchase was subjected to a different type of treatment or an additional treatment, you have someone to hold accountable. – Antoinette Maitlins, Woodstock, Vt.

The author has written several books on gems and gemology for the lay reader.

Jewelers Should Be More Informed

Larry Frederick’s editorial in the April 2000 issue, “Taking Disclosure to the Next Level” (p. 196), was enlightening in these days of consumer mistrust. I applaud Evanston, Ill., jewelry designer and retailer Eve Alfillé for developing a positive method of educating her clients through a “hands-on” approach, displaying treated gemstones and inviting customers to question the treatments. It seems that this approach is just what the customer is asking for.

Yes, Eve Alfillé’s store points the way to the future. But Frederick missed a significant component in treating the jewelry industry’s present dilemma. “Just as doctors learned that informed patients are good patients,” as he said, I believe that informed doctors are better doctors. As a gemologist, I have an obligation to my profession and my customers to constantly continue my own education by reading every trade magazine, attending major trade shows, attending gemological and appraisal seminars, reading books that pertain to my trade, talking to and questioning my colleagues, and using the Internet in any educational way I can.

Why blame the gem dealers who are applying these treatments, then play “wait and guess” about disclosure, when there is abundant information at our fingertips? Take Gems & Gemology magazine. It’s as in-depth and educational as any trade magazine. Not reading it is no excuse to one’s customers.

Should we continue to be held hostage by television exposés and frightful clients, or should we make every effort on our own to edify our industry? Alfillé says that her approach “empowers shoppers through knowledge.” I believe that with proper and thorough knowledge, the retail jeweler will be empowered! – Lisa N. Perino, G.G., NGJA, AGA, Huntington Bay, N.Y.

Plan to Stop Crime

I’ve been following your coverage of the rising tide of crime against traveling salespeople. I’ve been in the jewelry business for 30 years, and I doubt the federal government can do much but spend money on our problem. The government can’t stop illegal aliens or illicit drugs, let alone illegal aliens who rob and murder.

Manufacturers and suppliers know the answer. Salespeople need security protection in most situations. Nowadays you can’t walk the street without a security escort. It’s a fact of life, particularly in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami. Banks send cash and negotiables in Brinks trucks. Jewelry is just as liquid, yet sales reps roam the streets unprotected. Where is the sense in that?

Too many manufacturers have no money or inclination to protect their goods or traveling reps. Many have no idea how to find a security service in out-of-town locations. You can’t just open up the Yellow Pages and hire anybody. Police details aren’t the answer, either. They’re not trained to protect or escort sales reps. Most private-investigation and security agencies hire freelancers—they don’t have a trained, dedicated staff. Neither police nor private security firms are familiar with our business, the locations of trading partners, or even elementary things like the safest place to park in the downtown of big cities. Anybody can set you up.

There’s another side to this crime issue that’s never reported. I have witnessed, been party to, and heard privileged information regarding various traveling sales rep robberies. I can tell you that some salesmen set themselves up and that some manufacturers set their own sales reps up. Desperate people do desperate things.

The vast majority of robberies aren’t staged, of course. The biggest victim of the robbery is the sales rep. He’s the first suspect. At once he has no friends. The FBI, local police, private investigators, and insurance companies are on him. Interrogations, polygraphs, and investigations ensue—anything so the insurance company doesn’t have to pay. Suppliers turn on the reps, and lawyers beat the drums on contract infractions: negligence, dereliction, moral turpitude, etc. Many reps who are robbed are sued for loss by their employers. After it’s all said and done, everyone gets on with his life except the rep.

All the lobbying will help a bit, but until reps are protected, the robbery trend will grow. Mayor Giuliani didn’t clean up New York with “Awareness Week,” letters, or powwows with busy politicians who couldn’t care less. He put fear in the criminals and made them take their business elsewhere.

Next time you’re among the industry bigwigs, ask about their plan to protect their traveling sales reps. If you don’t have a plan, you become part of someone else’s plan. I’m referring to crooks, and their plan is to rob you. – Steve Wolf, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The author owns BBW, a business that provides security for traveling sales reps. Formerly, he served as vice president of sales for jewelry companies in New York.

Confusion Over Terminology

Thank you for the article about my store in the April issue of JCK magazine (“Branding Your Store Through Memorable Experiences,” p. 146). Unfortunately, there’s some confusion regarding the terms “price,” “average retail price,” “gross profit” (or gross margin), and “net profit” (or margin). The headline indicated that we “raised our prices,” when in reality we raised our “average retail price,” meaning that we started selling better diamonds. At no time did we re-price things in the store to increase the retail price. Retailers who follow this strategy could be seriously harmed and should be so warned. On the other hand, our branding strategy could help a lot of retailers by getting them to sell better quality without focusing on the price or discount. As a result of this strategy, our net income (or net margin) increased 19%, not our markup or gross margin, as indicated in your article. – David Nygaard, David Nygaard Fine Jewelers, Virginia Beach, Va.

More About Robert M. Shipley Sr.

I’m writing to express the Shipley family’s gratitude for making my grandfather, Robert M. Shipley Sr., your “Person of the Century” (JCK, December 1999, p. 68).

A couple of notes of added interest: The picture of my father in his Army Air Corps uniform that you published was taken just before his departure for service in England during World War II. He flew P-38s and was responsible for a depot at which partially disassembled aircraft were reassembled and test-flown before being committed to battle.

The diamond and emerald ring you mentioned is still in the family—I inherited it and wear it all the time. The emeralds are fairly well rounded off, and the Butler finish has worn off after more than 60 years of use, but it’s still an attractive piece of design that I get compliments on all the time. I wasn’t aware it had ever been pawned, but that will enter the family lore.

My mother, Mary Hughes Shipley, now 90, was my granddad’s secretary during the formative years of GIA and AGS, and she also typed all of my father’s correspondence during his business activities. Seeing her headed for the back porch/office of our farmhouse in Northern California, shorthand tablet in hand, meant we kids were going to be sent outside to provide the necessary peace and quiet while letters were dictated—probably to finish some long-neglected chores as well.

I may be the last of the Shipleys to actually have had a hand in the family business, albeit a small one. At about age 8 or 9, I spent Saturday mornings working at the GIA Research Lab in Glendale, Calif., reaming the holes for the shaft on polariscopes and filing the casting flash off refractometers prior to their assembly. For this service, I was paid a dime an hour, and, if I was diligent, I got to walk across the road and go swimming all afternoon at Oakmont Country Club.

My grandfather had two sons: my father, Robert M. Shipley Jr., and his brother, Edward V. Shipley, three years his junior. My father went on to develop agricultural harvesting equipment with considerable success in the late ’50s and early ’60s and sold his company to a subsidiary of the Kelsey-Hayes Corp. in the late ’60s. My uncle was a career officer in the U.S. Air Force, who retired in the Ventura, Calif., area. – Robert M. Shipley III, Camas, Wash.

A Word About Internet Sales

Listen up, all you wholesalers who are selling on the Internet to retail customers!

I am sick of you selling only the stone to your customers and providing nothing else. I am not going to set your stone overnight. I’m not going to take responsibility for setting damage on a stone I didn’t sell. I’m not going to appraise a stone without the original lab report so I can see if the stone matches the papers. And I’m tired of being the one who plays the heavy and gets to tell the customer all this bad news.

You’re trying to cut us out of diamond sales, but you are not providing the same service. We retailers have to be responsible to our customers and service what we sell. I know many wholesalers, and they don’t have the right attitude to serve customers. It’s “take this stone and let me get your invoice written.”

This is my stand. I will appraise a stone purchased from a “wholesaler” prior to setting, charge a consultation fee of $200, and demand the original lab report. I will set such a stone, taking the usual time, and take no responsibility for chipping. I will not purchase diamonds from anyone selling to individuals on the Internet.

If you sell to the public, you must serve your customers. If not, it leaves a bad taste with them for the whole industry. I’ve seen it happen. – Margaret Gronberg, G.G., ISA, The Jewelry Gallery, Dallas

The Court of the ‘Empress Caroline’

Thank you for writing the article on the sale of the “Carolina Prince” (JCK, February 2000, p. 54). You were very gracious in mentioning me and my store. The article also noted that the 858-ct. “Empress Caroline” (formerly the “Jolly Green Giant”) was owned by a consortium of 12 jewelers and would be on tour soon.

Although the article showed our picture, the other 11 owners were not mentioned by name. If you could identify each owner in a future article, I would greatly appreciate it. Also, anyone in the industry interested in having the “Emerald Show” in his store may contact anyone in the consortium. – Rick Gregory, R. Gregory Jewelers Inc., Statesville, N.C.