Letters

YES TO 585 PLATINUM

We at Suberi Brothers have a strong commitment to and belief in 585 platinum and have devoted considerable time and expense to its creation and development. Unfortunately, we did not anticipate the controversy a new alloy of this type would cause — particularly an alloy aimed at broadening the fledgling platinum market and giving a wider cross-section of consumers a chance to own platinum jewelry.

To date, the primary objections to this new product appear to be self-serving, with selected suppliers and trade associations stating that only high-platinum-content alloys should be allowed in fine jewelry, leaving no room for an alternative choice. Gold producers, on the other hand, have traditionally offered consumers several options in karatage and price without destroying their market.

Johnson Matthey’s John Cullen was paraphrased as saying that in 15 or 20 years, when platinum’s growth has leveled off, the time might be right for other avenues of growth such as lower-karatage 585 platinum. But the fact is the product is ready now and we ask only for a fair test of its viability.

We at Suberi Brothers remain firm in our commitment to this new alloy, its durability, beauty and salability. Rather than wasting time arguing among ourselves, let’s let the retailers and consumers decide.

Marvin Markman President Suberi Brothers Inc. New York, NY.

NO TO 585 PLATINUM

My company, OE Design Inc., is a jewelry design and manufacturing firm dealing almost exclusively in platinum. Our products are of the highest quality platinum and are made with expert craftsmanship. We are building our designer name, Rudolf Erdel, to become, in the industry and with consumers, synonymous with platinum. The purity, strength and durability of pure platinum is inherent to our product and our business. We are, therefore, in strong support of keeping the existing criteria for platinum and the hallmarking guidelines as follows: PT999, PT950, PT900 and PT850.

These markings are consistent with the international hallmarks, will enable easier export and import of platinum jewelry and will equalize the opportunity for U.S. manufacturers to fairly compete in the world marketplace.

Therefore, we strongly oppose the proposition to include what is referred to as Platinum 585 for FTC sanctioned hallmarking.

Based on our extensive research and manufacturing experience with 585 platinum, we believe we have legitimate and serious concerns about this matter. We were one of the first manufacturers capable of producing jewelry with 58.5% platinum. However, we were very concerned that consumers would be misled because, by its very content, 585 is not platinum. We also did not find 585 to be an acceptable substitute for platinum as the infusion of other metals and alloys greatly compromises the very nature and benefits of platinum and its promise and image.

When consumers see the word platinum, they rightfully assume they are getting real platinum — a product that promises to be of superior quality. We do not feel that 585 can be legally classified as platinum and, thus, would not be eligible for a platinum hallmark. The current hallmarking standards for pure platinum are universally recognized, understood and accepted by manufacturers, retailers and consumers. We submit that tomake an accommodation for 585 would be a great disservice to all parties. It would be misread as 14-karat platinum (the term karat is used to express the gold content in metal). The term karat is not applicable in silver, copper or any other metal, let alone platinum). The result of this would likely cause confusion and distrust among the buying public.

In 1992, together with Johnson Matthey, we developed a line of jewelry using 585 platinum. It was specifically targeted for the U.S. market with the assumption the lesser quality would lower the costs and that lower costs would make it acceptable to the American mass merchandise market. Our objective was to test the viability and consumer response. The results clearly underscored the many problems inherent in pursuing 585 platinum. For example:

1. The consumer assumes that all platinum is “pure.” The 585 markings were not recognized as a grade, and we were unable to successfully communicate what the variations meant.

2. The retail price savings between 950 and 585 platinum, because of production and labor costs, were not proportionate to the loss of value in the metal content.

3. After overcoming some serious technical challenges, we and Johnson Matthey concluded we could not support with confidence the 585 product as it had no history and no other comparison.

Consequently, after sharing our experience with the U.S. office of the Platinum Guild International, we jointly declined to continue the development of 585. Our position and path are:

A. To keep platinum as pure as it has always been.

B. To build its credibility by its value, quality and durability.

C. To give consumers what they want: the real thing.

D. To let consumers who look for a cheaper alternative choose the existing option of white gold. White gold is much cheaper than 585 and was actually developed to be a legal copy of platinum. It does not pretend to be what it is not.

E. To develop a platinum accent line for mass merchandising that has lower price points but features real platinum in distinct and elegant designs. The line will be marketed in early ’97.

We strongly petitioned that only a clear and correct guideline from the FTC will be able to establish an ethically responsible, commercially viable and clear message to consumers that is also historically accurate. Platinum, with its value, tradition and historic implications, deserves rigorous protection. FTC guidelines restricting the hallmarking of an 585 platinum alloy would align the U.S. with other countries and ultimately benefit the American consumer in preserving the integrity and credibility of the jewelry. Surely, confused and misled consumers would abandon a quality product if they no longer believed they got what they believed they paid for.

As a designer who feels fortunate and privileged to work with this exceptional metal, I think the purity, strength and durability of platinum are the very things that distinguish it from all other metals. To diffuse or distort its very essence would be to doom its place as the ultimate precious metal.That would seriously impact the jewelry market, and that would be a loss for us and for generations to come.

Rudolf Erdel President OE Design Inc. New York, N.Y.

RAPAPORT ANONYMOUS

I would like to comment about Glenn Rothman’s letter in the September issue of JCK [p. 30] responding to Martin Rapaport’s letter in the June issue [p. 30]. Mr. Rothman was kind enough to share with me the entire text of his letter, which raises some very real concerns for retailers.

In a portion of the letter you did not publish, Mr. Rothman asks, “What’s next for the list?” and then answers by stating: “What’s next is its open publication on the World Wide Web and the sale of the list to consumers. Now the list will dictate to retailers what a ‘fair’ margin should be; this is what Rapaport calls the democratizing of prices. No more triple key, no more key, maybe no more 50%, 25% or even 15% mark ups.”

It is obvious that Mr. Rapaport has no concept or could care less about how expensive it is to operate a retail jewelry store. He has never had to offer warranties, free replacement of lost or damaged diamonds, credit terms or the myriad other after-the-sale services which customers deserve and have come to expect. He has not had to deal with the high overhead and slow inventory turn common to most jewelers and especially to those operating in malls.

I agree with Mr. Rothman that our industry has “grown addicted” to the Rapaport list. I have always wondered why. There are other lists which reflect more accurate price information, such as the Druxman Report and Palmieri’s GAA Market Monitor. We have used the latter report for the past four years and it has eliminated the guesswork. No more “How much off of Rap is this?”

If Mr. Rapaport were truly interested in serving our industry, he would not publish his list to the consumer. Furthermore, he should make his list more realistic. (Does anyone know anyone who actually pays Rapaport prices?)

Unfortunately, because of the industry’s addiction to Rapaport’s list, it has gained a degree of credibility which now may be used in a way to cause further erosion of already shrinking margins. As Mr. Rothman asks, “How are retail jewelers, who generate their 40%-65% of gross revenue through diamond sales, going to prosper and grow under the proliferation of the list?”

I suggest we quit using the Rapaport list altogether. It doesn’t deserve the status we have assigned to it. There are reliable alternatives. This may not be the answer to the question of profitability for the retail jeweler, but I will not lend my support to any list that will be used in a way that is potentially detrimental to the survival of our family business.

Terry L. Call Call Jewelers Inc. Boise, ID.

ETHICS FIRST

An interesting editorial indeed: “Some rules make sense, others may change” from the September issue of JCK [p. 238].

Frankly, I was dismayed you failed to mention our biggest problem: ethics. Common sense tells us that as the customer base grows, the public wants and accepts changes in technology. They will accept drilled diamonds, fracture-filled diamonds, badly cut diamonds with poor make. The word “quality” has no meaning any more. And it all sells. Why? Because people want the product, plain and simple. I suppose you may say it is a form of “equality.”

The only question concerns our personal ethics. Your question was: “Are synthetic gemstones (properly labeled and disclosed) really a threat to all natural gemstones …” All too often the chain of information from the suppliers to buyers to the retail salesperson is so long that there is no real knowledge or concern about quality. The code of ethics becomes a code of silence: if the customer doesn’t ask, don’t tell.

The wonderful thing about our industry is that it is perfectly suited to be ethical, with the majority of the retail industry being small, family-run businesses. We face customers daily, and they want someone to trust. My customers tell us how refreshing it is to feel like they can trust us. Before you think it sounds like I live in a dream world, think again. I’ve worked in the catalog showroom industry, as a sales rep on the road and today as a retailer in a small guild store with my family. My experience has taught me the best sales technique is to be honest and ethical, and we are.But frankly, I’m up against some questionable practices. Customer loyalty is losing ground to discounting, “market” prices and other gimmicks. Customers have come to care little for service; they don’t even expect it anymore or think it will cost extra. They were schooled in the serve-yourself warehouse marketing concept.

I can only hope the tide will turn someday. I have found that if we market ourselves throughout the year, with even a small ad, we have a chance to be in the customer’s eye when that special occasion comes along. All too often we promote ourselves only during the holiday season, and then we get lost in the shuffle. Big advertisers simply crowd us out of the newspaper. But if we are there for customers to see month-in, month-out, they just may remember that nice little store that gift-wrapped, spent time explaining different qualities and appreciated their business.

As you can see, I carry a bit of the Blarney with me. However, I hope my feeling for this wonderful industry has shown through a little. I remember when this business could rely on a hand shake that ethically sealed the deal. Old fashioned? Hardly. Ethics will never go out of fashion. We must never let that happen.

Ken J. Fellin Ken Fellin’s Plaza Jewelry Baton Rouge, LA.

HONESTY IS ALL

Thank you for broaching the very vital subject of synthetic gemstones sold as natural; it is a subject I feel has long deserved “cover-story” status. Only Robert Weldon has the esoteric ability to relate the pressing synthetic issue with Hans Brinker! Very well done — it should have been longer.

As a possible remedy to mistakenly purchasing synthetics as natural gems, “buying at the mine” was cited. Business conducted with a mine owner is only as safe as the owner himself, who can also manifest the greed and dishonesty that leads to misrepresentation. There’s not inherent protection in buying “from the mine.” Whether buying from manufacturer, dealer or miner, it’s imperative to deal with someone who is honest and will assume responsibility. If an “honest” mistake is made, they are there to back you up.

Cynthia R. Marcusson Cynthia Renee Co. Fallbrook, Cal.

JCK welcomes letters to the editor. Direct them to our editorial offices at 1 Chilton Way, Radnor, PA 19089, fax (610) 964-4481 or e-mail pdonahue@chilton.net. The magazine reserves the right to edit letters.