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Your computer screen asks you to type your credit card number and send it into the black hole of cyperspace, and suddenly an image of a 13-year-old computer genius cracking codes from his bedroom flashes into your imagination. How safe is your payment information?

Many jewelers now conduct daily transactions over the Internet, but some are still concerned about the issue of security. In a JCK Retail Panel in fall 1996, some respondents indicated they would never use the Internet to buy or sell because it isn’t safe. It’s getting much safer, however, to the point that many people in the computer industry have deemed the Internet more secure than some traditional forms of payment, including using a credit card in a retail establishment, punching a calling card number at a pay phone or completing a transaction over a cellular phone.

“As far as small financial transactions, like what someone would buy with a typical credit card as opposed to banking or Wall Street-sized financial transactions, the encryption algorithms are considered safe,” says Jon Siegal of Artisan Computer Craftsmanship, Highland Park, N.J. “If someone was able to intercept the conversation between the client and the server, and if he had sufficient time and computing resources at his disposal, he could decrypt the credit card numbers. But the results would not justify the effort. It would be much easier to get a job in a restaurant and steal physical copies of credit card receipts or to look through the garbage to get non-shredded copies.”

Several encryption/decryption software packages have been developed to deter on-line hackers. The software encrypts information you type into a computer, and the receiving computer uses the same codes to decipher the information. The most advanced of these so far is Secure Electronic Transaction, which is being developed by Visa and MasterCard and is expected to emerge some time this year. The software uses a “digital signature” to associate the user with the company’s customer database so others cannot access the system.

Another popular technology is the Secure Sockets Layer Protocol. Developed by Netscape, SSL provides low-level security through data encryption and server authentication.

All this initialed technology looks important on a page, but what should you keep in mind when it comes time to type your credit card number onto a screen? “Your computer should let you know whether you are safe,” says Siegal. Most Internet browsers support encryption and will let you know if you are entering a secured site, unless you have disabled the warning messages under your Preferences. Microsoft Internet Explorer uses pop-up messages informing you when you enter or leave an encrypted site, and Netscape Navigator uses a “key” icon in the lower left corner of the screen: if the key is broken, no encryption is used, but if it is whole, you are secure.

As encryption software becomes more advanced and on-line theft less frequent, jewelry sales over the Internet may become more of a way of life for many jewelers.

WHAT’S NEW

S.A. Peck Jewelers, a diamond importer and jewelry manufacturer in Chicago, Ill., has been awarded the LookSmart Editor’s Choice Award for its Internet site at http://www.sapeck.com. Look-Smart, a subsidiary of Reader’s Digest, honored S.A. Peck as one of the first jewelry companies to incorporate a Web site into its marketing and sales efforts. The company has sold diamonds on its site for several years and also features a fine jewelry catalog and guide to purchasing diamonds. The site now includes the LookSmart Editor’s Choice Symbol of Excellence. S.A. Peck & Co., 55 E. Washington St., Chicago, IL 60602; (312) 977-0300.

Curt Parker Jewelers, a retailer in St. Louis, Mo., expanded its Web site at http://www.curtparker.com in response to requests from customers for more information on jewelry. The company’s Web site includes the retailer’s guides to “How to Buy a Diamond,” “How to Buy Pearls,” the care and legends of colored gemstones, watch information and care, and “What’s Hot” pages for fashion trends. The expanded site was developed with information provided by the American Gem Society, the Cultured Pearl Information Center, the Diamond Information Center and Jewelers of America. Curt Parker Inc., 150 North Meramec, Suite 210, St. Louis, MO 63105; (314) 721-5882, fax (314) 721-6475, e-mail curtparker@cdmnet.com.

Arch Crown Inc., a manufacturer, of tags and labels for jewelers and other retailers in West Orange, N.J., has joined the Internet at http://www.archcrown.com. Customers can fill out electronic request forms for the latest catalog and up to five free samples of tags and labels. Arch Crown, 177 Main St., West Orange, NJ 07052; (800) 526-8353 or (201) 731-6300, fax (201) 731-2228, e-mail ac@archcrown.com.

What’s Hot

www.dolcevita.com: If you missed the Vicenza show this year, Dolce Vita will tide you over with a site packed with Italian style. View the latest fashions coming down the runway to plan for upcoming jewelry trends, and read about luxurious Italian jewelers such as Bulgari. The “Fashion” section of Dolce Vita (which means “Sweet Life”) also discusses trends in scents, shoes and accessories.

To get the entire Italian experience, you also can view sections on dining, travel and events. The site is bright, fresh, fashionable and thorough, and loads quickly even with pictures on the page. For more information, e-mail editor@dolcevita.com.

www.pallasweb.com/jewels: Antique jewelry buffs, take note. The Jewels of the Romanovs site highlights 40 jewels and treasures from an exhibit traveling in the U.S. through February 1998. Scheduled to appear in Houston, Tex.; San Diego, Cal.; and Memphis, Tenn., the exhibit features a rich collection of treasures from the royal Russian Romanov family beginning with Emperor Peter I, who reigned in the late 17th century and started a famous collection of beautiful jewels to which each of his successors added.The site provides pictures and a brief history of the Romanovs’ collection – if you can wait for it.

The one drawback to the site is that it takes a while to load, even using a 28.8 bps modem and a fast computer. Sometimes it’s necessary to hit the “Reload” button if you want to see the images in their entirety. The site is educational and worth reading even if you can’t wait for the pictures. For more information, e-mail nickban@aol.com.

www.imposters.com: No, not that! Yes, it’s true: the same phenomenon that hit the perfume industry several years ago has come to jewelry. The Imposters Classic Faux Jewelry site offers pieces “inspired by” Tiffany, Bulgari and Cartier and other well-known designers. It also includes some popular styles, such as Jackie O faux pearl necklaces, and a line of original solid 14-k jewelry.

The site is managed by Premier Concepts Inc., Denver, Colo., the owner of 27 stores nationwide that specialize in faux designer jewelry made with synthetic stones and 18k gold layered over sterling silver. A fast-loading, color catalog of the jewelry, including thumbnails of jewelry photographs that can be enlarged for a better view, is available as well as ordering information. (Imposters lists a toll-free number for ordering rather than an on-line order form.)

“Only your jeweler will know it’s faux,” the home page says, appealing to female consumers with the company’s low prices and indistinguishable designs. And while it’s not “hot” to knock-off other designers’ creations, the site is an example of a well-crafted competitor to fine jewelers on the Internet.

For more information, e-mail webmaster@imposters.com or call (800) 259-8705.