5 Jewelry Stores Are Put to the Test by JCK’s Mystery Shoppers

We sent five writers—all under the guise of being real shoppers—to five ­jewelry stores to evaluate each on customer service, ambience, and product selection (on a scale of 1–5, with 5 being tops). Here’s what their secret missions revealed.

Edmund T. Ahee Jewelers
20139 Mack Avenue
Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.

Edmund T. Ahee Jewelers is a high-end jewelry store led by Bettejean Ahee, widow of founder Edmund T. Ahee and a third-generation member of the Ahee family. Founded in 1947, the store is best known for its extensive bridal offering, its designer collections, and its stellar luxury selection (think Cartier pens, Baccarat crystal, and Patek Philippe watches).

Pois Moi Four Row cuffs in 18k rose gold, $9,900 each; Pois Moi Double Row Square rings in 18k rose gold, $2,500 each; Roberto Coin, NYC; 800-853-5958; robertocoin.com

Customer Service: 5
As with many jewelry stores, you have to be buzzed into Ahee. On the night I visited, a lone saleswoman was on the floor. She quickly offered help, and was enthusiastic to find I wanted some guidance with my ­purchase. I told her I was searching for a gift that my father could give to my mother for their 50th wedding anniversary—something in the $1,000–$2,000 range. I mentioned my mom’s love of gold, so the saleswoman gave me a number of on-point recommendations, including 18k hand-engraved gold earrings and a matching pendant from Marco Bicego’s Murano ­collection and a Roberto Coin Mini Primavera stretch bracelet in 18k white gold with diamonds (just over $1,000), which would match my mother’s engagement and wedding rings.

The retailer is a mainstay of its upscale Southeastern Michigan community.

Ambience/Visual Merchandising: 4
The store has a circular layout with a select amount of merchandise in each case. The jewelry is layered so that coordinating pieces are shown together without feeling crowded. There are ­several ­standout pieces in separate freestanding cases, allowing for closer inspection. These cases also highlight specific designers such as Ivanka Trump. Several wall niches show off stunners, including a distinctive Roberto Coin Cobra necklace designed by Coin for Ahee’s 65th anniversary. A discreet television set plays but the sound is hardly noticeable. There is a small seating area toward the back of the store with snack and beverage selections. Fresh flowers—pink daffodils on this occasion—add to the casual elegance. The pale-wood cases and a colored brick wall somewhat date the interior, but the romantic chandeliers and modern furniture keep the store feeling relevant.

Product Selection: 4
Ahee’s assortment includes a wide range of affordable and dream-worthy products. Browsing the floor, there is much to see. Young women might like the bright SOHO enamel and diamond bracelets, while a couple looking for an anniversary gift may lean toward Forevermark diamond earrings or pendants. The seasonally appropriate collection of sterling silver and gemstone jewels from Ippolita features bangles that vary from a single stone to true showstoppers. There are many recognizable names such as Mikimoto, David Yurman, Raymond Weil, and TAG Heuer. Aspirational brands include Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Cartier. Besides the retail location, Ahee also has a catalog and online store (ahee.com). The one drawback to shopping via its catalog or online is the retailer’s decision to avoid disclosing prices, making it difficult to set a budget and stick to it.

The Bottom Line
Ahee Jewelers has all the right touches when it comes to customer service and high-end looks. Plus, knowing you’re buying from a family-owned business and special features like a refreshment area separate it from its mall-based competitors. The selection is reasonably large and the price points range from the affordable to the extraordinary. —Karen Dybis

Tiffany & Co.
Fifth Avenue and 57th Street
New York City

Getty Images
No, you can’t have breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Tiffany & Co. is one of the most famous names in the jewelry business—or any business. The company traces its roots back to 1837, when it opened its doors in downtown Manhattan. Today, the publicly held company operates more than 250 Tiffany & Co. boutiques around the world. For this visit, we went to the flagship store on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in New York City.

Customer Service: 5
My wife and I decided to say we were shopping for an anniversary gift, a silver piece, around $400. A security guard welcomed us on our way in and directed us to the third floor where an affable young salesman greeted us. He was patient and seemed to have a great deal of knowledge about Tiffany products. Overall, he gave us a good half hour of his time while my wife tried on six or seven pieces. He also cheerfully answered every question we threw at him from whether they really have “breakfast at Tiffany’s” (nope, though that’s what he’s asked most often) to whether Tiffany sells conflict diamonds (no, obviously—though he seemed unprepared for the question). Later, browsing the first floor, we were greeted by an older gentleman who asked about our anniversary, how we met, and our jobs. We liked both men, but the one on the first floor was especially warm. Neither was pushy—a nice contrast to some retailers in Manhattan.

Tiffany & Co.’s Paloma Picasso Sugar Stacks rings featuring (from top) rubellite, peridot, orange chalcedony, amethyst, and citrine in 18k gold; $1,350–$2,400

Ambience/Visual Merchandising: 4
Tiffany’s items are organized mostly by collection; given today’s customer, it might seem more logical if they were at least somewhat separated by price. While people might envision Tiffany as the stereotypical old-fashioned jeweler, overall it resembles a department store—albeit one with really nice carpets and walls. But that can work for shoppers who suffer from the famed threshold resistance. Perhaps because the flagship was full of people—it was a spring Sunday in midtown Manhattan—the vibe was surprisingly unpretentious. The exception was the second floor, which features high-end statement pieces and diamond engagement rings. It was mostly empty that day and gave off a distinctly elitist air; even the salespeople seemed unfriendly.

Product Selection: 4
In addition to silver; statement pieces; and diamonds, diamonds, diamonds—generally in the trademark ­Tiffany ­setting—the company was spotlighting pieces from designer Paloma Picasso as well as its new RUBEDO metal collection. The company does make an effort to include silver jewelry in lower price points, though Tiffany’s definition of lower price point still runs in the hundreds of dollars. Most of the silver pieces were what you would expect: elegant, well-made, and not too flashy. The statement diamond pieces were pretty without being too over-the-top. And the store also featured a nice variety of color.

The Bottom Line
Hey, it’s Tiffany. We expected a nice and professional experience, and that’s what we got, despite the fact that we weren’t dressed like typical luxury customers. The lack of sales pressure was a nice bonus. Overall, the store carefully walks the tightrope between being the Tiffany of legend and appealing to today’s shopper. —Rob Bates

B&C Jewelers
3652 King Street
Alexandria, Va.

Our mystery shopper concluded that B&C Jewelers in Alexandria, Va., could use better lighting.

B&C Jewelers, an independently owned fine jewelry retailer, has two locations in Northern Virginia—one in Alexandria and one in Arlington. Helmed by owner and president Vickie Forness, the family business was founded in 1953 and specializes in bridal and fashion jewelry.

Customer Service: 5
The Alexandria store is located in a strip mall and its entrance is papered in huge gaudy sale signs. So, truthfully, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of a luxurious shopping experience. But the shop’s shortcomings in the looks department are offset by its friendly and ­knowledgeable sales staff. Moments after I entered the store, Belinda, a sales associate, approached me. After I shared a story about being recently engaged (my Casanova ­forgot to get a ring!), she ushered me over to the bridal section. She was patient and amiable while I asked to try on a bazillion rings. When I showed price resistance on certain styles, Belinda was speedy in showing me ­similar looks with smaller stones—and gently mentioned the store’s layaway plan. Before I left, she wrote down price info for the three-stone ring I liked and though the storewide sale was set to end the next day, she guaranteed the sale price through the upcoming weekend. Which made me feel very special.

Drop lariat with freshwater pearls on double strands of sterling silver with 18k rose gold; $345; Frederic Duclos, Huntington Beach, Calif.; 866-898-3636; fredericduclos.com

Ambience/Visual Merchandising: 2
B&C’s interior has a ring of display cases bordering three sides of the store, with a small U-shape bank of cases tucked inside. It’s a pragmatic floor plan because it allows for a huge quantity of stock. But it requires a lot of twisting and turning to see everything. The real enemy, however, is the lighting. A cluster of dated-looking spotlights casts unflattering shadows over the store’s interiors. And the merchandising was spotty at best. When searching for rings, I found myself shifting back and forth a lot; there was no continuity in how they were arranged. It seemed that little thought had gone into how to optimize the look of each piece—a shame, given how much beautiful jewelry the store stocks.

Light as a Feather dangle earrings with 276 micro pavé-set CZ on sterling silver and CZ posts; $100; Pandora, Columbia, Md.; 410-309-0200; pandora.net

Product Selection: 4
B&C is heavy on pearls and sterling silver, with big branded Pandora and Frederic Duclos displays. Fashion lines like Rebecca also are represented, offering trendy gold-filled, drusy, and crystal pieces. The bridal display features a huge selection of men’s wedding bands representing all the classic styles and metals. The breadth of engagement rings is lovely, if slightly one-note—which probably reflects Alexandria’s more conservative clientele. Nearly all the rings are white gold, with only a few in mixed metals and even fewer in yellow gold. But they hit the top trends: halos, three-stone styles, and mixed gems. Good, too, was the breadth of price points, ranging from around $3,000 for a starter diamond ring to $30,000 for big-carat styles.

The Bottom Line
B&C isn’t the most glamorous place to buy jewelry. But its knowledgeable and warm sales staff, wide selection, and deep sales make it worthwhile for local brides, grooms, and silver jewelry fans. —Emili Vesilind

KFK Jewelers
8319 W. Third Street
Los Angeles

KFK Jewelers shares its midcity L.A. block with two other jewelers, neither of which rival its repair service.

KFK Jewelers is a small, independently owned jewelry store situated on a hip midcity block of Los Angeles. Owned by Keith Feldman, the store specializes in vintage engagement rings, custom-made jewelry, preowned Swiss watches, and repairs big and small.

Customer Service: 5
I found KFK by calling Arp, a nearby jewelry boutique, to inquire about its repair service (my Roberto Coin gold pendant needed mending). The man on the phone said the store didn’t have a bench jeweler on staff, so he recommended his neighbor, KFK. “They’re great—we send a lot of our work there,” the Arp guy said. KFK’s Yelp reviews affirmed the positive sentiments—10 reviews, all but one of them five stars! When I walked in, the woman behind the showcase (Keith’s sister, Karen, as it turns out) was chipper and attentive. I inquired if she was the owner, and she said her brother had owned the shop “for 20-something years.” She described KFK as a staple of the community, an “old-school ­jeweler,” and her words rang true the moment another ­couple walked into the store, and I stepped aside to browse the merchandise, while ­surreptitiously listening to the three of them chat like old friends.

Keep an eye out for vintage sparklers at KFK. (pictured: Siegelson ring with 8.11 ct. emerald-cut center diamond and four 0.83 ct. t.w. baguette-cut diamonds; 212-832-2666; siegelson.com)

Ambience/Visual Merchandising: 4
Minimalists would love the no-frills decor that characterizes the interior of KFK’s small rectangular showroom. The front door opens into a mantrap that inspires both a sense of security and the unnerving feeling that once you enter, you may not be allowed to leave. The only pieces of furniture that fill the room are five long wooden showcases from the Bryan Show Case Co. of Bryan, Ohio. They appear to date from the 1920s or ’30s, and lend the space an appealing vintage vibe that matches much of the merchandise in the cases. The shop’s only concession to adornment comes in the form of heavy mirrors in vintage frames affixed to the walls behind each showcase. The lack of bells and whistles forces you to direct your attention to the goods, but for me, a tried and true maximalist, the space seemed a tad too bare.

Christie’s Images Ltd. 2013
Also in KFK’s cases: preowned Rolexes (pictured: Rolex Oyster Perpetual, GMT-Master, Ref. 6542, circa 1957)

Product Selection: 4
Each of KFK’s five showcases is devoted to a different product category: bracelets, earrings, pendants, rings (and lots of them), and a small but fine selection of ­vintage jewels and preowned Rolex and Cartier watches. There are no designer names represented, save the occasional preowned piece. The bridal offerings are vast, but the selection of fashion jewelry leaves something to be desired. KFK stocks almost no colored stone jewelry and virtually no silver; the cases are overwhelmingly loaded with white diamonds, which are nice but a bit same-same.

The Bottom Line
KFK’s real point of difference is its on-staff bench jeweler, who can create custom designs in addition to performing repairs. My pendant was fixed right on schedule and looks so good that I’m sure to use them again.  —Victoria Gomelsky

Shelton Jewelers
7001 Montgomery NE?
Albuquerque, N.M.

Shelton Jewelers is a 29-year-old single-store operation and American Gem Society member. It’s a tony boutique with a wide and deep inventory of bridal styles, including Parade Design; nonbridal inventory from lines like Sophia by Design; and fashion items, watches, and estate goods.

18k white gold earrings with 0.61 ct. t.w. diamonds and 3.82 cts. t.w. fancy yellow diamonds; $24,287; Sophia by Design, Philadelphia; 215-629-0260; sophiabydesign.com

Customer Service: 4
A smiling male greeter in a suit sprinted to open the front door, which made a great first impression. As I perused the different jewelry lines, a cheery sales associate asked how she could be of assistance. I asked to see an amethyst geode ring from S&R Designs, and though she identified the piece as steel, I knew—and S&R Designs later confirmed—that it was indeed oxidized silver. In the bridal department, I stopped at a large Hearts On Fire display to ask how it compared with other diamond lines, knowing that was a tricky conversation given the brand’s tagline: “The World’s Most Perfectly Cut Diamond.” Her reply: “Not all diamonds are ideal cut and other designers have different standards.” It seemed her response could have been better so as not to unintentionally disparage the store’s other fine vendors.

Ambience/Visual Merchandising: 5
Shelton’s exterior—large glass windows with ­tasteful, scalloped window awnings and a grand portico ­entryway—promised a posh experience. And the space did not disappoint: plush carpeting, a honey-colored stone wall fountain, stone wall accents, and a figure-8 layout offering a lovely flow, lots of ­natural light to see collections, and ample room for multiple patrons to move about. Glass cases were well-lit, and while there was a lot of inventory, displays were not crowded. The jewelry was displayed in a thoughtful order; upon entry, silver and fashion items are directly to the left and front—sending a message of accessibility to entry-level shoppers—while bridal and fine ­jewelry are tucked away in the far corners of the store (a safe distance in the event of a smash-and-grab robbery).

Product Selection: 5
The store had absolutely every category a ­jewelry shopper could want, from entry-level beaded Chamilia bracelets to estate styles. And because of that expansive ­inventory, the shopping experience was fun—since there were options at every price point, I never felt like I couldn’t afford to buy something beautiful. Plus, all the pieces Shelton carried represented a great value (the S&R Designs ring offered a big, uncommon look for about $1,500). The bridal jewelry offerings were particularly impressive: Besides Hearts On Fire, Claude Thibaudeau, Triton, and Precision Cut, there were at least six 4-foot cases of bands and diamond engagement rings.

The Bottom Line
Shopping at Shelton is a luxurious and fun experience that I would highly recommend! While I was disappointed with the way my sales associate answered two questions, she was otherwise completely professional, warm, always near but never hovering, and patient. —Jennifer Heebner

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