Jewelry Pay Lost Some Glitter in 2003

According to JCK‘s annual salary survey, the year 2003 wasn’t a very good one for many working in U.S. retail jewelry stores. Almost every job category posted a decline from 2002 in both median base pay and total pay, with the biggest drop (–21%) felt by salespeople. The only exceptions were top execs (owners, presidents, chief executive officers), whose median pay was unchanged, and office staff, who posted a 4.2% gain—small consolation for one of the lowest-paying job categories in a jewelry store. Retail jewelry store salaries, in general, didn’t just fail to keep pace with both the rate of U.S. inflation (+2.27%) and the consumer price index (+1.9%) in 2003 but actually trailed far behind them.

The survey finds that while jewelry store employees had significant pay gains in all categories in the 1990s, that momentum has slowed in this decade, and a few haven’t benefited at all. Office staff, for example, made virtually the same in total pay in 2003 as in 2000, after a sharp dip in 2001. As for watchmakers in jewelry stores, not only were they paid less in 2003, but their median total pay was almost 10% less than four years earlier.

The survey also found that, despite improvements since 2000, women in virtually every major job category—from boss to bookkeeper—continue to lag behind their male counterparts in base pay and total pay. In addition, only one in 10 jewelers offered paid maternity leave, fewer than in 2000. If there’s a “glass ceiling” in the jewelry industry, it’s pressing down harder on women now than it did at the start of the decade.

The national JCK Salary Survey, conducted in June, polled more than 650 retail jewelers (from tiny mom-and-pop stores to multi-store chains) in all regions of the country. The mailed survey had a 30% response—higher than the standard response for such surveys. While not a scientifically weighted study, this sampling is a good indicator of salary trends in the industry in the past year. Here are some of the specifics:

  • Top executives. The 2003 median total pay for jewelry store bosses (owners, presidents, chief executive officers), including base salary, bonuses, commissions, etc., remained level with the previous year at $75,000 (within a range of $12,000 to $325,000). Of all jobs surveyed, the top execs were—to paraphrase an old political slogan—”better off now than they were four years ago.” Their median salaries—like those of U.S. top executives in general—have risen steadily in recent years, outpacing those of their workers, and were 25% higher in 2003 than in 2000. That surpasses U.S. CEOs in general, whose median compensation increased 16.1% between 2000 and 2003, says the Economic Policy Institute of Washington, D.C.
    Male execs gained since 2002, but female bosses lost ground. While their base pay was higher than in 2000, they generally made 20% to 30% less than men, their total pay in 2003 was 2% less than in 2000, and they also posted one-year drops in both base pay (–2%) and total pay (–7%).
    Gaps also were notable among store vice presidents. Male VPs took sharp blows to their salaries in 2003 (base pay, –25%, total pay, –6%). Female VPs’ base pay (annually about 20%-40% less than men’s) remained at the same level in 2003 that it had since 2001 but was 9% less than in 2000. Their median total pay, while up from 2002 (+13%), was also less than it was four years earlier (–5%).

  • Managers. Salaries of store managers—the people who actually run jewelry stores on a day-to-day basis—have had an up-and-down record since 2000. Men earned 10.6% less in base pay in 2003 and 9.4% less in total compensation than in 2002 (when they had a four-year high in both areas). In a rare exception, median total pay of women managers—whose salaries, again, trail those of male colleagues—went up slightly in 2003, by 2.3%.
    The men who are assistant managers have had a similar up-and-down pay situation since 2000, though they finished 2003 with a 4.5% gain in total pay. Women’s pay, though, fell sharply in 2003, down almost 11% in base pay (and –11% from 2000) and almost 12% less in total pay from 2002.

  • Specialists. The employees with the most specialized skills and expertise in a jewelry store are its gemologists, bench workers, and watch repairers. They not only have been professionally trained but also must stay up to date on changing methods, essential new information, and related knowledge in order to evaluate, analyze, and repair.
    Both female and male gemologists had significant one-year gains in base salaries over 2002 (25% and 18%, respectively). Women’s salaries were equal in amount to those of 2000, while men’s were 10.6% higher. However, total compensation (including commission and bonuses) dropped for both in 2003, diluting base pay gains—down 14.7% for men and 5.5% for women. In addition, both earned less, in toto, than they earned four years earlier.
    At first, it seems surprising—considering their professional training and the importance of their expertise to a store—that gemologists aren’t paid more than they are. But that probably says more about their sales skills than their gemological ones. Being (or having) a trained professional gemologist isn’t enough in today’s competitive market. Jewelers want people who can sell the product as well as evaluate it. “Gemologist” isn’t a revenue-generating position, and for retail jewelers of any size, profit is important.
    Median earnings of bench workers—whose work is the bread and butter of many jewelry stores, especially smaller ones—fell into the same broad salary range as those of gemologists. Their pay situation, though, has been less volatile, and women bench workers have seen their base pay and total pay rise annually since 2000, albeit in small increments.
    Watch repairers, on the other hand, are doing less well. The U.S. retail jewelry industry’s pool of experienced watchmakers is shrinking (as older ones retire or die), with few newcomers to fill the gaps. Yet the survey found that rather than getting more pay to attract and hold them, watch repairers were paid less. Their total median compensation was 9.7% less in 2003, and down 9.9% compared with 2000.

  • Sales and office staff. Those most responsible for a store’s operations and success—the salespeople and the office people—earn the least.
    As in other job categories, salesmen were paid somewhat better than saleswomen, but both had notable one-year and four-year losses in pay. Men’s 2003 median base pay ($23,400) dropped 24.5% from 2002, and total pay ($29,000) was 19.4% less. Women’s 2003 base pay of $20,850—virtually the same as four years earlier—was down 16%, while total compensation ($25,000) was 18.9% less than the previous year.
    All jewelry store office workers of those polled made a median total of $25,000 for 2003, a slight one-year gain (4.2%), though equal to 2000 figures. Men took in $26,500 (almost the same as 2000), 5% less than in 2002. They did better in total compensation, with $29,150 or 4% above 2002. Saleswomen—whose earnings flirted with the federal poverty level (about $23,000 for a family of five)—took home $24,960 in base pay (14% over 2002) and $25,000 in median total pay (up 11.7%).
    The biggest long-term gainers in the office, though, were the bookkeepers and accountants. Their median total of $35,000, while 5% below 2002, was 24.7% more than in 2000. However, male bookkeepers took a big one-year hit in 2003, losing 25% in total pay ($37,130). Their female counterparts also lost, though far less (–3.7%, for $33,500).

Benefits in 2003. The employee benefits most widely offered by retail jewelry businesses surveyed by JCK are merchandise discounts and paid vacations. After those, the list gets leaner and shorter.

  • Health and life insurance. Overall, three out of four jewelers provide medical insurance, about a third offer life insurance, and one in five offer dental care. Those figures have been fairly constant since 2000. However, there were notable differences in 2003, according to size.
    It’s not surprising, for instance, that the smallest businesses (under $300,000 in sales volume) are least able to afford—and thus, least likely to offer—medical (23% of those polled), life (15.4%), dental (7.7%), or disability (0.0%) coverage. What’s surprising is that many larger operations don’t offer these benefits, either.
    Just four out of five doing $1 million and more in sales offer medical benefits. Only a few businesses doing between $1 million and $2.5 million in sales volume provide life insurance and dental coverage—and fewer than half of those doing over $2.5 million offer such benefits. As for disability, only jewelers doing $1 million or more actively offer it, and even there the ratio is only about one in four.

  • Sick leave. For many jewelry store employees, a day missed for health reasons comes out of their vacation time—or their paychecks. Overall, two out of three jewelers (64.7%) provide paid sick leave. More specifically, only about a third of small stores doing under $700,000 volume offer paid sick leave, and only two-thirds of those between $1 million and $2.5 million do so. And surprisingly, only one in eight big jewelers (more than $2.5 million in sales) provide it.
    As for maternity leave, few stores overall—just one in 10 (11%)—provided paid leave for female employees in 2003 (down from almost 15% in 2000), and less than two in five (37.8%) allowed unpaid maternity leave. (Both figures also are slightly lower than in 2002.) Those figures aren’t gender-based, either: A number of female owners surveyed don’t provide maternity leave, while many male owners do. In terms of size, JCK‘s survey found, most jewelry stores doing up to $2.5 million in sales didn’t allow any maternity leave (paid or unpaid). Those over the $2.5 million mark were three times more likely (55%) to allow unpaid maternity leave than paid leave (18.4%). (Note: Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the federally mandated Family and Medical Leave Act.)

  • Training. Overall, just half of the jewelers polled (53.7%) provided financial support for employees’ education in 2003, primarily professional education. Though up from 2002 (50.6%) and from 2000 (47.1%), such support was still less common than it was in 1990 (64%). Not surprisingly, the smallest stores—which most need the competitive edge that professional training can provide—are least likely to provide it. Less than a tenth (7.7%) of those doing less than $300,000 and barely a third of those under $700,000 in volume (28.9%) offer some kind of educational aid.

  • Retirement. According to various studies, U.S. employers are cutting back on retirement benefits. Less than half of the U.S. workforce (45.5%) is covered by employer-provided pensions, notes the Economic Policy Institute of Washington, D.C., down from 48.3% in 2000. And JCK‘s survey finds U.S. jewelers trail far behind that: Most polled (regardless of size) don’t provide traditional pensions (paid by the employer, based on age, salary, length of service) or 401(k) plans (contributions by employee and employer). Overall, only one in five (21.9%) provided pensions in 2003. Though up from 2002 (14.9%), that’s far below the 33% figure set in 1990. Just one in three (32.3%) offered 401(k) plans.
    Differences are even starker when the size of the business is taken into consideration (see chart on page 76). Among big jewelers, twice as many have 401(k) plans as have traditional pensions. Among those with less than $1 million in sales, pensions are rare and 401(k) plans even rarer, especially among smaller jewelers.

  • Regionally. Those employed in the Midwest are most likely to get a better package of benefits than their counterparts elsewhere. In 2003, that area had the most jewelers offering more than half of the benefits mentioned in the poll. Midwest retail jewelers, for example, were twice as likely to offer pensions and 401(k) plans as those in the Northeast, and more so than those in the West and South. More Midwestern jewelers also offer life insurance, dental coverage, and educational support. However, Midwest jewelry store workers are less likely to get paid vacations than those elsewhere in the country.

Total Median Compensation
(including base pay)

JOB TITLE ALL STORES (1990 – 2003)
a) Replies to this category were too few to warrant a breakdown.
b) No survey was made that year of this job category.
Source: JCK Annual Salary Surveys
1990 2000 2001 2002 2003
Owner, president, CEO $45,000 $60,000 $70,000 $75,000 $75,000
Vice president 42,000 50,000 46,800 57,000 55,000
Manager 30,000 45,000 46,177 50,000 47,700
Assistant manager 21,089 34,000 30,075 36,000 33,515
Buyer a) a) a) 47,000 41,350
Gemologist/sales 26,000 38,661 37,440 40,000 37,380
Bench worker 21,994 35,689 37,000 39,500 36,500
General sales b) 25,000 26,000 33,000 26,000
Watch repair 22,920 40,085 35,200 40,000 36,100
Bookkeeper/accountant 15,990 28,050 34,800 37,000 35,000
Office staff 14,835 25,000 21,215 24,000 25,000

Benefits Packages % of Jewelers Offering Benefits
(All Stores 1990 – 2003)

2000 2001 2002 2003
Source: JCK Annual Salary Surveys
Merchandise discounts 96.6 97.7 95.7 93.0
Paid vacation 92.7 95.0 87.6 92.0
Medical insurance 72.8 78.1 71.7 73.6
Paid sick leave 69.4 68.5 62.7 64.7
Educational support 47.1 53.0 50.6 53.7
Life insurance 32.0 34.2 30.0 27.9
401(k) plan 31.6 40.2 34.3 32.3
Dental insurance 22.8 23.7 22.3 20.4
Pension 21.4 19.2 14.6 21.9
Disability insurance 21.4 23.3 20.2 17.4
Maternity leave (paid) 14.1 14.6 12.0 11.0
Maternity leave (unpaid) 35.9 39.3 40.3 37.8

Benefits Packages According to Size of Business
(% of stores offering each benefit)

TOTAL STORE SALES VOLUME UNDER $300,000 STORE SALES VOLUME TO $699,999 STORE SALES VOLUME TO $999,999 STORE SALES VOLUME TO $2,499,999 STORE SALES VOLUME OVER $2.5 Million
Paid vacation 92.0% 38.5% 81.6% 97.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Paid sick leave 64.7% 30.8% 39.5% 63.6% 68.7% 87.8%
Medical insurance 73.6% 23.1% 52.6% 78.8% 80.6% 89.8%
Life insurance 27.9% 15.4% 15.8% 18.2% 26.9% 49.0%
Dental insurance 20.4% 7.7% 13.2% 12.1% 14.9% 42.9%
Disability insurance 17.4% 0.0% 10.5% 0.0% 26.9% 26.5%
Paid maternity leave 11.0% 7.7% 5.3% 12.1% 9.0% 18.4%
Unpaid maternity leave 37.8% 7.7% 13.2% 33.3% 46.3% 55.1%
Pension 21.9% 7.7% 7.9% 18.2% 26.9% 32.7%
401(k) 32.3% 0.0% 5.3% 12.1% 40.1% 65.3%
IRA 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.0% 0.0% 2.0%
Educational support 53.7% 7.7% 28.9% 63.6% 56.7% 73.5%
Merchandise discounts 93.0% 53.8% 89.5% 90.9% 100.0% 98.0%

Annual Median Compensation All Stores (By Gender)

BASE PAY 2000 BASE PAY 2001 BASE PAY 2002 BASE PAY 2003 TOTAL PAY 2000 TOTAL PAY 2001 TOTAL PAY 2002 TOTAL PAY 2003
a) Replies to this category were too few to warrant a breakdown.
Source: JCK Annual Salary Surveys
JOB TITLE
Owner, President, CEO
Men $58,500 55,000 63,275 69,000 $69,000 74,000 75,000 75,000
Women $45,000 54,885 50,000 49,000 $55,000 55,385 55,950 53,885
Vice President
Men $47,125 70,000 67,675 51,000 $55,000 85,000 74,250 70,000
Women $44,000 40,000 40,000 40,000 $50,000 44,000 42,000 47,500
Manager
Men $41,600 39,915 45,000 40,200 $49,500 54,100 55,200 50,000
Women $35,000 34,360 40,000 38,090 $40,000 42,825 45,000 46,020
Assistant manager
Men $30,600 25,497 30,346 28,540 $36,100 30,000 34,823 36,400
Women $29,627 25,000 31,000 27,630 $31,556 30,000 36,000 32,850
Gemologist/Sales
Men $32,760 35,000 30,000 37,500 $38,661 39,000 44,000 37,500
Women $35,000 33,500 29,700 35,000 $39,000 38,220 40,000 37,800
Bench Worker
Men $35,000 35,000 36,000 36,000 $36,200 38,000 40,000 38,700
Women $30,000 30,000 30,100 35,000 $30,000 32,000 34,320 35,400
General Sales
Men $25,000 22,000 31,000 23,400 $30,000 26,506 36,000 29,000
Women $20,000 22,000 25,000 20,850 $22,000 26,000 30,836 25,000
Watch Repair
Men $38,750 35,000 40,000 36,700 $40,840 35,200 40,000 39,450
Women $31,549 31,495 a) a) $35,749 33,285 a) a)
Bookkeeper/Accountant
Men $32,613 a) 45,100 37,130 $33,113 a) 50,000 37,130
Women a) 31,200 31,200 32,000 a) 34,800 34,800 33,500
Office Staff
Men $26,000 28,000 27,969 26,500 $27,500 29,500 28,000 29,150
Women $23,000 20,000 21,840 24,960 $24,000 21,000 22,362 25,000

Benefits Packages According to Geographic Region

REGION
Total Northeast Midwest West South
Paid vacation 92.0% 91.1% 94.7% 91.1% 91.8%
Paid sick leave 64.7% 64.4% 57.9% 68.9% 65.8%
Medical insurance 73.6% 86.7% 76.3% 75.6% 63.0%
Life insurance 27.9% 17.8% 39.5% 17.8% 34.2%
Dental insurance 20.4% 15.6% 29.0% 17.8% 20.5%
Disability insurance 17.4% 22.2% 21.1% 13.3% 15.1%
Paid maternity leave 11.0% 13.3% 13.2% 11.1% 8.2%
Unpaid maternity leave 37.8% 33.3% 39.5% 31.1% 43.8%
Pension 21.9% 13.3% 31.6% 17.8% 24.7%
401(k) 32.3% 33.3% 36.8% 31.1% 30.1%
IRA 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 4.4% 0.0%
Educational support 53.7% 51.1% 73.7% 57.8% 42.5%
Merchandise discounts 93.0% 95.6% 97.4% 88.9% 91.8%

2003 Median Annual Compensation
(All Stores)

JOB TITLE BASE PAY TOTAL PAY TOTAL PAY RANGE
Owner, Pres., CEO $63,200 $75,000 $12,000 – $570,000
Vice president $45,000 $55,000 $12,890 – $490,000
Manager $40,000 $47,770 $22,000 – $200,000
Assistant manager $27,650 $33,515 $15,100 – $95,000
Buyer $39,000 $41,350 $15,000 – $100,000
Gemologist/sales $35,000 $37,380 $22,000 – $70,000
Benchworker $35,360 $36,500 $17,800 – $100,000
General sales $21,320 $26,000 $12,500 – $120,000
Watch repair $34,450 $36,100 $11,630 – $65,000
Bookkeeper/accountant $32,500 $35,000 $12,660 – $94,760
Office staff $25,000 $25,000 $10,000 – $91,730

2003 Median Annual Compensation
(All Stores, Men. vs. Women)

JOB TITLE BASE PAY TOTAL PAY TOTAL PAY RANGE
All figures from JCK’s Annual Salary Survey, unless otherwise noted.
*Sample size yielded insignificant figures.
Owner, Pres., CEO (men) $69,000 $75,500 $12,000 – $570,000
Owner, Pres., CEO (women) $49,000 $53,885 $22,500 – $225,000