So You Wanna Buy a Ring?

Recently, a Canadian jeweler pal sent me a link to an appalling Web site called Among other inaccuracies, this site suggested that consumers buy only from members of the American Gem Corporation—which I can only assume is an erroneous reference to the AGS and not to the firms by that name in Oak Park, Mich., or in Helena, Mont. It also suggested consumers toss around words like “point” and “VVS” to make a jeweler think they’re educated, and stated bluntly that “jewelers LIE. They are like car salesmen without the free donuts.” The site then instructs jewelry buyers to negotiate everything.

Now, perhaps I’m a bit of a snob, but I think people who “wanna” buy a ring probably aren’t too well educated to begin with and probably don’t wish to become any better educated, so any arguments we’d make to such individuals would fall on deaf ears.

But what if some perfectly nice, well-educated, affluent people stumble upon this Web site, and what if they’ve already been exposed to unflattering reports about jewelers in the general media? Although they’d no doubt couch their distrust in politer terms, they may still think a diamond ring is something to be haggled over like a car.

For some reason, the public thinks jewelry carries a vulgarly high markup. In truth, keystone is a pretty standard markup across many retail categories—and it’s far less than the markup on many others. For example, the guy who’s slurping on a 99-cent super-sized cola while looking at rings he might “wanna” buy has just paid a markup of several hundred—if not several thousand—times greater than the retailer’s actual cost for the soda. And his girlfriend’s iced tea carries an even higher margin because it doesn’t require a special tank to keep it carbonated or a complex set of hoses to dispense it.

But jewelry, with its more-or-less keystone markup, is comparable to bed linens or giftware, to name two categories. A low-end jewelry product may be double or even triple key, but a high-end product—or a branded, easily price-compared product—often is priced under key, so we’re generally on par with lots of other products.

That such a Web site exists is continued proof that our industry overall does have a serious image problem. And the saddest part is that in many ways, we did it to ourselves. Screaming (and often misleading) discount ads and promotional-quality jewelry that is accorded the adjective “fine” only by dint of its mineral composition certainly don’t convey the image that we sell something precious and rare.

It’s one thing to throw in some kind of value-add to make a customer feel special. Even high-end, “no-haggle” car dealerships will do that—a book of free carwashes, an extra cup holder installed in the back seat, or even a few hundred dollars off the sticker price, which is really very little when you’re talking about a $40,000 or $50,000 car. That kind of a gesture isn’t about the money; it’s about reinforcing the individual customer’s decision to shop there. But when jewelry ads scream “40%, 50%, 60% off!” … what does it say about the merchandise? That this is the deal of a lifetime? Or that even the jeweler doesn’t think it’s worth its “original” price?

That’s not to say a jeweler should never have a sale. But a legitimate sale—one that’s designed to get rid of slow-moving merchandise or a special buy on a particular parcel of goods—conveys a totally different message than a screaming discount flyer.

Jewelry is special, and consumers desire it. So isn’t it time we unite as an industry and begin treating it as something special instead of something you wanna haggle over?