Space-Age Security for Jewelers

Jewelers are bringing new, high-tech weapons—some borrowed from the war against terrorism—to their ongoing battle against thieves and robbers. Designed to frustrate crooks and strengthen store security, some are so new that they’re just now coming on the market.

“This is really space-age stuff,” says John Kennedy, president of Jewelers Security Alliance, referring to new products shown at JSA’s recent security seminar for retail jewelry chains. “And they pay off not only in increased security, but in other business ways, too.”

Recent advances also are extending or enhancing security for those who couldn’t get it previously. There’s more use of cellular phone technology as insurance-required back-up for alarm lines, for instance, and high-speed connectivity to the Internet and to cable via satellites for use in remote areas with little or no coverage by traditional alarm services or cell phone networks.

“Technological advances in recent years are allowing us to do new things for jewelers’ security situations,” Phillip Grimm, a top executive of U.S. Currency Protection, a major supplier, told JCK. “With the jewelry industry more of a target for criminals, it’s also becoming more of a focal point [for high-tech security products] to make it more difficult for them to be hit.”

The following special JCK report spotlights some cutting-edge security tools available to jewelers, as well as a number of products still in development.

Access. Internal theft is a big problem for jewelers. The average per-incident loss in 2003 was $84,000, says JSA. However, a new system of contactless digital keys and locks can deter internal theft and even provide useful business data.

The technology is already used in Europe (primarily by hotels) but was only recently launched in North America by 5Stat, Beatrice, Neb., an access control systems integrator. “Our focus with this is on the jewelry industry,” says account executive Paul Fullmer.

A transponder in each “key stick” (about the size of a stubby pencil) emits a digitally encoded signal to open a programmed lock. But the system can do much more than that. “Keys can be individually programmed by a jeweler for each person on staff or coded for a specific schedule—like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily,” says Fullmer. “They can be programmed for short-term use by seasonal or part-time employees, to accommodate unexpected staff changes or to restrict access to certain items, showcases, or locations to a few people. The jeweler can easily delete lost or missing keys without resorting to a locksmith.

“With this, you not only control access but also know who goes into a case or location and when, because that data is transmitted to your computer,” says Fullmer. The keys also can provide what he calls “an audit trail” of relevant management information. “For example, if one salesperson goes into the watch case 50 times a day and another 10 times, that tells you not only what’s selling but also who’s busy selling or who isn’t,” he says.

Each digital key costs about $12.50; a lock/key reader is about $500. A “simple solution” for a jewelry store, says Fullmer, uses six to 12 keys for the same number of openings (i.e., doorways, showcases, display cases), uses no administrative computer or software, and keys can be added or deleted as needed. A complete system, which includes sophisticated software, 12 locks/key readers, and 12 programmable keys, costs $10,000 to $12,000. 5Stat works closely with the jeweler and his or her architect and furniture supplier to incorporate cases and doorways with the digital locking system and links to the store computer. For more information, contact 5STAT at (402) 223-1292.

Tracking thieves. One of the newest high-tech security tools for jewelers is effective after a crime—a tiny tracking device, built into jewelry trays, which uses space-age technology to follow thieves and recover stolen merchandise. Currently, just one firm—USCPC, Scottsdale, Ariz.—offers such a device. The miniature electronic module uses GPS technology (the U.S.-funded satellite network Global Positioning System) to track and pinpoint location, and cellular phone technology to transmit the information.

“This is extremely new to the jewelry industry,” says Phillip H. Grimm, USCPC’s co-chief executive officer—so new, in fact, that it debuted in January at JSA’s security seminar in Florida. After seven years of development and field-testing, it was introduced last year on a limited basis to the banking industry and shortly after was instrumental in two arrests.

USCPC’s main achievement has been to take the GPS technology used in aircraft, ships, cars, and emergency vehicles and reduce it to a format that works in small enclosed areas—like jewelry trays thrown into duffel bags and tossed into getaway cars.

Equally important, it’s easy to use. “In designing this, we wanted to make its deployment very simple for the user,” says Grimm. In the event of a crime, the battery-powered module can be activated in various ways—i.e., by a specific noise, a sensor in a showcase or doorway, removal from a pressure-sensitive spot—depending on what a jeweler wants and based on consultations with USCPC. “We’ve done everything to minimize activation by end-users,” says Grimm. “If they’re in a high-profile robbery, we don’t want them to worry about that.” Once activated, the device transmits tracking data to a cell phone, pager, and/or password-secure Web site, “wherever the jeweler wants it,” says Grimm.”

A module costs $1,000, and there’s a monthly fee of $10-$100, depending on how many applications a jeweler wants. USCPC also works with the jeweler’s tray supplier to incorporate the module. It isn’t necessary, however, to put one in every tray, Grimm says: “Look at your risk scenarios, talk to security professionals, and do that which most mitigates loss.” For information, call USCPC at (480) 837-3773.

Glass security. Jewelry store robberies and burglaries happen very quickly. A recent predawn burglary in Richmond, Va., for example—in which two men used a crowbar to smash a mall jewelry store’s glass front and four display cases—took just two and a half minutes. But new polyester-based “security films” applied to glass in windows, doors, and showcases “make committing these thefts more time-consuming for criminals, and burglars and robbers don’t like that,” notes JSA’s John Kennedy. “They want to get out quickly.”

A leading supplier of high-tech security films is CP Films Inc., Fieldale, Va., the world’s largest manufacturer of window films. The company offers transparent UL-rated films from 4 mil (a mil is one-thousandth of an inch) to 15 mil thick, fitting them to doors and cases to hold shattered glass in place if a break occurs. “That reduces someone’s ability to break through glass purposefully; reduces glass fragmentation; reduces risk of injury from accidental or violent actions; and prevents acts of vandalism,” says CP Films product manager Randy Garcia. “And anything a jeweler can do to reduce someone’s ability to get in is important, because time is of the essence.”

Technology for these security films was originally developed for overseas U.S. embassies for what Garcia calls “blast mitigation” in the event of a terrorist act. It’s just coming to U.S. retailers. And the films don’t simply frustrate thieves: They’re also scratch resistant and reduce sun glare and heat, blocking most ultraviolet rays streaming into a store.

The films are dealer-installed (CP Films has 5,000 U.S. distributors) and carry a 10-year warranty. Prices depend on the size, type, and thickness of films used as well as the type of glazing and glass in the stores and cases. As an example, 14 sq. ft. of 7-mil film—enough to cover a tempered glass door 2.5 ft. wide and 7 ft. tall—costs $7. For information, contact CP Films Inc. at (800) 255-8627.

Under surveillance. Digital camera technology is rapidly replacing videotape-based surveillance systems long used by jewelers, notes Kennedy. Like videotape surveillance, it records activities at a store and keeps images for review. But digital technology can do more and do it more efficiently, says Allan Markoff, president of New York Security Systems, Middletown, N.Y., a leading supplier to jewelers. It can even provide useful business information, he adds.

“Cameras can be programmed to follow specific people in a store, record activity at certain showcases, focus on a specific product and record how often it’s shown, or—with new recognition programming—ID persons the first time they enter and alert a jeweler if they return,” he says.

While a digital system can cost 20% more upfront than a tape-based one, long-term costs are less because there are no tapes to buy and maintenance is minimal. Images and data are stored on the digital recorder’s hard drive.

Also, a digital system requires less space—since cameras and recorders are smaller and there’s no tape storage—and is more efficient. It not only can store more data for longer periods of time but also can be searched more quickly. “If you want to find out when a ring was switched, you may go through hours of tapes before you find something,” says Markoff. “With digital, you put in a day, time, name, or even a showcase, and speed through in moments to find what you need.” Daily digital images and data can be accessed on a jeweler’s computer as well as outside the store via a secure Web site.

National jewelry chains already use digital, and independents are beginning to do so. Cost depends on a jeweler’s needs and budget. Replacing a video recorder (but not cameras) with a digital recorder costs under $1,000, while a basic digital surveillance system—four cameras and a recorder—costs anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000. A system specialist will help jewelers choose and install what they need, says Markoff, whose company has 200 U.S. distributors. For more information, contact New York Security Systems at (845) 692 2000.

Alarming news. Mere seconds can mean the difference between a successful theft and preventing loss in jewelry store burglaries, most of which occur in under three minutes. When the typical burglary alarm system detects an intrusion, it dials up and transmits a signal to the monitoring center via phone lines. Connecting (from the moment dialing begins to when the center accepts the call) can typically take five to 20 seconds, or even more if the line is busy and the call is rerouted. In those few seconds, a burglar can disable the alarm—and the center may not detect it until several seconds later—or take what he wants and flee.

But thanks to new alarm systems that incorporate high-speed Internet communications, that’s changing, says Henry Laik, director of market development, retail solutions, for Digital Monitoring Products, Springfield, Mo., a leader in intrusion control panel products. “Standard technology uses ‘digital dial-up communications,’ ” Laik says, “However, our Internet technology provides UL-listed, AA-high line security, with full-time access and high-speed connection via the Internet to the alarm center.” What took five to 20 seconds before, he says, now is “almost instantaneous, just a couple seconds.”

While banks have used this technology for some time, it’s new to independent jewelers. “Most of them still use dial-up phone lines,” Laik notes. “But as high-speed connectivity to the Internet becomes increasingly available via cable modems or DSL lines, using it in alarm systems becomes a logical extension—and they’re starting to look at it.”

In addition to high-speed connective technology that provides full-time access, DMP’s newest alarm panel incorporates “flash firmware,” also relatively new to the alarm industry. This enables a jeweler’s alarm service provider to remotely download updates to the panel’s operating system. Formerly, remote updates weren’t possible; firmware chips had to be replaced on site.

DMP has some 1,000 authorized U.S. dealers that provide standard alarm service. Its new panel costs under $950 (significantly less than older models, and with more features) and usually comes as part of an installed alarm service, which can cost an independent jeweler from $2,000 to $5,000. For information, contact Digital Monitoring Products at (800) 641-4282.