The Value of Quality

Quality and value. They’re the new buzzwords of trend watchers who loudly proclaim consumers are finally sick of junk and want to buy things that last. Tell that to the woman who is visibly shaken by what a “quality” strand of matched 8mm white round cultured pearls costs these days. Explain that to the man who wants to buy his wife a fine ruby ring or a substantial diamond necklace or a gold watch, but didn’t come prepared to spend so much.

True, some jewelers interviewed for this special report on quality and value say they don’t get many of those surprised customers because their stores have reputations for selling expensive things. People know what they’re getting into before walking into the store.

But how do you deal with the consumers who do suffer sticker shock? Do you let them walk or are they educable and willing to spend once you’ve skillfully taught them why jewelry costs what it does?

Sometimes the spirit is willing but the wallet is weak. For those who truly can’t spend a lot, do you offer acceptable quality alternatives to your high-price items?

Service Means Quality

America’s top retailers are doing both these days. They’re also adding value to jewelry purchases by making their stores fun places to shop, tying into the shopping-as-entertainment trend of the ’90s. Finally, more jewelers are resurrecting good old-fashioned services – such as personalized shoppers, custom jewelry and repairs, watchmaking and estate departments – to meet all the needs of jewelry consumers in one place. Many quality-

oriented jewelry designers and watchmakers support retailers as well. We let some of the most prominent have their say here.

This report begins an ongoing series of articles in JCK about innovative ways fine jewelers are teaching the value of quality to today’s consumers.

And more consumers seem to want to hear the message. “I think people do want to buy things that last,” says Michael Pollak, president of Hyde Park Jewelers, Denver, Colo. “I think people would rather buy fewer but finer things. They’d rather delay the purchase and buy better.”

Quality’s moment is now

“I think the flight by consumers to quality began after the recession in 1992 and ’93, when people began to sit back and reassess what their priorities were,” says Simon Critchell, president of Cartier North America, New York City. “What they want, in addition to the highest-quality product, is the continuity of a brand that has been here for years and will not disappear. They also want service.”

“Whether it be gardening or looking for pearls, Baby Boomers in particular want intrinsic value and they ask about it,” says Colleen Caslin, senior vice president/marketing for Asprey, New York City, the very proper British

retailer that is remaking its tradition-bound store into an approachable

magnet for affluent buyers and younger customers with champagne tastes and beer pocketbooks.

Quality, not the Queen

Many younger people have come to regard traditional jewelry stores as stuffy unapproachable bastions of conservatism. That’s a worrisome mindset for fine jewelers, who need to learn how to make their stores interesting and fun. Fortunately, there is well-made stylish jewelry to sell at affordable prices, as Tiffany & Co. could tell you in a New York minute. JCK’s discussions with jewelers and manufacturers turned up many strategies for selling affordable quality jewelry and watches to these less-affluent or younger consumers instead of turning them off to the jewelry store experience, perhaps for life. “Many times, the customer with the ‘beer budget’ comes back years later and can now afford anything he or she wants,” says Jim Clark of B.C. Clark, Oklahoma City, Okla. “So if we do our job right, we get them hooked on fine-quality jewelry from the beginning.”

On the pages that follow, jewelers share how they convey quality in jewelry, diamonds, gemstones, pearls and watches. There’s also a page devoted to quality intangibles, such as service and an educated staff. Then read two related stories about how having a bench jeweler and a watchmaker on staff help to mark your store as a house of quality.

 

JCK wishes to thank the following jewelers and manufacturers, who in addition to those quoted in the article, contributed their thoughts, ideas and time to this story:

Helene Huffer, Elaine Cooper & Co., Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Pa.; Donald Levinson, Trabert & Hoeffer, Chicago, Ill.; Steven Tapper, Tappers, Southfield, Mich.; Bill Farmer, Farmer’s Jewelry, Lexington, Ky.; Aaron Levy, Levy Jewelers, Savannah, Ga.; Doug and Sydell Schubot, Jules R. Schubot Jewellers, Troy, Mich.; Tom Jerbic, The Diamond Palace, Las Vegas, Nev.; Herb Rostand, Rostand Fine Jewelers, Sunland, Cal.; Rod Miyata, The Ace of Diamonds, Los Angeles; Connie Sullivan, Connie’s Fine Jewelry, Great Falls, Mont.; Alvin Goldfarb, Alvin Goldfarb Jewelers, Bellevue, Wash.; Polly Hennebry, Burri Jewelers, Cheyenne, Wyo.; Ferd Wolfson, Hamilton Jewelers, Sacramento, Cal.; Colleen Rafferty, Christensen & Rafferty Ltd., San Mateo, Cal.; Gary Long, Long’s Village Jewelers, Stockton, Cal.; Richard Horne, Shreve & Co., San Francisco; Mike Golde, Kirk Jewelers of California, Westlake Village, Cal.; Barry Peterson, Barry J. Peterson Jewelry, Ketchum, Idaho; Norman Turgeon, Turgeon & Raine Jewelers, Seattle, Wash.; Barry Benowitz, Seymour Gail Jewelers, Torrance, Cal.; Marion Halfacre, Traditional Jewelers, Newport Beach, Cal.; Raymond Ho, Morton’s Jewelers, Los Gatos, Cal.; Marshall Droese, Steiner’s Jewelry, San Mateo, Cal.; Tim Braun, Neiman Marcus; Cherryll Walzel, Walzel’s, Houston, Tex.; Marvin Finker, Trillion Diamond Co., New York, N.Y.; Leon Tempelsman, Lazare Kaplan International, New York, N.Y.; and James Alger, James Alger Co., Manchester, N.H.

Jewelry

Steven Kretchmer of Palenville, N.Y., one of America’s foremost designers of high-quality jewelry, says jewelers should look at three criteria to judge quality and value in jewelry:

  1. “The first thing you see when you examine a piece of jewelry is the design,” says Kretchmer. “It is important to check the proportions and harmony. Is the use of materials generous enough without making the piece look chunky or overweight? Is it truly symmetrical where symmetry is required?”

  2. In terms of craftsmanship, says Kretchmer, ask yourself if the piece will wear well. Kretchmer recommends a checklist of questions to ask. Was care taken in the assembly of the piece (solder points smooth, pit-free surfaces, no weak points)? What about the marriage of gems and jewelry? Are gems mounted perpendicular to the mount? Are lines straight on the piece? Be sure to turn the piece over and examine it from the back, a practice Kretchmer says is common among quality-minded jewelers.

  3. Finally, examine materials. Do the metal material and finish enhance the gems? Was the highest karatage of gold or purest platinum used? Kretchmer believes the cost to use 990 platinum or 18k gold aren’t that much higher than lower metal products, yet the purer materials are far superior when it comes to quality.

“I think we need to set new standards for what exactly ‘fine jewelry’ is. You go to some stores and everything is very fine quality; in others, it’s not so good but not so bad; in some, the quality is just awful. Yet it’s all called ‘fine jewelry.’

“When people ask me why my 1-ct. tennis bracelet starts at $2,200 while the other store has them for $499, I paint this scenario for them: the typical chain jeweler has a markup of 50%. Let’s assume that somebody sold them the piece at a 25% markup, and that there was a duty on the piece. We’re down to about $146. Assume the karat gold was made inexpensively in India, so we can estimate about $18 per gram for seven grams of gold – that’s $126 for the gold. So now we’re down to $20 a carat for the diamonds. Now, do you want to buy jewelry or do you want to buy junk?”

Dan Moyer, Moyer & Co. Fine Jewelers, Carmel, Ind.

Selling Affordable, Well-Made Jewelry

Is there such a thing as well-made affordable jewelry? Smart jewelers from around the country mostly answer yes. But it takes a clear understanding of quality to choose and market affordable jewelry well. Some jewelers carry the Tiffany line, which gives them a well-known name with some nicely designed silver pieces to have in lower price categories. Many jewelers cite designers such as Lagos, whose silver line sold like hotcakes in many stores during the past Christmas season. “Thank God the industry has come up with really exciting sterling silver jewelry,” says Gary Gordon, president of Samuel Gordon Jewelers, Oklahoma City, Okla. “So many designers have wonderful silver. Even a secretary who only has $80 to spend can buy something. She is proud of what she bought, and the jeweler is proud of what he started her with.”

Is it possible to sell gold at affordable prices and still maintain quality? Gordon says yes. “For people who want good, well-designed moderately priced gold, we sell lots of Gori and Zucchi and Aurafin,” he says. “People want interesting European design. They want things that are exotic but conservative. Two other lines that can do that are Old World Chain and Herco.”

Bill Nusser Jr. of Hand’s Jewelers, Iowa City, Iowa, suggests nudging moderate buyers toward a quality gold wardrobe of earrings, bangle bracelet, necklace and ring. “You can also buy inexpensive, high-quality pearl stud earrings and some designer jewelry, like John Atencio, which is the best you can buy for very reasonable prices,” he says.

Finally, Jim Clark of B.C. Clark, Oklahoma City, Okla., thinks one of the best trends for the consumer without a lot of money to spend is the combination of gold and silver, especially in designer jewelry. “You get very good quality – and often with gemstones set in it – for $200 to $700 retail.”

To Brand or Not To Brand

The whole question of branded jewelry, the type identified with a particular company or designer’s name, stirs controversy with many jewelers. Some are having marvelous success with it, especially when they stay with designers who make unusual or unique items. Some jewelers, however, see an inherent danger in promoting names other than their own. The temptation to comparison-shop is great for many consumers today, and many jewelers cited bad experiences with branded watch labels that were ruined for them by price comparisons. Others worry about the “name” jewelry maker opening retail outlets of its own, though research has shown such marketing usually enhances desire for the designer’s goods. Finally, some jewelers feel name brands just add an unnecessary price layer that boosts the already high cost of well-made jewelry.

Jewelers who choose what they call “the Tiffany route” only promote their own names, using designers’ names sparingly, if at all. These jewelers build their reputations on stocking quality pieces and selling the features themselves.

But the others say name brands ensure a quality that unbranded jewelry does not, especially in the eyes of the consumer. “A designer like Michael Bondanza is future estate jewelry,” says Dan Moyer of Moyer & Co. Fine Jewelers, Carmel, Ind. Some jewelers build their reputations on designer names, stocking as much merchandise as possible and holding trunk shows to introduce customers to the designer and his or her work. Smart jewelers choose designers who have what jeweler Jerry Goldwyn of Richard D. Eiseman Jewels, Dallas, Tex., calls “lasting style. They’re not designers for this season only.”

“A lot of jewelers fail to take an adequate stand against low-quality product. We manufacture a lot of our own product in-house, and we make an intense commitment to quality … we use high-grade gemstones and a full measure of gold. I’m concerned with delivering the goods. Everybody wants price. I’d rather have high quality.”

Joe Montanari, Montanari Fine Art Jewelers, Kansas City, Mo.

“Jewelry doesn’t necessarily have value first, it has cost. It’s the excellence in application that is key to the whole notion of value. Present the consumer with what you know to be good examples of craftsmanship and application … show them good stuff … well-crafted, well-applied, proportions, detail. The retailer has to be the arbiter of taste. The business has unfortunately evolved the other way. Value starts with having standards. You have to teach people about this. Once the consumer understands the materials utilized – what it takes to make them look good – then they will understand that all of those things are important, not what they can get for the lowest price.”

Gerald Manning, president, Manning Intl., New York, N.Y.

“I don’t understand it. Most women will buy a purse or an outfit for $800 or $1,000 and it’s OK if that goes out of style. Yet if I show them a piece of jewelry for that price, they balk. Or they go into the fashion jewelry department and buy what essentially amounts to costume jewelry – a silk cord and a few beads of non-precious material – and it costs a fortune. Instead of buying several of those, I wonder why they don’t wait and buy one good pair of 18k gold earrings with beautiful gems and keep them for a lifetime. Real value to me is something that will last.”

Babs Albert, who with her designer husband Jean François Albert, runs JFA Designs, Irvine, Cal., which creates some of the highest-quality designer gemstone jewelry in the U.S. diamonds

Diamonds

The Cut is Everything

Nearly every retailer interviewed for this special report makes headway against declining profits in diamonds by stressing quality cut as the dominant feature they sell. Spearheading this effort among branded diamond suppliers is the venerable Lazare Kaplan International, New York City. Jewelers rave about this company’s marketing and selling tools that explain the Ideal Cut, such as a machine that shows how light passes through a diamond to illustrate the importance of cut.

“We’re selling a diamond that is, on average, 25% to 30% more expensive than ordinary diamonds,” says Mark Moeller, R.F. Moeller, St. Paul, Minn., who is a Kaplan client. “We hit the price issue up-front with our customers and tell them they’ll pay more to get our product, but that it’s the best product they can get.”

Another branded cut diamond company is Eight Star Diamond, near San Jose, Cal. It recuts existing polished stones to precise tolerances. All Eight Star diamonds are round, polished to Tolkowsky proportions (also called Ideal Cut) but with only a 2% tolerance. For example, tables range from 54%-56% in diameter, while traditional Ideal Cuts range from 53%-57%. The Eight Star Diamond concept was created in Japan about a decade ago, along with the Fire Scope, a device that measures reflected light coming from the diamond as red light, light leaking from the diamond as white and the facet alignment as a black “snowflake” pattern. If the light shows all red and the black pattern is perfectly aligned, the diamond passes the Eight Star inspection.

Other jewelers, however, believe they’ll save their customers money by selling unbranded diamonds cut to Tolkowsky proportions from other suppliers rather than making them pay a branded premium. “Diamonds have been a tremendous part of our business for the past few years,” says Eric Runyan of Runyan Jewelers, Vancouver, Wash. “We market ourselves through our trips to Antwerp, noting we are a direct source. We’re selling the finer-made, ideally cut stones, diamonds they can’t easily shop for anywhere else.” Either way, the message remains the same – it’s through the proportions of the cut that a diamond truly becomes a quality purchase.

Three of the 4Cs can be compromised to some extent, but don’t give up ground on this one. “You can’t compromise on cut,” says Bill Nusser Jr. of Hand’s Jewelers, Iowa City, Iowa. “I often sell warmer colors in Ideal Cut stones, or stones in which inclusions are highly visible, but every bit of light still reflects back through the excellent cut of the stone.”

Put the Dollars into the Stone, Not the Mounting

Like kindly parents looking out for their children’s futures, many jewelers today advise young couples to sink their engagement ring cash into the stone and save for an elaborate setting for later. “You can always scrape together the money to upgrade the mounting later, but after the kids come and you buy a house, you can’t always afford thousands of dollars for a better stone,” says Susan Eisen of Eisen Jewelers, El Paso, Tex.

“I see some couples who have a lot of baguettes and small stones in a mounting. The mounting wears out and what can they do with those small stones?” asks Roy Dudenhoeffer, vice president and owner of Dudenhoeffer’s Fine Jewelry, El Cajon, Cal. “I try to talk them into putting more into the stone and less into the mounting.”

Be Philosophical: BUILD A Friendship

Even if profits are small and higher quality is hard to sell in your part of the world, still take comfort if none of these strategies works. A diamond purchased for an engagement can net you a customer for life if you handle the sale well and get in some teaching along the way. “We try to give lots of information. We don’t make every sale but we make lots of sales,” says Jerry Goldwyn of Richard D. Eiseman Jewels, Dallas, Tex. “We try to look at it as the beginning of a relationship with that customer.”

Go Ahead … Play the Certificate Game

Prices are important, especially when it comes to diamonds, but some smart jewelers choose to maintain standards on quality and still play the pricing game. “The people who wish price lists and grading certificates would go away are almost out of the race. When it comes to diamonds, we offer the best-quality stone at the lowest price,” says Andy Johnson of The Johnson Family Diamond

Cellar, Columbus, Ohio. He chooses to be a price producer on diamonds by smart sourcing and purchasing practices because he believes they’ve become a commodity and must be sold that way, with certificates. “Our differentiation from other retailers is truth in grading and low price.”

Sell Colored Diamonds

Charles Meyer of Henry Meyer & Son, New York City, is a dealer who specializes in fancy cuts and colors. Along with the rarity of colored diamonds, their unusual shades give the retailer something to speak intelligently about and show off his or her expertise. “This sets him or her apart from the rest,” he says. “Even if a retailer doesn’t make the sale, it establishes the store with some distinction and excitement.”

Choose Quality Over Size

Jim Clark of B.C. Clark, Oklahoma City, Okla., convinces the younger purchaser to buy small but high-quality diamond ear studs, which she can trade in later for bigger ones when she can afford it. “We have customers who started out with 0.25 total weight and now they’re wearing 2 carats, all of good quality.” He is joined by nearly every jeweler JCK interviewed in using the quality vs. size strategy, especially with younger engagement ring buyers.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Give in to Price Cutting

Though controversial advice among some jewelers, the majority of those polled by JCK try hard not to capitulate to consumer pressure to cut prices. “Independent jewelers are shooting themselves in the foot when they decide to take the price dive. If you have fair pricing, there’s no reason to charge anyone a lower price. It’s not really fair to your really good customers who are willing to pay the price you charge,” says jeweler Bill Nusser. “Consumers have been so badly trained. Sometimes jewelry stores in their areas have trained customers to focus on price instead of on quality and price.”

Colored Stones

Quality is infinitely easier to sell in colored gemstones. As many jewelers who stock fine stones can tell you, even fairly sophisticated consumers may never have seen a really fine colored gem. “We always have customers who are amazed at our merchandise,” says Jerry Goldwyn, president of Richard Eiseman Jewels, Dallas, Tex.

In addition, color isn’t quantified like diamonds with universally accepted grades that consumers know about. It’s a product about which jewelers can shine with their knowledge of quality and how it’s defined. “I only sell excellent cuts – colored stones that are cut to bring out the most color,” says Frank Yanke of Yanke Designs, Franklin, Mich. “I just put the better cuts out for comparison and nine out of 10 times, a customer will pick the better-cut stones.” Many jewelers recommend having a few inferior stones on hand to help consumers understand the difference.

Consumers accept quality colored stones more readily because these gems “claim” them in highly personal ways, say jewelers. “Color is just a more emotional sale. People fall in love with a particular emerald or ruby and it speaks to them,” says Michael Pollak, president of Hyde Park Jewelers in Denver, Colo.

Selling Affordable, Quality Color

Don’t give up on a consumer because she or he doesn’t have the dollars for the finest rubies, emeralds and sapphires. There are quality alternatives, though some are controversial:

  1. You can sell treated stones, with full disclosure. “We are very up-front about the treatment issue in colored stones and it’s a fact customers can handle. We tell them exactly what has been done to the stones and how that affects the quality,” says Bill Nusser Jr. of Hands Jewelers, Iowa City, Iowa.

  2. Sell lesser-known, more affordable stones. Quality is more affordable in many colored gem varieties. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that’s what we sell,” says Todd Davelaar of Jewelry Source, Lynnwood, Wash. Michael Zibman, G.G., of Gallery Goldsmiths, Houston, Tex, offers an example. “A customer fell in love with a pair of South Sea mabé pearl earrings with one ruby, one emerald, one sapphire and one diamond in 18k gold,” he says. “They sold for between $4,000 and $5,000, but she had only $800. So the artist designed a pair with a standard mabé pearl, a white sapphire, a garnet, a commercial-quality emerald and a blue sapphire set in 14k gold. We also used a post instead of an omega clip. So we can do it.” Zibman also suggests other substitute stones, such as a good-quality chrome tourmaline or tsavorite instead of a lesser emerald.

  3. Offer a good-quality synthetic to customers who really don’t have the money for natural stones. Though this strategy is anathema to some jewelers, others successfully sell naturals and synthetics. “Occasionally, we sell synthetic stones and we clearly, accurately explain the difference,” says Curt Parker of Curt Parker Inc., St. Louis, Mo. “We use the terms ‘mined stones’ and ‘synthetic stones’ and explain the difference is in rarity, just like an orchid from a jungle is more rare than an orchid from a hothouse. I tell my customers they should buy something beautiful, not just something real. If all they can afford is a beautiful simulated stone, they should wear that until they can afford something better. Don’t buy something that’s real and ugly.”

Pearls

Avi Raz of A&Z Pearl, Los Angeles, Cal., has made it one of his missions to teach jewelers how to educate their customers about fine quality pearls. His remarks here serve as almost a primer for how to sell quality. “You have to be in the position to supply the customer with value and quality. First of all, it’s almost mandatory that you carry a sample of what low-quality pearls look like to point out the difference. With better-quality pearls, you don’t even have to do any talking. The consumers can see the difference with their own eyes.

“Secondly, you must realize that when a customer buys pearls, it is usually a sizable investment. You’re investing in a luxury item. The customer wants to get the best quality that his money can buy. Often I suggest that retailers lead customers to smaller pearls to offer them quality rather than larger, lower-quality pearls. Fine-quality pearls last longer and always look beautiful.”

Do You Need a Name Brand to Sell?

Many jewelers swear by Mikimoto brand pearls, just as many tout the Lazare Kaplan name when it comes to Ideal Cut diamonds. “Here is a product that is not discounted. It is branded, but high quality,” says Clayton Bromberg, president of Underwood Jewelers, Birmingham, Ala. “The best always does cost more, and we tell our customers that. We try always to buy value.”

John Shulan of Shulan’s Jewelry, Akron, Ohio, also does his best sales with Mikimoto, though he concedes the store carries lovely pearls that in some cases are even better quality. “We don’t do as well with them as we do with the Mikimoto brand, however. I think it’s the name recognition.”

Is Affordability a Non-Issue With Pearls?

Not really, say some jewelers, if the customer is willing to compromise on some pearl characteristics to preserve quality luster, the pearl’s pièce de résistance. “To make pearls more affordable, we’ll give a little on roundness. We sell a lot of off-rounds and baroques that are much cheaper but equal in quality to perfectly round pearls,” says jeweler Curt Parker of St. Louis, Mo. watches.

“I think the U.S. customer is still far behind the European in appreciation of fine craftsmanship in watches, but getting better,” says Hank Edelman, president of Patek Philippe USA, New York City.

The jeweler’s strategy when selling a quality watch should include an explanation of what creates value, says Edelman. “The technical details, the craftsman making the item, the high level of craftsmanship,” he says.

The Swiss company has just launched a U.S. advertising campaign to stress the value of buying a fine watch. The ads celebrate the longevity and inheritability of fine watches. They feature generational family pictures and the line “Begin Your Own Tradition.” The ads must have hit a nerve: watches featured in the ads sold out during the holiday season.

Edelman says quality buyers are quite demanding. “They are willing to spend more for a better product, but it must be proven to be better and not just trendier and flashier … Occasionally, a fashion trend can overshadow intrinsic value, but in the long-term, that trend will end and value will still be there.” That goes for female quality buyers also. “There is no doubt in my mind that female buyers want the same quality as male buyers.”

Conveying Value with Watches

Many jewelers feel burned by watches that consumers can shop for from store to store looking for a better price. They also complain of an ongoing problem with unauthorized sales of hot brands, which usually show up in their stores for repair. How to hold the line on conveying value?

  1. Sell supportive brands. Carl Weimer, owner of Hirzel Fine Jewelry, Menlo Park, Cal., started to sell Baume & Mercier because of its strong stand against discounting of its brand.

  2. Sell mechanical watches. “A man is especially willing to spend money for a good mechanical watch,” says Michael Pollak, president of Hyde Park Jewelers, Denver, Colo. “Even if he plans never to sell the watch, he likes its remarketability.”

  3. Carry private labels. David Porter of David Porter Fine Jewelry, Pinole, Cal., carries only his own label. “This person is carrying my store name around on his wrist,” he says. “That’s good advertising.”

  4. Sell watches as jewelry.

  5. Emphasize you are an authorized dealer. Warn consumers that lower prices elsewhere may indicate the watch is unauthorized for sale in this country and may be hard to service.

  6. Tout service. Whether you have a watchmaker on staff or a connection to an authorized repair facility, coming through on service enhances the value of any watch. Wempe, the high-end New York City retailer, keeps watchmakers visible in the store. “We pride ourselves on our service,” says Ruediger Albers, general manager.

You Are Your Watch

One of the greatest sales techniques of retailers who sell quality watches is their ability to match the watch with the person. “Each name is like wearing a badge that says ‘I have arrived.’ Each name sends a different message,” says Gary Gordon of Samuel Gordon Jewelers, Oklahoma City, Okla. Most watch companies have vivid profiles of typical wearers of their products from which jewelers can learn.

More than any other jewelry store product, a watch says a lot about the kind of person you are. Tourneau, the country’s largest fine watch retailer, has made this concept the focus of a highly visible, high-budget ad campaign. This concept puts you in the driver’s seat when selling to younger affluent customers, who are still in the process of defining themselves to the outside world. That may be why Cartier points to its watches as one of the most popular first gifts with the Cartier label young people receive.

The Intangibles

Image – having a trusted and respected name – is one of those elusive but critical factors leading consumers to jewelers and convincing them they’ll find quality. What are the most crucial factors in polishing your image? Jewelers agree on the following three:

  • Ethics and integrity. Fair prices, standing by everything you sell, telling the truth. These are the factors quality-minded consumers yearn for in the slippery world of retailing. “What I want a person who buys at my store to say to themselves later is: ‘I bought because I trusted the fellow who owned the store. Because I know that what I purchased was about quality,’” says Wilson Glasgow Jr. of Elisabeth Bruns Jewelers, Charlotte, N.C.

  • The logo and the box. Silly as it sounds, the old “you can sell anything as long as it’s in a Tiffany blue box” is true, according to jewelers who’ve had success marketing themselves this way. “Tiffany was really a genius. He understood image and marketing,” says Bill Underwood, president of Underwood’s Fine Jewelry, Fayetteville, Ark. “Like him, we know little things mean a lot. Cleanliness, ribbon, consistent advertising. Instead of advertising products, advertise the name so that’s where people go to get all of those things attributed to value.”

  • Relationships. Jewelers such as Crescent Westwood Jewelers in Los Angeles have built huge followings by making friends with their clients. By forging a relationship with a customer, “it creates a caring that comes with a personal touch,” says Linda Abell, a principal in the company. “We’re on our third generation of engagement rings [selling to three generations]; many customers like that personal part of it.”

SERVICE

A full-service jewelry store sends the quality signal like no other, partly because service at such an all-time low at a variety of retail outlets. Good service usually consists of the following:

  • An efficient repair center staffed with talented, trusted people. Many jewelers are once again placing bench jewelers and watchmakers front-and-center in the store (see related stories on pages 76 and 78). They send a positive signal to customers that good service comes with every purchase.

  • Liberal returns. Some jewelers worry about being taken for a ride. But the more open a jeweler is about returns, the more secure customers feel about making big purchases.

  • Custom design. The ultimate quality feature for customers who prize a unique look.

  • Personalized shopping. It’s become a cliché that affluent people don’t have time to shop, but smart jewelers know there’s truth to the stereotype. Keeping scrupulous records on buyers and bringing selections of jewelry to them for special-occasion purchases have won many jewelers kudos for the ultimate in quality service.

  • Taking time. The number of hours jewelers are willing to spend making a sale influences how consumers feel about the quality of the purchase, many jewelers have discovered.

EDUCATED STAFF

In-depth knowledge of jewelry store products – conveyed by courteous, interested and interesting staffers – is your most powerful weapon. Just as a good classroom depends on the quality of the teacher, a good jewelry store experience depends on the knowledge and teaching skills of those behind the counter. Because of the overwhelming importance of this aspect, many jewelers invest major amounts of time, effort and dollars here.

THE STORE AS ENTERTAINMENT

Part of the quality experience for many consumers today is simply how much fun they have in a store. Eve Afillé of Eve Afillé Ltd., Evanston, Ill., is arguably the best jeweler in the country for putting on a show. “I have a gem room and a pearl room that I’ve designed something like Ali Baba’s cave full of wonderful things. There are drawers full of gems; I just let customers browse through the dreamland. It’s like an FAO Schwarz for adults.”

Always having new things to show customers is another powerful draw. “We’re breaking the rules that are the norm. Eighty percent of our merchandise is unpredictable. Predictable merchandise is when you stop in front of a store and are able to guess what you’ll find inside. In our store, people don’t know,” says Nick Greve, chief executive officer of Carl Greve Jewelers, Portland, Ore.

Other jewelers treat a quality sale like the consummation of a love affair. “We keep cases of wine here and when we make a big sale, we break open a bottle and celebrate,” says Mark Ginsburg of M.C. Ginsberg, Iowa City, Iowa. “Buying a really high-quality piece of jewelry is something special in a customer’s life.”