Your Turn

BILL PRESTON & AGS: MAN OF INTEGRITY

When I read George Holmes’ Tribute of Appreciation to William S. Preston Jr. in February JCK, I knew I must (and wanted to) add more to the tribute. Everything George Holmes said is true, but there is much more – contributions Bill Preston made to the professionalism of our industry that few people know about.

I first met Bill Preston in the early 1960s, through my American Gem Society affiliation. He was AGS president then and already involved in the Federal Trade Commission Guides and the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. It was evident from the very beginning that he was totally dedicated to ethics, professionalism and honesty in the jewelry profession. He was unwavering in this dedication. In 1974, he was named Shipley Award Winner.

In the following years our two firms, and families, became linked through the Jewelers’ Conference Group, a group of 13 firms which shared the most intimate details of their business operations with the goal of improving business, professionalism and profitability. The cardinal rule of these group meetings was that “nothing was sacred or secret . . . all questions must be answered truthfully by all members.” In this environment it became clear that Bill Preston truly was the ethical, honest, truthful, caring professional that he seemed to be.

When I became AGS president in 1987, the Society was in a period of transition. Through no single individual’s fault, the AGS had become somewhat of a “caretaker’s” organization. Some members were “bending the rules of ethics” upon which Robert M. Shipley founded the AGS.

Shipley had established guidelines for ethical conduct whereby members would be re-examined each year and, if found lacking or unethical in any way, would be expelled. The AGS is the only organization in the jewelry profession with the power of that doctrine. But no one had been expelled for many years – even though there were obvious transgressions – because transgressors threatened suit for wrongful expulsion.

The AGS president appoints chairpersons of various committees. One of the most important is the Grievance and Review Committee, which considers grievances filed by AGS members about other members and reviews the accused members’ actions. Knowing Bill Preston, his family and business operation intimately for some 25 years, I felt he would be the ideal chairman for grievance and review; he was “Mr. Untouchable.” I asked him if he would serve. I remember his response clearly. He said: “I will be honored and happy to serve and I will give you my very best effort – but only if you will back me 100% when we have a sticky situation that demands action, no crawfishing. Together we will be fair, impartial; but decisive, when decisive action is called for. And no matter what the threatened consequences may be, if we’re in the right, and we know in our hearts that we are right, we take the fight to the wall.”

It was classic Bill Preston and I heartily confirmed his acceptance. It was one of the best decisions I made as AGS president.

During the following two years, the AGS expelled more recalcitrant members than during any period in AGS history. Many threatened lawsuits and publicity vendettas, but Bill Preston had a simple answer for them: “You can bring suit if you want to. It will be tried in your community and the AGS will be there to explain to the jurors how your firm has violated the AGS ethical code and why you no longer qualify for membership.” Of all the firms that rattled the legal saber, not a single one followed through.

It is a tribute to Bill Preston that he had the knowledge, vision, courage and moral integrity to do what is right for the jewelry profession. I wish we had hundreds of others like him.

William G. Underwood, CGA Underwood’s Fine Jewelers Fayetteville, Ark.

ROBERGÉ DISTRIBUTION

We were surprised to read the contents of an article for our “Robergé” products published in the March issue of JCK (page 54).

Our company is the worldwide licensee for the distribution of Robergé watches and accessories. We are therefore the only company authorized to sell, promote and advertise Robergé on a worldwide level.

We are exploring the possibility of developing our business internationally, and in this respect had contacts with potential distributors in a number of countries, including Canada and the U.S. As far as the U.S. is concerned, we have not yet appointed an official distributor for our horological products. Therefore, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that Eco Watch Co., Chicago, and Grigoros, Toronto, are not our distributors for this territory.

Considering the above, we ask you to refrain from publishing any advertisement for our products without our prior consent. Furthermore, we would very much appreciate you publishing a correction in your next issue. We shall of course inform you immediately, once we appoint an official distributor for the United States of America.

Michel Faurax Robergé Diffusion S.A. Le Brasus, Switzerland III