Happy National Chocolate Day

Nine out of ten people love chocolate. The tenth person… is lying.

I’m a chocoholic in the first degree, but these days I find myself lusting after a different form of everyone’s favorite treat: chocolate gold.

Yep, you read that correctly. Unlike certain other candy-flavored jewelry items I may have mentioned in the past, chocolate gold is the real deal — it’s colored using similar compounds to rose or red gold.

FUQ: Frequently Unasked Questions

Before we dive headfirst into retail hell the holiday season and my fun-o-meter stops registering, I’d like to ask you — the consumer — a few questions. Since you’re certainly welcome to ask me anything**, I assume you wouldn’t mind returning the favor just this once.

Some of these questions might be new to you, and that’s okay. Just ask me to wait a moment while you go get someone else who can help me. Offering me a beverage while I wait is recommended, but not required.

Anyway, back to me and my questions. The first one is this: why are your price expectations so low? I mean, you love to ask me why my prices are so high, so I think it’s only fair that you give me a solid, well-composed response to just why you think my prices are so out of line with every other retailer you’ve ever been to (and some you haven’t).

Where did you get that unique scarf/bag/hat/coat? I’m obviously asking because I’m a genuinely interested person who loves fashion and accessories and I know my mother-in-law would love one just like it.

Next question: what’s in that little shopping bag from Competitor Jeweler around the corner? And as a follow-up, wouldn’t it make more sense to attempt a comparison shop before making a purchase?

While I sip this complimentary lukewarm beverage you brought me, could you please explain why you’re surprised that a 2-millimeter micropave diamond eternity band in 18 karat gold has lost a diamond or two, following your rock climbing expedition at Yosemite? I can certainly fix it for you, but my goldsmith is overloaded and we’re now at a 3-plus-week turnaround. Please understand that we want the repair done right, not fast.

This one’s for the romantically-inclined: why, why did you wait until now to design an engagement ring that you absolutely must present on the family vacation in nine days? I’m not saying we can’t handle that request, but you (and we) would feel ever so much less stressed if you had come to us, say, last month. Or even last week. Why do you add so much pressure to an already important event? This is a wonderful time in your life, and we hope you make the most of it!

Finally, please do me the honor of telling me what lucky person in your life you’ve decided to gift with a beautiful, timeless piece of jewelry. I want to hear about her favorite color, his love of working with his hands, and the special celebration dinner you have planned. These are the details that make my job worth doing, and I cherish every story you choose to share.

Oh, and one more thing… will that be cash, or charge?

(Just kidding). (Kinda).

**It’s that time of year again, folks: send me your burning, long-held jewelry questions. I’ll be collecting them for some upcoming Q&A posts. Think how many other people you can help by voicing your questions and finally getting some answers!

Be Bold

The ring featured in the header image of this post is one of our most popular styles. It contains an extremely high quality custom-cut garnet and nearly 3/4 of a carat of colorless diamonds, all set in 18K rose gold. Isn’t it just stunning?

I don’t often talk about the jewelry in the pictures I post, mainly because I feel that so many other blogs and websites do a much better job detailing some of the most intricate and beautiful jewels in the world. But this particular ring, designed by a fabulous, talented, and extremely kind woman named Bellarri (yes, that’s her!), represents something just a little beyond my usual more conservative classic taste.

Raised to always be the cool, poised, and diplomatic daughter, I struggle to speak out and stand up for myself. Doing the same for others has never been an issue — a lifelong activist and advocate for equality, I’m no armchair protester — but to raise myself up to a position of power has never felt comfortable. In short, I need to learn to be bold. And this singular piece of jewelry, with its fiery center, brilliantly outlined details, and larger-than-life presence, is nothing if not bold.

It sounds silly, perhaps, to aspire to be more like a ring. But many people attempt to emulate other inanimate objects — the towering oak, the majestic mountain, the smooth ocean come to mind — so why not a gutsy fireball of a ring that practically sings out to everyone who sees it, “look! Look at me, so tastefully bold, so beautiful and bright and impossible to ignore!” You can’t pass her by, you certainly can’t pretend she doesn’t provoke some sort of reaction, and you absolutely must pay her the attention she rightly deserves. No formerly timid, currently work-in-progress leader could fail to appreciate all she represents.

Follow Up: Good. vs. Goods, The Other Guy’s Perspective

Well, this is convenient. Hard on the heels of my recent editorial on the current state of marketing in the jewelry industry, a features writer over at Racked (a fashion/lifestyle headline-style site) took on the issue from Signet Jewelers’ perspective — you know, the largest monopoly conglomerate covering such household names as Kay, Zales, and Jared.

The article is worth a read, especially if such figures as “$5.7 billion in annual sales” and “3600 stores” pique your interest. But free advertising and product placement aside, what does Signet try to say about their products and their massive share of the industry? They’re all about the (straight, middle class) man.

Women react to their marketing — all 10+ channels of it — with opinions ranging from “cheesy” and “gimmicky” all the way to feeling downright offended by the way the ads portray women and their relationships with men. The fairytale gifting scenarios and mass-appeal life event celebrations ring hollow for most, as is clearly removes any sense of responsibility on the part of the gifter to make an effort and understand a woman’s unique style. The emphasis is all on a come-hither ease of use, rather than any real meaning, romance, or sentiment.

The idea is to make the experience so comfortable, so ridiculously easy for the (straight, middle class) male shopper that he loses all ability to reason and simply buys what he sees the girl on the TV screen loving and crying about, with no consideration for his (ahem, or her) giftee’s desires and needs.

And this is how those poorly-chosen gifts end up here with us. They need broken delicate chains replaced with something sturdier to stand up to a tugging toddler. A watch strap that actually fits him. Three diamonds replaced in the micropave shank because she’s a hairdresser and they keep falling out. A setting lowered or swapped because the latex gloves she wears to the hospital every day are getting shredded by the prongs.

I appreciate the need for mass-market appeal, as I mentioned in my earlier post, because I believe it helps romance the whole idea of jewelry and not just that particular piece from that particular store. But this… is not what I mean. Offending an entire gender with patronization and general lack of nuance is not helpful. Convincing men to enter a store at holiday time and stand in line, zombie-like, to receive this year’s version of last year’s hit, is not the kind of experience this industry stands for.

My soapbox is starting to bend under the weight of my heavy disdain for these tactics, so I’ll leave you with this thought (from the article) for now: “Every time I see [one of their ads] on TV, I want to throw something at the screen… [t]hey are infuriating because they are an insult to my intelligence and emotions! I am not that easy to buy and gift-giving just isn’t that magical.”

Mythbusters: Old vs. New

How you heard the news? Vintage is in! Well, sort of…

Oh, the litany of reasons people cite in an attempt to justify purchasing estate jewelry (i.e. pre-owned). To me, the only reason a buyer needs to purchase any non-necessity is because they love it — all the rest is just window dressing, as they say. But there is a lot of misinformation floating around about vintage, antique, and previously owned jewelry. So here’s a list of commonly overheard phrases, the myths they come from, and some unvarnished truth to provide some perspective.

“I like the look of older jewelry.”
Me, too! But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find new jewelry that is made to reflect a particular era’s style. In fact, with the recent resurgence of white metal, filigree detail, and the ubiquitous halo — all styles that are “comebacks” and not even remotely novel — I’d say your chances of finding a newly-made  ____-style piece are sky-high.

“If it’s antique, it lowers my carbon footprint!”
Not necessarily. From international shipping and customs delays to pre-sale repairs, that estate piece might even have a larger environmental impact than its newer cousin — you know, the one created in a state-of-the-art factory in the US where it was picked up and carried on foot from person to person until it arrived with many of its friends in the Prius-driving sales rep’s eco-friendly luggage.

“I don’t want to buy a conflict diamond.”
Great, because I won’t be selling you one, and I can actually prove it. The Kimberley Process was established in December of 2000 and was adopted in full effect in 2003 in order to impose controls on the rough diamond trade that limit and track the policies (and practices) of participating nations. This certainly doesn’t mean that a diamond sourced prior to this time is a product of a conflict region, but it does mean I can’t prove it either way. Reputable jewelry stores work only with reputable diamond vendors — many of them siteholders at established, well-run mines — so we can be fully confident in our products. The same can not be said for the majority of estate pieces.

“Jewelry always appreciates, so I’m getting a better deal!”
Please repeat after me: “Jewelry is not an investment. I buy it because I love it.” We do not sell jewelry to you today with the idea that you will resell it in 10 years and make a profit, and you don’t buy it because you think it’s a better option than stocks and bonds. Jewelry carries meaning, and that is its primary value. A “deal,” as such, is a rare bird — most often, if you think you’re getting one, what you’re really getting is had.

“If it’s lasted this long, it must be pretty sturdy!”
In a general sense, this carries some truth. A very well-made piece is more likely to stand the test of time, and will likely be in better shape after 50 years than a counterpart of lesser make. Unfortunately, that’s the only bit of truth here — many of the older pieces were made using inferior materials and processes (that is, relative to today’s standards) and they have simply been worn so much that they are in dire need of repair. Often, the issues can’t be repaired at all; when metal has worn away to nothing and gemstones are chipped and crushed, there is very little that can be done to salvage the original piece.

A note on family heirlooms and other types of sentimental jewelry: we fully understand that intrinsic value trumps just about everything I mentioned here, and that you’re often willing to do “whatever it takes” to get that special piece wearable again. But when more than half the ring needs to be replaced — new shank, new prongs, new head, replace four sapphires, recut the center diamond, etc. — ask yourself if it’s worth the time, money, and potential heartache if something unexpected happens in the process. And also, ask us what your other options are… we might surprise you.

[Editorial] Dear Advertisers, Sell the “Good” Not the Goods

Thank you, marketing geniuses and PR gurus. Thank you for your creative, imaginative, catchy, pithy, poignant, colorful, and popular efforts in finding a way to sell stuff to people. You are the driving force behind the way business operates today, and the sidecar companion to consumer trends. I can’t over-state how much I appreciate the difficult tasks you’re given, and how beautifully — and often, brilliantly —  you carry them out.

However.

In receiving the credit, you are doomed to hold equal share of the blame. Consumer behavior is your wheelhouse, and it’s on your head I squarely place the blame.

In your infinite branding wisdom, you have decided which names mean quality, and which do not. You place one style above another, often at the direction of said brand, without looking at the bigger picture. You push and push for something a client asked for, without ever considering what, exactly, you’re pushing on the unsuspecting consumer.

We, the retailers, are left to deal with your mess. We spend as much time in the day correcting misconceptions and re-educating the buyers as we do actually selling our own product. We have to explain, and present, and demonstrate, and explain again why a sterling silver chain from Big Name Company is totally undifferentiated from the one I have in stock. And why a name on the box means status to you and very little to me. Why our pearls are, in fact, nicer than the ones from the guy’s name you can’t pronounce, and why that is.

Untangling your mess has become a part of my daily routine. While I consider an educated buyer a better buyer, the learning curve can be steep — and that’s only with the willing ones, those who want to get to know their purchases. The rest leave me stuck between an honesty rock and moral hard place, where I won’t bad-mouth another store but refuse to perpetuate one of their many myths, truth-stretches, or occasional outright lies. Consumers’ heads are spinning, and the consequences are lower confidence and fewer purchases.

I think it’s time for advertisers to reverse course and focus on selling what I call, simply, the good. Sell beauty, romance, hopes & dreams, a lifestyle, a destination. Sell my customers on individuality, unique style, stunning color, attainable quality, and above all, sell them value. In doing so, your rising tide will lift all boats, allowing the entire industry to reclaim its previous place as worthy of trust and esteem. The fashion world is leading the way for individualism, constantly making room for personal expression and edging away from the concept of “out vs. in” culture. Jewelry is a branch of the fashion tree — a strong one, at that — and should be following suit.

We can’t afford to encourage the widening of the luxury/disposable gap, and that’s what your offhandedly thoughtless, us-versus-them advertising copy gets us. Allow consumers to embrace an idea, not just ideology, and they will return the courtesy by trading hard-earned dollars for dream fulfillment. A diamond was once forever, and should be again.

It’s time for an update, marketing mavens. Jewelry at all levels should sell because it is desired and loved, a symbol once more of occasions, commitments, successes, and my personal favorite… just because.

Try This One Weird Trick

Clickbait: modern internet users love to hate it. So why do absurd claims and questionable tactics persist? The answer lies in consumer (read: human) habits. Though we vehemently deny it, a tiny piece of us still wants to find that too-good-to-be-true panacea for our perceived woes, and we never really stop searching for it.

Well, I’m sorry to say I can’t offer you a cure-all — I’m in the jewelry business, not snake oil. What I can give you are some neat little tips (definitely not tricks) to help solve some common jewelry woes.

Woe #1: Help! My previous jewelry gets all tangled up whenever I travel. I’ve tried everything!
Woe-away: Meet your new best friend, the drinking straw. Depending on the style and length of your necklace, you can either (a) drop one end of the chain through the straw and re-clasp it, which will keep it from tangling; or (b) cut a small notch in the top & bottom of the straw, drop the whole necklace through, gently tug the chain down each notch, and lay a small piece of tape to keep them in place. Stack multiples together and secure with a rubber band, and off you go. No more tangles!

Woe #2: I’m on vacation and really don’t want a sunburn, so I’m wearing lots of lotions all the time and getting very sandy. But now my diamond rings look disgusting! What do I do?
Woe-away: You have options galore on this one. In order of most to least effective, they are:

  1. Leave your diamonds at home next time, and just wear a pretty but non-gemstone band. Easier to clean, and no risk!
  2. Purchase a portable cleaning stick with brush attached. Use it to gently remove all the build up, rinse, and pat dry.
  3. If applying lotions in a safe place (hotel room), simply remove all jewelry first and allow lotion to dry/set before putting them back on. Be mindful of where you place your jewels during this process (ring holder or jewelry case good, edge of sink bad).
  4. Rinse hands thoroughly with soap and water, taking extra care with rings to rinse well. A very soft, old toothbrush used to brush gently will help dislodge some of the gunk.

Woe #3: My ring is doing loop-the-loops around my finger in the cold weather, but it usually fits fine in the heat. What do I do?
Woe-away: While it’s best to bring this sort of problem straight to a trusted jeweler, there’s a good chance that he or she will suggest some version of sizing balls or bars. Think of them as speed bumps on the inside bottom of the ring, as they help to “grip” the finger a little better when it’s loose, but maintain enough breathing room for when the ring feels snug. Keep in mind that someone people find the little nubs uncomfortable at times, but since they’re typically fairly easy to remove, it’s often worth a shot. Useful for arthritic knuckles, too.

I think that’s enough secret-spilling for one day, don’t you? If you have a jewelry woe, feel free to ask in the comments or send a message. The solution might just help you AND someone else!

Welcome, spring!

As a native New Englander, I’ve grown up in a world that revolves very much around the seasons. We slog through tough winters, squelch through wet springs, sigh about humid summers, and stumble around the leaves of fall. Seasons also have nicknames — “mud” or “tourist” or “black fly” — that often describe the shared misery of the region in its respective states.

May typically brings with it the transition out of our winter boots and hats, and into shorter hemlines and brighter colors. It also brings another round of gift-giving occasions: Mother’s Day, graduations, weddings, showers, and of course birthdays (ahem, like mine!).

I’ve been asked more often than I can count to recommend a gift, and typically I’m happy to oblige. But lately it seems that my gentle questions — how old? style? hair length? current or dream profession? hobbies? — go unanswered, simply because the buyer is totally unprepared for them. One notable interaction ended when a customer realized she wasn’t entirely sure if this was for a high school or college graduation, and left to call her sister for more information.**

So if I may, a little advice from one who truly wants to help you select a perfect present, but needs a tad more information in order to do so:

1. Know the basics. Gender, age, and basic physical description help. Bonus points for hair & eye color; double bonus for skin tone.

2. Know (at least one of) the specifics. Favorite color, preferred metal type, ear piercings, lefty or righty, birth month, sports team, degree, hobby, pastime, career.

3. Know the occasion. While it doesn’t always dictate the gift, it can help with direction (and, to a certain degree, price point). Bonus points for details like wedding color(s), school colors or mascot, religious symbols, family traditions, etc.

4. Diamonds, pearls, watches. Repeat this, mantra-like, to yourself as you shop during this time of year. You’ll see these items placed front and center in advertising due to their immense popularity and widespread appeal, so you might as well consider them. Lockets, charm bracelets, and money clips are all great options as well, and often customizable to boot.

Friends and family (and perfect strangers), do you have a gift-giving conundrum? Ask away, free of charge! 🙂 Also, feel free to share a story of a memorable gift you’ve received — everyone loves a good tale for inspiration.

**As it turns out, it was neither: the giftee had been cast in the leading role of her school theatre production. The gifter returned just to tell me this and promptly left, saying she “didn’t feel it merited a gift” after all. Break a leg, kid!

Tongue (Ring) In Cheek ;-)

{Disclaimer: people are nuts. We’re all nuts, and we all have those days. I love people and the inherent challenge of meeting their needs each and every day, but to quote my favorite Jimmy Buffett song, “if we couldn’t laugh, we’d all go insane!”}

Service-type industry workers the world over know that there are universal truths: the holidays will be exhausting. The customer is always right, except when they aren’t. Under-promise and over-deliver. Staying open the extra 10 minutes is almost never worth it, except that one time (urban myth), but we’ll always do it. And so on, to infinity. We’re united in the ability and willingness to serve others in some capacity, and we really do try our best to take the masses as they come.

Consumers are a notoriously fickle bunch, pledging firm allegiance one moment and turning their collective backs the next. We know this, we expect this, and as consumers ourselves, we forgive it. But it is the individual, rather than the group, that can make or break our day — and I really, truly don’t mean by how much money is spent. It’s how you act (or react) to the world around you that makes all the difference, so the following is but a brief summary of Dearly Beloved Consumer behavior & attitude.

— I want you to look at my ring because _____________ but it can be tough to get off the finger. So obviously, sticking my entire finger in my mouth, swirling my tongue around it, then pulling it off and handing it to you is the BEST idea. You’re obviously eager to embrace the totally unsanitary situation, including when you must bring said ring up to your face to inspect it with a loupe.

— Do you clean jewelry? Great, because I was just outside all weekend gardening, spreading mulch, shoveling out the horse barn, and painting the shed. Can you get all that out of my ring right now, and by the way it’s 22K gold so don’t use a brush and scratch it!

— I’d like to purchase 15 of these little charm bead thingies, and have each one wrapped individually. But I’m double-parked in a no-parking zone during a snow ban, so why aren’t you hurrying? And since I’m buying so many, can I have a discount?

— I want this sterling silver ring my now-married daughter gave me when she was five sized up from a 6 to a 10 right now so I can wear it to her baby shower in ten minutes. Your goldsmith isn’t here, and even if she was she can’t do it on the spot? What kind of jewelry store is this?!

— I can’t wait two weeks to have my grandmother’s strand of faux pearls restrung for my cousin’s wedding in three months.

— I’m looking for a 1.63ct E, VVS1 round diamond. I have a friend with a buddy in the jeweler’s building in X city but I wanted to see if your prices were as good as his. He said I could probably get close to what I want for {ridiculously low price}.

— I found a ring EXACTLY like that one over there online for half of your price. Obviously you guys have a HUGE markup and you’re bad business people and scammers.

— If it isn’t made with 100% recycled, fully sustainable, zero-carbon-footprint, conflict-free materials and locally-sourced labor, I’m just not interested. You guys should work on that.

P.S. Yes, the featured image is my very own Maine Coon. Meet Perkins, doing his best sleepy/grumpy cat impression. That’s the face he’d make if he heard a customer ask, in all seriousness, why we aren’t open until at least 11pm 7 days a week.

Selective Sparkle: Holiday Gifting Guide Part 3

Everybody loves a trilogy, so I’m pleased to present the third and final installment of my gifting guide. ICYMI, head over here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

I had originally planned a humorous little cheat sheet for what to buy each person on your list, but I honestly can’t say I could do it better than this post right here from one of my favorite industry blogs. So please settle in for a chuckle and read her post — trust me.

So here’s the Plan B post instead: a motley assortment of tips & tricks for buying that special someone a little special something.

— Those beautiful diamond studs you chose for your girlfriend of 6 years are lovely, but you might want to ask for something other than a small, square-shaped box that’s going to look a whole lot like the kind of box something else with diamonds might come in. Catch my drift?

— On the other hand, keep him or her from sniffing out a surprise proposal by using something other than a ring box. A good friend used one of those Danish butter cookie tins and placed the ring inside the center paper cup. She chose not to open the tin until dessert.

— A diamond will survive a champagne bubble bath, a pearl might not. Potential choking hazard aside, seriously consider your presentation before drowning your jewelry in your drink.

— Before investing in those five golden rings, try to get a finger size. Please.

— You know the holiday classic, “I Wonder as I Wander”? Don’t let that be you. When we ask what we can help you find, it’s not so much a sales tactic as a way to make life easier for you. A couple once walked in the door, glanced quickly left and right, then the woman turned to the man and said, “they don’t even have any pearls here! Let’s go!” Had we been given more than 3 or 4 seconds, we would have shown them the two large cases of beautiful pearls… located towards the rear of the store.

— Don’t let your budget hold you back. We respect what you want to spend, and can often find something your giftee will adore without breaking the bank. On the other hand, we are neither miracle workers nor magicians, and we can not, in fact, “make a few of those zeros disappear.”

— Many wish list items can be found at different price points: those diamond studs I mentioned could cost anywhere between $500 or $25,000+ so please ask before you cross an item off the list.

— While it is a customer service standard to under promise and over deliver, we’re pretty upfront when it comes to timing a gift for Christmas. There are some things that simply take too much time, and many vendors or other services get backed up or even close early at this time of year. We will always, and I mean always, do what we can for you, but we can’t control every factor (see above comment re: miracles).

— No, that $10,000 ring will not be on sale for $2000 the day after Christmas. Or ever.

— Yes, I really do think that pendant will make your mother extremely happy, especially since it’s a thoughtful gift. Yes, I already removed the price tag. No, I don’t recommend telling her you got a “killer deal.” (Yes, that was a real conversation).

— Please be patient with me if both point-of-sale terminals are in use and I can’t swipe your credit card for another minute or two and it feels a little warm in here and you forgot to call your nephew and the candy store ran out of fudge and the kids singing carols outside are out-of-tune. I will happily wrap your gift in beautiful paper with a big golden bow while we wait for the system, clean your rings and earrings until they shine, and validate your parking so you can continue to shop downtown worry-free. I will do everything in my power to make you happy and comfortable. I will wish you and your family a very happy holiday season, and I will hope you’ll wish me the same.

Coming soon to POKC: The Twelve Gems of Christmas!