Fine Lines and How to Walk Them

If a person is referred to as “walking a fine line,” it’s up to context to determine if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The tiptoe between genius and insanity? Probably good. A skilled diplomat? Definitely a compliment. But dancing on a knife edge… odds are not in your favor.

Given the opportunity, any sales person will regale you with plenty of stories about near misses: almost spoiling a surprise, almost missing a deadline, almost not double-checking. He or she might even admit to occasions of “foot-in-mouth disease,” wherein an innocent comment caused all kinds of embarrassing havoc, though of course not enough to lose the sale. We like those tales of disaster averted, because it reinforces the human aspect of what we do.

I would argue that anyone working under the umbrella of fashion — clothing, jewelry, accessories, cosmetics, etc. — is intimately familiar with the often necessary kid-gloved handling of a customer. It’s tough to avoid, really, considering the emphasis this industry places on aesthetics and personal appearance; one wrinkled nose or ill-timed hesitation could derail a sale simply by conveying anything less than supportive appreciation.

This focus on looks not only dehumanizes the entire process of sales (and buying), it creates an atmosphere of artificiality — that fine line has been crossed, and it is increasingly difficult to bring a client back to the real meaning (romance) and purpose (celebration) of the moment.

My promise to myself and my clients this season is to muster up my former dancer’s grace, and remain firmly in balance between the beauty of what I’m selling and the reasons I’m selling it.


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!

The Valentine Gifting Myth

Every year around Valentine’s Day, kindhearted customers ask us about business and being busy. They assume we’re swamped with men seeking last-minute sparklies for their wives/girlfriends/mothers/daughters, and that the days preceding the holiday are almost as busy as the other winter holiday season.

No retailer will ever admit to being slow — it’s bad for business, right? — but in my neck of the woods, at least, February is not a top-dollar month. The weather has a large role to play in this, particularly in years where we get slammed with storm after winter storm (like, y’know, this year). But you can’t pin all the blame on Mother Nature and Old Man Winter, so I look to regional and cultural trends in an attempt to figure out why V-Day sales aren’t so hot.

There are some obvious factors to list as a starting point: post-holiday spending dips as bills come due. Holiday bonuses have been spent, and most folks haven’t filed taxes yet to get their returns. Winter is an expensive month for heating and electricity bills, not to mention snow removal, automotive repairs, and home maintenance. February also has the lowest average number of birthdays in the calender year, removing yet another reason to shop.

But I like to look at the slightly bigger picture as well, and consider the financial planning that many people and families do around this time. Summer vacations tend to book up this month (our local Travel Show is always in February — not a coincidence), and deposits must be paid. Spring and summer weddings are announced and invitations sent, often sparking a furious spending spree on dresses, suits, gifts, and the various travel arrangements required. And let’s face it, dreary days that cause a whole lot of staying home with not much to do causes an uptick in our-family-is-growing announcements. Yep, I said it.

Culturally speaking, periods of high-dollar spending tend to be followed by more conservative habits as the guilt and buyer’s remorse (not to mention plain old exhaustion and burn-out) set in. We’ve had advertisements attacking us on all fronts since Halloween, and by now we can barely suppress collective eye rolls at Superbowl puppy commercials, let alone the sweet romance of kisses and hearts of Public Enemy #1: the Hallmark Holiday.

Frankly, we’re in a unique position here because we do a constant, year-round business with custom design and repairs. This gives us the opportunity to show new merchandise to existing customers because they’re already coming in with a purpose, and can bring in new clientele looking for a more relaxing atmosphere than the madhouse malls. But the overall percentage of customers coming in to shower their loved one in diamonds is on a level with the temperature — lower than average.

Do you give or receive jewelry for Valentine’s Day? Do you want to?

No time (For) the Present

It’s okay, you can say it: I’ve been a bad blogger. One might even suggest I’ve been terrible enough to warrant a spot on the dreaded Naughty List this year, despite all efforts to the contrary. But it’s the truth, and I’m sorry for it.

I can’t say that my excuses — many successive days of frantic overtime and bone-deep, all-consuming exhaustion — are any different or more worthy than another might have, but it’s the one I’m sticking to. We’re running a massive special event at the store these days, and it has stolen every last dreg of energy I once possessed.

If you read my last post, you might have anticipated my Twelve Gems of Christmas feature. Unfortunately at this point we’re well past the usefulness of that list, but I plan to go through some of my personal favorites in the future. It is my fervent belief that there are many lesser-known or undiscovered gems that are very much deserving of some attention, and I would love to be the one to offer an introduction to you.

I would like to wish each and every one of my readers a wonderful holiday season full of joy. May your days be merry and bright!

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!

Selective Sparkle: Holiday Jewelry Gifting Guide Part 1

As a person who is supposed to be in the know about all things jewelry, friends and relations frequently send their questions my way on everything from druzy to diamonds. I’m always happy to answer queries and offer advice, and that’s even more true during the gift-giving season (it’s also proposal season, FYI).

I’ve put together a little multi-part list of some of the most common questions I receive from people who really want an honest answer — I don’t sugarcoat, upsell, or otherwise spin my responses to turn a profit. Here we go!

What exactly is Tanzanite? And why should I buy it?”

Tanzanite is a form of the mineral zoisite and is found only in one location: the mines in the area very near Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Its current deposits are rapidly diminishing, making an already rare gemstone even more difficult to obtain.Tanzanite in its natural form is a rather ugly brownish burgundy — the material originally found at the surface had been heated naturally thanks to its journey through the layers of the earth, but today essentially all Tanzanite has been heat treated. This process is common and permanent, and does not detract at all from the value of the gem.

Tanzanite is a beautiful colored gem that many people love for its vibrancy, range of color within the gem, and beautiful contrast when set with diamonds. It rates a low 6.5 on the hardness scale, which means that daily wear in rings or bracelets will cause the gem to abrade fairly rapidly. As an earring or pendant it tends to look best set in white metal. A strong vivid blue is the most valuable, but many people prefer the purple-blue tones due to their color uniqueness and complexity.

Bottom line: If the color is the true attraction and it simply must be a ring, try a purple sapphire or spinel instead — it’ll hold up better over time. In a pendant or earring, they’re divine. Buy for vibrant and vivid color, or if you a particular affinity for the plains of Tanzania.

Can you show me a 1 carat sapphire?”

Sure I can, but what you probably want is a sapphire (or any other gemstone) that is approximately the same millimeter size as a 1 carat round diamond. Gemstones are cut with very different stands from diamonds so they are almost never comparable in terms of size and weight.

Colored gemstones are cut to enhance their color, which frequently means they have a larger depth measurement and often are not perfectly proportional — at least from underneath. An imperfectly cut gemstone will enhance all the wrong things: you might see a section that’s too dark and/or too light, the color might appear muddy or pale, or it might be so deep or broad that it will only work in a custom made piece of jewelry.

All gemstones, colored or otherwise, are priced based on their carat weight. It is possible to have two rubies of comparable quality and length-to-width ratio be two totally different prices based on their individual weight. Gemstones also posses different densities, so two different gemstone types with the same dimensions may not weigh the same.

Bottom line: dimensions are important, not carat weight. A 1ct round diamond does not equal a 1ct round colored gem. Talk to me about the size and overall look you’re going for.

What’s the difference between precious and semiprecious gemstones?” (Otherwise known as The Gemstones Formerly Known As…)

Oh, how I detest this question, and it’s nobody’s fault but our own. For so many years, jewelers drew a line in the sand between the Big Three — a.k.a. emerald, ruby, and sapphire — and, well, everything else. The Madison Ave. geniuses marketed the hell out of buying “semiprecious” gems as less expensive alternatives to the rest, and the result was an entire population hell-bent on spending pennies on some gems and thousands on others for mostly arbitrary reasons.

There are many stunningly beautiful gemstones that are not card-carrying members of the Big Three that can cost far more than the big guys, but a quick internet search will still yield results labeling them “semiprecious.” The term was once attributable to gems that were simply more widely available than those labeled “precious”, but as mentioned above in the case of Tanzanite, that no longer holds true.

Bottom line: ditch “semiprecious,” try “gem with X color in Y price range.” A good jeweler will work with your budget and color preference, or at least be honest and explain why we can’t get something.

Now it’s your turn! Have a burning question about jewelry? Want to know more about a particular metal, gem, style, or the industry itself? Ask away in the comments!