Civilian Shopper 

If the temperatures quoted by my local weather lady are correct, it’s beginning to feel a lot like autumn (by day), and winter is peeking out in the evening hours.

This has always been my favorite time of year, as a New Englander who feels at her very best when wrapped in multiple layers of cashmere or fleece, sipping hot cider and daydreaming about holiday decor.

But for most of my working life, the holidays have meant a serious uptick in stress levels and a calendar with very little room on it for all the fun events that seem to pop up when the mercury dips below 40. Working in a retail environment means longer hours, more consecutive days, and a generally pervasive feeling of not enough time. Latkes on a weeknight? Christmas party on a Saturday? You want me to join your choir and sing when? Don’t make me laugh. 

But this year, for the first time in forever, I won’t be working on Black Friday. I can go to Holiday Pops — a family tradition for well over 20 years — on a weekend. And I can smile with angelic patience and goodwill while participating in enthusiastic consumerism, tinny Musaq blending with the incessant of beeping of snowplows as background accompaniment.

Poetic descriptions aside, I will miss certain things about holiday retail — namely, the looks on my clients’ faces when they discover the perfect gift, that glow of happiness at finding a shiny new treasure to present to a friend or loved one. Those are the moments that got me through the season; I’m sure for many jewelers, they’re the main reason we stay open late, buy the expensive wrapping paper, and hand-deliver diamond rings at midnight.

So retailers, I promise not to mess up that perfectly- folded table of sweaters, ask you to “check again” for my size, or complain that the music’s too loud and temperature is too hot and line was too long and the box is the wrong color and the holidays are just sooo exhausting, y’know ? 

Now it’s just about time to dust off the family recipes, write up my Nice list, and start enjoying the season. 

Red Light, Green Light

Ah, yuletide cheer. We in the retail business are supposed to be full of energy, joyfully helping each and every smiling customer who begs us for one last look in the box before we wrap up a special surprise.

Easier said than done.

There have been countless essays by workers across the whole spectrum of retail, each one detailing why they have it the worst. My usual non-sleep-deprived self would link to at least a few of them for you, but frankly, I just don’t have the time.

I prefer to believe that at this time of year, we’re all in this together. There is little if any energy to spare as it is, so we might as well expend what we have on a strong sense of solidarity.

Many customers are experiencing higher-than-normal demands and pressures at this point, with some inevitable temper flares and even a few tantrums. I find that this type of interaction can sometimes be avoided by deploying a mental game of the childhood favorite “Red Light, Green Light.”

It goes something like this: when a customer begins to react poorly to a situation (usually in response to not finding a desired item in stock), that’s a red light and it signals me to give that person some space. When he or she enters the red light frame of mind, no suggestion — no matter how utterly perfect and on budget — will be a success. That customer needs room to breathe, not another smiling associate clutching diamonds and pearls.

On the other hand, a customer gives the green light when he (sorry, it’s usually a he at this point) asks for suggestions, is willing to listen and respond to questions, and remains interested in a purchase even if the first item shown isn’t The One.

It is possible for a green light to turn red if he or she gets truly frustrated, but a seasoned sales person usually won’t let that happen. An angry red lighter often needs time and kid-gloved handling, but even they can be satisfied with a bit more charm and graceful interaction.

As 2015 winds its way to a close, please take this gentle reminder to keep kindness in your heart as you dash about on a mad chase for the last few gifts on your list. We — all of us — are here to serve you to the best of our abilities, and then finally make our way home to our own family gatherings. Besides, it’s a well known fact that red light customers rarely make the nice list!

Wishing my wonderful readers a happy holiday season, with warm wishes for a sparkling 2016.

Brain Freeze

Well, here we go again. It’s been ten days since my last post, and I don’t expect this one to do much in the way of readership generation.

There is a simple fact I must face: during the holiday season, I go into survival mode. All extraneous brain activity ceases, including the portion that comes up with catchy titles and useful content.

Other bloggers seem to successfully navigate this time of year, but perhaps many of them don’t work the retail frontlines. And perhaps they have a normal working schedule, enabling them to surround themselves with family and friends when they’re not actually at work.

Anyway, this is more of an apologetic post than anything particularly useful or even entertaining for my readers (both of them). I love the joy on a customer’s face when we find just the right gift for someone special, and I cling to those moments to guide me through this exhausting, stress-ridden season.

So my dear customers, you’d better not shout. You’d better not cry. Santa and Hanukkah Harry are watching — and so am I.

 

The Anatomy of a Present

As the countdown to the largest gift-giving holiday in the US continues (I’ve got my eye on you, countdown widget, and your cheery “53 Days!” message), I’d like to conduct a totally unscientific analysis of the item known as the present.

We all know it’s what’s inside that counts, so it’s time to go shopping. Whether from the comfort of your footie pajamas in bed or while out on the town, enjoy hunting for that perfect something for your special someone. I have some suggestions for this part, but they belong in a different post.

And now, we wrap!

You never get a second chance at a first impression, so make the presentation count. I would say the percentage of joy from anticipation alone goes up at least 25% for a beautifully-wrapped gift; add another 10-15% if that bow looks professionally tied. (Source: family and friends’ ooh-and-aah volume levels the year I spent three hours perfecting the multi-loop bow).

Roll out your lovely paper, grab the nearest pie plate or toddler to keep the ends from curling back up, and try to cut a semi-straight line. Measure twice and cut once — or, if you’re my father, don’t measure and cut once too many times and start again. Cursing under your breath is optional.

Now that your gift is swathed in its outer coverings, take your preferred rustic twine/shiny ribbon/string from the cat’s toy and wind it around the box a few times. Tie a simple bow if you really like the recipient, or tie increasingly difficult knots if you want some entertainment later (thanks, mom).

Bonus points for coordinating wrapping colors to the tissue paper, ribbon, and tags. Extra bonus for heavy, metallic foil wrapping paper, just because it’s my favorite.

Now that we’ve torn through our beautiful and thoughtful outer layers in frustration and thrown them to the floor in a heap for the cat to play with, let’s consider the box.

Some boxes come with their own predetermined meaning — little blue boxes, I’m talking to you — and need little else to build anticipation. Other cardboard constructions need all the help they can get. Loosely pre-folded along crooked, perforated lines, these department store packages take a whole lot of love to make them attractive trappings for what’s inside. I strongly suggest heavy usage of clear sticky substances.

If you’ve managed to fold, cut, tape, and tie your way to this point, congratulations. Take a step back and admire your handiwork, noting any crooked seams and errant ribbon curls (“Six. Inches.”). If your package looks like it belongs under Martha Stewart’s tree in her latest December issue, you’re good to go.

If not, you’re faced with two options.

Option one: gather up all of your gifts, make a list of which person is supposed to get what, and truck them all down to your local mall where a troop of friendly Scouts will happily wrap them all in reindeer-themed paper with matching stick-on bow for the low, low donation cost of whatever you have left in your wallet.

Option two: remove all attempted wrappings. Place item(s) in cute, holiday-themed bags. Shove fistfulls of tissue paper on top. Pour a glass of your favorite adult version of eggnogg, and pat yourself on the back for surviving another round of holiday gifting.

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!

Selective Sparkle: Holiday Jewelry Gifting Guide Part 2

Okay folks, I’m back with another Q&A session to help along your seasonal shopping! Today’s questions focus on some useful information to keep in mind when shopping so you don’t end up on some morning television’s Buyer Beware feature. This will be a lengthy post, because I feel that an educated consumer is a good consumer.

Are these natural pearls?”

Ah, such a seemingly simple question with such a complicated answer. We really, really love our pearls around here, and thanks to that addiction passion we tend to know a whole lot about them — which is a darn good thing, considering the huge breadth of pearl jewelry on the market right now.

First things first: almost all pearls are cultured. This means that the oyster that housed them as they formed was grown alongside thousands of others on a pearl farm. It also means that a person most likely took a bead, piece of shell, or even another small pearl and inserted it into the oyster to nucleate (or “seed”) the pearl or pearls that grew inside. In the wild, a pearl occurs when some kind of irritant (like sand) enters the oyster’s shell, and the critter inside builds up layers and layers of nacre (pronounced NAY-ker) around it to stop it from bothering the delicate mollusk. On a pearl farm, it’s the humans that cause the irritation, but what else is new. Zing!

Pearls are judged on the quality of luster, overall shape, surface smoothness, color, and matching (on a strand). The luster is that particular combination of opaqueness and translucence that gives the pearl its soft but reflective appearance. Because pearls are organic, their surfaces are often marked with dimples, pimples, lines, striations, and all manner of varying nacre thicknesses; baroque pearls are unusually and irregularly shaped and therefore have a more uneven surface, while round or off-round pearls should be smooth with few marks. On a strand, pearls should either match as closely as possible (one color) or maintain a similar overtone (mixed colors).

Freshwater pearls are the most widely available, and are often the least expensive because they are grown fairly inexpensively by the thousands (China in particular has developed amazing and innovative techniques, including growing hundreds of tiny pearls inside just one oyster). The most common color is white, and they tend to be smaller than their saltwater cousins. They are also sometimes dyed, a treatment that is not at all permanent and will fade or discolor over time. Dyed colors range from fun brights like purple, pink, and blue to colors that mimic those found naturally in more expensive pearls. A trustworthy jeweler will be upfront about which pearls are dyed and which are not, and they should be priced accordingly.

Saltwater pearls are larger and generally more rare than freshwater, and are frequently referred to by their signature growing locations: Tahiti and the South Sea region. Tahitian pearls have become interchangeable with “black” pearls, though the colors within that category range from bright peacock green and purple to grey-silver or even brownish. South Sea pearls are white, pinkish, greyish, or even a greenish pistachio color. Finally, my personal favorite, the golden South Sea pearl, is a beautiful gold-yellow color that often seems to gleam with its own inner light.

All of the colors mentioned above are absolutely and completely natural — the pearls formed with that color. In fact, that beautiful golden South Sea pearl comes from the Golden-Lipped Oyster! White pearls of both fresh and salt water are typically placed in a bleach solution to ensure evenness of tone, but this treatment is both perfectly common and permanent.

Tahitians and South Seas are more expensive than most freshwater pearls because they take almost twice as long to form, and they are only grown individually — one pearl per oyster at a time. With their variety of natural colors they can be very difficult to match, making beautiful strands difficult to find.

Bottom line: most pearls are cultured, which means farmed (or, as I like to say, grown on purpose!). They are strung on silk and knotted in between each pearl. As an organic gem, they are extremely sensitive to chemicals, changes in temperature, and rough handling, so they should be the *last thing on, first thing off* when worn. Dyed pearls should be far less expensive than naturally colored. Pearls are a beautiful accessory that can be dressed up or down, and have such incredible variety that I can absolutely find a pearl for anyone and everyone.

Why do I see ruby rings for $99 in some department stores?”

The short answer here is that you’re not looking at a natural ruby, you’re looking at a composite formed with crushed red corundum, colored glass, and lead. You might even be looking at a piece of glass with a thin coating of red lacquer. Is it a ruby? No, it isn’t, and a trustworthy store will be telling you that right up front, both verbally and in visible print.

Aside from the obvious deceit and fraud factors, these composite stones are bad news because they can’t be handled like regular gems. Stick one of those rings in a hot ultrasonic cleaner and watch it disintegrate. Try to size the ring or fix a prong and watch it crumble away or turn all kinds of ugly colors. Hit the stone in just the right place with enough force and watch a huge chunk fly away.

Bottom line: when it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Disclosure is a constant industry focus topic, and the good places will be happy to educate you on exactly what you’re buying.

What’s a synthetic stone? What’s a simulant stone?”

A synthetic stone is formed in a laboratory but otherwise possesses the identical properties as the naturally-formed version. A gemologist can perform tests to determine whether it was naturally formed or lab-created, but otherwise the two are the same. Natural gems are more expensive due to their rarity and costs associated with mining and cutting.

Example: synthetic color-change Alexandrite is popular because the natural version is rare and difficult to obtain. The lab-created version is much less expensive but still possess the beautiful color-change properties

A simulant is any material that is meant to look like a particular gemstone but is in no way related or comparable to it.

Example: anything that looks like a diamond, but pretends to be: cubic zirconia, glass, moissanite, or even white sapphire is used to mimic the look of a diamond. To be clear, it’s a synthetic if it’s trying to be something it isn’t, like a CZ and silver ring that looks suspiciously like something that would usually come in a little blue box. It’s not a synthetic if it’s a step-cut green tourmaline — you might mistake it for an emerald, but it’s not trying to be one.

Bottom line: when in doubt, ask! Forgive the broken record, but full disclosure policies ensure you’ll never think you’re getting one thing but end up with another. Also, keep price in mind as you shop to ensure you’re really comparing like to like.

Once again, hit me with your burning questions and I’ll do my very best to answer. No query is too small!

Silver and Gold… and Rose?

Did I really start a new blog just before the holiday season, thinking I’d have enough spare time to post somewhat consistently? Rhetorical question. Nonetheless I’m back again, and this time with some news and some commentary.

First, the news: store celebration events are hard work, and I’m about done in. Mr. Esteemed Owner is retiring, and his equally Esteemed Daughter is taking over — therefore, we must celebrate with massive, never-before-seen discounts! Spectacular news for our lovely customers, for sure, and a complete black hole of exhaustion for us worker bees. Still, the beat goes on, and we’ve been selling and meeting new people every day. Success!

Now, the commentary (and portion of this post that actually relates to the title): while platinum holds the top spot in most jewelry — bridal, in particular — for metal of choice, there will always be a special place in my heart for gold. Thanks to its very nature, gold can be added to in many ways to turn it some pretty fascinating colors. On the floor right now we have white (of course), blue, chocolate, and black gold. Like many jewelers, we also have a nice selection of my personal favorite, rose gold, the pinkish to redish mixture of copper and gold.

Perfect for almost any skin tone, rose gold is the ideal mix of traditional (hello, 19th-century Russia, the mid-Victorian period, then hello 1920!) and ultra-modern. It is decidedly feminine, but when offset with white or even yellow-white-rose tri-tone jewelry, it provides a perfect neutral metallic. Right now, of course, it’s everywhere, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic.

I wear it daily, in the forms of a beautiful watch and a custom-made, hand-hammered bangle from our Queen Goldsmith. Many customers comment, and often notice that I wear it right alongside my white and yellow metal pieces. I consider myself living proof that mixing metals can be done in a tasteful, modern, and (dare I say) chic way, and it seems that many customers are happy to follow the leader.

While we tend to recommend that white diamonds be set in white to better enhance their color, I find that diamonds in rose gold don’t pick up any unwanted tones. Rose gold is very soft and subtle, and does not need the kind of upkeep that white gold requires. It’s also still fairly unique in the market, and so a great choice for the more non-traditional jewelry wearer.

Do you have a preferred metal color in your jewelry? How do you feel about mixing these beautiful colors? Inquiring minds want to know!

Decked Out

Well folks, there’s no escaping it now: the calender has changed, snow has fallen, and summer’s golden tan has faded away. The holidays are here!

I always wonder what will be the surprise hit of the holidays. Rubies the color of candy apples, emeralds set in halos of gold, sapphires that rival a winter dusk and the starlike diamonds that surround them… how will people deck the halls and deck themselves out in the jewels that shine just as bright as the twinkle in old St. Nick’s eye?

I posses a somewhat unique viewpoint on the season as a whole, stemming from a very culturally mixed childhood and my own approach as an adult. Fortunately, I ended up mostly on the ho-ho-ho side of celebrating, rather than the humbug.

My family is a religious mixed bag, which has made for some fascinating dinner table conversations and not a few weddings. I was raised in a very secular household, but spent a few formative years going to temple, Sunday school, and becoming b’nai mitzvot, We always had a tree and a menorah, Purim costumes and Easter candy. In my heart. I have always known that life is better for everyone when we coexist with peace, love, fellowship, kindness, and a general will to follow the Golden Rule — everything else is just a different verse in the same song.

(Speaking of music, I am unapologetic when it comes to my devotion to the sounds of the season. My mid-2000s-era iPod carries a pretty hefty mix of both secular and sacred holiday music, and you can bet your bells it’s been set on shuffle since yesterday.)

You already know that a mention of food is inevitable around here, so I’ll spare you some of the gooey, sugary, spicy, scrumptious details of the planned goodies for now (but only for now). Baking the yummy stuff is never a chore at this time of year, as my family and co-workers (my best victims testers of all) will tell you.

Wait a second — isn’t this a jewelry blog? Don’t worry, you’re still reading the right page. I wanted to share a taste of how I approach this time of year because it forms a solid foundation for how I try to remain true to myself and my family’s happiness even as I work longer and longer hours and the stress levels rise as we inch closer to the single digits of the shopping countdown I keep on my home screen.

Holidays and retail are all but inseparable in this modern age, and we can probably agree that’s not for the better. But I choose to spread goodwill and cheer by helping the excited, nervous, happy revelers who become my clients to celebrate the special events in their lives. Every person who receives something chosen with care and love, wrapped up and shiny and so perfectly hidden until the big reveal, is a way for me to put a little sparkle back in my own life. If giving is receiving, then I have wonderful people to thank for sharing their joys with me.