Growing up in a family-owned jewelry store, I was always familiar with the retail jewelry industry. I started at eight years old, dipping chocolate covered strawberries and serving during special events. By the time I graduated high school I had worked up to a full time sales associate, certified by the American Gem Society. I spent another year and a half working at our store when I left to attend the University of Montana. At first I didn’t want to work for another jewelry store, but after a year and a half away at school, I missed working in jewelry! There were no available jobs at the local independent jewelry stores, but there were several openings in the jewelry store chains. At first I was skeptical of working at a chain, but I concluded that I would gain experience doing something I loved, and earn some extra money. I only lasted one month! Here’s why:
Ever since I was a kid, I remember going to jewelry shows with my mom to purchase jewelry to sell at our store. She would have her 10 times magnification jeweler’s loupe ready to look at each piece to ensure that it was a good quality that would hold up for years, even looking at multiple pieces of the same style to confirm that we were getting the best one. Because of her careful examination, it was rare for a piece of jewelry to not hold up.
This was not my experience at the chain I worked at. Because chain jewelry stores’ jewelry is mass produced, I quickly realized that they did not put the same kind of care into selecting and checking jewelry. For example, a woman purchased a ring the week before I started working. During my first week, a diamond had already fallen out. We sent it out to be repaired and she picked it up, happy to have her ring back. Two weeks later, and she returned with two additional missing stones. This shouldn’t happen (especially a second time), but this ring was lightweight, the diamonds weren’t set well, and the prongs were small.
Most jewelry stores have different ways of pricing. However, my family’s jewelry store is an American Gem Society (AGS) jewelry store, which means that jewelry is priced fairly and is not marked up excessively so that it can be discounted. The markup is low enough to keep it a reasonable price for the client, but high enough to keep the store in business.
One of the largest issues I had with working at the chain jewelry store was their inflated prices, discounts, and selling tactics. Each item had an exceptionally high set price, and every jewelry tag had a code indicating the maximum discount allowed which changed monthly. We were instructed to sell the jewelry at a price above its true value, and could only give the maximum discount if we brought in management. For example, if a ring was marked at $1,000 with a discount of 50%, we were expected to sell it at a discount of 30% off instead. This means that this client would pay $700 instead of the fair $500. Long story short, we were asked to lie about prices in order to receive as much money as we could, something I was uncomfortable with.
Disclosure and Integrity
As an American Gem Society Certified Sales Associate, I am well informed about different types of metal, diamonds, gemstones, and jewelry styles. Additionally, I am held to a code of ethics, required to do continuing education, and must pass an annual exam. This also means that I disclose any and all jewelry specifications to the client.
At the chain jewelry store, this was not the case. We received a shipment of “natural” rubies and sapphires set in sterling silver, and while we were told to sell them as natural stones, the bag clearly had blue and red dye stains. This indicated that the rings had dyed stones, which should have been disclosed to the sales associate as well as the client.
When it came to selling diamonds, we were encouraged to sell our “classic cut” diamonds- diamonds that were not cut well, were warm in color, and had many inclusions. We were told to not educate the client on the different characteristics of a diamond and only informed the client of the carat weight. The few loose diamonds that we did have were shown on a black velvet surface, which masked inclusions and the warmth of the stone in order for them to be sold quickly.
The chain jewelry store had a nickname for men who didn’t know much about jewelry, especially engagement rings. They were called “Big Stupid Bears”, and I was told I was lucky if I worked with one because I could sell them almost anything at any price, taking advantage of their lack of knowledge about jewelry.
The amount of disrespect and dishonesty shown towards clients was appalling to me, and it was due to these reasons, among other workplace conditions, that I could not ethically or comfortably continue working there. Before I worked there, I thought I knew how chain stores operated, but I found out so much more. Fortunately, there are other jewelry places to work for and purchase jewelry, and I could not be happier to be part of a company that prides itself on ethical and fair business practices.