Columnists Chuck Koehler The Retailer’s Perspective: “Can I pick your brain for a minute?”

The Retailer’s Perspective: “Can I pick your brain for a minute?”

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A common question around my store is; “Have you got a minute? I’d like to pick your brain.” We’ve all heard those words countless times. Professionally, I don’t mind being asked that question from a colleague in the jewelry business. Usually, it’s another jeweler looking for some info and they thought I might know the answer. In fact, it’s kind of a compliment that someone would think I was knowledgeable enough to help them out. In that case I’m always glad to help.

So lately, I’ve been keeping a list of the most frequently asked ‘pick my brain’ topics and I thought I’d share some of them over the next couple of columns (there’s a bunch). It usually goes something like this:

“Chuck, can I pick your brain for minute? I have a customer that wants to rhodium all of their yellow gold jewelry since she only wears white gold now. What is your opinion on that?”

Actual answer: “Stop her! Don’t let her do it. She’ll hate it.” Why, you ask? Well, let me elaborate.

First and foremost, rhodium is more of a wash than a plating. The EPA stepped in about 15 years ago and banned a lot of the really super-duper plating chemicals we used to use. The stuff we’re using now is a mere shadow of the cyanide based death traps we all used to breath every day (thank you EPA, by the way). Rhodium is just a super thin coating... and no I don’t make it any thicker. In order to understand it’s purpose you need to understand white gold and yellow gold and their makeup.

First and foremost, white gold does not exist in nature; it’s a man-made product. Pure gold is 24kt and very bright yellow, not white. So what is white gold? Imagine 24 identically sized bb’s of pure gold. If you melt all 24 of them together you will have 24kt gold. If you remove one 24kt bb and replace it with another bb of any other metal and melt the 24 bb’s together you will have 23kt gold (remember, there always has to be 24 bb’s).

Okay, follow the math here; If you take 10 24kt bb’s away and replace them with 10 bb’s of nickel and melt them all together you will have 14kt white gold. Therein lies the problem. You have 10 white bb’s and 14 bright yellow bb’s, thus, 14k white gold will always have that dull yellow sheen. 10kt white gold on the other hand contains 14 parts white to 10 parts yellow. 18kt white gold...well, it should be outlawed in my opinion because its 18 parts yellow and 6 parts white... aka Yellow Gold!

Rhodium, on the other hand, is a naturally occurring bright white metal that lends itself very well as a plating material. Since it’s naturally bright white, when you use rhodium to plate a ‘whitish’ metal like 14kt white gold, it brightens it up and makes it appear whiter. And, when you rhodium plate a yellow metal like 14kt yellow gold, it has the exact same effect! It turns yellow gold bright white too. So then, why don’t I like to rhodium plate customers yellow gold pieces if the end result is the exact same?

Because I own the company and can do whatever I want. Ha ha, just kidding. The reason is the long term result is not the same and many customers are less than satisfied in the end. They are lured into thinking that they turned their yellow gold into white gold and they didn’t. Far from it in fact.

Every person that owns a piece of white gold jewelry knows that once every year or so they have to take it in and have it ‘re-dipped’, usually for a fee. I charge $45 to rhodium plate a piece. But, if you rhodium plate their yellow gold, they have to have it re-dipped about once a month for a fee of - you guessed it - $45 per piece each time. So why doesn’t rhodium last as long on yellow gold as it does on white gold? Why does it wear off sooo much faster? The answer; it doesn’t. It’s all an illusion.

Here’s what is happening. When you plate a white metal (rhodium) over another white metal (white gold), as the plating material wears off it’s just not very noticeable because the colors are similar. But when you plate a white metal over a yellow metal, as it wears off it’s very noticeable.

Even though the rate of wear is identical, with yellow gold you just notice it faster... like in a month.

But, what do you do if your customer is insistent?

Answer: Let them do it, but don’t own the problem that is guaranteed to surface in about a month, and then the next month, and the next month, and so on until the end of time. As long as your customer is 100% aware of the fact that the yellow will begin to show through in less than a month and it’s $45... per piece... every time they bring it in to have it re-plated, then I recommend you send all those pieces to me. I’ll handle all of their rhodium needs from here on out. That’s job security!

Next question: “Chuck, I’d like to pick your brain for a minute. What’s the difference between chocolate and champagne Diamonds?”

Answer: The color.

Really. It’s that simple. Okay, since you asked to pick my brain, I’ll elaborate.

Diamonds, mineralogically speaking are pure carbon, ‘C’ on the periodic table. Nothing more, nothing less. Barring the absence of trace elements during millions of years of crystallization, carbon crystallizes colorless. Throw in a little chromium, iron, or countless other trace elements brewing a few miles below the earth’s surface, and the carbon can take on different colors, thus the GIA Diamond color scale.

But, back to the original question of the difference between a champagne and a chocolate Diamond. Thirty years ago Champagne Diamonds were called ‘top light brown’ Diamonds and you couldn’t give them away. Chocolate Diamonds went by another name... industrial drill bits. But, in the last couple of years, a few popular designers must have bought a ton of them at pennies on the dollar and now market them as ‘Champagne’ and ‘Chocolate’ Diamonds and all of a sudden they are different. No, they aren’t. They are the same as always, but someone gave them a sexy name and marketed them to the ‘right crowd’ and wa-lah... they’re now fancy Diamonds.

I was then asked my opinion on them and I’ll repeat it here. I don’t have an opinion. It’s just a piece of jewelry with Diamonds in it that are selling like hotcakes. I’ve always been a big fan of anyone that can market a product and sell millions of them. I don’t care what they’re calling it as long as when it breaks it ends up in my shop. Every bench jeweler can agree there’s lot’s of job security in the Champagne and Chocolate Diamond world out there.

Next question: A man I’d never seen before comes in with a printout from Blue Nile and said: “I’d like to pick your brain for a minute or two.”

Me: “No!”

Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. You can contact him at 615-354-6361, www.CMKcompany.com or send e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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