I’ve had the pleasure the last several months of having a fresh faced jewelry industry newbie working in my store. Usually, the people around me on a day to day basis have been doing this jewelry thing as long as I have. They, like me, no longer have the stars in their eyes when it comes to jewelry. But it’s funny how having a newbie around makes you remember what it was like to have those stars in your eyes and be reminded of some of the subtle nuances of our industry. A few observations....
The secrecy side of the business:
Okay, who’s blown a big secret in their career as a jeweler? Yep, me too. Only once, but it was a big one. I’ve been keeping secrets so long professionally I’ve almost forgotten how good I actually am at it. On my first day of school at the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology a couple of decades ago, they told us this:
Never, never, never mention a piece of jewelry that you sold to anyone until the person receiving it is actually wearing it and tells you how much they love it.
That was good advice. As jewelers, we are often the first ones to know who’s about to get engaged. Shhh... it’s a secret.
We are also the first to know who’s about to get divorced when someone brings in their jewelry to get it appraised for the attorneys. Shhh... it’s a secret.
For the big milestone birthdays and anniversaries, we’re the first to know what’s being planned because someone comes in a month or two in advance to have that special piece made for their loved one. Shhh... it’s a secret.
And, of course, we’ve all had the guy come in and buy an expensive bracelet and then we see him and his wife together a few weeks later and you notice she’s not wearing it. It was one of your favorite pieces in the case and you’re dying to ask her if she loves it as much as you do. But, you have to ask yourself multiple questions first:
Has he given it to her yet?
Was it for his wife or his 12 year old daughter (NOT)?
Did she not like it?
Or... did he buy for his new secretary?
All good questions... no good answers. As it turns out, that advice I got on the first day of jewelry school was spot on.
Fast forward 6 months and I now know the answer. It was for his secretary. Of course I found that out when his wife came in and needed me to discreetly appraise all of her jewelry before she had him served and he tried to hide some of it. Turns out the secretary wasn’t hired for her computer skills after all.
And, fast forward 2 more months and the secretary shows up wanting to sell the bracelet because she broke up with her boyfriend. And to think, I knew it all before anyone else and had to keep it a secret.
The unglamorous side of the business:
What??? There’s an unglamorous side of Jewelry? No, I’m just messing with you. It’s all sparkly diamonds, brand new C-notes, fur coats, Rolls Royce’s, and people that talk with funny ‘rich people’ accents. Ha! I wish!
Being in the jewelry business is sometimes nothing more than being part of a glorified cleaning crew.
How many times a day do you have to clean the glass on top of your showcases?
What goes through your head when you see the lady coming in with 3 kids whose hands are exactly the same height as the front of your showcases? EGAD!
How often do you have to clean the silver jewelry in your showcases, and the silver giftware?
Heck, for that matter, how do you get the smell out of some people’s jewelry? My newbie didn’t even know that some people’s jewelry stinks. Of course, secretly I’m waiting to see how she handles it when some crusty old codger comes in and slobbers all over his finger and hands her an absolutely disgusting piece of jewelry. I’ll try to get a picture of that and post it for everyone.
Add to that the fact she had no idea that there was something known as a bench jeweler and a jewelry shop. My newbie thought everything was clean and shiny all the time.
One day she was wearing uncomfortable high heels and took them off and walked around the shop barefoot all day. She’s never made that mistake again. Anyone want to guess what the bottom of her feet looked like at the end of the day? Just for the record, I’ll tell you they were not shiny gold and glistening. But she did find two small diamonds on her kitchen floor the next day. She now wears more sensible shoes to work.
Yes, there was a time when she would notice a dirty smudge on a door casing, or on a wall and she would clean it, only to find it had reappeared about 20 minutes later. No one told her that being a bench jeweler is one of the dirtiest jobs around. I wish she’d nominate me to be on “Dirtiest Jobs” with Mike Rowe.
The ‘who cares, it’s just another diamond’ side of the business:
I had forgotten how non-chalant I can be about the jewelry that passes through my store. It gives me a little chuckle when my newbie gets excited by something a customer brings in that they bought off of a home shopping network. She’ll tell the customer how pretty it is and how she wishes she had one too. Then, the next day she gets to hear me yelling things like; “I hate the stupid home shopping network” as I’m throwing the piece of jewelry across the room in an effort to improve it. Then I show it to her under the microscope and she understands why I hate it. (I’ll break her of that perky little attitude yet!)
I also really like it when my newbie sits in while a vendor is in the store showing his line. She just can’t understand why we don’t get all giddy when buying diamonds and gold and rubies and sapphires and emeralds and platinum and....
Yes, every now and again we need a newbie to come along and remind us that what we do is special. What we do fascinates the general public. And what we do creates lifelong memories (both good and bad) for our customers.
And most importantly, what we do is we get to know it all in advance... only we have to keep it a secret!
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.