When a gemstone mounted in a designer’s ring cracks, 
a store manager takes matters into his own hands.

Ed Kleinbeck had been the manager of Ridge Jewelers for what seemed like forever. He’d helped Walter Ridge navigate through two moves, the opening (and closing) of a bead boutique in a local mall, the hiring, training and firing of lots of employees and the (sometimes painful) schooling of Walter’s son Allan as he worked his way up and into his Dad’s chair.

Ed loved the old, loyal customers at Ridge, and knew many of them by name. He struggled some with the “newbies,” as he called the millennials that had begun to gentrify the neighborhood around the store, but considered himself pretty flexible for an old guy. He recognized that Allan’s efforts to grow the business would require changes to the operation he’d been used to — from product and promotion to his own selling style. Change was tough though — and sometimes, it was just easier for Ed to find a way to continue doing things as he’d always done them. For his part, Allan appreciated Ed’s loyalty and dedication despite his frustration with what he considered Ed’s passive-aggressive resistance to various efforts.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

When Allan brought the idea of a trunk show with a designer specializing in unique colored gemstone jewelry to the table last spring, Ed took the role of lead cynic. For as long as he’d been with Ridge, the store had never been strong in color. He and Walter had tried a number of lines through the years, but it seemed their customers just didn’t want to get too far beyond the “Big Three” and basic birthstone jewelry. It made sense to Ed, since they were in a conservative, price-sensitive area, and in his view, there really wasn’t much value in most colored gemstones. Allan had gotten great reports about this particular designer from several of his industry friends, however, and the designer was willing to do the show as a “test” — so Allan chose to move forward despite Ed’s objection. To his delight, the event was a success, generating over $48,000 in sales in two days.

Allan was quite surprised when he got a call a month after the event from a client who had purchased a ring at the event and had left it with the store for sizing. It was two weeks after the ring had been promised. The client had not been notified of the delay, and when she called a week after the due date to check on her ring, she was told by a salesperson that the jeweler had accidentally broken the stone and that a new one had been ordered. After another week had gone by with no further word, the disappointed client reached out to Allan to express her concerns. 

When Allan asked the jeweler about the job, the jeweler said the stone — an unusual, deep pink tourmaline — had, in fact, cracked while he was in the process of sizing the ring up, and that Ed was working on getting the replacement. He told Allan that he wasn’t sure what was happening, but he knew that Ed was very unhappy with the designer, who wanted what Ed considered an unreasonable amount of money for the replacement. Ed had told the jeweler that he had contacted their usual supply house and was told that they could supply a similar stone for less than half the cost quoted by the designer — and that was the stone they were waiting for. He expected the stone in any day.

With Ed on vacation, Allan contacted the designer to see if he could get more information about the situation. The designer told Allan that the stone was, in fact, a rare species of tourmaline in an unusual color to which the client was especially drawn. He said that it was primarily the unique nature of the stone that made the $3,500 retail price tag on the ring reasonable — and that he really didn’t understand why he had never heard back from Ed regarding the replacement after quoting a very reasonable price of $1,250 for a stone custom-cut from the same original rough.

Allan’s next call was to the supply house with whom Ed had placed the order. The account rep told Allan that Ed had emailed a picture of the broken stone and that she felt confident that the one they had packaged to ship that day would be a great match. She said the stone was invoiced to the store at $410.

The Big Questions
  • Is the customer entitled to a gemstone cut and supplied by the original designer — or was Ed right in looking for a more cost-effective replacement?
  • Was it even Ed’s prerogative to make that decision?
  • Should Allan be concerned about Ed’s apparent willingness to mislead a customer?
  • If the store does replace the gemstone with a lower cost option and the customer is happy with the look, is she entitled to a refund for the difference in cost?
  • Should jewelers be held accountable for expensive but avoidable mistakes?

 

Expanded Retailer Responses

Ralph H.
Richmond, IN

If there is the slightest question, why not call the customer and let her choose the gemstone, without a discussion about price? The customer is owed the same quality stone as the one damaged. This also answers the question of Ed misleading the customer. If he’s right, and the less expensive stone is the same, he is providing the same quality as the original.

Richard F.
Mobile, AL

Oops can be very costly. This one should cost the store $1,250, plus a gift certificate and letter of apology to the customer. The customer is entitled to exactly what she paid for.

Ed should not have made the decision without asking. Someone should have known that tourmalines can break. If Ed would have returned the piece to the manufacturer for sizing, it would have most likely been taken care of. Jewelers should bear some responsibility, but so should management for asking jewelers to do what should be done by others.

Douglas Z.
Frederick, MD

As a designer myself who often uses rare and unusual gemstones cut by lapidary artists, I would never consider replacing a designer’s stone with anything but the stone that the designer chose. Unlike Ed, we appreciate the beauty of color, and the “big three” gemstones are not a major part of our inventory. 

Perhaps Ed needs to be exposed to more of these beautiful gems. Since the first trunk show went so well, do more. Spend some time to let Ed appreciate the beauty of these gems. 

After 40 years as a goldsmith and designer, I can relate to Ed. Facebook, Instagram, etc. is not the way that I marketed my work. Now I do.

William U.
Fayetteville, AR

If the replacement gemstone is truly of equal quality and beauty, it really doesn’t matter if it matches the cost. Some designers become so enamored with their own designs that they place a premium price on the piece because of the design rather than a raw value of the components. And while the gemstone is a critical part of the overall design, the gemstone stands apart, value wise, from the completed piece. So it really doesn’t matter, providing quality and size are matched.

Stephen W.
Austin, TX

It is stated that the trunk show brought in $48,000 in two days. The stone replacement cost is $1,250. Are you kidding me? Do you really want to risk the negative social media fallout from an upset customer? It’s simple: be honest and upfront with the customer. The customer absolutely deserves a stone replacement from the designer. It’s the only way you can pretty much guarantee a matching stone.

Ed seems very old school. Maybe he’s not up to speed on social media and how people start searching for goods and services now. I’d have to have a sit down “come to Jesus” meeting with him and let him know the ‘80s are over!

Mark R.
Loveland, CO

If the store can really supply a stone that actually does match for less, why not? But some stones are nearly impossible to match without having the same rough available. Give the client the choice between the two stones. If the cut is a trademarked or original cut by the designer, they have to use his replacement. No refunds regardless. The jeweler should only be held responsible if they did something stupid.

Daniel S.
Cambridge, MA

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The customer is absolutely entitled to a gemstone from the original designer. Otherwise she no longer has the designer’s ring. They made plenty on the sale and can afford it.

James S.
Riverside, CA

The customer is entitled to replacement in kind for the original purchase. Tourmaline is one of the most complex gems, with many subtle variations of color. Different valuations go to gems from different sources. 

Ed should have brought this to the attention of the owner. I would be very concerned about the deception - Ed should not have mislead the customer. 

We would get the stone from the designer and the less expensive one and let the customer choose. If the customer chooses the lower cost option, we would refund the difference. The jeweler probably should not have broken the stone — usually sizings of delicate stone rings are done with heat sinks to protect the stone from heat. 

Regards payment, depends on the relationship between store and jeweler. If it's a new relationship, I might look for another jeweler. If the jeweler has done excellent work, I would bite the bullet and pay for the stone — good jewelers are hard to come by! The customer bought from the store — the store has the ultimate responsibility.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

Four questions, four answers. But a comment first — if you break a stone, contact the customer immediately.

1. If two stones are identical, can use non-designer; but bitch to the designer as to price.

2. Never mislead a client.

3. No.

4. Yes.

Maria A.
Austin, TX

1. Yes, the customer is entitled to a stone cut and supplied by the designer. Ed should have alerted Allan to the situation and first offered the details and prices. 

2. Yes, but a discussion should solve the issue. Designer jewelry carries a premium for multiple reasons and those should be explained to Ed. Ed was ultimately trying to save money for the company. 

3. I believe the customer should be given the chance to select between the two stones. If the customer chooses the less expensive stone then yes because the store's jeweler broke the stone. 

4. Yes, the jeweler should be held accountable. Additionally the jeweler should also avoid working on certain designer rings. This sort of ring with a colored stone should have been given to the designer for sizing.  Our jewelers are independent contractors and required to carry their own insurance. Our store insurance still covers the damage but we have never exercised the option. Very rarely does this happen with large stones but when it has happened we split it with the jeweler.

Dan F.
Sequim, WA

As long as the customer gives approval of the stone before it is set, it shouldn't matter where it comes from. Customer satisfaction is most important in a situation like this. It also must be taken care of in a timely fashion. If it costs more to make it happen so be it. That is part of the cost doing business in this industry. 

Laura S.
Indianapolis, IN

Not an uncommon problem for stores going through a generational change that "growing pains" are in order. In this case, Allan should take things in hand. As the owner of the business he is ultimately on the line for the replacement and the cost. The client just wanted the original ring to fit. Alan should at this point send the original ring to the designer to have the gemstone replaced and reset. 

But what to do about Ed? Allan needs to oversee more of Ed's decisions. Perhaps a weekly review (or daily if necessary) of Ed's managerial decisions is in order. Also, Allan should have a talk with the salesperson who told the client that the jeweler broke the stone so casually over the phone. This information should be handled with a little more finesse by either Ed or in this case by Allan, reassuring the client that everything will be handled properly. If Alan sits in the "big dog's" seat he better watch what is happening in his store.

Richard G.
Birmingham, MI

This is a great question; it is very believable. There are two parts to the problem. The first relates to Ed's level of authority and responsibility. This situation tests Ed and Allan's relationship. It will force both of them to decide how much autonomy Ed should have. Certainly Ed should have discussed the situation with Allan, and been more proactive in communicating with the customer. The second issue is the stone itself. It does make sense to get the stone from the second supplier to see if there really is a difference. If the stones are really identical (which seems unlikely), the customer should be told that the replacement stone will be less expensive, perhaps explaining the refund as a good will gesture to make up for the inconvenience. This is a great example of the dangers of selling color without proper knowledge and training. Price and quality differences can be difficult to understand.

Birdie L.
Vestal, NY

This unfortunate situation was not handled properly from the very beginning. 

Firstly, the major breakdown was communication. The customer should have been informed immediately instead of hearing about the problem when she made the call. This type of delayed action causes, not only frustration for the customer but major doubt in their mind about the integrity of the jewelry store. I was happy to read that when she did call she was told the truth. 

Secondly, having this special gem replaced by the original vender is the proper protocol in this situation. To be able to tell your customer that you are having another gem cut especially for them, from the same original rough, would sound so special in the customer's mind verses telling them you are trying to find a more economical alternative. 

The customer would think you going above and beyond to make sure they're happy. The positive word-of-mouth advertising received would far exceed the profit lost on one sale. 

Far better to feel like a hero then to feel like a zero.

James D.
Kingston, NH

If the replacement stone is the same, material, color, cut and weight (approximately) as the stone that broke, Ridge Jewelers has done their due diligence and their duty to their client. Since the ring was not their in-house product how would any Ridge know the cost of the original stone. From the sounds of the prices listed the designer is selling Ridge a stone at triple-keystone. As for a refund for the lower priced stone — I do not see why that would come into play, the stone has been appropriately replaced and other than a sincere apology (and maybe a small gift for loss of use) the client has been made whole.

Linda S.
Jenkintown, PA

Honestly is crucial. Replacing the tourmaline from anyone other than the original maker is dishonest, unless the customer was contacted and agreed. I find it difficult to believe the replacement stone for a fraction of the original stone value is equivalent.

Marc F.
Houston, TX

To quote industry mentor David Richardson, "Always be honest, no matter how painful."

The customer must be told the truth and given the option of; full refund, designer stone replacement, or seeing another "sourced stone" from another supplier. Jewelers have a hard enough time establishing themselves, why would you even think of not involving the consumer first. When I'm handling special stones I follow another industry mentor David Geller's advise, and remove the stone prior to doing anything to the ring — even laser work, because the risk is not worth the reward.

Shawn M
Provo, UT

Ugh! This is very unfortunate. If we have the sad experience of damaging a valuable gemstone while in our care, it is policy to bring that to the attention of the owner so a decision can be made. We have a protection policy with our insurance company to cover damage up to $50k with a $1K deductible. I think an open discussion needs to take place between Allan and Ed, to review how they treat their valued customers. As far as replacing the gemstone, if the sale was made based on its origin, that needs to be taken into account for the replacement and the customer given restitution. Get the same-value gem as before or compensate the customer for the difference. Reputation is always more important than a single sale, even if it is a big one.

Dawn S.
Tucson, AZ

First, the designer should've done her homework and checked out these yahoos if they could represent her to the standards that she abides by — for example, integrity. Allan's job security and Ed's business are at great risk of being sued.

As a designer, when a client, collector of conisseuer gems invest in a piece of (art) jewelry they are intrigued with the piece in many ways. From the design, use of color, stones, metals, its "feel".

What comes to mind is a "Party Tourmaline" a few of these gems I once designed for. They're quite beautiful with flashes of pinks, orange, peaches, to lite browns.  Stone replacement should be the same material. The designer should've sized this or inform whomever does this at the store to remove the stone (idiot). 

The store's trunk sales generateed enough profit to purchase a replacement. They need to bit the bullet, replace it, ASAP!

And poor communication??? The store owner and employees here have none.

Dennis P.
Johnstown, PA

You must appreciate the manager's efforts, but the customer is entitled to the designer's replacement gem from the original rough. To offer a substitute that cost the jeweler less money without a refund of the difference to the customer would be unethical. And, in doing so, it could undermine the sale by offering, at least in the customer's mind, a lesser quality gem. Sucking up and doing the right thing should be much easier given the great success of the event. You can never go wrong doing the right thing ... it goes to honesty and integrity. The secondary issue of who actually absorbs the cost is between the setter and the owner — the policy of who is responsible for an "accident" in setting should have been an issue addressed at the get-go when the setter was hired.

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, Alberta

The customer deserves to be indemnified (made whole) for a lose for which they had no involvement. Ed was correct to check alternatives but should have then discussed the options with Allan. The final decision should have been Allan's. Ed started the process but had he kept Allan up to date from the beginning, he could have guided Ed back to the correct solution of replacing the stone from the original designer. Had Ed gone this direction, the issue of informing the customer of the lower cost replacement, is moot. As jewellers, we are ALWAYS responsible for our customer's merchandise. It is called trust! Ridge Jewelers should inform the customer that the designer is the only one that will be replacing the broken stone and when it is finally "pick-up" day, Ed and Allan should present their inconvenienced customer with a $200 store credit.

Shevvy B.
Louisville, KY

If the store can replace the stone, so that it is the same as the one broken, I have no problem with purchasing a cost effective option. The reason it was higher was because of the "designer" label. He probably overcharged for the stone in the first place. I'm sure the customer signed a waiver for liability, as most stores have this on their claim ticket. The store is responsible to make the ring as close to the original as possible, but stones are usually one of a kind.if they can repair the ring to its original design, that should make the customer happy. Mistakes happen unfortunately , and if they try to correct the mistake , they have two options, repair the ring or return the customer's money.

Jan F.
Houston, TX

Ed should have told Allan about the situation and about the cost of the replacement. Allan should have made the decision to replace with the designer's replacement stone. The rarity of the stone, I'm sure, was reflected in what the customer paid for the ring. Then the client should have been told about what happened. This should have taken no more than a day or so after the jeweler cracked the stone. How Allan takes care of the cost is between him and his jeweler. And a discussion of how it happened needs to be had with said jeweler. Timely communication with all involved would have avoided the time (days/weeks) lost in this situation.

Adrienne R.
Beverly Hills, CA

The customer paid the price of the more expensive stone and is entitled to receive a replacement that is exactly the same. If Ed hopes to save the difference in cost by offering a similar stone from a different supplier, he should ask the customer to agree. Never mislead a customer. If the store does replace the gemstone with a lower cost option and the customer is happy with the look, she shouldn't demand a refund for the difference in cost and Ed should consider himself lucky. Jewelers should always be held accountable for expensive but avoidable mistakes. 

Robert N.
San Rafael, CA

Wrong, wrong, wrong. If a jeweler breaks a gem during a repair for something that the customer hasn't even worn yet, he needs to take responsibility and replace with the same stone. The designer piece without the rare color tourmaline is no longer the designer's piece, and replacing with a cheaper alternative is unethical and inappropriate. Pay the extra $800 for the designer's gem and be done. I'm really more concerned about whether they advised the designer that they were ordering a cheaper stone and what the designer had to say. I would never allow my design to go out new to a client without the gem I had set.

Kim H.
Sumter, SC

So was the less expensive stone the same — or just a "color match"?

If Ed did find the same tourmaline for that much less cost, I think he was right to save money, and I'd be questioning the designer's pricing. If, however, the less expensive option was simply a similar look and color, then Ed was wrong. A customer should never be given less than what they purchased! They bought in good faith, it was a regrettable mistake on the part of the jeweler. 

If Ed did indeed take it on himself to replace the stone with a different type, I'd immediately correct him in no uncertain terms. His concern for the bottom line is commendable, but never at customer expense.

Eric P.
Minnetonka, MN

Of course, the customer is entitled to a truly comparable stone. Ed's resistance to and ignorance of colored gems does not justify cheating a customer. After the customer has been made whole, Alan needs to have a serious conversation with Ed, and ask him for a commitment to support the store's values. If Ed is unwilling to do that, they need to part ways.


This article originally appeared in the June 2017 edition of INSTORE.

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