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A Client Is Mistakenly Told That Her Replacement Ruby Is Synthetic

The head of a store’s gemology services department must reassure a client that her ruby is natural.

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THE INSURANCE REPLACEMENT division of Oliver & Ashe Jewelers had been a critical arm of the business over the better part of their 55-year history. With three Graduate Gemologists and one Certified Gemologist Appraiser on staff, all working in a state-of-the-art lab with the very latest and most sophisticated equipment, original owner Oliver Maxwell and his son and current owner Ashe had built an outstanding reputation for quality, accuracy and professionalism in their large Midwest city.

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 kate@performanceconcepts.net

In early 2018, Gail Arman, CGA, the head of Oliver & Ashe’s Gemology Services Department, handled the insurance replacement of a large, high-quality ruby for Linda Dennison, a longtime customer who had lost the stone from its mounting while attending her daughter’s destination wedding in Switzerland. The original ruby had belonged to Linda’s grandmother. Gail had done a detailed appraisal on the piece in 2014, so she was familiar with the gem and its unique nature. After lengthy discussions with Linda and her insurance company, Gail set out in search of a replacement gemstone that would closely match the unusual size and shape as well as the superb quality of the lost ruby.

Gail located three different options for Linda, from which she selected a 3.02-carat emerald cut Mozambique ruby with excellent color (hue, saturation and tone) and superb clarity. The gem came with lab reports from both GIA and Gubelin. Of course, as she always did, Gail verified all the specifics on the ruby in her own lab with her own equipment and was satisfied that the documentation was both authentic and accurate. Gail’s cost on the ruby was just under $34,000, and based on a pre-arranged replacement pricing agreement, she sold it to Linda’s insurance company for $41,500. Linda’s mounting was repaired and the ruby set by Oliver & Ashe’s expert craftsmen, and the ring was delivered several weeks later. Over the ensuing years, Linda visited Oliver & Ashe regularly, and Gail made a point of checking and cleaning the ruby ring at every opportunity.

Early last December, Linda was out shopping with a friend who took her into Handleman’s, a nearby competitor of Oliver & Ashe. The manager of the Handleman’s store, in an effort to extend complimentary service, offered to clean Linda’s rings — including her beloved ruby. As he inspected the ring prior to cleaning, he commented that the stone was one of the better synthetics he’d seen. Indignant, Linda challenged him, stating that she knew for certain that it was not synthetic, but the manager insisted that, though not an appraiser, he was very familiar with rubies and was certain that this particular stone was lab-created, since natural rubies in that size really didn’t come in so perfect a color and clarity. Somewhat confused, Linda and her friend left Handleman’s and headed directly over to Oliver & Ashe.

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The store was extremely busy, even for the first Saturday in December, and the staff appeared to be short-handed. Linda asked for Gail but was informed by Zach Nichols, the store’s new sales manager, that both Gail and Ashe Maxwell were out sick and were not expected back before the following Wednesday. She did not know Zach — or for that matter, any of the other associates in the store, as she had always dealt with Gail — but being very upset at that moment, she asked Zach if he knew anything about gemstones. He told her that he was a graduate gemologist as well as being the sales manager and that he would be happy to help her. She handed him her ring and simply asked, “Is this stone synthetic?” Zach had never seen the ring before and did not know Linda. He took the ring back to the lab for closer examination. In Linda’s presence, he inspected the stone carefully, then brought in another Graduate Gemologist for a second opinion. After a brief conversation, Zach and his associate (the newest addition to the store’s lab team) told Linda that yes, in fact, the ruby was a very good synthetic.

Linda was confused. She explained the entire history to Zach, insisting that the ruby had never been left for repair and had never been out of its mounting since Gail handled the replacement. Zach, mortified at his mistake but unsure of how to walk back his comments without appearing phony and unprofessional, assured her that they would get to the bottom of the confusing situation and promised to have Gail call her later that day. Zach contacted Gail immediately after Linda and her friend left the store and explained the sequence of events. Needless to say, Gail, knowing with 100 percent certainty that the ruby she had sold Linda and her insurance company was genuine, was confused and upset. Faced with the imminent need to call Linda, she needed to plan a strategy.

The Big Questions

  • How should Gail approach Linda in the call?
  • Can she reassure Linda without throwing her colleagues under the bus?
  • Knowing that she can, in fact, prove the ruby’s authenticity beyond any doubt, how should she deal with her mistaken associates? What, if anything, should Ashe do with regard to the store manager at Handleman’s?
Stuart T.
Reisterstown, MD

We all have had employees who felt the need to exceed their job responsibilities to show us how smart they are. He was the store’s sales manager, not a member of the store’s appraisal department. Being a GG doesn’t mean that he was qualified to offer his opinion. Some of the new synthetic stones are made of the same material, so it is very hard to distinguish with a quick exam. At this point, Gail should contact Linda to come in to discuss it. At the meeting, she would check the stone out to see if it indeed was the ruby they sold. If in fact it was the same, I would then offer to remove the stone in front of her, package it and send to the GIA. With the new GIA report, they could then confirm that the stone was genuine. I would then give Zach the opportunity to pay for the recheck on the ruby as a way of hopefully teaching him a lesson.

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

What a great problem to have, a genuine ruby that is so exquisite that only the best of the best can recognize its authenticity! Gail certainly lived up to the trust that Linda first placed in her. As for the staff and Handleman’s, it just proves that when it comes to natural corundum, there are experts and then there are professionals. Gail should remind Linda that the only professionals that should work on her precious ring should be the Oliver & Ashe Jewelers team!

Thomas A.
Memphis, TN

I find that it is always best just to be honest. Lay the story out there. Explain that these were only opinions. Apologize and show the proof that it is what she paid for.

Greg T.
Murfreesboro, TN

Never ever give an over-the-counter opinion on a ruby without a formal gemological test. Rubies are one of the most difficult to properly identify, even for 80 percent of gemologists who have attended GIA classes. Honesty and truth always prevail, along with a little explanation and getting a new GIA lab report.

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Patrisha C.
Osterville, MA

Call Linda and set an appointment with her to review paperwork and possibly FaceTime with the lab to reassure her that her ruby is real and that she wasn’t misled. Even offer to have the stone regraded. Make sure she has copies of all lab reports.

Speak with the store manager regarding the incident. Advise that there are no “sight” IDs. Testing has to be done to correctly ID stones, especially in a case like this. Sight IDs always are a quicksand area, no matter how many years in the trade.

Check with your legal team about how to handle your competition. Depending on your state, you could have legal recourse.

Moving forward set up a policy on gem IDs (i.e., two to three people grade each one, etc.) and make sure you keep the employees up to date and educated on the latest treatments and enhancements.

Jo G.
Oconomowoc, WI

Throw them under the bus? Oh heck yes, then back up said bus and do it again! We do not tell anyone anything. Want a value on a piece? Pay the gemologist. Want to know what something is? Pay the gemologist. The sales manager needs to be strongly spoken to, although it seems he has learned his lesson too late to help either his company or his coworker or their client. I will say this story feels fake because a small company might let this sort of thing happen, but a larger, fully staffed store should certainly have stronger rules in place.

Mike F.
Kokomo, IN

Look into the documentation that was included from the ruby supplier and confirm all of the identifying characteristics. Also, explain how difficult it is to evaluate any stone in a setting properly; that should protect the employees in the lab. Improved procedures need to be addressed too. A very tricky situation. This conversation needs to be in person with the customer as well.

Jim D.
Kingston, NH

I wouldn’t worry about throwing the new sales manager under the bus — I would do it quickly, then back over him and run him over again. It sounds like Zach used to work for the competitors, maybe he hoped to block a sale elsewhere. Before running to test a stone, learn something about the piece, especially if you are new in a store. A couple of quick questions would have given him the necessary facts. Instead, Zach has created a crisis that could have devastating consequences for his new employer. Ashe needs to do some speedy damage control. There is not much that he can do about the competitor’s manager’s comments, but he needs to overhaul his own house experts. For a GG to make a mistake like that is inexcusable. If he had doubts, he should have asked her to return when Gail was there to give an expert opinion. Some people let their delusions of self-perfection distort reality, and in Zach’s case, it could be a permanent, if not fatal flaw.

Peter T.
Show Low, AZ

Ashe and Gail should have a discussion about whether Zach should be employed at Oliver and Ashe. Our industry is one of details. If a person doesn’t understand that, they need to look elsewhere for employment. Then they should approach Linda and explain that she has a beautiful, genuine ruby in her ring. It wouldn’t hurt to explain that with very good quality gems, it can be difficult to identify them as natural. And that sometimes even qualified people may get into a bit of a rush and not take the extensive measures necessary to qualitatively determine whether a gemstone is genuine or synthetic.

Drue S.
Albany, NY

The only way I would resolve this would be to pay for the ruby in question to be removed from the setting and sent to GIA for a certification. Therefore, you avoid the “he said, she said” situation. I would not approach the other jewelry store with the results. I would speak with my staff not to form opinions or make statements on a gem without me being present. Unfortunately, the reputation of the store is at stake, and this needs to be resolved in a professional way. GIA certification is the only answer!

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