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David Geller

Here’s How to Handle Abandoned Jewelry Repairs

This column can help you solve one of the biggest headaches for jewelry shops.

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EVERY STORE HAS repairs that have not and will not be picked up. The repair ticket you have that says, “After six months, unclaimed repairs will be ours” will not hold up in court.

Each state has a law regarding how to handle items being repaired and what to do with them if abandoned — unfortunately, in many cases, it may not be what you think, nor will it be easy for you to get a straight answer.

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Typically, your state attorney general’s office knows the laws, but you’ll still find getting an intelligent answer difficult. If you Google “abandoned repairs, ‘my state name’” you come up with a huge list, and you’ll often see information on abandoned cars and furniture/belongings inside a home or apartment rental. Go to this link and find your attorney general’s office and start there: usa.gov/state-attorney-general.

Here’s a snapshot:

  • Some states say that after a year, it’s yours.
  • Some states say longer.
  • Some states say that after a period of time, it belongs to the state and you’ll have to send the jewelry to the state.

I’m in Georgia, and 40 years ago, I did my due diligence, and this is what I found for Georgia: “A company must keep a customer’s abandoned repair for one year. After one year, the company must give the owner of the repair a 10-day notice by posting the notice on the sheriff’s bulletin board that if not claimed after 10 days, the company can sell the repair item for the repair charges and the customer cannot hold the company liable.”

Can you believe the sheriff’s bulletin board? Yes. Furthermore, if you sold the item for more than the charges (e.g., size a 1-carat diamond ring for $50 and sell it as abandoned for $3,000), then you get to keep the $50 for the store, make a record of the $3,000 sale, and any time in the future if that customer comes back, you must give them the excess you received: $2,950! That’s the way it was in Georgia.

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So this is what we did:

We called multiple times during the year and sent out postcards urging customers to pick up their items.

After a year, we sent out a certified letter to the address on file with a return receipt to be signed that it was received. The letter stated that if not retrieved within 10 days of the mailing of this letter, the customer will forfeit the item and can be sold by our company to retrieve repair charges.

Copies of this were attached to the job and in customer notes in the POS system.

This action brought in at least half of the customers. We kept the paperwork forever on these customers so we could prove we made the attempt. The law states they don’t have to receive the letter; we only needed to prove we mailed it, which we had.

Most items were low value, but we had a few thousand dollar items, which if not saleable, we scrapped them. In 25 years, we only had one customer come back three years later crying, but there was nothing we could do and we never had any problems handling abandoned repairs in this manner.

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What we learned from this was to get paid up front for low-end items (like silver repairs), and when it came to watch repairs, this is what we did. Many watches aren’t worth the cost of repair, but of course you must send them to the watchmaker to get an estimate. If the customer didn’t approve the repair over the phone, easily half wouldn’t waste their time to pick up a worthless watch.

Our solution? We charged a $20 advanced refundable deposit in CASH upon take-in on watch repairs. The $20 bill stayed IN the envelope. So if they didn’t want the watch repaired, they would come back in to get their $20 bill. Worked every time.

I know many stores that get many repairs paid for up front. We started offering a 5 percent discount for customers to pay for anything at drop-off. You wouldn’t believe how many customers would pre-pay for a $3,000 custom job, sight unseen, just to get the 5 percent discount!

David Geller is a 14th-generation bench jeweler who produces The Geller Blue Book To Jewelry Repair Pricing. David is the “go-to guy” for setting up QuickBooks for a jewelry store. Reach him at [email protected].

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