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Jeweler’s Vow: ‘I’m Not Measuring People’s Fingers for Free Anymore!’

But then he broke the vow for the very first customer he tried to charge.

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OVER THE LAST FEW years, the internet has continued to drag business away from most small brick-and -mortar shops and jewelers have been particularly hard hit.

I get amazingly frustrated with people who come in and purchase a beautiful custom-made engagement ring from me and then come in six months later and are wearing a $150 ring they bought online next to it as a wedding band.

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There was a time when if I sold an engagement ring to someone, I had a wedding band job coming not long after.

Most of the reason people (OK, let’s face it, I’m talking about millennials) shop online is because of price. They don’t really care about the quality or whether something is hand made, ethically made or much of anything else as long as the price is low enough. Unfortunately, what this has meant is that I have a steady stream of people bringing in shoddily made junk they bought online that almost immediately fell apart and they want me to fix. Of course, they’re mostly in shock when I tell them it will cost them more to have me fix it (if it’s even possible, which more often than not it isn’t) than they paid for it.

I also get a steady stream of people who want me to size new rings they just bought online thinking that it will be cheaper for me to size them than to send them back (it isn’t). Or they bought it from a company that won’t actually resize something for them. Eventually I simply started refusing to do this work. If the only thing I’m good for is repairs, then I will be out of business sooner rather than later. If they have worn it for a year or two, I don’t have a problem with it, but a new ring should be sized by the jeweler they bought it from free of charge in my book.

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But what has also gotten more and more common is that I have a series of people coming in to get their fingers measured for size so that they can buy a ring online.

Now, understand that I am a one-man shop. I make all the jewelry I sell. I do the selling, the repair work, the appraisals, the cleaning, just about everything.

The only thing I don’t have to handle is keeping the books, which my wife, Kathy (who works another full-time job), takes care of. Every time someone comes in to ask me to size their fingers so that they can go online and buy something cheap, I have to stop whatever I am doing and measure their fingers. I could be finishing up a $5,000 job or a $300 repair, but instead I’m measuring their fingers so they can shop somewhere else.

I recently had another young man come into my shop and ask to get his finger measured. As I do all the time now, I asked where he was getting the ring (since it was pretty obvious by his complete disinterest in what I do that he wasn’t getting it from me). He was, as they usually are, incredibly vague: “Well, I’m still looking around and I’m not sure.” (This was after he told me he was getting married in a month.) I did my best and brought out a few rings with my unique look and got him to actually try one on. He looked at the price tag and immediately said, “Oh, if only I had that much to spend on a ring.” By this time we both knew he was just wasting my time. I asked him how big the wedding would be. He said, “Well, about 150 people, and we’re having it on the Maine coast.” So, $30,000 or $40,000 for a wedding, but no money for a wedding band. I measured him and sent him on his way.

But after he left, I decided I wasn’t going to do this for free anymore. It’s not worth my time to help internet jewelry companies do their job. I can’t pay my rent that way. That night, my wife and I decided I would charge $25 to measure someone’s finger — refundable if they buy from me. It’s still not enough given how precious my time is, but I figured if nothing else, it would deter enough of them that I’d be better off.

The next day, a young woman called me and asked if I sized people’s fingers. I said, “Yes, but I charge for it.” She asked how much, and when I told her $25, she said, “That’s not so bad; I’ll be by in awhile.” I congratulated myself on 1.) holding the line and 2.) having someone decide it’s worth it to pay for the service. A few hours went by and I was beginning to think she had called around and found someone who would do it for free (success either way — I wasn’t going to have to spend any time doing it). And then a young woman rang my bell.

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When I let her in, she told me she was the person who had called about getting her finger sized. She came into the store and went to one of my benches and sat down as I pulled out my sizers and mandrels. She then started looking at her hands and said, “I’m not sure which finger to get measured.” This was a first for me. Usually they know where the ring is going, and it’s usually the ring finger on the left hand. And then she started to cry.

She apologized for being so upset and proceeded to tell me that her fiancé had died suddenly two months prior and that his mother was having a ring made up for her with his ashes in it and she didn’t know where to wear it. I expressed my sympathies as best I could and suggested she do the right hand ring finger, and she agreed. I measured her finger for her. She offered to pay, but needless to say I couldn’t take any payment from her. So much for my first finger-sizing charge!

But this is the reason I’m a jeweler after all. Because there is so much meaning attached to so much of it. She isn’t the first person who has broken down weeping (sometimes in joy too) in my shop, and she probably won’t be the last.

But the next time a guy comes in and tries not to admit he’s buying his ring on the internet, you can be sure he’ll be charged!

Daniel Spirer owns Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers in Cambridge, MA and has been selling handmade jewelry on the same block for 37 years.

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