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The Case of the Cartier Cart-Away

When a client insists a purchased watch is a fake, the retailer suffers from bad publicity.

David Elliott took over as Elliott Jewelers’ third-generation owner in 2006. In 2010, he moved Elliott’s from a big, elegant showroom into a small, two-room office on the seventh floor, specializing in buying and selling fine estate jewelry and custom design, and operating by appointment only.

David invested in a state-of-the-art website, and the rise of digital marketing and social media over the years worked in his favor. By 2015, the Elliott website, featuring unique estate jewelry and fine timepieces, was e-commerce enabled and productive, and business continued to grow steadily through early 2020.

One Wednesday in mid-September, David noticed that his assistant had booked a 2 p.m. appointment for him with a Madeline Redmon, a name that sounded vaguely familiar — with a note that she wanted to discuss a Cartier watch. He never got a chance to ask about the appointment before Mrs. Redmon arrived, but he recognized her immediately when she came in. Madeline Redmon had purchased a pre-owned ladies’ Cartier Ballon Bleu from him back in 2017 for $3,150 while visiting the city on business.

Taking a seat across the desk from David, Mrs. Redmon took the watch and receipt out of her bag and handed it to him, demanding her money back. She said she had bought the watch as a gift for her sister who lived with her in Miami. When her sister took it to a reputable jeweler near their home to see how much she might be able to get if she wanted to sell it, the jeweler told her he wasn’t interested, as the watch was a fake. Mrs. Redmon said she was only in town through Monday, and that she had every intention of taking the refund back home to her sister.

As a matter of policy, nothing ever made it into the Elliott estate collection without positive authentication, and David remembered with certainty that this watch was no exception. He listened intently while Mrs. Redmon vented her disappointment and anger, and when she was done, he proceeded to review with her the detailed points of authenticity on the watch, pointing out the two-letter and six-digit serial number engraved into the watch back, and using his microscope to show her the “secret signature” in the 7 o’clock marker on the dial. Despite his patient explanation, Mrs. Redmon was not convinced. She said the jeweler in Miami was a friend of her brother who wouldn’t lie about the watch. She was certain he was right, that David had deliberately sold her a fake Cartier, and that she was entitled to a full refund.

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected]

Frustrated but unwilling to bend under the circumstances, David offered to take the watch to a renowned local watch expert and appraiser and to pay for a detailed insurance evaluation. He told Mrs. Redmon that if the watch proved to be counterfeit, he would refund her money with a 10 percent bonus for her trouble. She reluctantly agreed, and David began the task of documenting every detail of the watch, starting with taking multiple pictures at various levels of magnification. He saw Mrs. Redmon get on her phone to make a call when he stepped away to his lightbox setup in the next room. He couldn’t hear much of what she was saying, but he assumed she was calling her sister with an update. The call ended before he returned to his desk.

About 20 minutes later, as he was reviewing the completed take-in slip with Mrs. Redmon and matching the details in the pictures to the watch itself, David heard the doorbell ring and was shocked to see his assistant open the door to two city police officers. Mrs. Redmon loudly announced, “It’s about time you got here. This is the guy — I want him arrested for theft and fraud.” She proceeded to get more and more agitated as David explained the situation to the police. To their credit, the officers did a good job defusing the situation, and they escorted Mrs. Redmon out with a claim ticket for her watch.

At about 5:15 that evening, David got a text from his assistant with a video of Mrs. Redmon standing on the street in front of the building’s main entrance, shouting about being ripped off and telling anyone who would listen that David Elliott is a thief and that he sells counterfeit watches. The next morning, she was out there again with the same act. When David called one of the officers who had intervened previously, she told him that as long as Mrs. Redmon was on a city street and not physically obstructing the sidewalk or accosting passersby, there was nothing they could do. Friday morning, David got a message from his daughter alerting him to a new 1-star review posted to both Google and Yelp, claiming that he was a fraud, that he had sold a fake Cartier and when caught, refused to refund the customer’s money.

That afternoon, after taking calls from two customers asking how they might have the value of prestige watches they purchased from him verified, David picked up Mrs. Redmon’s watch from the expert appraiser, complete with a detailed validation of authenticity and an insurance replacement valuation that was more than 30 percent over her purchase price. David felt certain that even with documentation, Mrs. Redmon was not going to let this go. Elliott’s appointment calendar was completely full for Saturday, the day she insisted on returning for the second act of the drama.



How should David handle the situation with Mrs. Redmon when she returns? Knowing that he is essentially standing on principle at this point, does it make sense to just cut his losses and give her a refund? What – if anything – can he do about the bad press and the negative reviews Mrs. Redmon has generated? Can he hold Madeline Redmon accountable in some way for damage to his hard-earned reputation?

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