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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the Rightful Owner

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A dead husband, a grieving widow, an angry mother, a disputed ring, and yes, you guessed it, the local jeweler stuck in the middle of it. Is there a best course of action to resolve this sticky situation?

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of INSTORE.


Renson Jewelers is the quintessential hometown store. Bob Steiger got his first job in the store when he was 16, and eventually bought the store from founder Artie Renson over 20 years ago.

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Artie had understood that in a small town, reputation is everything and that service is the foundation upon which people build lifelong trust. He was also keenly aware that in a limited market, every customer and every transaction was important — regardless of size. Artie taught Bob well.

These days, Bob’s daughter Jill runs the front end, while Bob spends his days mentoring a talented team of goldsmiths and working at the bench, repairing pieces that hold special significance for his friends, neighbors and customers, and creating fabulous new designs.

While Jill keeps the store filled with a great selection of inventory, both she and Bob recognize that their repair department is what draws repeat clients, referrals and new business from all over the region.

Jill was pleasantly surprised one Monday afternoon to see an old high school friend, Rick Dicenzo, come into the store. He and his new wife, Julie, made a special trip from their home nearly 70 miles away with a ring that Rick’s father had given him before his recent death.

The ring needed to be sized, and it needed a good deal of restoration work. Rick told Jill that he would never have thought of taking it anywhere else, and that he’d hoped Bob would do the work himself. She assured him that Bob would be honored to handle the job personally.

When the job was done, Jill called Rick to tell him that Bob had indeed worked his magic, and that his ring was back to looking like new. Rick was delighted with the news and told her that he’d be back in to get it once he returned from a road trip he and his brother were taking up north.

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EDITOR’S NOTE

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

Jill filed the job and let it slip out of her mind until two months later, when Julie Dicenzo came to the store, obviously pregnant and looking distraught.
She broke down, telling Jill that Rick had been killed in a motorcycle accident on the second day of his road trip.

She remembered the ring while going through the jewelry valet Rick had kept on their dresser. She didn’t have the claim check, but she’d hoped Jill would release the ring to her so she could keep it to pass on to their unborn child someday.

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Jill was heartbroken. Remembering that Julie was with Rick when the ring was dropped off, she did what she believed to be the right thing and gave the ring to Julie.
Several days later, Rick’s mom came to the store with the claim check for the ring. Unaware that Julie had already been in, she told Jill about Rick’s accident and said he’d left the ticket in a jacket pocket at his brother’s the morning they left.

She wanted the ring back as a memory of both her son and her recently deceased husband.

When Jill told her that she’d given the ring to Julie, Mrs. Dicenzo was livid. She referred to Julie as a “useless gold digger” and demanded that Jill get the ring back from her evidently estranged daughter-in-law and return it to her as the rightful owner. The following afternoon, Jill got a letter from Mrs. Dicenzo’s attorney, laying out the same demand.


THE BIG QUESTIONS

What should Jill do? Is she correct in believing Julie was entitled to her deceased husband’s property?

What about the claim ticket that Mrs. Dicenzo had stumbled upon— does that give her rights to the ring?

What are the chances this episode will hurt the store’s reputation as a trustworthy business in a small town?


RETAILER RESPONSES

Layla M.

Beaufort, SC

I think Jill is in the clear from a legal standpoint. She received the ring from Rick in the company of his wife, Julie, and was told that the ring was passed to him from his father, establishing ownership with the couple. She was not in the wrong to return the ring to his widow. Yes, the mother had the claim ticket, but not because it was specifically given to her — she found it in a coat pocket.


Stuart T.

Bel Air, MD

I would first contact a lawyer for his opinion, but being that it is only an opinion I would also take into consideration what is the correct thing to do. The wife as survivor should have ownership of the ring, not the mother, as the father gave it to the son. The right of ownership would thus pass on to the wife. I think the mother with time will see that this is the correct thing especially since there will be a grandchild in the future. Sometimes doing what is right is the correct course of action.


Kathryn F.

Charleston, SC

The couple was married therefore everything acquired during the marriage is property of the husband and wife, not the husband, wife and mother-in-law. The mother-in-law needs to cool it. Provide great understanding and customer service to all parties involved and assure them how much you appreciate them and wish them the best. Send flowers to all.


Tony P.

Twin Falls, ID

I am sure we are not the only store where the customer loses or misplaces their claim check and we still give them their jewelry back. Just because the mother found the claim check doesn’t mean she has rights to the jewelry. The jeweler did the right thing. However, the attorney’s letter needs to be addressed.


Ira K.

Tallahassee, FL

Unless the law in Bob’s state is different — and assuming there is not a will that expressly leaves the ring to the mother — the ring goes to the surviving wife. In the nicest of ways, explain to Mrs. Dicenzo that the problem is between her and Julie. And that the store is not involved in family issues.


Elie N.

Bedford, NH

Mrs. Dicenzo doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. Get a lawyer to send her a letter demanding she stop the harassment.


Jon L.

Columbia, SC

After going over this story with all of my employees, we believe that the ring really should be the unborn child’s since that is what was implied when Julie picked it up.


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

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