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The Case of the Design Dispute

And who is really “her customer” in this situation?

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COLE ISAACSON WAS, according to the team at Peale’s Fine Jewelry, a “THAT guy” customer. A mechanical engineer, Cole kept store owner Rachel Peale tied up in Zoom meetings for several hours before he ever came into the store to see the selection of virtually previewed diamonds she’d brought in for him. Rachel was grateful for her reliable diamond suppliers and for the technology that allowed her to present 11 different diamonds to Cole using high-resolution images and video in the weeks prior to his return to their Northwest hometown after a lengthy work assignment in Dubai. Cole was planning to propose to his longtime girlfriend Julia shortly after getting back and wanted to have as much of the legwork as possible done before his arrival.

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 [email protected]

After another week of visits to the store to carefully inspect the three “finalists” as he called them, Cole settled on a 2.39-carat, E, VS1, XXX natural diamond. He knew Julia would want to choose her own setting, but it was important to him to surprise her, so at Rachel’s suggestion, he agreed to have the diamond set into a simple solitaire – which turned out to be not so simple after all. Cole’s mom had lost her 4-carat diamond from its setting several months before, and he was very concerned about the security of Julia’s diamond, even in the short term. Despite knowing the setting was temporary, Cole was as meticulous in choosing the ring as he was the diamond, settling on a heavier weight platinum ring with solid construction and even calculating the millimeter width he believed he needed in the shank and shoulders of the ring.
Cole loved the finished product when he picked up the ring two weeks later, and his beachfront proposal went off perfectly. He called Rachel and made arrangements for Julia to come in the following week while he was off on another business trip to choose her permanent setting.

When Julia came into the store, she showed Rachel a picture of the ring she wanted. Rachel was immediately concerned when she looked at the picture of a “whisper” eternity band — about 1.5mm wide at its widest point — with diamonds also set in the 4-prong head. Rachel asked all the right questions about Julia’s lifestyle and how the ring would be worn, and Julia assured her that she was more of an “indoor girl” and didn’t do any work that required her to even damage her manicure. Still, Rachel felt the need to suggest rather strongly that Julia reconsider her choice, especially in light of the effort Cole had put into selecting not only a large, high-quality diamond (much larger than the diamond that would fit in the pictured ring) but also a temporary setting that was up to his standards for security and durability. Julia flatly refused, insisting that while she loved her diamond, she seriously disliked the bulky solitaire setting, and she told Rachel that her regular jeweler (Peale’s most significant competitor) had assured her that it should be no problem at all to set her diamond into the ring she wanted. Still uncomfortable, but wanting to keep Julia happy, Rachel brought her designer in to begin the process of creating a model that would please Julia while still holding the diamond securely.

After making a number of modifications to the first CAD design — all to make the ring thinner and “more delicate” — Rachel asked to meet with the couple together to review the updated design before having the new ring made.

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When they came into the store, Julia was thrilled with the look of the render and the printed resin model, but Cole was clearly not. He remembered that Julia had mentioned liking the new “ultraskinny” ring trend, but he trusted that Rachel would know better than to try to set an important diamond into so impractical a mounting. He was more than a little surprised by what he was seeing. Diamonds set into drilled prongs? He didn’t think that any jeweler who knew anything about metal properties would even do anything like that!

He expressed his concerns to Julia, who quickly became defensive. She was fiercely adamant in stating that the design they were looking at was the only ring she wanted and refused to look at any other options. Rachel could only watch as the discussion between them became heated. When Cole finally refused to do anything with the ring —even suggesting that they return the diamond and start over at some later time — Rachel jumped in and proposed that they might be best served by putting a hold on the conversation for a day or two. She suggested that they take the weekend to talk about what was most important to each of them, and that they meet again in the following week to work on a solution that would make them both happy.

The Big Questions

  • When it came to the setting, was Cole still Rachel’s customer, or was Julia?
  • Is it really the salesperson’s job to referee a dispute between the person paying for the ring and the person wearing it? What about Julia’s “regular jeweler”?
  • Did he have an obligation to know more of the story before suggesting what was ultimately an impractical option to a strong-willed customer?
Em D.
Peoria, IL

I had a similar situation last year for a big anniversary. The husband thought they were getting the third band for his wife’s set. Meanwhile, she thought they were upgrading her center diamond. You can imagine — it was a little awkward to manage. I heard each of their concerns/wants and tried to help them see where the other was coming from. The best thing about being in the middle of that situation was seeing that they both wanted each other happy, to celebrate their time together and the love behind their communication. Instead of siding with one or the other, I made the couple my client. I looked at my role as a set of unbiased ears and a translator while emotions were at their highest. They slept on it, decided a week later, and two weeks after that they celebrated on their anniversary with a new ring, bigger center and her original band.

Sasha B.
Oakville, ON

As a salesperson, I would have asked that the couple come together to try to find a compromise between dainty and not-too-dainty. The uber-skinny trend has been here long enough that all jewelers and salespeople should know better than to suggest making a “barely there” setting work for a diamond, especially above one carat.

Darren K.
Las Vegas, NV

I have had many customers in a similar situation. First off, I suggest getting a great insurance policy so the diamond will be covered no matter what happens to the ring. I always say at that point to stop worrying and live life. Secondly, I have told people like Cole that he isn’t wearing the ring, and would he like it if she insisted that he wear something he wouldn’t like? They always say they wouldn’t like that, and they see the point very quickly. I always ask the Cole types, “Do you want her to look at that ring and be happy and in love with it just like she feels about you?” I ask that with the fiancée present, and they always tell the Cole types that is how they view the ring. The Cole types can be very overwhelming at times. Boundaries need to be set with these types of people.

Richard S.
Seattle, WA

We have been hand-fabricating in house these kinds of thin solitaires. For that size diamond, a 1.50mm diamond shank is pretty thin, but not as a safety issue so much as an aesthetics and proportion consideration. 1.70mm would look more balanced and have plenty of width to weld the peg into at the base of the head. If this ring were a casting, then I would be concerned about durability, but when drawing wire and hand-fabricating a solitaire with a very skilled craftsman and stone setter, there should be no security issues. Unless she does something traumatic to catch the top of the ring. Anything can happen, even to the heaviest of pieces. The diamonds set up in the prongs would be fine as long as you are working with a wire gauge that will have plenty of strength even after setting the stones.

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Peter T.
Show Low, AZ

Julia’s “regular jeweler” was handling the situation properly — he offered the jewelry his customer wanted. If they want a flimsy ring that will likely fall apart, fine. You can’t train stupid out of a customer; you can only warn them, suggest insurance, and sell them have what they want. It’s never my job to “referee” an argument between a couple. After the customer knows the risks, they argue it out, and I take the view “Not my monkey, not my circus.”

Anne H.
Mechanicsburg, PA

Hah, we would punt to Julia’s “regular jeweler” so fast it would make your head spin! Let that guy be married to a wispy disaster of a mounting. Always do the right thing for yourself and don’t worry about what others have to say about it. Rachel needs to lose this one sale and maybe become the hero/oracle when the main diamond is lost or damaged. Although, it sounds like Cole and Julia may end up having a VERY short relationship.

Mark S.
Plantation, FL

Julia will never be happy until she gets what she wants. Cole will always have fear— and rightfully so — as to the strength of the setting. Rachel, if she listens to Julia, may lose Cole as a client. If Rachel listens to Cole, Julia will take the purchase of the setting to “her” jeweler. Rachel should offer to make the setting like Julia wants and offer Cole an insurance policy for the first year to cover any loss. This way, everyone is happy, and Rachel keeps both clients and both sales.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Both of these customers sound like a real pain in the bones. If Julia is so adamant about this setting, then can’t you just provide a jewelry appraisal for Cole, which you would do anyway, and tell him to get insurance? It’s not ideal to replace a diamond like this, but it seems like the solution to appease both parties in this situation. Especially now since Cole is talking about returning the diamond and “revisiting” this later. To me, that sounds like a breakup, and now you’ve really lost the sale. People like this are annoying. Good luck.

Jim S.
Kauai, HI

Responding to unreasonable requests is part of our job. This new trend in ultra-light mountings is an issue. I believe my job as a designer, craftsman and expert is to build a ring that will have long-term integrity that I can stand behind. If a customer insists on something contrary to that, I suggest they find someone with less integrity.

Troy L.
Irvine, CA

When it comes to style, it is really up to her, though finding the happy medium for both is why they are coming to the expert. Especially when you know the “whole story” working with both individuals. It is our job to make the couple happy by providing opinions and suggesting the very best options to achieve the perfect balance of safety and daintiness. Happy wife, happy life!

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Alex W.
Torrance, CA

This is absolutely the time for Rachel to stay out of it. The issue has become one for the “happy couple” to resolve. At the same time, the business and Rachel need to brace themselves for the return of the ring and write off the many hours of work they put into it, as they have received a no-confidence vote from both Cole (Mr. Know It All) and Julia. Cole being shocked and upset that the jeweler would even consider doing the new ring and Julia mentioning the other jeweler. If (and when) the current ring and diamond come back, neither will become a future client, even if the relationship of the couple survives. Time to move on, in my book.

Michael J.
Port Charlotte, FL

This is a perfect example of “just because you CAN does not mean you SHOULD.” Since most engineer clients are ridiculously picky to start with, this will be an exhausting process for everyone involved. Cole isn’t likely to go forward with the ring Julia wants. I would explain to Julia that this ultra-skinny trend is just that — a fleeting trend — and her choice MIGHT be acceptable for a half-carat but not for the 2-plus carat that Cole selected. I would explain to her that I don’t feel comfortable setting their diamond into that fragile of a ring for X reasons and would likely turn down the job since I don’t want my name dragged through the mud to her friends when the ring eventually gets mangled and/or the diamond lost.

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If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

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

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