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When A Client Insists A Purchased Watch Is Fake, The Retailer Suffers Bad

How should this store owner react?

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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.

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]

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. Mrs. 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.

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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.

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.

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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.

The Big Questions

  • 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?
Richard G.
Birmingham, MI

Even though at first glance it looks like the jeweler acted properly, there is more that he could have done to defuse the situation. He could have explained that due to the extreme popularity of Rolex watches, there are many fakes on the market. Some of these, he could say, are easy to detect, some very difficult. He should assure her that while he is quite knowledgeable, it is possible that he missed something. Would it be possible to speak to the appraiser who thought the watch was a fake (with the client present for the call) to see what led him to think it was fake? For the jeweler to send the watch to an appraiser of his choosing does not inspire confidence. Sending the watch to Rolex for authentication would be the best way to provide her with an assurance that the watch is real (if it actually is!). Admitting that we are all human and can make mistakes goes a long way!

Kathy P.
Laguna Hills, CA

I would sue the hell out of the old bat!

David B.
Mount Dora, FL

I had this happen to me, but not quite as extensive. “The customer is always right” has been abused long enough. I am sorry, but this customer, for lack of a better term, needs to be dealt with legally. Yes, the bad publicity is not good, but locals need to know the character of the person making false accusations. If you are in business forever, I’d take my chance with the judge and then public opinion. No sealed out-of-court settlement.

John M.
Grand Haven, MI

Clearly this Mrs. Redmon is slightly unhinged, so expecting her to react reasonably to anything else you do is a long shot. However hot-headed she is, though, her actions are based on the belief she has been defrauded and — since she is no expert on watches — that belief is based on the statements of her family jeweler. Going right to the source of her case by asking to speak to the other jeweler shows her you have nothing to hide, and, likely, he is more level-headed and willing to accept the local appraiser’s evidence and adapt his story to her. (Be sympathetic and collegiate with him on how things can get by all of us at one time or another.) Unlike her in this case, he has something to lose, so if he is not agreeable at first, the promise of a one-star review for him as well might help him reconsider and do the right thing.

James D.
Kingston, NH

David has some great grounds for a slander and libel suit against Redmon. One could make the argument that her efforts were part of a scam trying to defraud Elliott Jewelers (in New Hampshire, that could get you a year in county jail). Redmon sounds fairly well off and could find herself selling her watch to cover a court award for punitive damages. I would also ask to recover the cost for the expert analysis. Once the court case is over, I would ask that part of the award be to make Redmon publish the court findings and an apology in newspapers both locally and in Miami.

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Drue S.
Albany, NY

Since a reputation has no limit to a price value, I would show her the documentation and give the money back with the statement, “I hope this proves to you that our reputation is sound and not at all fraudulent.” Anything else said will only fuel the fire. But we need this kind of publicity in these times like we need a hole in our head!

Steven G.
Staten Island, NY

When some jewelers are asked to make an offer on an item from a customer, they attempt to downgrade in order to buy low. Obviously, the Miami jeweler made either an honest mistake or intentionally misled. Another possibility is the customer’s sister misunderstood the jeweler or purposely twisted it to get a refund. She obviously didn’t want it. A good approach would be to call the jeweler privately and calmly to explain the predicament and perhaps get them to admit to the customer that they could have made an error. Most likely, the Elliott’s could convince the Miami jeweler that the watch was genuine. If the Miami jeweler was uncooperative, I would insist that they provide a detailed written appraisal indicating that the watch is not genuine with the warning that a lawsuit will follow.

Rene M.
Morgan Hill, CA

I would draft a letter on Elliott Jewelers stationery stating the watch had been certified and appraised by Mr. XYZ, a Certified Jewelry Professional Appraiser of XYZ Company, to be a Ladies Genuine 18K Cartier Ballon Bleu Wrist Watch valued at $$$. Mr. Elliott has offered to take back the Ladies Genuine 18K Cartier Ballon Bleu Wrist Watch and refund to me my original purchase price of the watch. I have agreed to accept his offer and return the watch for a full refund. Dated and signed by Mrs. Redmon and one for Mr. Elliott. When the transaction is all completed, I would send a copy of the letter to the departments at Google and Yelp who ran Mrs. Redmon’s original story concerning her watch purchase. I would send an explanation of the situation and a copy of the signed letter to Elliott’s clients mailing list. Good word of mouth takes time to build up a reputation. Bad word of mouth runs quickly and loudly and can ruin your business overnight.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

I would give her the appraisal and tell her to take the watch. never come back and that she’s not getting a refund. I would then tell her to remove the posts and to keep his name out of her mouth or else he would sue for libel and slander. I think he has plenty of ground for a lawsuit, and I would most definitely threaten it. Customers like this need to pull their lips over their head and swallow.

Timothy S.
Harrisonville, MO

Mr. Elliott established the authenticity of the watch at the point of sale, and again by using a third-party expert. With the authenticity established, Mrs. Redmon has stepped over the line and is committing libel. Mr. Elliott has many options. If he refunds her money to buy the peace, then she wins and walks away, leaving him to suffer with the damage she has left. He can win by fighting. So, upon her expected return, he can turn the tables on her and use her fraudulent act to attract more publicity for his advantage. He should do it with a big splash by having a law enforcement officer serve her with a “Cease and Desist” injunction and lawsuit papers on the spot, while being filmed by the local news to chronicle and report the crime in progress. He may never collect damages if she is as financially impaired as she is morally bankrupt. So he needs to win by gaining free publicity as her crime is sensationalized to exonerate him and bolster his reputation.

Todd T.
Bowling Green, VA

The damage is already done, so a refund won’t change that. When she comes to pick up the appraisal, remind her you have a copy. Hope her false claims didn’t cause damages.

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

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