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When a Once-Happy Client Sends Back a Damaged Ring and Demands a Refund, What Should the Store Owner Do?

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JOSH WELLMAN AND Brooke Kerney were best friends back in high school. When they both moved back to their Midwest hometown and reconnected after 12 years of living on opposite sides of the country, their friends and family — most notably Josh’s mother — were convinced that a wedding was inevitable. With that in mind, she gave Josh, her eldest son, her engagement ring — a family heirloom that had been passed down through generations. The ring, a late Victorian design, was a 1.50-ct. old European cut diamond in a platinum filigree setting, with milgrain detailing and several accent sapphires.

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]

Josh finally proposed while on a trip to visit one of Brooke’s friends just after Valentine’s Day. Brooke had been close to Josh’s mom when they were younger and was more than honored to serve as the next generation’s custodian of the heirloom ring. It was just a touch too big, though, so Brooke suggested they take it to a custom jeweler in the city who had done some work for her the year before. The couple made an appointment to see John Anford, owner of Anford and Company Fine Jewelry.

Brooke knew John Anford to be a knowledgeable professional who delivered quality work at a fair price. She was referred to John by a friend when she lost an earring and needed to have a replacement made. The work was done perfectly and well within the time frame expected. Brooke was confident that John would take good care of her new treasure as well.

At the Anford office, John measured Brooke’s finger, then examined the ring carefully. He told the couple that while beautifully made and still wearable, the heirloom was showing the signs of its 100 years of experience. He pointed out areas of weakness and structural issues that he believed made the ring unsuitable for everyday wear, and he recommended that Josh and Brooke consider having the ring restored by a vintage expert. They left the ring for sizing and said they would think about it.

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By the time they returned to pick the ring up the next day, Josh and Brooke had come up with another plan. They were both uncomfortable with the idea of restoring or altering the ring in any way and agreed that keeping it in original condition was more important to them than Brooke being able to wear it every day. With that in mind, they asked John to design a companion piece for the ring — a band that would be in keeping with the original ring’s design — in platinum filigree with milgrain trim and sapphire accents. Brooke said that her work as an executive for a technology company didn’t require any activity that would be especially rough on a ring, and she didn’t have any “heavy-duty” hobbies. They worked with John on initial concepts and agreed to stay in touch via email. Brooke made an appointment to come back in three weeks to look at the model and make a final decision.

Brooke and Josh loved the design of her new ring, and over the three-week period, signed off on the CAD rendering as well as various detail decisions and price. When she next visited John’s office and saw the resin model of her ring, she was delighted and confirmed the order. She and Josh returned in mid-April to see the finished product — and after a minor adjustment to a milgrain edge, were happy. Per his policy, John verified that his clients were completely satisfied with the ring, reminding them that they still had the option to cancel before taking delivery if the ring failed to meet their expectations in any way. They agreed that the ring was exactly as they had envisioned, and paid the $3,000 balance by credit card. The ring was shipped to Josh and Brooke’s Midwest home and was received on April 20, 2018.

About a year later, John received an email from Brooke containing pictures of the ring, significantly damaged with bends and dents in the metal and several broken sapphires. In her message, she said,

“Earlier today, I put my ring in an overnight package coming to your office. When I came to you last February, we discussed that my heirloom family ring was not suitable for daily wear, so we agreed to commission a custom ring that could be worn regularly. I approved the design for this ring, but relied on you to ensure proper materials and craftsmanship. You assured me that the problem with the milgrain edge we originally saw was a minor cosmetic issue and not a structural concern. Yet, less than a year later, the structural integrity of the ring has been severely damaged through nothing more than the ordinary use we discussed.

We’ve consulted with two reputable jewelers in our town. They both said that platinum was not the right metal for this ring — that white gold should have been used, given the design. Based on their opinions, and the significant damage that has occurred in just 11 months, I’d like you to honor the cancellation offer you made initially and issue a full refund for the piece so that I can use the money to get a ring I can actually wear every day.”

John noticed that the pictures were taken by one of the jewelers Brooke had consulted. He was tempted to contact the store to find out how they could have suggested that the choice of platinum was the issue here, but instead, chose to review his notes and talk with his craftsman as well as other trusted metals experts. He came away from his research with the thought that while there might have been a sturdier metal choice for the ring design, even 14K white gold would not have held up to the obvious abuse the ring had suffered.

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John didn’t think he could afford — financially or philosophically — to send a check for the full $4,750 sale price of the ring, since what he received from Brooke was essentially scrap platinum. On the other hand, as a small custom shop in a highly competitive city, he also couldn’t afford scathing reviews across social media.

The Big Questions

  • Who is responsible for the situation and who should absorb the cost?
  • Should John have known that white gold might have been a better option, despite her heirloom platinum ring having lasted over 100 years? Should the contract craftsman who made the ring have been more proactive in presenting the right design characteristics?
  • What should John do?
John M.
Grand Haven, MI

Ouch. Hard to convince a customer it wasn’t a problem with your year-old band when her similar engagement ring lasted 100 years. And maybe with good reason. Did you make the band solid enough, or was it a flimsy shell because you cheaped out? Was it wide enough to keep its shape for everyday wear? You’re the expert who’s supposed to know platinum keeps its color, is tough, and chemical resistant, but scuffs, mars and bends easily. And hers is likely a hard die-struck piece, whereas your band is a softer casting. If your band was too lightweight, it’s not going to do the job she specifically tasked you with, and you need to take care of it. If the ring was beaten regardless of the metal or who made it, then point out the specific indicators, while also assuring her you want to help her resolve her situation. Your fault, offer to make a new ring in 14K white gold for free. Her fault, offer to make her one at cost.

Richard S.
Seattle, WA

She obviously abused the ring, but it sounds like between the client and jeweler, they did not resolve the original concern about daily wear durability. Regardless of metal choice, it does not sound like a good design choice. The jeweler needs to either recreate it, making the ring a little heavier and using a ruthenium alloy, iridium being much too soft for platinum casting, or make a new design that both parties can be happy with. But to simply give a refund is unreasonable, assuming he has had a conversation about her lifestyle and what could have caused heavy damage.

Jack Van D.
Wellington, FL

Offer to fix the ring the best way he can, at no charge. We’re not responsible for abusive wear to a piece we design and sell. They’re just trying to get something for nothing.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

These people are trying to take advantage of John, and shame on them. Platinum was a fine choice for a ring like this and should be more than durable enough to handle her said lifestyle. She obviously started working out with it on or it slipped down the disposal and took a spin (I’ve seen both be very destructive). Either way, something has happened and rings like this don’t self-destruct. I would offer to repair or remake it at my cost, but I would NOT give a refund. Stand your ground, John. You can treat her with respect and understanding and still keep your integrity. Letting them walk all over you is not the answer, especially when you and they know that this ring destruction was user error.

Sandi B.
Ocala, FL

Almost the exact thing happened in our store about two years ago. The couple had purchased a platinum radiant three-stone for a right-hand anniversary ring and was quite happy with it. A year later, they wanted to reset her wedding set into platinum with a bigger center diamond. It was made, loved and within one month, they did not like the “scratches” and dents on the bottom of the shank. It was an existing design that was just tweaked, so not completely custom. I talked with the manufacturer extensively about the platinum content, had it refinished, and the couple was still not satisfied.

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I refunded the whole set and got a credit from the manufacturer, so it wasn’t a complete loss. Probably a little buyer’s remorse along with the softer metal performance. I would love to say they have purchased other things after that and it was a win-win situation; however, that is not the case. You win some, you lose some. Our reputation is still intact.

Daniel U.
Hamilton, ON

I think that the dealer got “played” by a person who abused her ring and then wanted a free ride to make up for her negligence. If she wanted to wear the ring “hard,” she should have said so at the beginning. My impression is that she got a suitable ring for her lifestyle, which she abused not just once, but several times. I believe that she knew she abused it, that she was morally wrong but that she did not want to accept responsibility for her actions.

The reason I believe these things is we have had clients who misrepresented their lifestyles and tried exactly the same type of scenario: to get a refund after they damaged something they could not afford. It is a measure of the solidarity of our clients that they stood together and denounced that individual as a liar and a fraud.

June M.
Aberdeen, MD

Since the customer indicated before authorizing the band that she did not do any heavy duty work in her employment or have any heavy duty hobbies, she could wear the ring every day. And she had worn it for a year or so. What DID she do that could have possibly caused that ring to end up in such a condition? I also don’t feel the store is responsible for the whole outcome of the finished ring. The craftsman is also responsible. Possibly also the customer.

Instead of a refund, the store could offer to replace the ring in a sturdier ring, possibly a heavier gauge for the filigree and the base plus a thicker band. That way, the cost for the store would be less than a refund.

Saro A.
Chevy Chase, MD

In the custom business, there are always cases when things go wrong either in design/manufacturing or by customer. I think Josh and Brooke should have at least given John a chance to make a new ring instead of asking for a refund. As bad as making a new ring would be for John, he should take the loss and never promise to give a refund on a custom made piece once the customer has seen and approved the wax model.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

I think that John should refuse to accept the package. Make the brute that beat up the ring come to the store to discuss any concessions to be made. And while she’s there, explain the abuse of the jewelry. I would NOT refund under any circumstances.

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

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