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Telling Whoppers

Jewelers recount their biggest sales ... and what they learned from them.

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FISHERMEN LIKE TO SAY there’s nothing quite as fine as being out on the lake on a sunny afternoon with a good friend, some beers and a bucket of worms, swapping tales of the big one hauled in … or just missed. Worms aside, most jewelers can probably relate. There’s a strange, invigorating joy to reliving tales of whopper jewelry sales. And given the mercury’s climbing outside, a certain summer lassitude has probably settled on the sales floor, and even the phone’s stopped ringing as vendors take a vacation. Now is the perfect time to kick back and recount that time the wealthiest man in town walked in, that scruffy long-haired dude asked for help finding a 10-carat diamond, or that rich matron with six daughters in need of rings came bustling into the store.

01. SHOTGUN
ANNIVERSARY

One day, a woman stormed into my store, followed a short distance behind by her husband, who appeared to be in a state of serious disgrace. The woman looked around and said, “Where are your anniversary rings? The expensive ones!” After showing her two rings in less than a minute she picked up the one she liked and said, “We’ll take this one!” Without looking at her husband, who still had a rather shameful look on his face, she said, “Give him your credit card!” I proceeded to box the ring after finding that it fit perfectly. I entered the sale into our system and asked if she wanted to know how much the total was or if I should just run it through the credit processor. That’s when she really came undone. She told me that her husband had bought a shotgun without asking for her input. She turned to her husband and said “Go ahead, dear, tell him what you bought!” The husband, who up to then had been the model of reticent good behavior, started to smile with pride as he told me the model, style, wood type … then his wife jumped in and yelled, “Whatever! Tell him how much you paid for it!” The husband sheepishly said “$12,000 — but you should see the engraving, it’s beautiful!” It was at this point that I started to see just how much of the past four minutes had been laced with good humored revenge and love. Over the next five minutes we talked about guns and jewelry. They left with smiles and a great story to tell and so had I. — Bill L., McCook, NE

 

02.
The Annibirthday
Present

Geez, would you just look at the mud on his boots? How short is this dude? Wide load, multi-banded oily pony tail and an “I’m a playa” leather vest …

Eyes smiling, “Good afternoon, I am Denise” Big smile.

“What brings you in today? Looks like you’ve been working hard.”

“I’m sorry about the mud, would you mind if I took off my boots?”

“No, no, how considerate of you. Please be seated. How about a Coke?”

I couldn’t help but wonder where this was going. Turns out, he owned a landscaping business. He was just on a site nearby and remembered his upcoming “annibirthday.” Her milestone birthday and their 20th wedding anniversary combined into one so he was looking for a really nice diamond. I began with a higher end one at 1-1/2 carats, but he wanted something with impact, something his friends could see on her hand from across the room! Concerned his ego was bigger than his budget I began to question him about his family, lifestyle, business and hobbies. As his story evolved we began talking about flying, planes and American classic cars, all shared passions. About an hour later he walked out with an order for a custom made 2.30-carat emerald cut in platinum, negotiated and paid in full with hard cash. — Denise O., La Grange, IL

 

03. A PAIR OF PEARS

In 1983, I was a regional vice president for Kay, and the mother of one of my employees was getting married. Her wealthy husband-to-be wanted a spectacular ring for her. She decided she wanted two pear-shaped diamonds, 2.5 carats each, set diagonally with the points pointing inward. She wanted near flawless diamonds matched in shape, color and clarity. My store manager started calling vendors looking for diamonds matching the call. They called me for assistance, and I asked our diamond buyer to source the stones. Long story short, there were too many buyers looking for a very special pair of diamonds and the price for 2.5-carat pears jumped very quickly. We waited for the market to settle down and made the sale using 2-carat each pears of a nice quality but not near flawless. — Don D., Tampa, FL

04. The
Minivan
Sale

It wasn’t quite a whopper, but it was a sale nobody thought I could make. This gal came in looking at rings for her anniversary with her mother. She said she wanted to upgrade to a 3.0-carat, but she was driving a minivan and wasn’t dressed to the nines like you would expect for someone looking for a 3-carat. In total, I spent about two months with this gal on designs for a new ring and picking out the perfect diamond. Everyone in the store told me I was wasting my time, she was just “shopping me” and it wasn’t worth the effort. Well, at the end of the day I sold her a gorgeous 4.20-carat oval, set in a custom-made platinum mounting with lots of pavé diamond accents. Needless, to say I made the month and showed everyone that my persistence and patience paid off big time! — Marc  M., Midland, TX

 

05. You Never
Actually Know …

One of my customers was a little old lady whose husband had passed away and they never had any children. She brought in her husband’s watch, which he had told her was worth $35,000. His name was engraved on the back and she wanted me to remove the engraving so she could sell it.

Upon looking at this older model Patek Philippe with its mismatched gold band, I had my doubts. I showed the watch to my appraiser and it spiked his interest. He then contacted some people he knew in New York at Antiquorum, a company that specializes in antique and specialty watches and clocks.

They asked if we had paperwork on this watch and we told them that we did not. They suggested that we get the watch’s pedigree through Patek so we sent the information with photos to Patek.
Nine weeks later we received a very impressive document stating that the watch case, movement and dial appeared to be of Patek origin, but they did not have the dial on record.

With this knowledge in hand, Antiquorum wanted to add the watch to its auction in Switzerland. A very nice minimum bid was suggested and the fun began.

After talking with my insurance company we were able to ship the watch to New York for it to be placed under Antiquorum’s safekeeping and transported to Switzerland. A few weeks later we received an inch-thick catalog of the two-day auction with most pages featuring two to three watches with photos and descriptions.

“My” watch, however, took two pages on its own and was featured near the end of the catalog. The auction was cast live on the Web, and I watched with excitement. The bidding started at 85,000 Swiss francs and it quickly went to 115,000, topping out at 120,000 Swiss francs! What excitement, the learning process, my very happy customer and my very happy self (I had asked for a small percentage as a commission, which she was happy to accept). — Amber G., Katy, TX

06.
Getting the
Business Done

In 2001, a diamond rep was in the store. He handed my top sales guy a paper with an 11.01-carat emerald-cut loose and told him he was going to the gentlemen’s room …  and he wanted it sold by the time he got back. Larry made a call to a special client and asked if they would want to own one of the largest diamonds in the state. They said yes. Cha-ching! $95,000. — J. Dennis P., Johnstown, PA

 

07. DAY OF INFAMY … NOT

One of my watch reps called and asked if I would sell a dozen watches to the son of another jeweler, as his new store was opening 12/15/77, and he wouldn’t have time to get a shipment. So he sent his son down, and he is standing with me when Bert, a good and wealthy (but cheap) customer comes in to buy a $100 watch for his wife. I harassed him as I always did and said, “If you really love Jean you will buy her this 4.75-carat round diamond for only $25,000.” He said, “I’ll take that and the watch.” The kid’s eyes almost popped out of his head. It happened to be Pearl Harbor Day ’77 and Bert called his wife, told her to go to the bank and withdraw $25,000 in cash. She wore the ring till she died. I’ll never forget 12/7/77. — Gayle C., Royal Oak, MI

 

08. Band by Tiffany,
Diamond by Little Guy

I had a guy who bought a 3.0-carat princess cut for over $30,000 from us and then went to Tiffany’s and bought a band. His girlfriend wanted a “big name store” ring, and he wanted to support us. Yay for great customers! — Karen H., Batavia, IL

 

09.
Staying
Power

We just made our biggest sale in 2014. It was very difficult to source a 3.00-plus-carat fancy yellow oval in a copy of a celebrity ring mounting. The stay-with-them mentality I employ worked. Six visits and 10 memo diamonds later we closed the sale. The lesson seems clear: Stay with them and many will result in sales. — John C., Uniontown, PA

 

10.
RUB OF
THE GREEN

Back in April 2013, we had a new client who had us design a few pieces for his wife around gemstones he had purchased over the years. When he was in to pick up one of our completed projects, he mentioned he was having difficulty finding good quality, large Colombian emeralds. It just so happened that we were working with another client, a multi-millionaire property investor who had purchased several large fine Colombian emeralds in the 1990s to use to fund his daughter’s college trust. The time had come for her to go to school and for him to start selling the green beauties, and he was looking only to double his money on the original investment. We brokered the deal between the two clients, selling the gems at about 30 percent off retail and making $20,000 profit for our studio in the deal. In the same month we sold our first 1-plus-carat diamond at a great profit. That April (our first year in business), ended with just over $75,000 in sales and big money in our bank account! —Jennifer F., Colorado Springs, CO

 

11. Walking the Walker

This was a big fish, a really big fish: the trophy wife of the owner of a racetrack, who is also a big industrialist in our state, was in our store and she was buying! Along with her was her “walker,” a dapper gentleman whom her husband trusted to keep her happy, but also rein her in if she got too flighty with his money.

She had a great time trying on rings and necklaces, and she did quite a bit of damage — over $120,000 in two hours. And she was all set to continue, but her escort suggested they come back the following week.

We were thrilled to have landed this level of customer.

However, the next day, the gentlemen came back alone and explained that the husband was unhappy that his wife had spent so much … but that he knew how to calm him down, and how to make sure she continued to come in and indulge her tastes in our place. However, we would have to “take care” of him in return …

OK, I may have heard of such dealings vaguely somewhere, but we are a straightforward operation, and we do not ever discount.

I thought and thought, and just couldn’t accept this situation. I know, you could look at it as a commission to this intermediary person — but we do not have a commission system, and I could see our salespeople being offended. I was feeling very uncomfortable, so we let the walker walk.

He, and his lovely client, never came back. — Eve A., Evanston, IL

 

12. The Power of a Good Customer Book

This month one of our salesladies sold a 3-carat green diamond for $145,000 that we had brought in for one of our regular customers who didn’t like it. This saleslady went through her customer book and found someone else to buy it. — Ragnar B., Vancouver, BC, Canada

13. THE LIKE FACTOR

We met with a referred perspective client who was searching for a 3-carat-plus diamond. We hit it off instantly, quickly becoming their favorite during a three-state-wide search, yet still far from closing the deal. In order to seal the sale we offered to travel to them three states and a thousand miles away. They still had a few diamonds in the running, and requested our diamond be scrutinized by a G.G. We, of course, agreed as we’d presented a beautiful 3.89-carat GIA-certified stone and they were spending a good amount on the diamond, as well as covering our travel and entertainment expenses (bonus!). As the weekend convened, the gentleman requested a final private meeting with me. Totally confident, I leaned in as he stated, “I’m going with you.” Delighted I asked “Because we have the best diamond?” “Well, yes,” he replied. “But mainly because we like you and your staff.” We’re still friends to this day. We ended up creating a $48,000 engagement ring and wedding bands too. However, that friendship is worth a million! — Paolo S., Cincinatti, OH

 

14.
Three
Happy
Women

Last October I traveled to Antwerp on our diamond-buying trip. I had a customer who had purchased the 3.02-carat diamond off my wife’s hand for their 60th wedding anniversary. Two weeks later they returned it and said they wanted a 4-carat. So we told them we would shop for one in Antwerp. We found a 4.17 that we felt would be perfect for the couple. Went to call and could not get through so I had to borrow a phone from a friend and since we were in a crowded and noisy lounge, it was off to the men’s bathroom I went. Sold it in the bathroom. Now off to the races, bought my wife a 4.01 without her knowing it. Back home approximately three weeks later and we sold the 3.02 for the second time in less than two months. And now there are three happy women! — Oz H., Hickory, NC

 

15. THE BIG 4-0

Father of five daughters, (between 22 and 36 years old) came in and purchased six pairs of diamond stud earrings. A pair for each daughter (five carats total weight, each). The sixth pair was accompanied with a 10-carat straight-line diamond tennis bracelet. This very large purchase of just over 40 total carats of round diamonds was to celebrate the couple’s 40th anniversary. Needless to say, our largest sale of the year! — Mark N., Highland Park, IL

16.
Remote Sale

I orchestrated the biggest single sale for our store while I was home recuperating from treatment for throat cancer and was too weak to go in to work. A customer from the West Coast contacted me via email about upgrading — a flurry of emails to suppliers and, bada boom, deal done! I love the Internet. — Cliff Y., Lowell, MI

17. The Graveside Close

Even though it wasn’t the largest, I had an older customer who would drool over our anniversary rings. But her husband would have nothing to do with it; “jewelry is foolish” he would say. One day while they were in the store, she was admiring the rings and I asked her husband when he was going to spring for one. He thought it was a funny question until I reminded him that he could get the ring she was in love with and he could enjoy her smile or, I assured him, I would see her smile after his funeral. Either way she would get the ring she wanted. Within three days he came back alone and purchased the ring and thanked me for waking him up. They had many more years together and when he would buy her anything he would always thank me for the wakeup call. — Dan D., Ebensburg, PA

 

18. ALL YOUR CHRISTMASES …

One Christmas Eve we had just started to put the jewelry up, and a good customer knocked at the door, so we let him in and put everything back out. He picked out several pieces for a good amount of money, we wrapped it all, and he was on his way. Just got all the jewelry back in the safe again and a knock at the door: another good customer standing there. Opened up for him and put all the jewelry back out for him to pick what he liked. The customer just looked at me, threw his American Express card on the case and said he needed 10 gifts for all the women in his life. No limit, and he wanted me to pick all the pieces. He started to list the women: mother, wife, four daughters, mother-in-law, three daughters-in-law …. That was the biggest sale for the store for the timeframe of 1.5 hours. — Patty W., Sugar Land, TX

19. Diamond Buying Like a Rock Star

A number of years ago, a jeweler I had brokered a few stones to was looking for a large diamond and asked me to help. I tracked down a 24.96-carat E VS1 emerald cut. The problem was I had not dealt with this dealer before and it was a $300,000 stone so there was the credit issue to deal with. After a lengthy negotiation with all parties involved, it was agreed that, at the diamond dealer’s expense, he would send us in a limo from Indianapolis to Chicago to view the stone in a secure office. So it was the jeweler with his customer and wife and myself in this stretch limousine. I could not have had less in common with these people and I made the situation even more awkward when I declined to join them in smoking a joint on the way up. We finally arrived on Wabash Avenue and went up to this incredibly small security office that had two guards in it — there was barely enough room to lean back. One guard was sitting, one was on the far side of the desk, the jeweler and the wife were crowded against the desk. I was in the doorway and the husband/customer was behind me. The guard opened the paper and this stone about the size of my thumb is glowing in it. The woman gets this smile on her face, and the man who is on his tiptoes and sees the stone for roughly five seconds says, “We’ll take it!” He then is on the phone with his bank making a wire transfer. While we are waiting for that to clear he took us to a well-known Chicago steakhouse to celebrate the deal. For all of that I made about 10 grand, but I have gotten lots of pleasure out of telling the story and it still is the biggest stone I have ever sold. By the way, she put it in a ring. — Brian M., Zionsville, IN

 

20. In the Family … Sigh!

My biggest sales were to relatives with very low margins. — James G., Memphis, TN

 

21. A
Strong
Start

Two months after opening my store, a black limo pulls up, and a big chauffeur leads an elderly man into the store. “Can you get this Omega watch (shows me a picture — retail $37,000) by tomorrow?” Yes, I can, but I need a deposit, I say. He leaves me half in cash. As soon as he leaves, I’m on the phone with my rep. He has it! I meet him 60 miles west of me and I get the watch. The next day at the same time, the elderly man comes into the store, pays for the rest, and when I ask him for his name, he says, “Cash,” and leaves. — Robert S., Southold, NY

22. 7 Diamonds for 7 Children

A customer’s husband passed away and the wife wanted to pass down his ring but had seven children so I eventually asked who would be getting the ring, which had a very nice 1-carat-plus round major. She said, “Well, all of my kids will get one so please find me six more of equal quality and I will also need six new rings.” $40,000 later, it was a great day and I was able to deliver the rings to the family at one of their events. — William Z., Peoria, AZ

 

TIPS
 

Do It Yourself: Give Your Business a Rebirth

  • Stock Big, Sell Big
    You need to stock big to sell big, says Alfredo Molina, of Black, Starr & Frost in Newport, CA. He says a good place to start is by looking at your average sale, then bringing in about a half-dozen pieces that are about 10 times that price point.

  • Luxury Requires Relationships
    “Affluent shoppers need to relate to the sales staff as people,” notes Pamela Danziger, president of Unity Marketing. She recommends you look for ways to increase the amount of time important customers spend in your store and increase the interaction with the product and your staff — including phone calls from you to keep the relationship alive.

  • Keep It Fun
    The bigger the sale, the more relaxed you should be. You don’t want your nervousness making the customer nervous. “Be lighthearted even though you’re talking serious money,” says Denis Boulle of deBoulle in Dallas, TX.

  • Take Notes …
    Ryan Blumenthal of Corinne Jewelers in Toms River, NJ, said a $170,000 pink diamond sale had its origins years before when a client casually mentioned her love of fancy colored diamonds. Blumenthal later came across such a stone, got in touch with the client, and the store closed the biggest sale in its history.

  • Focus on Service
    Elichai Fowler of Paradise Ring Works in Livingston, MT, says he has twice sold $2 million packages of natural red, pink and yellow diamonds to an investor. “I have learned to not be afraid of extra zeros and focus on customer service and listening to my customer’s desires without assuming they can’t afford something,” he says.

  • Look to Add Value
    Bruce Freshley of Freshley Media tells how one of his clients along with a dealer bought a 4-carat F VS diamond from a customer for $40,000. The diamond was sent to Israel for recutting, coming back as a 3.70 F VS1 that was sold in New York for $80,000. “The next time someone comes into your store with a diamond to sell, remember, they are now just as important as a buyer, and often more profitable!” Freshley advised his clients in his monthly newsletter.

  • Make Them Feel Smart
    Affluent shoppers believe knowledge is power. They value inside information, take pride in saving money and showing how smart they are as shoppers, says Danzinger. Play off this. Offer lots of education and keep your presentation understated.

  • Know Your Goods
    “When selling an important piece, you must have complete knowledge of it. Don’t try to fake it; customers recognize that in a heartbeat,” offers Simon Teakle whose salon in Greenwich, CT, made three seven-figure-plus transactions to the same client in the first two years after it opened.

  • Guard Your Social Media Reputation
    Natasha Henderson of Saxon’s Fine Jewelers in Bend, OR, said she sold a large diamond sight unseen to a young man who had been impressed by how she’d handled a Yelp complaint. “Online reviewers gave him the confidence he needed to jump,” says Henderson.

  • Pitch Perfect
    Often less is more. “Never over-sell an item. It must speak for itself,” advises Harvey Rovinsky, owner of Bernie Robbins Jewelers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “The high-value item you are presenting always has to match the story — you cannot under-deliver.”

  • Be Yourself
    Donna Burgess, an associate at Occasions Fine Jewelry in Midland, TX, warns against being too salesy. “Consumers are smart enough to see through a slick sales pitch. If you just be yourself you are so much better off,” says Burgess, whose biggest sale was a 5.6-carat diamond for $121,000.

Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at [email protected].

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