In our previous post, we provided some tips for buying jewelry online; however, there is something to be said about the benefits of forming a personal relationship with a trusted jeweler, so it seemed appropriate to explore the other side of the coin.
Lets face it, jewelry buying is often times a very personal decision, so it only makes sense that purchasing jewelry from someone you have an established rapport with could be way more beneficial than buying online. A good jeweler’s main objective is to guide you through this process, and hopefully over time, get to know you, your past purchases, likes and dislikes, or any number of details that will help provide for future guidance to narrow down your jewelry choices to one that is more likely to “wow” that special someone or help steer you towards that perfect look for any occasion. But where does one start? Well, if you already have a trusted jeweler who has helped guide you through this often arduous process before, then read no further…or do…you might gain some insight anyway. But if you are one of those stuck wondering where to even start in your search for a long-term relationship with a jewelry expert who you can come to rely on, then absolutely keep reading.
The first step is usually the most difficult, so lets start really simple. It is very likely that someone in your family, a good friend, or a close colleague has gone through the jewelry buying process before and may already have someone they reach out to for those special occasions when a little glam and sparkle is needed. Start by simply asking those you already trust who they use. At least if you’re a New Yorker, you know well enough that it is a bright shiny badge of honor to say, “I’ve gotta guy.” It seems like everyone in New York City “has a guy” for everything, and jewelry is certainly no exception. On the other hand, if you come up dry, no worries, keep reading. This guide at the very least will help you navigate where to look, what to look for, and what questions to ask.
My first piece of advice is decide on the general type of experience and jewelry you or your significant other prefers. This will help narrow down the plethora of options that are likely just a stones throw away and make the process a lot less overwhelming. Is it modern and trendy styles you’re looking for? Maybe antiques with a little bit of history? Or something completely bespoke to give you the opportunity to have a hand in the design from the ground up. Consider the medium in which you prefer to work in and the benefits of the various types of jewelers. Is it the big brand stores with a well known blue or red label that is sure to draw a knowing nod of admiration? Or a more private and intimate one-on-one setting without the distraction of hundreds or even thousands of options to produce the dreaded analysis paralysis? Or perhaps a family jewelry store with generations of insight and experience that helps them provide you with the advice and guidance you need? Whatever your fancy, this will act as a guide towards helping you choose the type of jeweler to form a relationship with.
BIG BOX RETAILERS
Probably the most common and easiest to find. There are a number of benefits to sticking with the big names. For starters, their market analysis goes pretty deep. They typically have entire departments devoted to analyzing consumer data that statistically narrows down their inventory to the most likely preferred designs that the general public will gravitate towards. The trade-off, of course, is that you will often be limited to the selection that the company buyers have narrowed their inventory to, which of course means that their client base is likely to end up wearing something that is also worn by hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of others if they’re a nationwide or worldwide operation. With that said, wearing the same Nike shoes or Canada Goose winter coat as the next person is sort of an accepted and given trade-off when one walks into any other chain to buy their product, right? So is it much different with jewelry? Maybe, maybe not. That is for you to decide for yourself. These larger companies also have virtually unlimited buying power which can help lower their prices since they source goods and labor on a much larger scale. Of course, there are certainly those name brands that will have an inverse effect on their price.
These fall into a similar retail category, but usually just on a smaller scale. Family jewelers typically pride themselves on having a generational following of clients. I’ve had clients come in who are barely in their 20’s that purchased an engagement ring from the same family jeweler that their great grandfather went to in the early 1900’s. Pretty neat, right? Here’s why family jewelers, who in some instances have decades of established rapport with their client base are so incredibly valuable. They rarely have big marketing budgets, so their clients are heavily weighted in referrals, which means they pay particularly close attention to service. With decades of experience, they have the insight, connections within the industry, and often times, values that make for a perfect trifecta for exactly what you may be looking for. In all honesty, the only real drawback to a family jeweler is limited inventory. Additionally, because of this new digital age we’re in, they’re becoming more scarce due to increasingly high real estate costs and other overhead expenses, which makes maintaining a profitable operation incredibly difficult these days. The sad truth to our evolving ways of consumer buying, I suppose. If you are fortunate enough to find a family run jeweler with a long standing history, consider yourself lucky. They are becoming fewer and far between these days, but nearly every family jewelry store I’ve worked with in the last 20 years will bend over backwards to meet their client’s needs, truly get to know you as if you yourself are part of the family, and provide you with years of valuable advice and guidance for every occasion.
Private jewelers are some of the most well connected professionals in the industry. They almost always come from very established backgrounds prior to branching off on their own and it is extremely rare for someone without any experience in the industry to become a successful private jeweler without the contacts they would need to get their business off the ground. Since they have a relatively limited inventory when compared to a retail store, they typically specialize in creating custom pieces from the ground up, using inspiration provided by their clients, combined with their own artistic approach and knack for creating a functional design. This could, however, act as a potential drawback for some who prefer to see and feel the end product before making that commitment to purchase. Another potential drawback is that most sales are final; however, as the client, you are usually involved in the step-by-step process in picking out the diamonds and getting the design just to your liking prior to everything going into production. In fact, the primary benefit for those preferring to work with a private jeweler is that every step of the process is a dialogue, which can actually be quite fun and fulfilling knowing you had such a meaningful part in the creation. Not to say you wouldn’t be able to customize a design with larger retailers or a family jeweler, but private jewelers do tend to have an abundance of resources that make them particularly well equipped for creating one-of-a-kind pieces. The rare exception to this is a specialty designer boutique, which is generally a hybrid of a private jeweler and retail store-front. They specialize in custom made items but also showcase a pretty significant assortment of their own personally crafted designs.
So now that we’ve outlined a few basic (there are more, of course) types of jewelers, here’s some advice on what to do to ensure you are working with someone who is competent and will provide you with all those benefits of working with someone face-to-face.
GET A REFERRAL
As mentioned above, it is usually sage advice to act on the trusted recommendation of someone you already know and trust that has personally been through the process and can tell you first-hand how their experience went. They will be familiar with their jeweler’s craftmanship, reputation and mannerisms. Of course, you should always do your own due diligence as well by following up through other online or peer reviews, just as you would with an online jeweler as discussed in Tips For Buying Jewelry Online. The more positive reviews you can find, the better.
HAVE A MEET & GREET
Meet the jeweler you are interested in working with. If this is a significant purchase, it would be wise to at least have an initial consultation before getting too invested time-wise. This prevents both parties from wasting one another’s time. Ask them questions: How long have they been in the business? What inspired them to be a jeweler in the first place? Ask about any policies that may be important before you start the process. Ask if they have a return policy. Do they warranty their work in the event a stone were to fall out. This is sort of like an informal interview and a chance for you, the buyer, to really get a better idea of how this whole process works. Be forthright and considerate of their time, and they will typically return the gesture in kind by not pointing you towards something that you are not at all interested in or may not have the budget for. The whole point of this short and sweet exercise is to create a general understanding of expectations and to build that initial rapport.
ESTABLISH A BUDGET
Okay, so now that you have found someone you might want to work with, now you need to establish a general budget, which you probably already have in mind anyway. This is a very critical difference between buying online versus buying from a jeweler in person. Most of the time when purchasing online, the price you see is the price you pay. There’s nobody on the other side to negotiate with. There are exceptions, of course, like when purchasing through an auction site like ebay. It has become a very accepted practice to negotiate off the tag price when shopping in a retail store for jewelry though. Personally, it drives me absolutely nuts to see a tag price on a piece of jewelry for ‘X’ and the client ends up paying half of what it was marked for. Unfortunately, this is just how some jewelers price their items. Not all, but it is certainly enough that it has created a very low brow form of 3rd world market mentality that I don’t see the industry shying away from anytime soon. Look, all jewelers have a margin they need to stick to in order to maintain a profit, so there is usually a little wiggle room, but as an objective party, I find it irritating that there are some jewelers that will prey on the less savvy buyer by slashing the tag price by as much as 75%, leading the buyer to think they got this spectacular deal, only to later find they didn’t actually pay that much more or less than what other competitors were asking for in the first place. This is a complicated process. Probably the most complicated, actually. It’s not necessarily a sign of a dishonest jeweler, although it can be. Rather, it is usually just the jeweler keeping up with the Jones’ so that their prices are equally attractive as the next guy after negotiations are all said and done. If you aren’t careful in the above vetting process, you could just as easily get roped into paying for something at 20 or 30 percent premium (or more) just because you got caught up in this dance of negotiating what was an absurdly marked up tag price to begin with. As an evaluations expert, it is quite easy for someone like myself to determine if the price the item is tagged at is fair or unusually inflated just to make the buyer feel as though they got a “deal”, but our firm does this all day. We’re trained in this sort of thing, so the only suggestion I have if you have not done enough research on what a fair price to pay would be, just shoot us an e-mail or give us a call. We’re usually more than happy to let you know if the price sounds too good to be true, or inversely, if the price seems too high. Of course, without seeing the item in person and verifying the specs provided by the jeweler, it is nearly impossible to tell you for certain, but we can at least give you a general idea or range of prices that the item you’re interested in buying would normally sell for. Pricing is complicated, I will leave it at that for now. A future post, maybe? Moving on…
AN OBJECTIVE THIRD PARTY REVIEW
You’ve made your purchase, everything seems great, now what? I cannot stress this part enough. Get it looked at within a reasonable period of time (usually within 3-5 days) by an uninterested third party. I’m not even suggesting you use our firm, (although we’re a pretty incredible team of experts) but just have it looked at by someone who is NOT in the business of buying or selling jewelry. And vet them too. I wrote a previous post on what kind of qualifications a jewelry appraiser should have a few years ago that might be helpful. Check out their reviews just as you do for the jeweler you are buying from. This is VERY important. If you just go to the jeweler next door asking if you got a good deal from their competitor, what do you suppose their reaction is really going to be? As much as they say otherwise, or even truly believe themselves, they will be inevitably biased. Trust me. In all my years in this industry, I have maybe seen another retailer say anything remotely positive about a competitors work 3, maybe 4 times. That’s it. So please, do yourself a favor, and have the finalized piece checked out and evaluated under close scrutiny by an uninterested, trained appraisal expert. You will save yourself from a potential headache and that dreaded buyer’s remorse.
Okay! This was a long post, I realize, and I could probably break some of these categories down into even more detail, which I may do for future posts. E-mail me if you’re interested in learning more on any of the above and I will definitely make a note of it to work on in the future.
Call or e-mail us any time. We’re always happy to give you some guidance in your search, or if you’re just in need of some basic answers before making that commitment.
Thanks for following along!
Joshua D. Lents FGA, GG