|22k and 18k gold Ethiopian Opal Pendant|
Shop Local. That's a phrase I hear all the time these days. Shop Local. It's like Small Business Saturday that American Express has started up in the holiday season (more on that in a later article). It's like the new retail key word. Everyone says I want to shop local and that it's important to shop local. And trust me, I am a HUGE fan of shopping local. So why is it that every year at the holidays, on line sales go up and bricks and mortar sales go down?? If everyone were shopping local they most assuredly wouldn't be shopping on line (unless of course it was from a local shop---but then why wouldn't you actually go into the store itself in that case?).
So let's discuss why you SHOULD shop local. And I'll start with a recent story (that actually is about why you should shop local and why you should also use a local jeweler who actually knows what they are doing). I had a young woman come in with a ring that the stone had fallen out of. It was a sterling silver ring with a rutilated quartz and a couple of gold bead accents. She bought it on line at a fairly "reputable" catalog and online company (they don't only sell jewelry and most of you would know the name) and paid $400 for it. A month or so after she bought it the ring broke. The shank detached from the setting on one side. She brought it to a jeweler her mother had always used for stuff because he was cheap. The guy decided that rather than do the repair properly and remove the stone to repair the ring he went in and used lead solder on it. Now lead solder immediately pollutes the metal and you can never go back in and work on the piece at a full temperature again. Plus, in this case, it means the girl is going to have lead touching her finger all the time. The advantage to the jeweler in this case was that because lead solder melts at such a low temperature he didn't have to worry about damage to the stone.
However, shortly after she got it back from him, lo and behold, the stone just fell out of the setting (she didn't lose it), and that is when she finally brought it in to me. So my first comment was, if you had brought this to me I would have told you to send the ring back to the place you got it from. Something you pay $400 for is supposed to last longer than a few months (see this article of mine on implied warranties). Then I saw the lead solder and had to explain how that was basically a butcher job. Then I actually looked at the stone setting and realized two things. First of all the stone had been glued in and secondly the bezel a) did not come up high enough to actually set parts of the stone with it and b) even where it was high enough no one had bothered to actually SET the stone by pushing the bezel down on top of the stone. So when the guy heated it even the small amount necessary for the lead solder to flow, it had loosened up the glue and the stone came right out. Now never mind that the jeweler, if he had looked at the ring carefully would have seen that the stone was only glued in (hence allowing him to easily unglue it and not have to use lead solder), but how could the original jeweler make and produce a ring like this and then the large Internet firm sell a ring like this that was almost guaranteed to lose the stone (even if no work had been done on it).
What does all of this have to do with shopping local? Well first of all if the young woman had bought the ring at a local shop and it broke, instead of the issue of shipping something back and forth to who knows where, she could have walked in with it and let the original seller deal with it. And secondly, instead of dealing with a large on line sale company, whose only goal is to maximize profits (and therefore pushes their suppliers to produce stuff as cheaply as possible--which inevitably leads to short cuts like doing nothing but gluing a stone into a setting), it's just possible that the original piece would have been made properly to begin with. And when there is a problem, it is always better to be able to actually look someone in the eye to deal with them as opposed to talking to someone on a phone who is reading a script in front of them.
In our price driven frenzy to always get everything for as little as possible we screw ourselves over. And in our new laziness of never wanting to actually go into a store we can never really see, or compare, what it is we're actually getting, and when something goes wrong there is no easy way to deal with it.
This doesn't even begin to deal with the issues of all of the scams that are going on in the Internet, especially in the jewelry field. Nor does it cover the issue of having your credit card information stolen when shopping with large firms (besides the fact that we have proper protocols in place to avert these attacks, no criminal in his right mind would bother with small shops like mine and most of the local ones around me). Or the fact that shopping local keeps much of your money supporting the local economy instead of lining the pockets of the Walton family or one of the other billionaires who seem to own most of America's large shopping markets. Will it cost you more to shop locally? Most likely, but at least the money is going to your neighbors and your local community.
The opal pendant at top was a custom piece I made for a customer at Christmas. Unfortunately it doesn't show you quite how stunning the opal actually is but opals are notoriously hard to photograph. Trust me on this, the opal was spectacular.