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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Implied Warranties

Yesterday I had a young gentleman in to look at wedding bands. As we talked however, it quickly became apparent that looking at bands was only one of the reasons he wanted to talk. He had purchased an engagement ring at another local jeweler and one of the side stones on it had fallen out three weeks after he purchased it. When he went back to the jeweler about it, they charged him to replace the stone! Three weeks after he bought it!

Before I get into my main topic here I need to talk a bit about some of the things that are going on in my industry these days. Because of the increase in metal prices many manufacturers have scaled back, in any way that they can, the amount of gold going into their products. A great example of this is what is going on with commercially made earrings with posts on them. The manufacturers have been shaving off the amount of metal in the posts making them a very, tiny bit thinner. I know, you're thinking how can shaving off a hair of gold on a post make any difference cost wise? Well you're right, if you're talking about one post. Now think about it if they do it on a million posts. Aha! Suddenly you're talking about huge savings (for the manufacturers not you). So what is the problem with this? Well all of the gold backs that go on those posts are designed for thicker posts so they don't work for long and you're losing your earrings. Or, even worse, they've lightened up the metal in the gold back as well. The backs are designed to work through tension. Remove more metal, you get less tension. Less tension means---you got it------lost earrings! This is something you should be looking at if you're buying your jewelry somewhere besides Spirer Jewelers. If those backs don't work so well to begin with, they are only going to get worse.

Another instance of jewelers cutting back in a negative way is the latest trend of micro pave. This involves setting a whole bunch of microscopic diamonds in a pave style, usually around most of the shank of a ring or over extensive parts of the top. It makes it look like you're getting a lot of diamond but in fact most of the stones are junk and so tiny that they are really just about worthless (except for fixing the rings when the things fall out). There are tiny beads of metal pushed up over each stone. Now pave setting, or bead setting, as it is also known is a nice way to set stones. The stones are set flush into the metal, and when properly done, actually make the whole piece sparkly, as opposed to just the stones themselves. However when you are dealing with stones that are often no bigger than one fifth of a millimeter, you can't exactly push a reasonable sized bead up over them or you won't see the stones (this actually happens on poorly made bands sometimes). So there is basically a microscopic bead of metal holding in a microscopic diamond, which means that the metal gets broken off quickly and routinely and you lose your diamonds. Jewelers are using it because, again, it gives the look of a lot of diamond, but the customer pays the price by purchasing something that just won't last over time.

Now the young gentleman's ring wasn't horribly made by any means. But the six small marquis accents were set with a single round prong at each end. This might have been due to cost savings or possibly because that was the look the designer wanted. Either way it was a bad idea. When you have only two prongs holding in a stone you're just bound to have problems. Usually, when setting small marquis diamonds in which more prongs would hide too much of the stone, or would not make the piece as attractive, a V-shaped setting is used on the ends. This type of setting actually extends down a little bit on each side of the marquis from the point, which means that you are holding the stone in on both ends, and both sides at both ends. Consequently one of the prongs broke off and one of the marquis diamonds fell out.

Okay, you know, stuff happens. You're often dealing with a handmade (or at least partly handmade as setting stones still pretty much has to be done by hand) product and not everyone is perfect. I have certainly made my share of mistakes over the years. And I still routinely make stuff up for people and toss the first one because, even with all of my years of experience, sometimes stuff happens. It just does. That's not the problem in this case (although because of the way the stones were set he is going to have an ongoing problem with them). The problem is that three weeks after he got the piece a stone fell out and he had to PAY for the repair!

So let's forget, for a minute, about how bad that is from a customer service standpoint (and remember that you're reading something written by a guy who pretty much unconditionally guarantees everything he makes for life). The real issue in this case is something that is known as an "implied warranty". This is a legal term and it is quite real. Basically the law of implied warranty states that if you purchase a product you have a legal right to assume that it should hold up for a reasonable period of time, given the product and the price paid. So if you buy a new computer, but don't purchase one of those expensive guarantee plans they are always trying to sell you, and it stops working in a month, you have the right to demand that the company you purchased it from either fix it at no cost or replace it regardless of whether or not you had bought their "plan". This is because it is a reasonable assumption that a computer will last a heck of a lot longer than a month. On the other hand if you buy a head of lettuce and it rots in your fridge after a week, you have no claim. A head of lettuce wouldn't be expected to last longer than a week in normal circumstances.

The same thing applies to jewelry. If you purchase a new piece of jewelry, the usual expectation is that it should hold up a reasonable period of time. It's not always easy to define "reasonable period of time", but I can assure you that three weeks is NOT! For a cheap silver ring, probably a reasonable period of time might be 6-12 months at best. For an expensive gold and diamond ring, my belief is that a year is about a minimum time period. After that, normal wear and tear can impact the piece enough that it won't necessarily be the fault of the jeweler. Now there are times when this may not be the case. If a customer comes in and wants a design made up that is structurally unsound (and he can get a jeweler to agree to make it that way) then a jeweler might have the right to argue that it is always the customer's responsibility. Also anything purchased used does not have these inferred rights.

So what are your options when you are buying something like an expensive piece of jewelry? The first thing you have to do is ask what, exactly, the guarantees are on the piece. If the jeweler has nothing in writing about it then you should ask for something in writing. If there are no guarantees being offered then I would simply walk away because even though there is always an implied warranty, it's going to be harder to deal with the seller. An implied warranty allows you to take legal action, but as you know, that can sometimes be costly (although occasionally if you just bring up this topic when having a problem, and then threaten legal action, you will get satisfaction). So really, why would you even want to deal with this if you don't have to. Better to buy from someone who offers an extensive, written warranty on their product.

To make matters worse in this young man's case, he was charged one third of the cost of the total ring (excluding the center stone) to replace the one diamond. So they sold him six diamonds and a ring to begin with and then charged him one third of that price to just replace one of those diamonds. That makes no sense to me at all. Fortunately his father is a lawyer and I suggested to him that he get him to write a letter and also that he challenge the credit card charge until the issue is resolved appropriately.

It is also unfortunate that, even in this economy, small jewelers still seem to act with such impunity and complete disregard for customer satisfaction. If you're not getting good vibes from someone, it's just better not to buy from them.

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