Boy, that’s a scenario I have nightmares about. It happens though,
and it’s a reason some people decide not to go into retail at all.
I know this is closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, but
this is one that I would have tried to avoid in the first place. When
I hear the terms “very expensive” and “discount store” describing of
all things an emerald ring, great big red flags go up in my mind.
(Other red flag terms include “the islands”, “cruise ship”, “the
Internet” or “a guy my brother’s friend knows in New York” - it’s
cool Neil, I know they’re not talking about you). I know you weren’t
there, but someone should have turned it over to you as soon as you
got back. The discount store surely has a method of getting rings
sized, and that’s where it probably should have been done. I would
normally be the first one to tell you that good customer service
means you should do everything you can to help a customer, but this
is one of those rare occasions when the best service for the customer
would have been to refuse the job.
This also illustrates the importance of a thorough take-in
procedure. While not totally protecting you from any issues like
this, a very close examination of such a stone while the customer is
present can do a lot to prevent such problems.
If she continues to pursue this, you can discuss what effect
cleaning and polishing under the stone may have had, even the
instability of some emerald treatments, but she will most likely want
something. Don’t offer her anything at this point. Tell her you want
to make it right and ask her what you can do. Then let her tell you
what will make her happy. She might be happy with far less than what
you might be willing to do, like not charging her for the sizing. Or
she may want you to buy the ring from her for what she paid for it.
It is my opinion that it would be in your best interest for you to do
anything she wants.
Whatever you end up doing, you can’t let her take you to court.
There is almost no question you will lose, and lose big time,
regardless of what you can prove or disprove. It doesn’t even matter
if the stone is changed or damaged or not, if she says it is, the
court will most likely believe her, especially if she has a
certificate (no matter who issued the cert or what it says). You can
bet the place she bought it from (and the lab that issued the cert)
won’t be there to help you.
Some may advise that in the future you should get the customer to
sign an agreement releasing you from any risk associated with working
with a particular stone. Although it may help to avoid some problems
by communicating to the client the potential risks, such a statement
(signed or not) will not protect you should a customer bring a
lawsuit. In fact, it may even work against you. There is a legal
precedent (not applying just to the jewelry industry, but to almost
any type of business) allowing the plaintiff’s attorney to argue and
consequently allowing the court to decide that requiring a customer
to sign such a release is a deceptive and unfair practice designed to
relieve a business of responsibility and risk that they inherently
assume simply by being in business.
“Caution, Contents HOT!” and “Smoking Causes Lung Cancer” are two
examples of release from liability statements being used as a defense
and failing miserably. Signed releases can be even worse, as a good
consumer fraud attorney can convince the court that they should be
construed as demonstrating a willingness on the part of the business
to deceive the consumer as to the risks and responsibilities
automatically assumed by the business.
You are a professional in the jewelry industry, and in the eyes of
almost any court, you are responsible for any jewelry left with you.
Period. The court will rule in favor of the consumer almost without
exception, with little regard to any "release from liability"
statement and they tend to take a dim view of a business shirking
what the court considers to be their responsibilities. The courts
have been known to make such businesses pay dearly to atone.
If you think I’m being overly dramatic about the dangers of fighting
a lawsuit in court (even if you can prove you are not liable), search
the archives for the Fred Ward emerald case
(www.ganoksin.com/borisat/nenam/emerald-case.htm). Mr. Ward and his
company might have saved well over a quarter of a million dollars,
hundreds of hours of lost time and countless nights of lost sleep if
he had just given the lady her money back, right or wrong. Mr. Ward’s
case has (unfairly and inaccurately, imho) morphed into a treatise on
the disclosure of gemstone treatments, but it’s value to the average
independent jeweler is it’s demonstration that the courts will almost
always honor the adage that “the customer is always right” even when
the customer is wrong.
I feel your pain, Mithun. I have been where you are, although not
with a very expensive emerald. Good luck and I hope it comes out
alright for you.
Sorry to be so long winded, but I think this is a very important
subject for anyone dealing with the public in any retail venue, and
deserves to be discussed at length.