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[GemWise] The Jewelry Repair Game

“I never do anything with my hands” and other myths of the
jewelry repair game.

by Richard W. Wise, G.G. 2008

If one more client comes in and tells me her ring should not need
repair because “I never do anything with my hands”, I think I am
going to spit-up. You know, just after you mention a price to do the
repair she bristles like a porcupine then exclaims: “I don’t
understand it! Why did it break? I always take the ring off before I
do dishes.”

The suppressed premise here is that jewelry is or should be
indestructible. Apparently at least 20% of the American public
believes this to be true. Jewelry should not break and if it does it
must be defective and therefore the fault of the jeweler.

I guess I just don’t get it! If you buy a new car, drive it off the
lot and run into a light pole, the dealer is going to charge you to
remove the dent. Most expensive items we buy come with a 90 day to 1
year limited warranty. Yet some consumers seem to expect that a
piece of jewelry should come with an all risk warranty. Name me
another consumer item that comes with the expectation of free
maintenance for life?

I have had clients approach me as much as a decade after a piece was
made. Case in point; Mrs. D, an active sportswoman (tennis, skiing,
golf) in her middle years: we had made her a handmade 18k yellow
gold solitaire engagement ring with a 5 carat blue sapphire sitting
right on top of it. The ring had been worn all day, every day for a
dozen years and the prongs were quite worn and the setting required
a rebuild. The client didn’t understand. How could this be? Why
should she pay to have the work done? After all, we had made the
ring. Only after a half hour of explanation did she calm down and
agree to have the work done and pay for it.

Jewelry, like all material things, is subject to wear and tear and
requires occasional maintenance. Gold is a beautiful material but it
is soft. Platinum is more durable but it too will wear over time.
The fact is that in our post-industrial world almost anything,
doorknobs, washing machines, butter knives, golf clubs, can scratch,
dent or otherwise damage precious materials. Gemstones, even
diamond, the hardest substance on earth, can be chipped and broken.

Diamonds or how you can break the hardest substance on earth:

I recall selling a high quality carat size princess cut diamond to a
client. Six months later she returned. The diamond was broken in
half and she was very upset; in her mind the diamond must have been
defective. “I hit it hard but I didn’t think it could break.” I
tried to explain the difference between hardness and toughness and
pointed out that even diamond can break. The client looked at me
like I had three heads. Many people, even jewelers, don’t understand
the difference between hardness and toughness. Hardness is simply a
measure of scratch-ability. Diamond, the hardest substance, is 10 on
the Mohs hardness scale meaning that it cannot be scratched by any
other substance but it can still break. Ruby/Sapphire, is rated 9
and is the second hardest substance; it will not scratch a diamond
but it is tougher and more resistant to breakage. A crisis was
averted when the client’s insurance company replaced the diamond
with barely a murmur.

Some jewelry items are damaged more easily than others. Rings are
number one followed by bracelets, earrings and pendants. Fine
handmade pieces may be more susceptible to certain kinds of damage
due to the fact that they are joined together with solder rather
than being cast in one piece. After all, a Maserati requires more
tune-ups than a Ford. Conversely, some handmade pieces are actually
tougher due to hand forging and temper. One piece castings can cause
real problems. Remember that bargain priced ruby ring that you
bought in India? Remember how it began losing stones, like rain
falling from the sky, as soon as you cleared customs?

Buying Antique Jewelry, the Inheritance can be taxing:

When purchasing antique or vintage jewelry bear in mind that this is
a piece of jewelry that has been around for awhile. Antique jewelry
is normally sold as is! You are buying a piece of history which
means you are inheriting any and all problems that come with it. You
can hardly expect the dealer to be responsible for re-doing a wonky
repair that comes apart 50 years later.

Choose the right materials for the job:

Today we have a lot of choices and some precious materials are more
durable than others. Pure gold is 2.5-3.0 on Moh’s scale of
hardness, platinum is 4-4.5.0. So if you want that wedding ring to
last for fifty years, platinum is your best choice.

Common dust is composed mainly of quartz which rates 7.0 on the
scale. Leaving aside toughness, gemstones below this level of
hardness are a poor choice for everyday wear because simple cleaning
will cause minute scratching that will gradually become visible.
Think about that opal that just seems to stay foggy no matter how
often you rub it.

The Victorian age ended a century ago. Most of us do not wear white
gloves or attend afternoon tea parties and we cannot afford a
footman to open our doors or a maid to do our dishes and we use our
hands all day, every day. We wear our jewelry and yes that jewelry
is subject to wear and tear and may perhaps lose a stone or even
break. If you are looking for an all risk warranty against all the
vicissitudes of modern life don’t look to your jeweler, I suggest
you contact your spiritual advisor or perhaps, more to the point,
your insurance agent.

Please don’t send me your repairs…

Secrets Of The Gem Trade

And then there’s…

“I’ve worn it for thirty years without a problem”.
"Why so much? I could fix it if I had the tool"
and the infamous, “All ya gotta do is…”

More than once I’ve run across recurring battered rings. Three cases
I can recall the ladies were exuberant applauders. Diamond eternity
bands on both hands do not like to be smashed together when your kid
makes a goal.

Hi Richard,

I share your frustration with customers not understanding that
things wear out. I like to remind them that gold is soft - that’s why
the movies show a gold miner biting on a nugget to see if it’s real.
That makes them think!

You forgot to mention the customer who has a chain repaired and
comes back in with it a week later. It is now broken in a different
place, but guess who she’s blaming?

I try to head off trouble. When someone wants an anniversary band
with diamonds all the way around the band, I tell them that if they
are rough with their jewelry or athletic, there is a chance that
diamonds will break from gripping a steering wheel too tightly, or a
golf club, tennis raquet, etc. If I know someone swims in pools
frequently, I caution them about wearing white gold. I tell everyone
to come in every 6 months to have their jewelry cleaned and the
prongs checked, because they do wear down over time. That way, they
have been warned to expect wear. I have trained most of my customers
to expect to pay for maintanence. I tell everyone who has had
bracelet links rebuilt to bring it in for more frequent cleanings,
because dirt is an abrasive, just as you mentioned.

It also helps to have a stated warranty, printed on the customer’s
receipt. Ours is one year on new sales, 30 days on repairs. If it is
a very good customer, we may extend that a little. If it looks like
it is a manufacturer’s defect, such as bad metal on prongs, or rope
chain with some unsoldered links that snag, we will repair or replace
even after that. That warranty if for normal wear, not when the ring
goes down the garbage disposal, or the shank is bent completely out
of round and has caused paved diamonds to fall out.


Dear all

I just gotta put my two Canadian cents worth in here…while speaking
of lost stones! I client comes to me that her Eternity ring with all
Princess invisibly-set stones are coming loose or falling away…She
sent her ring back to the mfgr. on numerous occasions, he gave up on
her. What I hear from her is that she never had this ring yearly
checked for maintenance in the 5 years since it was bought…she
swims with it evey day…can you say “chlorene”? she wears it
every day doing dishes and cooking. :>( I discovered 15 diamonds
loose and three missing.

BTW, she paid $20,000 for it 5 years earlier and it contains about
220 Princess-cut diamonds and it is in 14kt white gold…Not too
mention it was never insured…duh?

The insurance company told her and in a letter have it maintained
every 6 months or they won’t pay for any more lost diamonds, she
still hasn’t called me in over 2 years for security checking. The
first time I saw it,it had enough chicken fat inside of it to make
chicken-soup for 2 people. :frowning: oy! and yuk!


Just an idea…

Maybe it would be good to have a small card printed, nothing
expensive, that goes home with all repairs and purchases, that
states the do’s and don’ts of wearing jewelry. This little card could
help people change their minds about the myths of why things break,
why gold is soft, and why silver tarnishes. And my big peeve…is
there nickel in sterling?

The card could of course have all of your contact and
also act as a preventative measure when a repair or custom job comes
back. This also adds a little more personal attention to the
sale…But then again if we train our customers to do everything
right, they won’t need us!

Happy Spring!!

"I never do anything with my hands" and other myths of the jewelry
repair game. 

This is the bane of jewelry repair. I think the problem arises out
of a lack of communication. I think salespeople tend to be nervous
that they might miss a sale if they tell a customer that any piece of
jewelry has a finite life span that can be greatly affected by how
they treat it. If proper care and expectations are discussed up
front, fewer problems arise later.

Communication is the key to all. If a customer has a chain that is
all but worn out and you just repair the break and they come back a
week later expecting you to repair another break for free, you
probably didn’t do a very good job of listening to their needs and
explaining why it broke in the first place.

Every piece of jewelry has a story. Find out the story for every
piece you take in. Find out where it came from, how old it is, how
they wear it, and most importantly, why it’s special to them. Then
explain to their complete understanding why it needs repair, what you
are going to do, and what they can expect to be able to do with it
after the repair. An educated customer is a good customer.

I use a microscope with a connection to a video monitor. It is the
best tool I have ever seen for explaining wear and tear and poor
craftsmanship on jewelry. People get it when they can see it in
up-close detail. It turns “Why is it catching on everything?” to
"Wow! Can you fix that?" without you having to utter a word. But,
beware. When they come back to pick it up they will invariably ask
"Can you show me on the microscope what you did?"

Another major factor in this discussion is that people can develop a
bond with their jewelry that is not logically reasonable, and not
comparable to any other possession they own. You often can’t
successfully compare it to a car or a washing machine. Rightly or
wrongly, people relate to jewelry on a completely different level,
illustrating the primal human need to own and cherish jewelry.

I have a rule in my shop. No one is allowed to refer to any piece of
jewelry owned by one of our customers in any derogatory way
whatsoever. I don’t care what it is or what condition it’s in, if
it’s special enough for someone to bring it in and trust us enough to
pay us to work on it, it’s special enough for us to honor their trust
and treat it with the same respect and care we would exercise if the
customer was watching over our shoulder.

A $20 chain received by a woman as a Mother’s Day gift from a twelve
year old son may just be the most emotionally important possession
she owns, regardless of it’s actual cash value. If someone in my shop
can refer to it as a “cheap piece of crap” they won’t be able to
treat it as the cherished and loved thing it is to the woman that
owns it. If you don’t ask about it and listen to the answers at take
in, you just don’t know how truly important something might be to the
person that brought it in.

In today’s economic climate and with the radical changes occurring
in the jewelry industry, communication with your clients is more
important than ever. Those that can ask the right questions and
listen to the answers, apply what they learn from the customer and
then explain and provide the appropriate services will weather the
storm. Those that don’t, won’t or can’t, might not. If you don’t want
to do repairs, send the customers to me. I’ll be glad to love on
them, listen to them and turn them into lifelong customers. And their
friends and family too!


Years ago I did loads of wire-wrapped necklaces when I worked

One day, when I wasn’t there, a customer came in because her wire-
wrapped necklace (that I made) was broken. She left it for repair.
The staff member didn’t ask any questions, or quoted a price, just
took in the repair and left it for me.

I fixed the one broken sterling wire-wrap and repaired a few more of
the wraps that had been stretched badly. I called the customer and
asked why the necklace was so stretched. (By the time I got it for
repair, it had stretched about 3") She said she didn’t have the
foggiest. I told her I’d give her a break on all the repairs, but
had to charge her in full next time. She was fine with that.

Three weeks later, the necklace comes in (of course when I’m not
there) and it’s in terrible condition- AGAIN. I fix it and call the
customer and ask that she comes in while I’m there so we can chat
face to face. She was very frustrated that it broke again and was
convinced that I didn’t do the job right. (Really? It’s wire-wrap!
Not brain surgery!).

Anyway, she comes in to the store to pick up her repair and to have
our “why is your necklace stretching” chat and guess what? She has
her baby (1 yr old I think) on her hip and guess what he is holding
on to for balance? Her necklace!!! She’s had a child pretty much
hanging from her necklaces and she couldn’t figure out why they were
stretching and breaking! I had a great laugh about that one.

She actually did too once I picked myself off the floor.

Hi Karen, I do give a printout titled “Care and Feeding of Your
Ring” with each custom job or ring sale. I used to think that people
understood some basic things about jewelry, metals and stones until I
received my 3rd flat letter-sized envelope containing an earring–
also flat.

I make a spiral forged and formed earring from bimetal or sterling,
shibuichi or gold: all metals with different intrinsic strengths but
all used in thin, lightweight dimensions (these are earrings, after
all…) Sometimes people lose an earring and mail me the remaining
one to duplicate. Several times people have put the earring, as I’ve
said, in a regular envelope and mailed it off. Totally flat.

I realized that often when people think of metal, they think of
steel and assume that metal is hard, tough, structurally impervious
stuff. Same with stones: When they think of gemstones they think of
granite. It’s really a natural way to think…

Now I tell people how to mail things back.


Lauren, et al,

Ok, here’s the deal we take a page out of the Bes tBuy playbook.
Have you ever noticed that as soon as you make a purchase the sales
associate immediately hits you with the extended warranty apiel?
They sell you a computer at a good price then make it back with the
warranty. They have done the math and figured out that the product
will probably not break down until after the warranty ends. There
are many benefits:

“Mr. Jeweler, my sapphire ring has a When a client comes in with the
"I don’t do anything with my hands” excuse you respond.

“Did you purchase our 5 year extended warranty Mrs. Jones?”

"Well, no I didn’t. (looking crestfallen)

“Gee, golly, gosh Mrs. Jones I am awfully sorry that you didn’t take
advantage of this wonderful warranty. Unfortunately we will have to
charge you for the repair. Now I recall you purchased a diamond
bracelet in October. Tell you what, I’d like to help you out. I can
bend the rules a bit and offer you our extended warranty on the
bracelet and after the repair on your sapphire ring as well. That
way we can be sure nothing like this will happen again.”

“Wow, Mr. Jeweler thanks thats awfully nice of you. I’ll write you a

“We are here to serve, Mrs. Jones.”

I don’t have the guts to do this but if anyone else does I will sell
you a franchise and you will owe me a 4% commission on each warranty
you sell. Hey, I could be the next Col. Sanders!

Now that’s capitalism and you know if it works for Best Buy it can
work for you.

Secrets Of The Gem Trade

Now that's capitalism and you know if it works for Best Buy it can
work for you. 

And yet I hate Best Buy, never go there unless I have tried every
other option and have some sort of crisis need that cannot wait and
cannot be served by any other source at any price.

And I’m in a major metro area – I have a lot of stores to choose

So it won’t work if it’s one of the factors that makes people hate
the store and stay away.


Now that's capitalism and you know if it works for Best Buy it can
work for you. 

OfficeMax takes the extended warranty to a ridiculous level. I once
bought a $12.99 desk lamp and they wanted to sell me an extended
warranty for $8.00 that would cover the lamp even if one of my pets
chewed through the cord. I looked at the clerk and asked how they
expected me to remember where I bought the $12.99 lamp and where I
kept the receipt if it should fail. So I took a risk and went without
the $8.00 warranty. So far my gamble has paid off. Although I did
have to replace the bulb the other day. I should have bought the
warranty just to have $8.00 worth of fun in hassling OfficeMax for a
light bulb.

Rick Copeland
Silversmith and Lapidary Artisan
Rocky Mountain Wonders
Colorado Springs, Colorado


I worked in Mall jewelry stores for years and they ALL have extended
warranties and it is a huge money generator for them as the customer
RARELY keeps up their required inspection of the jewelry they
purchase thereby nullifying there warranties and the store has
already made the money up front.Many stores offer their own in house
financing at high interest giving the mainly working class customers
another chance to give up their hard earned cash.

J Morley Goldsmith/Laser Welding