Thursday, December 15, 2005

Jews and Jewels

So this is the big scandal in the Green family of late. Mom and her friends have been frequenting the same jeweler on 47th Street for more than 20 years now. This jeweler, mom always insisted, gave her and her friends the "best" prices on their baubles. And, over the years, mom has referred many a client to said jeweler. These clients have in turn referred other buyers to the jeweler, making mom a mini marketing machine for this business. Now, prices on 47th Street are somewhat of a sticky subject. In general, what you'll pay for a piece of jewelry on 47th Street is typically about 40% less than what you would pay at a retailer such as Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef or even at places like Bergdorf's, Barneys, Saks, etc. However, when you're a "good customer," or a really amazing customer such as my mom or her good friend in Palm Beach who's been her partner in crimes of the gemalogical sort over the past few decades, the prices are supposed to be even better than what the average Joe Schmo coming in off the street would be quoted. Mom and her friends, however, don't just take the jewelers' word that they are getting "the best" price, they comparison shop diamond prices like most yentas compare grocery prices. And, in the past, their jeweler has always come out on top. Cut to Thanksgiving week. Mom swore she wasn't going to buy anything new, which is a good thing because the woman has enough jewelry to cover a Sotheby's auction, but she was going to the jeweler to help my aunt pick out some things. Here it should be noted that my deceased grandmother's jewelry stash was legendary and now rests in the hands of my mom, my aunt and myself (thanks, Roxy). But mom and aunt still buy fresh baubles regularly. Aunt was looking for a pair of emerald-cut, several carat diamond earrings. The price our jeweler quoted her, was, in my humble opinion, absolutely ludicrous—I believe it was the equivalent of a BMW 325Ci Convertible or roughly a year of rent on a nice one-bedroom apartment in a luxury doorman building on the Upper East Side. Anywho, we all thought the price on these earrings was a tad high, especially for 47th Street. So my aunt and uncle—wisely, it turns out—decided to think about it.
They left our jeweler and paid a visit to a diamond wholesaler on 47th Street who they'd met at a jewelry show in another state. At this man's studio, they managed to score a similar pair of earrings, a diamond ring (pictured above) and a necklace, for roughly the same amount they would have paid for ONE PAIR of earrings at my mom's longstanding jeweler. Well, when mom heard this, it was as if she'd been sold an acre of land on top of a sinkhole. She did not know whether she'd been taken advantage of over all these jewelry-buying years, whether the jewelers were just starting to be more price-conscious because they are expanding their business, or, worse yet, whether the jewelers saw my aunt as a "whale" and were just price-gouging. The cell phones were abuzz from Jacksonville to Palm Beach to New York. Mom just couldn't reconcile her jeweler's price with what the wholesaler came up with.
Thanksgiving came and went; I was sick as hell and had other concerns, so I'd nearly forgotten about the Great Jewelry Debacle of 2005. The other night while on the phone with mom, though, I remembered and asked her whether she'd said anything to the jewelers about it. She and her friends typically use one salesgirl when they shop there, and they thought that she ALWAYS gave them the best price. It's always a little unclear who sets the prices there. Anywho, "Whatever happened with The Jewelers?" I asked innocently.
"Oh my God! I haven't filled you in! You'll never believe this."
Oh, I'm sure I will. When we were there over Thanksgiving, mom selected a pair of chandelier earrings for her aforementioned friend in PB, Lisa. Lisa wanted a pair similar to the ones my mom had bought a couple years ago. The Jeweler shipped the earrings to Lisa in PB for her perusal. Mom and her friends do this a lot. Lisa got the earrings and got the price, which came in under $1,000; fairly reasonable for a pair of nice diamond earrings. Well, this caused an even Bigger Jewelry Debacle, because mom had paid nearly three times that amount for her very similar earrings a few years ago. This was gasoline on the smoldering fire, people. Mom had had enough.
"Oy, mom. Well, did you say something to the Jewelers and to Jennifer [the salesgirl, also not her real name]?"
"You bet I did! I wrote them a letter!"
Oy, again. My mom and her letters. A few years ago, she did the same thing to Bergdorf's; and again, Lisa was involved. Mom and Lisa are obsessed with Loro Piana shawls. Lisa bought one at Neiman's in PB; Mom bought the same one at Bergdorf's. Bergdorf's and Neiman's are owned by the same company, therefore their prices should be comparable on the same goods, and they usually are. Except this time mom paid a couple hundred dollars more than Lisa for the same item. Enter the letter, written in longhand, to the Bergdorf Goodman Customer Service department. I don't remember what came of that letter, but I can't imagine it made much of an impact at Bergdorf's, where the wealthiest, most powerful and most famous women in the world shop, and drop a lot more dough than mom does. But I digress.
Her letter to the jeweler was much more appropriate, as she has always been one of their better customers, and has indeed referred many, many clients to them over the years. Apparently the letter had its intended effect—the salesgirl feels horrible and has offered to prorate some past prices. And, as of today, the two owners of the business had written mom a response letter, which she eagerly awaits. She's gonna kill me, but here's the letter. More proof that I'm really not that insane when viewed in the larger context of my family. But we're nuts in an innocuous, mildly amusing sort of way. At least that's what we like to think....The names have been changed, though I'm sure I'm still going to get into trouble.

Hi Jennifer! Hope you are well.

Thanks for your help the other day! I wanted to let you know that my sister and her husband ended up buying the earrings (and other things) from someone else on 47th. Apparently they had the name of someone and went there after leaving you guys. I wasn’t with them unfortunately, but according to them, they were able to buy a better quality stone in the earrings for almost $10,000 less. They ended up buying a ring (with a center stone over 3 carats), a diamond bracelet and a necklace too for about the same price as what you were going to charge them for one pair of earrings—they may as well have bought a Mercedes CLK!!! I am sharing this with you for two reasons…..First of all, I feel badly you “lost” a sale that had a lot of potential after spending the time you did with them. I do know, however, if they had felt they were getting comparable prices, they would have preferred to buy from you and give you the business. I believe they came fully prepared that day to spend a great deal of money with you guys!!

Finally, thanks for sending Lisa her things, all of which she liked. I selected the chandelier earrings for her because they were very similar to the ones I bought about a year and a half ago, and I knew she would like them. Out of curiosity, I asked Lisa how much you all were charging her (we always discuss the price), and to be quite honest with you, I was extremely shocked that hers were less than $1,000 when I paid close to $2,000.

Over many years, I have enjoyed a long relationship with you and the Kleins. I expect, in turn, you feel the same way and appreciate the business and referrals from me which have grown over time. Because I do respect the business relationship we have had, I must let you know that the vast discrepancy in the pricing of these earrings is really bothering me!

On the other hand, I know that much of the pricing is not in your control, so I don’t want to seem unappreciative for all of the fairly priced things I’ve purchased from you. I really am thankful and know you always go out of your way to help me get “better buys.”

I’m not sure what you can do with this information or to rectify the discrepancy, but I felt it was important to share my thoughts with you after doing business for so long. You may also share this letter with Mike, Dave and Ned if you wish! If you would like to discuss this more or have any questions, please feel free to call me.