From Behind the Counter

Today’s piece is an exposé from a former front-line worker at one of the most notorious and least understood establishments in the jewelry industry: The Jewelry Store. She broke her non-disclosure agreement to give us the dirt, and now she’s in witness protection in an undisclosed location.

Just kidding. She’s not in hiding. And she actually has some pretty favorable things to say about her experiences. She’s my friend Brittany, and I’m so grateful she agreed to share her stories. What follows is my written interview of Brittany:

Brittany and a very cute pupper!

Q: What store did you work at, and when?

A:  I worked at Ultra Diamonds, now Kay Jewelers, starting in the summer of 2006 through 2008. It was the time when three-diamond rings were a big deal–the ring that represents your past, present, and future. I truly hated that gimmick.

Q: What were your responsibilities at the store?

A: I was a sales associate. My responsibilities included educating customers about the “4 C’s” of diamonds [Editor: cut, color, clarity, and carats] — clarity was always the most important to me. My main responsibility was selling jewelry! I loved helping people find the perfect piece for their loved ones. One of my favorite sales was to a man who came in looking for a gift for his wife, and I ended up selling him a black diamond skull after he told me more about her. I was also responsible for cleaning jewelry, organizing the store, opening and closing, and taking inventory. Our most consistent sales were to sailors. There was a naval base in Waukegan near our store. Every sailor wants to buy a promise ring before they go somewhere. [Editor: That’s so bittersweet.]

Skull ring ($139), for visual interest in an otherwise text-heavy post.

Q: Did you get a discount on jewelry? And if so, how much?

A: I did get a discount but I don’t remember how much. Maybe 20%? And I never used it. I was a broke college student. I regret not using it. There was a garnet and citrine ring that I really wanted, and I didn’t buy it.

Exemplary garnet and citrine ring ($1,070).

Q: Did you get to wear the store’s jewelry while you were on the clock?

A: I got to wear the jewelry all the time. Management preferred if you wore the jewelry. I loved wearing the engagement rings. The bigger the better. Not much has changed :).

Q: What was the most expensive piece you ever sold?

A: I sold a $10,000 solitaire pear-cut engagement ring. It was a cash sale. I believe the buyer got a discount of around $2,000 for paying with cash. The guy came back a few weeks later and said his fiancée lost the ring!

Q: What was the most expensive piece the jewelry store had on site?

A: Probably that $10,000 pear solitaire. [Editor: And you sold it! Good for you!]

Q: Do you have a sense of how much the store marked-up its prices over wholesale?

A: The markup is insane. You should never pay full price at a jewelry store. The price on the tag is never the real price. There is always a “promotion” going on. And we would routinely “back out” taxes. If someone asked they could get as much as 40% off a piece.

Q: Did anyone ever try to rob the store while you were working?

A: No. [Editor: Darn! I was hoping there would be some good stories here.]

Q: Do people try to haggle in jewelry stores?

A: All the time. The best was when customers came in complaining about the price of gold, saying they could get it cheaper and better elsewhere– usually in another country.

Q: Relatedly, are jewelry stores open to negotiating prices? 

A: They pretend like they aren’t. But really they just want to make the sale.

Q: Did working in a jewelry store make you lose faith in jewelry stores?

A: Yes and no. Because the markup is so insane, it irritates me when I find out someone paid full price for something. [Editor: I won’t tell you that I paid full retail price for my engagement ring…]

Q: Would you ever shop at the jewelry store you worked at? If no, why not?

A: Yes! My engagement ring and band are actually from the Ultra Diamonds (now Kay Jewelers) in downtown Chicago. The employees there are fantastic. The manager customized my ring because I hated a couple of things about it. I love it now.

Q: Any other juicy information you want to share?

A: It’s important to know your customers. When you work in a mall like I did, you see a ton of different kinds of people. Judgy classism has no place in jewelry sales. Customers want to feel happy, taken care of, and like they are the only sale/customer you care about, even if their budget is minimal. Purchasing jewelry is a big–sometimes life-changing–decision. It’s not something people do on a whim, so you have to be relatable and boost their confidence. Knowing the inventory is so helpful. There are many times when you see a customer and just know what piece would call to them or compliment them.


Thanks again, Brittany! Please accompany me on my next jewelry-buying trip and help me negotiate the best prices! (Did I mention she’s a lawyer, too? A jewelry-buying expert and professional advocate…just who I need in my corner!)

Brittany’s adorable daughter and my silly son getting acquainted.

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