by Richard Alan
My grandfather would often lament that they just don’t make things like they used to. I would hear him say it from the 1960’s when I was knee high to a grasshopper and continually until the day he sadly passed away. And you know something? Today, he would have been so right.
My house is only five years old. I have replaced my living room television and kitchen microwave three times, a security and garage door opening system that has been replaced or repaired innumerable times, at least three new pool pumps and let’s not talk about the under the sink garbage disposal. I think you catch my drift. I’m sure most consumers can relate.
Jewelry manufactured around the world as little as five years ago was “worth its mettle”, so to speak. Today, buying something as simple as a neck chain has become an eye opening and jaw dropping experience.
Here’s a typical scenario for a chain purchase five years ago…
“Hello I’m looking for a nice 14 karat solid rope chain and cross for my husband for Father’s Day. What is the approximate cost?”
Five years ago I would have thirty of forty such chains to offer in different lengths, thicknesses and weights. Also, a nice selection of Italian made gold crosses. The solid gold chain prices ranged between $125 and $500, depending on the weight and a nice gold cross would cost anywhere from $100 to $300.
The same scenario today… There is less of a selection of solid gold chains and more of a selection of “alternative metal” chains, such as silver or stainless steel. Why? The cost of a “24K” solid gold rope chain, now that gold is over $1600 an ounce, is around $2000, that’s why. A nice solid cross in gold costs around $400 and upward.
Guess what? In most cases, “honey bunny” isn’t going to get a $2500 gold chain and cross for this Father’s Day!
So, gold manufacturers have to make gold jewelry with less gold resulting in lightweight or super hollow products in order to survive in this market. Purchase a gold chain today for even $500 and you will receive a dismal quality chain that won’t hold up to day to day wear and tear. $500 is a lot of money for a whole lot of nothing.
What makes matters worse is trying to repair the disposable jewelry. I won’t accept half the broken jewelry that comes in lately. The “new” stuff has a life expectancy of a gnat. Folks lay broken new jewelry on my showcase as if it were a wounded sparrow.
If I can’t hold it without damaging it, I can’t fix it, and believe me, I’ve tried. The chain or earring withers away if a torch is used and explodes on contact with a state of the art laser welder.
I’m known for my Good Samaritan attitude and always enjoyed a good challenge but the result is a piece of jewelry that’s in worse condition than when it came in … that equals an unhappy customer. And no customer wants to hear how crummy the piece of jewelry he spent good money on, really is.
I would rather have a customer mad at me for not attempting an impossible repair than to try and fail. That’s what it has come down to. Grandpa’s words still swim in my brain.
Last week, I repaired a bangle bracelet made in the late 1800’s. Its condition was miraculous, even though it was worn and adored by at least three generations. There was only a slight issue with the catch that required simple gold soldering and a light buffing and now that it is repaired properly, it will last another hundred years. That’s how you are supposed to make jewelry!
I don’t have the equipment to make hollow jewelry and I still refuse to make my pieces in gold lower than 14 karat. I would rather retire and close shop if it came down to lowering my standards or compromise my craft to make a living.
Gratefully, we still make most of our jewelry the old fashioned way, “by hand” for folks who appreciate “fine jewelry”. My staff of goldsmiths work in solid 18kt. or 14kt. gold and sterling silver. It’s the only way we know how, and yes, my creations are more costly because they cost more to make and they are designed, constructed and finished right here on Marco Island.
Hand crafted pieces will always be “worth their mettle” and will be wearable from generation to generation. My grandfather, if he were here today, would be proud of my son and me.
A gentleman entered my shop as I was writing this column with an unusual problem. The paste cleaner he used to clean his heavy silver chain did more than expected. The paste clogged in the intricate links and then he put it back on his person.
One hot South Florida morning later, while working on his boat, his perspiration mixed with the paste in the chain and a chemical reaction occurred severely burning the skin around his neck.
Always, always rinse jewelry cleaners from your jewelry in warm water to neutralize the residue including any signs of paste cleaners. Failure to do that can not only cause the pieces to tarnish more quickly but also cause innumerable reactions to sensitive skin areas.
Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith with over 40 years of “on the bench experience” and is owner of The Harbor Goldsmith. He welcomes your questions about All That Glitters. 239-394-9275 or harbor firstname.lastname@example.org