Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Anatomy of a Repair: Part I

Repair work is rarely as simple and straightforward as it initially seems upon taking in a job. Careful inspection, asking the right questions, and taking the time to do some planning and groundwork while the client is still in front of you can go a long way to avoiding issues and complications down the road. The following post is a typical example of the types of repairs I do daily as a full-time bench jeweler. Equally as important as the actual physical repair is the interaction between the customer who brought in the ring, the salesperson who took in the repair, and the jeweler (me) who was responsible for solving the problem.

Initial Take-in:

A customer brings in a vintage platinum and diamond ring that is missing a diamond in the shoulder of the ring. The ring has a square top-plate with a decent-sized center diamond held by 4 prongs, with 8 diamonds around the outer edges of the square set with split prongs and a U-shaped wire under-gallery. On either side of the top plate is a low-base style 4-prong setting for a round accent diamond, to which is attached the tapered platinum shank. There is general wear on the ring consistent with its age, as it appears to be from the 1930's-40's. The sales associate noted the missing diamond and the size of the remaining diamond, and asked a jeweler what it would cost to replace the diamond, and a price (under $100) was given. The repair was taken in, and the customer left.

My Initial Inspection:

When I received the job envelope, I read the description of the item and the repair, and took a quick look at the ring through the clear plastic bag. I could see immediately that there was a substantial problem with the job: the reason there was a missing diamond on one side of the shank was because the low-base head (think of a 4-prong tapered crown with very low scoops or scallops between the prongs for a dramatic and delicate look) was cracked completely through side to side. Not only was the shank integrity compromised, but the setting itself was split down the middle, not at a solder seam or joint. I then slid the ring out of the bag to take a closer look, and the act of doing so and the ring dropping into my waiting hand caused the ring to deform slightly. It turns out the other 4-prong low base head on the other side was also almost completely cracked through and about to snap off entirely.

This is a pretty serious issue when it comes to repair work, as one of the key steps of the intake process that protects the shop from liability and maintains the integrity of our work and reputation is the item description. This is supposed to be a detailed written description of the item being taken in and it's condition, any signs of wear, damage, or previous repair. A microscope is available to every sales associate along with a diamond scratch tester to ensure that a customer is made aware of any potential issues and repair work needed while they are still in the store and can inspect their item personally.

I spoke with the sales associate who took in the repair, and the store was very busy at the time of the repair intake and he or she was relatively new at taking in repair jobs. No problem, it happens.

Customer Interaction:

There is always more to the story. Always.

I called the customer, and informed them of the situation regarding their ring and the extensive damage I found. I explained that it was a vintage piece and had evidence of previous repair work, and asked if it had been in the family a long time or if it was a recent estate purchase. This may seem trivial, but it helps ascertain a number of influential factors that affect how I approach the repair: What type of abuse the ring has endured (Has it spent 20 years in a jewelry box? Was it worn for 30 years by an elderly person? Did they swim everyday or sit in a hot-tub frequently with their jewelry on?).  How many times has it changed hands within a family? (How many different jewelers have sized it or worked on it?) It turns out it was an estate purchase within the past 5 years from a local jewelry store.

I learn that the customer had recently had the ring re-shanked by the jewelry store where they initially purchased the ring, as the vintage shank became too thin for everyday modern wear. The store put on a new platinum shank, however the customer was unhappy with the work because they said they felt the shank was too thick for the ring and they wanted it to look delicate and light like it did when they bought it.

This is unfortunately an all too common scenario in repair work: The customer has become accustomed to the look of their piece, and reacts negatively to repair work that changes the look of the piece, even if it is done correctly and is necessary to protect the stones and the integrity of the structure. Rebuilt prongs are called ugly and too bulky, and the customer wants them made smaller so all they see is their diamonds with as little metal covering the stones as possible, despite the fact that the piece initially had practically nonexistent prongs that were so worn-out from decades of wear that the stones were about to fall out. This can be a tough balance to strike with a customer that is very particular about the look and feel of their jewelry.

It turns out the customer took their re-shanked ring back to their jeweler and insisted that the shank be shaved down to make it thinner. The jeweler complied with the request, but informed the customer that doing so would void the stores warranty of the repair work as it was going against the recommendation of the jeweler who did the work. The customer insisted, stating that they did not care about their warranty, they wanted their wife to be happy with her ring. The shank was shaved down and made thinner.

All would seem to be right in the world, until the day the side low-base head broke and the customer lost their diamond. To be fair to the other jeweler who put on the half shank, this was not his or her fault, but rather a common issue one runs into when working on vintage and estate pieces. Often, the repair, solder-joint, or new component or finding is actually stronger than the original structure of the piece, which can inadvertently cause further damage to a piece of jewelry even if the repair done by the jeweler was done perfectly. A simple example of this would be the jump-ring on a spring ring clasp is often not soldered or laser-welded closed on delicate chains because if the necklace were to catch on something, it is preferable that the spring ring open and the chain fall off as opposed to the chain breaking. Some chains are extremely difficult to repair successfully or in a way that is not noticeable, either leaving a bulky area or a stiff spot in an otherwise smooth and supple chain. A customer brings a "broken" chain in and asks to have it fixed. The person taking in the repair charges they $22 for a simple solder, and has a jeweler permanently attach the spring ring's jump ring. The next time the necklace breaks, the jeweler would have to tell the customer that they cannot fix their chain, to which the customer will angrily reply "But you fixed it before. You were the last person to work on it, what did you do to it? This is your fault, I'd like to speak to a manager".

After explaining the nature of the damage and condition of the ring to the client, I recommended that we remove the new shank and two broken and cracked settings from either shoulder of the ring and install new platinum low-base heads that will be much more structurally sound, reattach the ring shank, and reset the side diamonds. A quote for the needed materials and labor was generated, the customer agreed to the work, and a due date was set.

Problem solved, right?

In the case of this particular repair, the intake, assessment, and customer interaction was only half the battle. Stay tuned for Part II of this blog post, Anatomy of a Repair, which will dive into the complexities and logistical challenges of the actual repair with step-by step photographs of the process.

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