Thursday, December 27, 2012

Vintage Diamonds

If you read my blog, you know that I am infatuated with old stuff.  I like old mine colored gems, even though the cutting is often poor, I like antique jewelry, and my own designs often have an antique look.  I love the detail and workmanship of the jewelry work of bygone days.
But I also like bling.  And nothing has more bling than a diamond.  No wonder, then, that vintage diamonds appeal to me the most.  They are also the only diamonds that are truly rare.  Vintage diamonds are a niche market, but lately they have gotten renewed attention, and that has driven up prices. 
There are several different vintage diamond cuts.  Let’s look at “Old Mine”, “Old European” and “Old Fancy Cuts.” 
Old Miners:  The term “old miner” generally refers to stones cut before the modern brilliant cut was perfected.  Old miners were mostly cut before the 1920s (starting in the 1800s).  The true “Old Mine” cut is cushion shaped, so it is a precursor of the modern cushion cut.  It has a high crown, small table, and a deep pavilion.  The culet is open, meaning it is cut flat and not to a point.  This changes the light reflection (and protects it from chipping).  An old mine cut also has fewer facets.  For that reason, old miners have less brilliance than brilliant cut stones.  But they have a lot of fire, that is, a display of different colors.  Some say that old miners perform best in candle light.
Old European Cuts: These are more roundish and flatter than old miners.  They’re also called “Euros.” This type of cut appeared a bit later, in the mid to late 19th century.  Euros have more facets than old miners, but they also have an open culet.  They are the precursor of the modern brilliant cut, with the same number of facets (58 to be exact).  I also read that both the Euro and the Old Miner can appear lighter than they actually are in color because the open culet lets in more light that reflects around inside the diamond.
Old Fancy Cuts: Like today, vintage diamonds were also cut as marquis, ovals, pear shapes, and trillions.  The way these can be distinguished as old miners is by their facets, which are overall larger, but also shorter and wider than modern cuts.  And the overall proportions are different, i.e. marquis shapes are often “fatter”.  Modern marquis are usually 6x3, 7x3.5 mm etc, so they are twice as wide as they are long.  Old mine marquis might be 6x3.5, and they are not calibrated.

Old Mine Fancy Cuts
One thing that recommends vintage diamonds to me is that most don’t come from Africa because they were mined before the South African (and other African) mines opened.  Some originate in India, many in Brazil.  Overall it is nearly impossible to tell origin with diamonds though.  To date, as far as I know, there’s no sure fire technology available to tell you where a diamond is from.

You should also know that of course it is possible to cut a modern diamond into a vintage cut.  Some companies actually specialize in perfected vintage cuts: they cut old-mine style but with perfected symmetry and faceting.  True old miners, by contrast, often show some signs of wear, though a good re-polish may remove those, leaving only the a-symmetry as a mark of the old miner.  But of course, even that can be reproduced.  For the most part, though, old miners are just that.  Little wonders of the past, reminding us of the beauty of imperfection, of artistry done by hand, not machine. 

Pavillion View of Old Mine Fancy Cuts

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Payment Plans: Tips for Small Business

Large department stores seem to be able to offer these amazing payment plans.  They're interest free, with no money down, payments stretched out till the end of the world (and I don’t mean December 21st), and you can return your purchase up to 12 months, even if you used it.  I’ve often wondered how businesses can afford that sort of thing, but the answer is probably obvious: the costs have already been worked into the price of the item, so that all the customers who buy outright cover the expenses of such a plan.
If you’re a tiny business like me, you have to think differently.  A payment plan that goes bust can get very costly, and it can hurt you, your customers, and your suppliers.
Payment plans are risky.  You have to ask yourself why someone wants a payment plan from you in the first place, as opposed to using a credit card.  Maybe the buyer has bad credit, or is too young to have established any.  In that case, you should protect that person by not offering them a payment plan.  Or maybe the buyer is avoiding interest.  That’s understandable, but a small business has no way of qualifying a customer for loans, checking their credit or their financial stability.  
Also, if your prices are low and your customer base small, you can’t distribute the costs of the buyer who drops out of a payment plan over other items.  And if any of your customers are reading this right now (mine are), they might be asking themselves why their price should increase because someone else doesn’t pay.  Good point, right?
But let’s say you insist on having a payment plan anyway, or you feel bad for the customer who can’t afford something they like.  Here’s what you do.
  1. You require a non-refundable down-payment of 10-20%.  Call it a restocking fee (I will get to this below).  This forces the buyer be sure they want to commit and it lowers your risk.
  2. Clearly define the payment plan.  If it’s too long, the buyer may lose interest or the ability to pay.  Times are tough.  With a shorter payment plan (2 months is good), you get paid faster and the buyer doesn’t have debt hanging over their head.  That's good for both of you.
  3. If you are selling an item that has to be made, don’t produce it until it is close to fully paid.  That way you don’t have to bust your personal piggy bank to pay your suppliers or help.
  4. Related to that, never ship the item until it is fully paid for.
  5. If you’re selling a one of a kind item that you have to set aside for the customer, you may not have enough cash to make new things until that piece is fully paid, shipped, and the customer is sure they won't return it.  If that is the case, you need to have money in your bank before you can offer payment plans.  If you make new items too soon and too fast, you will suffer a personal loss if your buyer can’t pay.  You could end up sitting on lots of expensive inventory, and lack the spare cash to refund the buyer for a return, or pay your suppliers.  So you need to be very clear about your risks.  Make sure any item in your shop is itself fully paid for!  Debt is common in the jewelry industry, but I strongly urge you not to incur it, even if that means your business will grow more slowly. 
  6. Finally, limit the amount of payment plans you give out: 5 payment plans of $500 for already made items are a potential $2500 loss for you, and your bank account should at any time be able to cover that amount.  (If you have a restocking fee, you can subtract out that percentage.)
And now you can probably see why I think the restocking fee is necessary.  If you take back a unique and expensive item that you have already reproduced, then you have two.  And it takes longer to sell two items than one. Remember always that you may have stock that you can’t sell.  If you don’t budget carefully, you’ll have a lot of pretty things but no buyers, and there is no fast way to turn the stock into cash, should you end up in financial trouble yourself.
This is my final piece of advice: if you’re not selling food or clothing, if you’re not in health care or education, then what you are selling is not an essential good.  I know you’d like to make money, but if you entice your buyers into a payment plan, or don’t hold them back if they are about to enter a payment plan they can’t really afford, nobody will be happy in the end.